Monday, February 8, 2016

Question for regular readers regarding future Kim Possible works

Do you even want me to post them here?  They're not really what I was doing when this place was created to be a home for all of my stuff, instead they're much more in the realm of traditional fan fiction which is a different sort of beast.  I could just not post it here and put it exclusively at fan fiction sites (FFN and AO3) in the future.

I mean, I'm not getting the impression people here are all that interested in it, so it would be pretty straightforward to just, you know, not bother you with it.

So, again, question to readers (yes, lurkers, this includes you) would you prefer for me to stop posting Kim Possible stories here?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Worlds Building

[Just a setting I've been kicking around in my head.]

"Hey," Mitch said as he walked into the grimy alley, "you know where I can find Sam?"

"I'm Sam," a young man in a dirty hoodie said.  He was sitting against one of the walls, next to a dumpster that shielded him from the wind.

"Oh, sorry," Mitch said.  "I thought Sam was a girl."

"I was," Sam said.  "Past tense.  Over and done with.  What do you want?"

"Julie said that I should come to you if I wanted to understand... everything," Mitch said.  "The realms, their inhabitants, so forth."

"Julie said that, did she?" Sam asked.

Mitch nodded but wasn't sure if Sam saw, because Sam slowly rose to his feet.

"You human?" Sam asked.

"Yeah," Mitch said, thinking it was obvious.  Then, a moment later and far less sure, asked, "Are you?"

"Yeah," Sam said.  "Seven eighths for sure.  Probably more than that."  Sam pushed himself on top of the dumpster and sat on it, back to the wind.  He pulled his hood up.  "The first thing that you have to understand is that in the eyes of most of the others we're a gadfly species.  Small, insignificant, short-lived, and extremely annoying.

"Our greatest strength is that out short lives force us to learn quickly.  The others can absorb facts just as fast as us, but skills are harder.  A skill that would take you or me five years to master, assuming eight hours a day every workday, would take them more like two centuries, and that's the quick ones.  Of course, when you've got all eternity, they still come out on top.

"The second thing you have to understand is that, in spite of what they'll tell you, none of the four worlds are ruled by the original inhabitants.

"Demons are the most honest about it because while, like the angels and the gods, they claim that they came first, they didn't move to Hell until the schism between themselves and the angels.  At first they thought that they were the first ones in that place, then the attacks started.

"The confrontation between the outsiders and the demons left an indelible mark on demon culture and rather than claim they were the first inhabitants of Hell and that it belongs to them by birthright, they celebrate their conquest of Hell.  They have epics about it.  Of course it would be harder for them to deny the outsiders have always been there when the conquest of Hell is incomplete and beyond the rearguard's walls and assorted other fortifications is untouched outsider controlled outsider territory."

"Ok, so demons I've got a handle on," Mitch said, "but what are the outsiders."

"Monstrous beings of flesh and, occasionally, bone.  The original inhabitants of the realm we now call Hell.  The body component of the mind, body, and soul that the outer planes exemplify if you buy that trichotomy which you shouldn't because it requires very specific, carefully calibrated, peculiar answers to the question of what one means by the terms 'mind' and 'soul'.

"While they're as diverse as anyone else, it is generally the case that they think in ways that seem incomprehensible to us and that they're hostile to any kind of structured mental processes.  They spread like a cancer, and have an ability unlike any of the others: they can change things to become more like themselves.

"The others call this 'corrupting' or 'twisting' the original being.  Other than grafting, it's the only process known to be able to alter the fundamental makeup a being is born with."

"Ok,  that's one realm," Mitch said, "What about the others?"

"Well you can't talk demons without talking angels.  So Heaven is a logical place to go.  It's worth understanding that Heaven and Hell have both been without direction for a long time.  The god of the angels and the leader of the demons had a habit of going away for long stretches and letting their respective domains rule themselves, and as a result no one is really sure when the two disappeared.

"That they both disappeared makes some think that they called the apocalypse early, killed each other, and no one noticed."

"So angels and demons have no oversight?"

"Yup," Sam said. "In Heaven there's great debate over the correct religion and rifts between lots of not quite openly hostile, or at least not usually violently hostile, to each other factions.  In Hell the demons just decided things they way that had been traditional: anyone could have whatever power they take for themselves and hold onto, and they could do whatever they could get away with.

"That's not to say that demons don't debate religion.  They definitely do," Sam said, "but it's more of a way to while away the time at Parisian cafes than a way to decide policy or determine who's in leadership positions.

"Now Heaven is, according to angels and demons, the first realm and they its first inhabitants.  They claim to have created it and then universe.  Of course given that they weren't the first inhabitants, that kind of screws up their whole theory."

"And who was there first?" Mitch asked.

"Spirits, elementals," Sam said, "beings of pure energy that had no physical bodies but could bend and twist physical things to their will.  They've been almost entirely driven from Heaven, the largest displaced population in the four realms.

"Some say that before they were displaced they didn't have any elemental affinities at all and could interact with whatever they wished, but millennia on earth caused them to be inextricably linked to physical things, thus why a fire elemental can't preform hydrokinesis."

"Anyway, there are two of the three outer realms.  That leaves--"

"The gods' domain," Mitch said.

"Yeah, and you can imagine what the gods say about angels and demons," Sam said.

"Um, I'm actually not sure," Mitch said.

"Well, you can't very well advocate monotheism when you're involved in a land dispute with Odin," Sam said, "so they say that the henotheistic angel pantheon ran off to a different realm so they could pretend the other gods didn't exist.  When the angels and the demons had their falling out, Hell was the only place the demons could go if they wanted to continue denying other gods."

"But the angels and demons don't deny they exist," Mitch said, "do they?"

"They don't now," Sam said.  "Things were apparently somewhat different back then.  And you have to admit, by living in an entirely different realm, the monotheists are pretty well secured from any evangelizing on the part of the gods.  Not that the gods tend to evangelize, they just like people to recognize that they are gods and not deny their existence."

"So who are the original inhabitants of the god's domain?"

"They're still there," Sam said.  "The Angels displaced the spirits, the demons are in a war for survival with the outsiders, but the gods were quite content to take over and let the original inhabitants remain.

"Their domain was originally inhabited by the figments," Sam said.

Mitch laughed.  "The imaginary friends?"

"They're creatures of pure thought and imagination, they can be anything in any form, and none can match their mental powers," Sam said.  "Take them seriously and don't piss them off unless you want to experience firsthand what it's like to be unable to distinguish between illusion and reality."

"Ok.  Figments are not to be joked about.  Got it," Mitch said.  "The fourth realm is earth?"

"Our universe, yes," Sam said.  "One of the things that you have to remember is what that we only know about the the realms in the vicinity of earth.  Given that earth isn't the center of the universe, it seems possible that Heaven isn't the center of its realm, Hell isn't the center of its and the gods we know are just as provincial as we are."

"But, for our non interstellar provincial purposes," Mitch said, "the fourth realm is earth and so we've covered everything.  Right?"

"Depends, on if you know about elves," Sam said.

"As in Keebler?" Mitch asked.

"And that's a resounding, 'No,'" Sam said.   "More as in Ljósálfar, Dökkálfar, and Svartálfar.  Just like the gods, angels, and demons became the dominant species in the outer realms when another had been before, so too did we.  After all, if the gods, whichever of them you prefer to trust, created us, we can hardly predate them, now can we?"

"When the figments ruled the gods' domain, the spirits ruled Heaven, and the outsiders ruled Hell, elves ruled the earth.  They were in tune with the environment to the point that their bodies changed to accommodate the environment and the environment changed to accommodate them," Sam said.  "They've escaped notice in the fossil record because when they die their bodies return to their habitat in totality.  There's nothing that we could detect to distinguish them from their surroundings.

