Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bent, not Broken

[Note that "Chi" is pronounced the same way as the ancient Greek letter.  That means ch as in "Christmas" not ch as in "change".  Also, the "i" is long.  If it helps, you can think of it as "Kai" even though it is very definitely spelled "Chi".]
[An explanation for why another Kim Possible fic, and why this one in particular, here.]

Kim knew she was dreaming, but that knowledge didn't allow her to avoid reliving the memory her mind seemed intent on inflicting on her.  It was from years ago.  She tried to think of anything else.  It was from when she was in high school, helping out a classmate, maybe she could think of the kids who she'd... It was no good.  She remembered blood.

Her dreams were always only thought, sight, and sound --never smell, taste, or feeling-- so she didn't feel the sensation of dried blood covering her arms, though she remembered hating it.  She saw the blood on her, Ron's blood, and heard his ragged breathing from next to her.

Even though she knew Ron made a full recovery afterward, the memory overwhelmed her and she felt every bit as worried that he'd die as she had been that day.

She should have known how far over her head she was when Shego offered to help without any kind of prompting.  No blackmail, no grudge to settle.  Shego just showed up and offered her services.  Shego--

Shego!  Maybe she could think about Shego and escape this wretched memory.  This was the first time Shego willingly joined up with her, but it was hardly the last.  Some of the things from just before it all went wrong--

Ron coughed up blood and phlegm.  She was back in the memory.

She rechecked Ron's wounds to make sure none had been reopened by the force of his coughs.  Their captors hadn't waited to see if his monkey power would manifest, they'd made sure that he was out of the fight regardless and thus, as they put it, "eliminated an unpredictable variable".

They seemed to think that she should be grateful they'd let him live.  Her as well, though in her case she worried about their reasons.

Finished checking Ron's wounds and having noted that his breathing had changed from ragged to shallow after the coughing, she held her head in her hands.  There was no mercy here.  Ron, she'd overheard when they'd thought her unconscious, they'd avoided killing for fear that a mortal wound might trigger the monkey magic they hoped to avoid.  As for her, that she was less clear on.  She thought she'd heard something about seeing if there was "a biological explanation for..." and that was all she'd caught.

She never did learn what they were talking about, Kim thought.  The facility had been utterly destroyed shortly after the memory took place, all records lost.  Its sister facilities had suffered the same fate.  It was no accident, he'd--

And then he entered the memory.  Chi.  The one she was supposed to be protecting.  Kim had laughed, and she relived that bitter, mirthless laugh.  When she'd taken on Chi's case she figured it would be no problem.  She'd lost count of how many times had she helped to stop corrupt scientists, after all.

By then she'd understood that there was a world of difference between a mad scientist, or an evil scientist, and an amoral scientist with shady defense industry ties.  Corrupt scientists were a far more varied group than she had initially believed.

So she had laughed.

Kim remembered smelling Chi's blood even though she didn't actually experience the smell in the dream.  Even if she hadn't remembered smelling it, she'd know his shirt was still wet with it.  The loose shirt was clinging to his side where the drab garment was marred by a large splotch of blood.

When Chi was roughly thrown into his cage and she heard the lock engage, Kim was focused on the blood --and the way Chi moved.  The wound was obviously bad.  Very bad from the way he was acting.

"You have to give him medical attention!" Kim shouted.

"He's had it," one of their captors said.  That one was the only one to linger in the room with them.  The had others left promptly.  Just as he was about to leave too, he seemed to change his mind.  He walked to Chi's cage and said, "Maybe now you've learned not to try to escape during surgery."

Chi swore in multiple languages.

Their captor laughed.

Then Chi spoke with disturbing calm, "I think you'll find I'm a slow learner."

"Now that we know you won't stay under," the captor said, "why bother with medication at all?  From now on we'll operate on you without anesthetic.  Nothing but good strong restraints.  That'll break you."

Chi smiled.  It had scared Kim then.  It scared her now.  More than nightmares.

"Oh, I don't break," Chi said.  His voice was almost playful, but dangerous.  Disturbing.  "I bend."

Even their captor seemed to pick up on how wrong this was.  Kim caught the faintest shiver.  He'd tried to suppress it, Kim could tell, but he'd failed.

"You should be careful though," Chi said.  "If I bend too far, I might stay that way."

For a moment there was near complete silence.  Kim held her breath, so did their captor.  Chi seemed content to be quiet.  Only the shallow breathing of Ron, still unconscious, disturbed the air.

"I don't think that would be good for you," Chi said.

That's when Kim woke up.

It wasn't hard to pull a meaning from the dream.  It was very easy in fact.

* * *

Echelon was never nearly as powerful as people assumed or feared, but in an age of self driving cars and toasters that could hold a conversation, the technology existed to make significant use of Echelon's level of surveillance.  What it was best at, it turned out, wasn't foiling terrorist attacks or keeping tabs on foreign governments but instead giving various people with access the ability to track, control, or interdict the communications of ordinary civilians with little to nothing in terms of resources.

People like Kim, in other words.

If she simply picked up a phone and made a call, Echelon would catch it, then voice recognition would identify her in a few moments, and the system would pinpoint her location in even fewer.  Using a burn phone was slightly safer, but it would narrow her location using whatever cell phone towers she was nearest to.

Kim had seen too many people laid low for simply being in the same vicinity as her, she'd long since promised herself not one more.  It was a promise that she'd broken, and would continue to break, but she did make an attempt.

There was another problem with simply making the call she wanted to make.

Pragmatically, what she wanted to do would be impossible if her call were intercepted.  She couldn't place a call, she needed to steal one.  Specifically she needed to illicitly access a communications system so heavily encrypted that Echelon would never hear her voice run by an organization so paranoid