"They still exist, pushed to the margins of our world, hiding from our sight," Sam said.  "Sometimes hiding in plain sight.  They're enough like us that you'd hardly be able to distinguish someone who was part elf from a full human.

"They're the original mortals, but they live so very much longer than us," Sam said.  "A full elf in good health who suffers no great injury might live to be four thousand years old.  Then again it's not uncommon for them to die of old age before they reach three thousand either.   There's a range of lifespans, as just as there is with humans."

"And now do I know about everything?" Mitch asked.

"Eight races means that there are some twenty eight possible halfbreeds," Sam said, "Then there are the quarter breeds, and so forth.  You're not going to learn about it all in one conversation."

"But the realms," Mitch said, "do I know all of those?  I've heard mention of Limbo and I think some others."

"Limbo is halfway to Hell, Purgatory halfway to Heaven, dreamscape halfway to the god's domain.  They're all strongly linked to the mortal realm and are more like ancillary dimensions than true realms.  It's also possible to journey from one outer realm to another without going through earth.  The battle plains lie between Heaven and Hell.  The others don't really have names, but some call the path from Heaven to the gods 'Revelation' and the path from the gods to Hell 'Omen'."

-

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I'm not afraid anymore, also Rides from Strangers

I got some donations.  I'm not afraid anymore.

I understand the people who don't donate a lot better than the ones who do, I think.  I definitely get the desire to help.  I'd send money Fred Clark's way if I could, and that was true even before I met him that one awesome time him and found out he was just as awesome in person.  I'd help out Ana Mardoll.  I'd give to so many people.

But I don't.  So I really understand not being able to help someone on the internet.

The ones that do never cease to amaze me.  I always feel like I've had my last miracle, the well has to have run dry, and yet I keep on getting more miracles.

So, um, thanks and I love you all equally.

- - -

Today I was extra laden on the walk to school.  Someone gave me a ride.  Three quarters of the way I think, though it might be more like two thirds.  For all the times I've made the trip you'd think I'd have a better idea of the breakdown.

May all the gods bless people who give rides to strangers.

It's strange.  I don't really talk to strangers unless I have something in mind to say, and when they talk to me I'm usually awkward.  But when someone's giving me a ride, words can flow freely.  Maybe it's because the only strangers who will give you a lift are nice people, otherwise they'd just ignore you and drive on by.  Certainly cars don't make it easier to be with my family (quite the opposite, trapped in a metal and glass cage that's moving at high speeds is not where you want to be for some conversations), but strangers who give me rides probably find me much more upbeat and loquacious than strangers I meet in other ways.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I'm scared.

Yeah, it's a post about money.  So the taxes are due the 11th, but if I can't pay for them, and it looks like it can't, then I have to let mother/landlord know a week ahead of time.  That's the fourth (or maybe fifth depended on exactly how "week" is parsed) which is two days.  Very much doubt the money will appear in two days.  I know I've thought this before, but at this point I really, really, really think that it's the case that anyone who was willing and able to donate to me has already done so to the point that the "able" no longer applies.

The thing about my mother being my landlord is that she's not going to kick me out of the house because I got a payment to her a bit late because: family.  But that doesn't mean that she's not going to kick me out of the house.  If I can't pay the expenses on the house then she has to (and then I hopefully reimburse her when I can) if she can't pay the expenses on the house ... well that's always been the possibility that leaves me without a home.

If the house can't be afforded then it needs to be gotten rid of.  It;s as simple as that.  That's part of why I (try to) cover the expenses.  The other part being that I'd rather not be an asshole in general or an asshole to my mom in particular.

The fact is that the expenses on a fully owned house with the mortgage paid are less than the cheapest apartments around (clearly the rent is too high) so if I can't keep up with the house expenses that means I certainly can't afford an apartment.  My options be come homelessness or moving in with family.  Only two family members could possibly take me.  Both of them are fine in small doses but fucking toxic to live with.  I don't know that you can really predict or quantify the effect that has on mental health, but I honestly think that between the choice of going off my meds or moving in with one of them, going off my meds would be the better option.  (And I fucking need my meds.)

But that wouldn't be the choice, the choice would be them or homelessness, and I don't like the idea of becoming homeless.

So the possibility of losing the house terrifies me.  It's not just that it's home, though it is, it's also that the alternatives are really really bad.

Back to landlord=mom.  Not being able to make the payment isn't cause for terror, it's cause for dread.  Not being able to make the payment when my mother also can't make the payment is cause for terror.

Will she be able to make the payment on the 11th?  Somehow.  Probably.  I hope.

But if she does have to make that payment then the impression I get is:

  1. It'll hurt, financially.
  2. It'll require arcane accounting and esoteric money juggling.
  3. There's no way in hell she'll be able to cover the next payment when it comes due.
So I'm not scared that I'll lose my house on the 11th.  I'm scared that if my mom has to make the payment on the 11th and I don't pay her that money back fast then I'll lose the house when the next big non-monthly expense comes up.  Which I think is next month.  If I remember correctly the taxes are quarterly and the insurance is by trimester so since they coincided last time the insurance will come in a month later this time.

It'd be a process for sure.  Not, "expense problem, get out by sundown" but if the house can't be payed for it needs to be moved towards sale and part of that is me moving out.

So that's why I'm scared.

On the upside the oil payment finally went through.  That means that I can see how much money I actually have.

The other irregular expense was internet, which since it's by semester goes 9 months 3 months 9 months 3 months and so forth and took me the longest time to realize what it was doing.  The money that I actually have is about two dollars short of covering the cost of internet.  (Cost of internet for three months: $139.80.)  So that's good.  Cut me off from the internet and I'm ... I lack the words.  It's my lifeline, but that's not all it is.

Of course I still have the fucking 200 dollar hole every month.

So, I completely forgot about the fact that I've figured out how to look up the taxes online.  Now that I remembered, that means I can have an exact figure:

$657.72

Got it right the first time when I guessed before.  That's what makes me fear homelessness.  Of course if I paid that, and used the cash on hand for paying the internet, I'd still be faced with the perpetual $200 hole, but panicking about that can wait until the 20th at least.

Besides, that would just ruin by credit and get bill collectors hounding me, what's scaring me is the prospect of losing my house.

So, yeah, I'm scared.

Wanted to let that out.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Bent, not Broken, Part 4

"I still haven't even figured out where they're holding her, and what I've learned of the conditions make it seem like a rescue is impossible."

"Anything's possible, Possible," Chi said.

"Including failure," Kim said.

"The wisdom of Ron," Chi responded. "What are the conditions?"

“Well, the first thing you have to realize is that it's a secret prison,” Kim said.

That could explain how they were able to hold Shego. The only time that Shego stayed in prison for any length of time, before she disappeared, was for four or five months after the “tower incident”, and then other people had been more than capable of breaking her out. But a secret prison ... of course this assumed that that Chi was interpreting the words correctly.

“'Secret' meaning no oversight?” Chi asked.

Kim nodded, “No one ever checking that the conditions meet basic standards.”

“No human rights,” Chi said.

“It's a lot easier to hold someone like Shego when there are no morals or laws holding back your prison design,” Kim said.

Definitely made sense how they could hold her. When one was unfettered by morality, a belief in human dignity, or a basic respect for human life, it would be possible to create a truly escape proof prison given proper funding.

This was all very dark thinking, and rightly so given that they now knew such a place existed, but continuing in this vein wouldn't be particularly helpful, in Chi's opinion, so he tried to get them back to useful conversation by shifting the topic back to the conditions, and did it by noting one of the most minor consequences imaginable in hopes that he wouldn't contribute to unnecessary unpleasantness, “No mandate for an hour of outdoor exercise would certainly do a lot to put the kibosh on various types of escape attempts.”

“The prison is deep underground,” Kim said, “and the inmates never see the sun.”

“Fun, fun,” Chi said.

“Any breach floods all nearby areas with substances that I maintain are illegal under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction of 1972”

Chi just nodded. What was there to say to that?

“Tunneling attempts are ill advised at best anyway but given that there are explosive charges designed to cause a 'rocks fall everyone dies' outcome should tunneling be detected makes them moreso,” Kim said, “and any attempt to melt the rock is just plain stupid.”

Chi nodded, “Even the more easily meltable rocks tend to need to heated to over a thousand degrees Fahrenheit.”

“And if convection heat didn't kill you,” Kim said, “the whole place is designed so that unless you're trying to burn through the floor --which wouldn't help because you need to go up to get out-- any melted rock is going to flow such that it pushes you toward the center of the prison where the other security measures stand the greatest chance of killing you.”

“When you bust her out,” Chi said, “I want in.”

Kim said, “What makes you think I'm going to--”

“I'd want to free the inmates in a place like that on general principles anyway,” Chi said, “but I owe Shego too, so as soon as you find the place include me in your plans on setting her free.”

“I'm trying to operate solo,” Kim said. “Siding with me destroys people.”

“I'm already a criminal,” Chi said. Generally a criminal for hire, but for this job he'd sink in his own money if that was what it took.

“They'll go after people you care about. That's how they separated Wade and I.”

That possibility was disturbing, for sure, but there was a larger problem that needed correcting.

“Wade and me,” Chi said.

“Grammar freak.”

“What happened with Wade?”

“Wade's pretty much untouchable,” Kim said, “and on the rare occasions that someone does touch him they end up wishing they hadn't. But Wade has plenty of online friends, companies he does consulting work for, all sorts of quite touchable contacts.

“I told Wade to stop associating with me for their sake.”

“Random guess,” Chi said, “he didn't like that.”

“He didn't, but the fact was that he wouldn't have been able to protect all of them,” Kim said.

Wade probably didn't want to believe that, members of Team Possible had always had trouble acknowledging their limitations.

“When did you break contact with Wade?” Chi asked.

“I was still on probation,” Kim said. “Wade could contact me no matter what the authorities did and he doesn't actually have a security clearance, except when he hacks himself one, so it wasn't technically a violation, but a lot of his friends suddenly found themselves being harassed or investigated for illegal downloading at a level completely out of proportion for the alleged crime, or such after any time he made contact.”

Chi nodded at this, but couldn't help but think they'd gotten sidetracked. “I'm following everything you've said, I think, but I feel like we kind of lost whatever coherence the conversation had.”

“Movie time?” Kim asked.

“Not a bad idea,” Chi said.

* * *

“I don't think I've ever seen a movie that was that explicit about the value of consent and bodily autonomy before,” Kim said. It was ... strangely liberating. Like having movies she'd seen before not be like this had introduced a void in her life that she didn't know needed filling, and then suddenly having that void filled.

“You mean like the difference between blood being taken by force in the beginning and blood being given by choice in the end?” Chi asked.

“I mean the whole thing,” Kim said.

Chi nodded. “The entire movie should be unremarkable action fare but everything else sets the bar so low that it ends up flying over.”

Kim shrugged. She hadn't watched a movie in five and a half years, and then what she'd seen had to be old enough to be available on VHS. She had no idea where the bar was these days.

Chi asked, “So, where were we?”

“Shego was sent to hell-prison, I was sent to ordinary prison,” Kim said.

“Isn't there supposed to be a trial in there somewhere?” Chi asked.

“I'm not totally sure,” Kim said, “getting Shego the human rights following prison and me the probation could be interpreted as out of court plea bargaining.”

“Good point,” Chi said.

“There was actually a trial, though,” Kim said. “Didn't matter. The only people to show up on my behalf were the firefighters and families, plus some people from the circus. No one else came.”

“It could be that no one else knew,” Chi said. “I didn't know.”

“I know that now, but at the time, with the information I had to go on, I thought that people did know and just didn't show up for me. If you want to understand what I was going through, you need to understand that. Not ruining my reputation as a hero was part of the original deal, part that was voided when I crossed that line and saved those people.

“I was led to believe that things were no longer secret and anyone who cared about me would know about the trial,” Kim said. “To have no one from my past show up on my behalf just made me ... I don't have words for how I felt.”

The people she'd saved and the firefighters she'd saved them with, some people from the circus that wanted to hire her. That was it. None of the people from a village she saved from a flood or avalanche, no classmates, no family... no one. Not one person who wasn't directly involved in her life at the time she was arrested showed up. It felt like nothing before that had mattered. Like everything she'd done had meant nothing. Like she had been nothing.

“I can imagine,” Chi said, “but that's all I can do.”

Kim was glad that Chi hadn't tried to pretend he understood. She knew he couldn't. He couldn't understand what she'd gone through anymore than she could understand what it had been like for him to have his lower right lateral brain removed.

“The trial focused solely on the death of the henchmen since the alleged theft of the PDVI and the espionage charges had been erased with the first deal,” Kim said, “So everyone got a nice message of, 'Kim Possible is a mass murderer' with an added dose of, 'who was allowed to walk free for over four years,' and an implication that I'd kept my 'freedom' by callously leveraging my fame.”

“If they were accusing you of mass murder why was the prison term only five years?” Chi asked.

Kim knew it was a perfectly legitimate question, but it caught her off guard. She asked, “That's the part that you get hung up on?”

“Well, um... yeah,” Chi said.

Kim took a breath and then let it out slowly, “For reasons that have never been clear to me,” Kim said, “I was charged using Colorado law.”

“Even then--”

“Minimum of eight years and that's for a single second degree murder, I know,” Kim said. “But I'd been on probation for more than four years and the only violation was to save people's lives. In addition, I was treated more as quasi-law-enforcement who went over the top --remember that the story was that the fictional villain was planning on killing a lot of people before making demands-- instead of a danger to non-criminals.

“And I think that a lot of it came down to the fact that what brought me into court was saving people,” Kim said. “I think they were trying to strike a balance between outrage that supposedly killing all those henches had been punished with mere probation and the fact that they didn't want to punish someone for saving families from dying in a fire.”

“Have you found out who really killed the henches?” Chi asked.

Kim's answer came out much more defensive than she intended, “I've only been out six months.”

“Sorry,” was Chi's response. After a moment he said, “You'd think that someone would have said something. You know, 'I was on the jury that sent Kim Possible to prison,' or something like that.”

“I did look into that when I finally found out that no one knew about what happened to me,” Kim said. “Everyone was sworn to secrecy for reasons of national and international security. It was backed up with threats of what could be done to security risks.

“But that's all later, at the time I thought that I was being abandoned or ignored, not that people were kept from finding out about me.

“And so my wonderful career in prison began,” Kim said.

And she stopped. She thought about her first fight in prison, how she'd tried to avoid it but eventually decided to just let it happen and saw the possibility of dying in it as a welcome release, how she'd learned that in training herself to react without conscious thought in a fight she'd made it so letting herself take a hit required a conscious effort, and when she didn't put that in --because she hadn't realized she'd needed to-- the could actually win without even trying.

She thought about how her initial strategy of keeping her head down had utterly failed to avoid conflict. She thought about her slow realization that the guards were paying extra attention to her but would only intervene if they thought she might actually die; beatings were fine.

She thought about the feeling of a shard of glass being shoved into her abdomen.

She thought about prison becoming her world and her life.

But she couldn't put anything that she thought into words.

She looked down at herself, her hands and arms, and for the first time took notice of the fact that she'd put on a long sleeved t-shirt today, just as a matter of habit, when before prison she had so often gone sleeveless.

She looked back up at Chi and said, “Let me show you something.” She stood up and added, “Back in a sec.”

* * *

Kim returned wearing a tank top, but Chi barely noticed the shirt. It was her right arm his attention was drawn to. From the wrist to the shoulder it was covered in black. The tattoo was an abstract design in which straight lines of black, about as thick as a thumb, traced paths the length of Kim's arm, every so often making a sharp, forty five degree turn, going “over” or “under” each other wherever two lines intersected. There was definitely far more inked skin than non-inked skin evident on that arm.

“So,” Kim said, “I didn't want a traditional prison tattoo with any of the symbolism used in them, but the message isn't just in the symbols. Since they're done without anesthetic ...”

“Anyone looking at you knew you could take a lot of pain,” Chi finished.

“As for why it's black,” Kim said as she sat back down, “that's just the easiest color for the artist to get her hands on.”

“Any great insights about prison life you want to share?” Chi asked, but really the question had the opposite purpose of what the words said. It was to give her the opportunity to say, “No,” she took the opportunity.

“So that leaves us at six months ago,” Chi said.

“Yeah,” Kim said. “I still thought that my incarceration was public knowledge and, while I hadn't actually expected anyone to show up for my release, it still stung when no one did.

“I made my way back home. I don't know what I was expecting to do, as far as I knew it still would have ruined my parents if they were associating with me.”

“That wouldn't have stopped them,” Chi said. The Possibles had some serious problems, notably Kim's father's habit of threatening to murder, via black hole, any boy in a relationship with Kim if he so much as made her unhappy, but even most of their problems were evidence that they'd do anything for family. Them staying away during the post-21 probation was probably to stop Kim from being punished rather than a sense of self preservation.

“Probably not,” Kim said, “but they weren't there. The house, which we'd all put so much work into rebuilding, had been abandoned. I don't know where they went because there's no forwarding address.”

Chi didn't say anything.

“And that was when I decided, 'To hell with parole',” Kim said.

“You mean that I'm not just harboring an alleged mass murderer but an actual violator of parole?” Chi said in fake shock. “I had no idea; this is so, so bad.”

Kim gave a faint smirk.

Sometimes even really bad, painfully corny attempts at humor got the job done.

“For about a week I wallowed,” Kim said. “Whether it was self pity or abject apathy I was wallowing in changed from day to day or even hour to hour.”

Kim paused a bit, and Chi wasn't sure if he should say anything.

“As the time went on, though, I started to feel more and more anger,” Kim said. “I'd saved the world so many times I lost count, I'd done enough babysitting that I'd practically raised some people's kids for them, I'd put my life on the line near constantly, I'd sacrificed any considerations about what I might want in order to help people, and for all of that I found myself reduced to nothing. After everything I'd done for the world, the world left me homeless, friendless, penniless, and depending on soup kitchens to keep from starving outright.

“Anger can be very constructive,” Kim said. “The angrier I got at the injustice of the situation, the more alive I became. It gave me a purpose, a direction, I'd make them pay for what they did to me.”

Chi wasn't going to judge Kim. Twisted and warped as it was, there was sheer joy in her voice at the thought of retribution and it disturbed him, but he'd been there. Vengeance hardly cared whether one was avenging a wrong or piling on more wrong through revenge.

You brought your pain inside of you and held onto it rather than let it go. You gave it a privileged position within your very being, letting it override lesser concerns like, say, your own morals. And then you took this thing that had been given to you and sought to reward the giver with their own equal or greater share. It was just a charitable impulse toward reciprocity, really. Reward pain with pain in kind.

“The most obvious target was GJ,” Kim said, “They'd sent me on the mission that ruined everything, they'd enforced the probation, and I knew enough about their operations to find a place to strike.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *
* Six Months Ago *
* * * * * * * * * * * *

“What are the threats today?” a mid level Global Justice employee asked a lower level one in a fairly unremarkable monitoring station.

The low level employee looked at a clipboard and reported, “Sonique has been collecting amplifiers, Gil Moss is in the area apparently looking into the possibility of obtaining samples of a mutagenic agent that reportedly affected five animals in the local sewers between ten and twenty years ago--”

“Why don't we know precisely how long ago it occurred?” the mid level employee asked.

“We're not even sure the reports are more than urban legend sir. Details are extremely difficult to ascertain.”

“What were the five animals?”

“One member of the order Rodentia, supposedly near the end of its natural life, and four members of the order Testudines, supposedly newborn,” the low level employee said, “Exposure is believed to have resulted in massive increases in the size and intelligence of all five while simultaneously extending their lifespans, notably of the Rodentia.”

“Moss will be interested in the Testudines, he only cares about aquatic mutants and he had an unpleasant experience with a mutant beaver in his teens.”

“All five are also reportedly students of a school of Japanese martial arts.”

“It's irrelevant,” the mid level employee said. “Let Moss look all he wants, he's not going to find the mutagenic agent, assuming it does exist, over a decade after it was released into the sewers. Other threats?”

The low level employee looked at his clipboard and obviously didn't think highly of any of the things that remained, “Doctors Dile and Gator are both reportedly gathering henchmen, an X-239 has been stolen but there's only an estimated one point five percent chance it will come into our area, and--”

“Someone you stabbed in the back is standing right behind you,” Kim said.

The mid level employee spun to face her, the low level employee didn't move at all.

“Possible,” the mid level employee said, apparently to the universe in general because it didn't seem, to Kim, to be directed at anyone. It certainly wasn't a greeting. Then the mid level employee told the low level one, “Get--”

Kim kicked the mid level employee in the gut, and then without putting her kicking foot down, and only a tiny hop to realign her foot on the ground, kicked the low level employee in the side. She didn't mind the cry of pain, she did mind that low level stayed standing. It only took a tap to the back of the knee to drop low level to his knees. Then she just shoved forward. When he landed with a thud she told him, “Stay down,” and returned her attention to the mid level employee.

“Your bad intel ruined my life,” Kim said to mid level, she wouldn't grace the individual with a name, “and I can't help but wonder how someone thinks that a pan-dimensional vortex inducer is present, powered up, and hooked into a doomsday device 'primed to go off at any moment' when there isn't a PDVI within a hundred mile radius of the site in question.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” mid level said.

“I traced the intelligence passed on to me, it came from your desk,” Kim said.

Mid level tried to run.

One grab and three punches later and mid level was sitting on the ground, back propped up on the wall, trying to keep pressure on a bloody nose.

“Are we through with the running?” Kim asked.

“You're talking about a single assignment from nine and a half years ago,” mid level said, “I don't remember.”

“If you don't remember,” Kim asked, “then why do you remember it was nine and a half years ago?”

“Because--”

“And if you don't remember doing anything wrong, then why did you run?” Kim asked.

“You went rogue!” Mid level said.

“So you don't remember the assignment, but you do remember the alleged outcome of the assignment?”

“You're rogue now! You broke into a highly secured facility--”

Kim snorted.

“This is a--”

“Don't make me laugh,” Kim said.

“You accused me of ruining your life after you'd already kicked me,” mid level said. “Of course I ran.”

“You say that,” Kim said, “but I when I ran after finding a bunch of dead bodies and then having someone blow up the building I was in, that was apparently proof I was guilty. Five years of prison and four and a half years of probation worth of proof.”

Mid level let, “You weren't supposed to go to prison,” slip out in a moment of apparent surprise.

“It sounds as if you do remember something,” Kim said.

“It was nothing personal,” mid level said quickly.

“You ruined my life,” Kim said, bringing her face closer to mid level's and looking straight in mid level's eyes, “and I take that personally.”

“GJ is part intelligence agency,” mid level said. “Lies are part of what we do.”

“That sounds so very just,” Kim said as she backed away to a more reasonable distance.

“No one was supposed to die,” mid level said. “You went overboard and killed--”

“I haven't killed anyone,” Kim said calmly, “but if you keep on telling me lies I'm willing to start.”

“I was following--” this time mid level stopped without being interrupted.

“Realize that that wasn't the best defense?” Kim asked.

“Operation Faux Hole--”

“It looked better on paper than it sounded when you said it aloud, didn't it?”

“It was just supposed to discredit you. When you couldn't recover the PDVI it would-- but then you killed those--” mid level seemed to rethink things, as Kim pondered what might hurt mid level as much as the accusations hurt her. “When the henchmen ... turned up dead everything changed. I was transferred to an entirely different unit--”

“At a higher pay grade,” Kim said. “The whole thing really helped your career along, didn't it?”

“It was a disaster!” mid level shouted. “With things so unstable after the invasion we couldn't afford a rogue operator like you--”

“I'm a 'rogue operator'?” Kim asked.

“I think you've shown that beyond all doubt,” mid level said.

Kim thought about that for a moment, then she asked, “And whose fault is that?”

“The operation was to remove a rogue element and stop a new villain at the same time without anyone getting killed,” mid level said. “No bloodshed. Then you head out with Shego and suddenly we're all neck deep in blood.”

Kim let off some steam by punching mid level and crying out in rage. She thanked whatever gods may be for the soundproofing in the GJ installation.

“Who led the operation?” Kim asked.

“Information is compartmentalized so--”

Kim growled.

“They didn't tell me.”

“Who classified me as needing to be removed?” Kim asked.

“They didn't tell me.”

“Did you know that there's a smell so repugnant that it'll drive a person to unconsciousness in seconds?” Kim asked.

“What?” Mid level was appropriately confused. Kim opened a can labeled as lip gloss under mid level's nose.

Then she stood up.

She walked to where low level was still laying on floor. “Good job staying down,” she said. “You might want to activate some alarm now so that they don't think you're working with me.”

Low level looked up, and looked uncertain. Kim nodded. Low level ran off. Kim raided mid level's pockets. She was rewarded with an RFID keycard.

* * * * * * *
* Present *
* * * * * * *

“I stole some hard drives from their servers,” Kim said, “took me a while to find someone to crack them for me --I've always been more of a hardware person than a software one-- but once I did I dumped the information online and didn't hide how I'd gotten it. Or, rather, who I'd used to get it.”

“So I'm guessing that mid level's career in intelligence took a hit,” Chi said. Sometimes what hurt the most wasn't physical pain. Someone like that lived and breathed information analysis, putting together the puzzle with pieces ordinary individuals didn't even know existed. Revenge was taking them out of the game; smashing their security clearance.

“Not as much as it deserved to,” Kim said, “but careers are funny things.”

“And letting the other one set off an alarm?” Chi asked.

Kim shrugged then said, “Shego's been known to take down GJ goons at a rate of one every seven point five seconds when they're fully alerted and swarming, I wanted a shot at the title.”

Made sense, violence was a fairly direct way of letting off steam --even if it wasn't a particularly good way to to do it-- and at that point she had almost a a decade of worth of pent up steam. It was a wonder she hadn't exploded.

“So, you had the name for an operation that was clearly made by someone who didn't know that the 'x' in 'faux' is silent,” Chi said. “Where did you go from there?”

“Well, Global Justice keeps multiple copies of all of their little secrets, in case their network is compromised,” Kim said.

“Offline hard drives that only interact with the outside world when someone manually brings in new data to dump?” Chi asked.

“And paper copies in another location in case someone manages to take out all computers via new technology.”

“That is monstrously stupid,” Chi said.

“The Lorwardian ability to hit the off switch on the entire world led to a lot of people being wary of putting too much trust in technology,” Kim said.

“If you have it in an EMP shielded room, grounded, and powered down, your data's pretty secure.”

“Regardless,” Kim said, “Paper copies.”

“They had to be in code,” Chi said.

“Sure,” Kim said, “But they didn't reprint all of the earlier stacks every time they improved their ciphers, meaning that the information I wanted was in old code.”

“I say again: monstrously stupid,” Chi said.

“Thermite charges to incinerate everything it the facility is breached,” Kim said.

There was absolutely no reason to use thermite to burn paper. It was like using lava to melt wax.

“Complete overkill aside,” Chi said, “my point stands, especially since their response to the obvious security risk such a facility poses is to blow up their backup of last resort thus defeating the entire purpose of having a back up of last resort.”

“It was pretty hard actually finding the place,” Kim offered.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
* Five Months Ago *
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kim was packing lighter than ever and had given up on electronic communications entirely. Anything that transmitted anything was off limits now. Things that received though, those could be useful.

She'd combined parts scavenged from an open air dump with parts ripped from GJ coms units, and a police scanner that she'd stolen from a cop who'd been shaking down a random teenager. Obviously all the transmitters had been ripped out.

What the resulting device was telling her right now was that the cops weren't on the lookout for her and GJ didn't seem to know she was coming either.

On the surface the facility looked like an abandoned building which was appropriate because she looked exactly like what she was: a homeless person who could use a roof.

She wandered in an looked for a good place to set up a bed. The question was whether GJ would ignore her or try to shoo her away. The second would be better, but if it turned out to be the first she'd welcome the chance to rest a bit. There had been freezing rain and the faded hoodie she used for warmth and to hide her hair had first been drenched and then it had frozen.

The ice had cracked and broken so she could move just fine, but a chance to be out the weather and maybe sleep by a fire would not go unappreciated.

She found a decent spot on the second floor. The floor was wood. How had no one salvaged this yet?

She shed the hoodie and her shoes and socks. Too much ice, too much cold, and then went to work. These days her toolkit included a crowbar and a sledge hammer that was short and extremely heavy. They weren't exactly ideal for making a hole in the floor, but the did get the job done eventually.

It also got her body to heat up a bit. Enough that interlacing her fingers and toes returned some feeling to the latter without making her worry about the former.

Once that was done she used the crowbar as a chisel to pry up floorboards. When she had enough wood, she got to work on kindling. The sledge hammer plus the the crowbar sufficed for breaking the boards into smaller pieces, but for the actual shavings that would get the fire started she used a bayonet knife she'd taken off a group of unmarked soldiers --uniforms without insignia or identifying marks, pockets bereft of ID, and not a single dog tag-- armed with M16s who'd tried to ambush her a week and a half ago.

The M7 bayonet knife used for M16s had become invaluable in the short time she'd had it and she used it in applications as diverse as preparing food and applying the torque to pick locks. In fact, she'd found so many uses for it that making shavings from floorboards for kindling was downright mundane and unremarkable.

The knife hadn't been the only useful thing to come out of that encounter, she reflected as she made the shavings, it had taught her not to show her face near networked cameras. Who would have thought a traffic camera would cause her so much trouble? True, they'd already suspected she was in the area, and she'd known that, but still ... it was a traffic camera.

Once she had what she needed for the fire, she needed something that wouldn't burn to set up the fire on. That was as simple as tearing out some drywall and laying it on the floor. Her fire circle was a bit less inspiring, but she worked with what she had and that didn't include a bunch of rocks.

She started it with a lighter she'd lifted from a gift shop in Go City. “A piece of Go City to bring home with you,” made in China.

Once upon a time she never would have considered stealing.

As soon as she was sure the the fire had taken and would keep going, she positioned her clothing around it, close enough for heat, far enough not to catch (hopefully), and lay herself down beside it.

* * *

“Miss, I have to ask you to leave,” a man said.

Kim just replied, “I'm trying to sleep here.”

“That's the problem. You're trespassing,” the voice said. She looked up at the person addressing her. GJ. They did come out after all. “Not to mention the vandalism.”

“I beg to differ,” Kim said as she got up. “I have permission from the owner to be here. You're trespassing.”

The man laughed and then gave voice to his incredulity “Really?”

“Terra Dominus,” (who named their fictitious land lord “Land Lord” in Latin, anyway?) “has been trying to change her image away from that of a soulless slum lord and as a part of that project she's opened up her currently empty buildings to all comers as part of a project to end homelessness. I was the first applicant,” Kim said.

“Who?” the man asked.

GJ was getting even more sloppy than she remembered if the facility guard didn't know the cover story.

“Terra Dominus,” Kim said as if everyone on earth knew the name, “owner of the Domus Real Estate Company.” The man showed no recognition. Kim acted like she was speaking down to someone extremely stupid, “The Domus Commercial Real Estate Group, which owns this building, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Domus Real Estate Company.”

“You expect me to believe that some rich CEO gave you permission to tear up one of her buildings?” the man asked.

“Of course not,” Kim said. “That's why I have paperwork, in duplicate no less.” Kim rummaged through her bag and pulled out some papers. “This is the one with a coffee stain on it, so even you're probably not incompetent enough to mess it up more than it already is,” Kim said when she handed the papers to the the man.

“Now I never personally met with Ms. Dominus, but you'll see her signature is on the paperwork,” Kim said. It had been easy enough to forge the signature and she had no worries about it being noticed as a forgery. GJ had gotten sloppy and used the exact same signature for all of their documentation which meant that if push came to shove the GJ documents would be suspected to be forged, since no human being can produce exactly the same pen strokes twice, much less every single time, and in the ensuing legal mess Kim's forgery would completely ignored and forgotten.

The man from GJ did look at the documents, and seemed a bit agitated the more he looked, probably because everything was in order.

“You'll note that paragraph six on the third page states that I can remodel however I see fit,” Kim said. “It's the one that starts, 'Whereas there is an intention to renovate the building in six months...' Silly rich people with their bloated language.”

Kim paused just long enough to let the man think he'd have a chance to speak, and then said, “Why are you even here? I asked about building security and was told I'd have to provide my own. There's absolutely nothing connecting this site to GJ.” That was the problem with owning something through a front. Yes it means that outsiders can't connect the thing to you, but it also means that you can't prove that you own it given the work you've done to distance yourself from it.

As the man was about to answer Kim cut him off again. “Did you get tired harassing hapless people at internet cafes?”

“How--” and then he cut himself off. Apparently GJ wasn't openly acknowledging that little escapade. It was two weeks ago and what she assumed led to traffic camera scrutiny that in turn led to to the anonymous gun toting unit going after her. She'd just been doing some basic research trying to figure out where this facility was. She hadn't even broken any laws.

She felt bad about the whole thing because, as far as she knew, the cafe had been shuttered as a result of the raid. GJ stormed the place trying to catch her, but they'd failed miserably. There was a reason that she'd kept her signature hairstyle. Being spotted occasionally without hiding it meant that the authorities were always looking for a redhead. Which meant that a hairnet and a wig, in that particular case a bright blue wig, was all it took to make them decide not to give her a second glance.

Wigs went on sale after people no longer needed them for their costumes, but some of what hadn't sold on Halloween still hadn't sold months later and Kim was able to pick up five new hair colors at a good price.

Anyway, it was time to respond to the GJ man's aborted question: “It was an internet cafe, you can't possibly think you could keep something like that secret when people were live blogging and tweeting your unconstitutional raid as it happened.”

She let a moment pass and then pretended that she'd just realized something, “Oh... that's why you're picking on me. You realized that you couldn't push around tech savy middle class kids and you assumed that a poor woman like me wouldn't have access to the internet.”

She snatched back the papers she'd given him. “Let's go to to the cops and see who they believe,” Kim said. “Me, who has all the proper paperwork, or you who has nothing but a bully mentality and baseless accusations.”

They'd believe him, obviously. GJ was law enforcement, poor people were ignored, and there was still enough misogyny in the world that “he said / she said” tended to end with “The cops believed him.” But GJ couldn't go to the police about someone trespassing on property they didn't officially own in a place they weren't officially supposed to be operating. Going to the police was tantamount to admitting they had a secret base here, and secret bases, when exposed, tended to attract attention.

To show she was ready to take the matter to the police Kim started putting on her socks, which had dried out, and her shoes, which had not.

“Lets not be hasty,” the GJ man said. He raised his hands in a gesture meant to look like “Hold on” but Kim knew what he was doing. She rolled and the STOP watch missed its mark. She impacted him in the legs and he fell forward over her.

Kim used her knock out gas lip-gloss to finish him.

She was disappointed. She'd enjoyed talking circles around him.

* * *

GJ really needed to make it less easy to break into their bases. No wonder Shego had always been so bored.

The underground facility was huge, but lightly guarded. Kim evaded the patrols not because she didn't want to fight, but because she knew it would take ages to find what she was looking for. There was just too much ground to cover.

Eventually she was able locate the papers on Operation Faux Hole. There were too many to extract, either the information on the operation was incredibly detailed, or the way it was encoded significantly increased its length.

Fortunately, she had come prepared. More theft. The once great Kim Possible reduced to using a stolen digital camera to steal classified information.

* * *

“Kim Possible?” a voice asked.

Kim cursed herself for being caught of guard, the ease of her entrance led to her being sloppy on her escape. She turned to face the speaker.

He or she was wearing a standard GJ uniform and looked to be around twenty years old. Probably someone who got a low level job in a facility never expected to see action after being recruited right out of high school and put through training. Kim was all kinds of uncertain on whether she was facing a he or a she.

“I knew it was you,” the GJ agent said. “That's why I didn't set off the alarms when I saw you on the security feed.”

Ok, apparently GJ hadn't let everyone know that she was now considered the enemy.

“You're like my hero,” the agent said.

“Uh, don't take this the wrong way,” Kim said, “but are you male or female?”

“Truthfully neither, but my birth certificate and my file say, 'Male',” the agent said.

“So, what do I call you?” Kim asked.

“Riley,” the agent said, “and if you need to use pronouns go gender neutral.”

“Like 'it'?” It was hard for Kim to believe someone wanted to be an it. It had too many objectifying implications.

Riley smiled, appeared to narrowly avoid laughing, and said, “No, like singular they / them / their / theirs /themselves or a new gender neutral pronoun like ze / zir / zir / zirs / zirself or ne / nem / nir / nirs / nemself.”

“Ok,” Kim said trying to absorb the information. Maybe she should have spent more time with the queer-straight alliance in high school. She'd thought she had a handle on everything already and didn't need to. “Listen, Riley, I'm not officially supposed to be here.”

“Of course, this place doesn't officially exist.”

“What I mean is that I wasn't supposed to be noticed on the cameras, make contact with the personnel, or have my presence logged in any way,” Kim said, and it was all true. She very much did not want Global Justice to know she'd been there just yet.

“I can erase you from the tapes,” Riley said, “and I can keep a secret.”

“I appreciate it,” Kim said. Riley was being helpful and she didn't want to get ... nem in trouble. On the other hand, her clothes were still wet and her feet felt like they were going to kill her via some horrible soaking related disease. “Since I wasn't supposed to interact with you, I definitely wasn't supposed to tell you this, but this facility's been compromised and they'll be using the thermite soon.”

Riley's eyes went wide, but ne said nothing.

“Given that, do you think anyone would notice or mind if I changed into some dryer clothes and took them with me?”

For a moment Riley said nothing, then motioned for Kim to follow and said, “I think I can help.”

* * *

Kim was outfitted in GJ standard fare including luxuriously dry socks and wonderfully waterproof boots.

“Thank you so much,” she said to Riley.

“Like you say,” Riley said, “no big.”

Kim nodded.

“You know, when I said you were my hero,” Riley said, “you made a much bigger difference in my life than just being a role model.”

Kim used to get the hero stuff a lot. Prison had been rather lacking in it though. Riley was the first person to unsarcastically call her a hero since the fire that'd gotten her thrown in prison.

“I'd known I wasn't like other boys for as long as I can remember, but it didn't really click that it was because I didn't fit into whole 'boy' category until someone said, to make fun of me, that growing up to be 'just like you' --which is something I said I wanted to do all the time-- would make me a girl,” Riley said. “It was a like a light switched on. The concept of not being a boy didn't bother me a bit, it took me a while longer to realize that I wasn't a boy or a girl, but it was hero worship of you as a kid that set me on the path to finally being able to be me.”

And now Kim felt really bad about using this person to get dry clothes. As she packed her wet stuff in a plastic bag Riley had provided from somewhere and packed that into her backpack she had an idea of how she might be able to make things go right.

“Deleting the video of me could get you into a lot of trouble,” Kim said. It looked like Riley was going to protest but Kim held up a hand. “Let me finish.” Riley nodded. “Since this place is compromised and will be destroyed soon anyway, why not report the missing video, file this as a possible incursion, and thus avoid any questions that would come up if you tried to cover up the doctoring of the video?”

“That sounds awfully dishonest,” Riley said. Kim considered quoting mid level's thing about lying being part of intelligence work, but before she could remember the exact words, Riley added, “I like it.”

Kim smiled. “If you really want to be like me when you grow up,” she said, “always remember that rules, regulations, and laws exist to serve justice, so when the rules conflict with justice you have to break the rules.”

“I have to get back to my post,” Riley said.

“I have to slip out,” Kim said, “but before I do … I really don't want to get you in trouble, and I hope I won't, but if I do... I still check the forums on my website. Contact me there and I'll do whatever I can to help.”

“It was nice meeting you,” Riley said.

“It was an unexpected pleasure to meet you,” Kim said. They went their separate ways.

* * * * * * *
* Present *
* * * * * * *

“What happened to Riley?” Chi asked.

“In the immediate aftermath things went well,” Kim said. “Unfortunately things went downhill after I destroyed the facility.”

“Come again?”

“The facility was compromised--”

“By you,” Chi said.

“--and I had been planning on getting rid of it,” Kim said. She'd let non-traditional media, basically young people with camcorders or cell phones, know that something was going to be happening in an apparently abandoned part of town at a specific time. Global Justice agents fleeing the site of the artificial sink hole created when the facility was destroyed set off any number of conspiracy theories. The bad press for them was hardly her ideal revenge, but it did serve as a bit of icing.

Plus, it had been low hanging fruit.

“Since it was rigged to blow anyway,” Kim said, “it was pretty easy to do. I didn't even have to go inside to set off the self destruct.”

“I'm guessing that there was a recon element involved in the time you did go in, which you totally left out of the story you told me,” Chi said.

“You wanted me to spoil the surprise?” Kim asked in fake disbelief.

“I don't expect the whole truth,” Chi said, “But I do appreciate getting the pertinent details.”

“Before the destruction of the facility it looked like someone took out the above ground guard, used his clearance to get inside, did something, removed incriminating footage, and left,” Kim said. “That alone should have been enough to get the higher ups in a panic, but it didn't. When the facility ceased to exist, though, they did get into a panic.

“I wasn't in disguise at the time, I'd taken off the hoodie so it could thaw and then dry, thus leaving my hair in plain view, so the above ground guard reported me in such a way that when people who were aware that I'd bailed on parole and was pissed of at Global Justice read the report--”

“They thought, 'Kim Possible',” Chi said.

“Pretty much,” Kim said. “And they decided that everyone who was working at the facility on either the day I infiltrated it or the day it was destroyed was a potential accomplice and detained the lot of them, indefinitely.”

“You bust them out?”

“I need to find a directed EMP weapon, an armored bus, and really good hiking shoes before I can even try,” Kim said. And she did want to get those people out. Before Global Justice turned on them the only worker she cared about was Riley, but when they became victims of Global Jutice's injustice, that reclassified all of them in Kim's mind. The fact that it was partly her doing just made the need to help them stronger.

“Would a school bus with tank armor welded on work?” Chi asked.

“It might,” Kim said.

“Well I can get you that and the shoes, but I don't have any good leads on non area of effect EMP devices,” Chi said.

“I'd appreciate that,” Kim said.

“You're welcome, but it's not just for you,” Chi said. “They've been imprisoned for, what, five months now without doing anything wrong?”

“Yeah, about five months,” Kim said.

One of many things Kim felt bad about. She'd had a moral obligation to set them free the moment they were unjustly locked up.

“Anything come out of your theft?” Chi asked.

Five weeks of going through pictures and tediously translating a decade-old code into plain text, Kim thought.

“I got a name: Jacob Phelps,” Kim said.

“Something tells me you're not talking about the environmental science guy.”


The name of the operation leader being "Jacob Phelps" is a reference to the story Bad Girls by LJ58 which is one of the two stories that I drew inspiration from, the other being Action and Reaction by ShadowDancer01 (as a warning, that one is in progress so there's no end yet.)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Skewed Slightly to the Left: Theories Chloe has heard

[Originally posted at Slacktivist.]

"Dad," Chloe said to her father, sleeping on the couch because he couldn't face his empty bedroom. "Dad!"
"Let me sleep, Irene," he mumbled.
That hit like a knife to the heart, but Chloe pushed the feeling aside. She'd had to learn to deal with the physical rather than feelings to make it here. It wasn't a lesson she'd soon forget. You could mourn, sob, freeze up, or wish for death when there was downtime, but first you had to deal with the problem at hand.
She shook her father's shoulder.
"Wha?"
"Dad, it's passed noon," Chloe said. When she was sure he was awake, she added, "time for food."
"You don't need to wait on me, Chlo," her father said. "Just have something for yourself."
"You know what happens when you don't eat?" Chloe asked, "You're tired all the time, a headache sets in that never ends, you start to get weak, even something like walking a short distance exhausts you, and with all that going on, you don't even think to eat."
Her father sat up at that, "Has that happened to you Chlo?"
"Two thousand miles is a long way," Chloe said. He didn't need to know what she'd been through, it wouldn't help. "I can see the signs, you need food."
"Alright," her father said, "alright."
- - -
Rayford looked at Chloe as they ate a meal composed of, basically, what was grab. He wanted to tell her that he believed that they'd been through the rapture and the only hope they had of seeing Irene or Raymie again was to convert to their religion. But it wouldn't be right to just force that on her.
If he was going to tell her what he believed, then he first should listen to what she believed. It was only fair. "What do you think happened, Chloe?"
"A lot of people back at the university thought that it had to be aliens," Chloe said, "Who else could have technology that targeted human beings but didn't touch any other mammals? A militia that claimed some of the territory I went through as their own were convinced it was the government. Something about chemtrail exposure and children being most susceptible. They didn't have an explanation for why it only hit people, but when I brought that up one pointed out that animals don't leave clothes behind, so we might not notice them as much.
"There's a cult in Wyoming that thinks it was a first strike by the devil, and the apocalypse is coming. On the other hand a Nebraska cult I bumped into thinks that it's God, those who were worthy were taken, everyone else is damned. The gates of heaven barred.
"A helo pilot I got a lift from is convinced that the world we see isn't real, this is all some kind of computer program and the servers handling children and certain adults went down. He was remarkably unperturbed by the idea. I think because he believes that tech support will get the servers back up and then everyone we lost will be returned.
"A street preacher in Des Moines claims its proof that we're all actually living in the first century. The theory is, basically, that we're all living Acts 29 and Jesus is about to return but, in order to draw us away from belief the devil invented all of human history since then as a delusion so we won't be ready when the second coming comes. Under this theory it's been about 13 years since the delusion set in so none of the children really existed in the first place, and the people who disappeared didn't either.
"Obviously that theory has even more holes in it than the idea that the universe had a hiccup and dumped a lot of people in the next dimension over.
"There are so many theories out there, and the truth is that none of them make any more sense than, 'It just happened by random chance,' because what happened is impossible.
"I'm waiting on more evidence," Chloe said.
Rayford nodded, but then he said, "I think that your mother was right. She said this would happen right down to people disappearing but their clothes being left behind."
"I can see how you'd believe that," Chloe said, "but that makes God a monster who was responsible for all of the death that followed the event. Surely an all powerful being could wait until someone had parked their car to take them."
"I don't have an answer for that," Rayford said. "But I think that the only way to see the others again is to join their religion."
"It would also make God a kidnapper," Chloe said. "Every child was taken, not just the ones who believed in that particular strain of Christianity. They were taken from their families without being given a choice."
"I know that too," Rayford said. "I don't have any moral answers, but I do think your mother was right."
"How are we supposed to feel about them being with a mass murdering kidnapper if it's true?" Chloe asked.
"Maybe there are things that we don't know about that somehow made it necessary," Rayford offered weakly.
"The lesser of extreme evils?" Chloe asked.
"I don't know," Rayford said.

-

Friday, January 29, 2016

Inverse Joy Plausibility

To recap: I'm university this semester, at a price tag of about a thousand dollars I don't have, because I was sticking around to take classes that were discontinued after I decided to stick around this year and thus told my mental health practitioners they had until the end of this semester to manage to smoothly hand me off to someone else, thus I need to keep them until the end of this semester, thus I need to take a class even though the good ones no longer exist.

In that class (only takes one to be a student) the teacher likes people taking notes in the books and wants us to do it.  I'm actually a fan of marginalia myself.  There's so much that we only know about from people scrawling stuff everyone knew in the margins.  That said, I'm not good at making it.

None the less, at the top of the page, over the title, I wrote "Inverse Joy Plausibility".  That's not a fully formed phrase, much less a coherent thought, but here's what happened.

I was thinking, in depth, about a certain kind of story, then I sat down to read the assigned story and got that sort of story vibes, though I dismissed them when the vibes didn't seem to pan out, then I hit an emotional turning point and felt sure that it was that kind of story, and the ending bore that out.

The story was "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin.  It was written on April 19th, 1894 and published on December 6th of the same year.  If you don't want it spoiled, stop reading now or, you know, take this moment to go and read it.  It's not very long at all.

Ok, so what happens is this

  • The main character has a heart condition and they're worried any shock could kill her
  • In comes a telegraph saying that her husband is dead, the husband's friend gets confirmation that he's really dead and then rushes off to try to break the news lightly, picking up main character's sister on the way
  • Main character doesn't have denial or anything, the blow hits her all at once and she goes off to be alone
  • She has a feeling that she's been so conditioned not to feel that she sees it as something external to herself and is afraid when she feels it coming but when it does come...
  • FREEDOM!  In the society (and class) she was in the only free women were widows and where before she'd hoped for a short life because it kind of, you know, sucked, now that she's awakened to this freedom of widowhood she wants a long life in which she is in charge of herself.
  • Turns out her husband isn't dead, he wasn't even near the accident and didn't know there was one.  The shock of the freedom lost does in fact kill her.
  • The doctors assume that the only thing a woman could feel at seeing her thought dead husband alive is joy, so they assume that the joy killed her.  Fuckers.
There is an emotional structure to this kind of a story, and that's what I was thinking about before sitting down to read the story, thus before I knew it was this kind of story.

Things start really fucking bad.  She's emotionally wrecked by the news, sobbing uncontrollably.  When the good part of the situation starts to dawn on her she's afraid of it.  In class there was looking at the exact words and as the teacher put it "When an unknown thing is creeping out of the sky to possess you, that's usually not good," or thereabouts.

But then throughout the course of the story things get better and better.  She realizes the freedom and the more she thinks about it the better she gets.  She realizes that, while she did love her husband (sometimes) and was and will be sad that he is dead (she knows she'll be crying uncontrollably again at the funeral) she cares about freedom more than love and indeed more than anything else in her life.

She seriously went from a position of wanting to live a short life to wanting to live for a long damn time.  And then, when good emotions are at their peak, a twist brings everything crashing down to tragedy.

That works.

We as readers, viewers, listeners, and general consumers of fiction are prepared to believe in a dramatic story in which things get better and better and then a deus ex machina destroys all hope and joy.

But what if we flipped it?

She starts out in a good place, awaiting the return of her love, but as the story progresses there are subtle hints, then not so subtle hints, and finally confirmation that he died on the return journey, she her good place is destroyed and she sinks lower and lower into depression and even reaches the point of being suicidal.  Then, when things are at their darkest, the husband walks in and it turns out that, just like in the real story, he's fine, he wasn't near the accident that was reported to have killed him, and didn't even know there had been one.  Joy reinstated and they live happily ever after.

It would never work.  We can have the out of left field thing in comedy, but not in drama.  Mind you if I remove the last sentence "Joy reinstated and they live happily ever after" it can work.  Think the Twilight Zone episode where it turned out, oops, there wasn't a nuclear attack coming.  What people did in the dark times made it impossible to go back to the way things had been.  There was no returning to the light.  That ending worked.

Down endings, it seems, work.

If him returning had somehow made everything better though, it wouldn't.

It was reported that the husband died and the first thing that happened was that a telegraph was sent back saying, "Are you sure this guy was killed," and the reply was, "Yup, he's totes dead."

To have him return and make everything good would be rejected by the audience as implausible bullshit.  Deus Ex Machina at the worst.  (And you don't even get Dionysus on a crane.)

But to have the exact same thing, return home unscathed after being reported and then confirmed dead with an explanation of "He was never even there in the first place" that works.

Somehow, the idea of plausibility is tied inversely to the idea of good outcomes.  Does this produce joy?  Not plausible.  What if it did the exact opposite but was otherwise exactly the same?  Totally plausible.

It's part of why happy endings are so much harder to pull off.  A lazy writer (which Kate Chopin was not, it's a good story with important things to take from it) can do down endings just fine.  It takes really fucking craft to make a happy ending that resonates with an audience as non-contrived.

For some reason, we're accepting of contrivance provided that the result is "It got worse."

Before looking at Chopin's story focused me on that, I was imaging a land dispute.

Imagine someone's great grandparent's farm.  If it was divided equally at each generation then, depending on how many kids were common in the family, there could be a lot of partial owners.

If they had kids like my dad's family then whoever our protagonist is finds themselves with about 343 family members of their own generation plus however many of of the about 49 members of the previous generation are still involved.  If they had kids like my mom's family then the numbers are a bit more reasonable 8 same generation stakeholders and 4 older generation stakeholders.

Add in a few developers, the city council, a nature conservatory group or two.
If we take this land dispute and have things get worse and worse until the protagonist is going to have to give up because ze doesn't have the funds to compete, and then when all hope is lost the protagonist finds buried treasure, is able to buy out the other stakeholders, and saves the farm then readers are going to cry, "bullshit!"

Flip it.  The protagonist goes around to the various stakeholders and interested parties and slowly, with ever so much difficulty, there's hope and everyone is just about ready to agree to a deal mercifully just before the protagonist isn't able to afford working on this shit anymore.  Then that same buried treasure is found and suddenly everyone isn't willing to agree to the deal because they now believe the property is worth more and now archaeologists are joining the bickering table.

The readers are going to say, "Figures."

I don't really have a point beyond the fact that it seems like people in general find joy and happy endings unbelievable and thus not credible while they're much more ready to find the opposite plausible.

And that makes down endings easy and happy ones hard.  Not that it should be used to judge writers.  The built-in plausibility of of down endings doesn't take away from the craft of good writers who use them.  A lot of writers who do up endings aren't actually up for the task of selling them and so it comes off as forced and false.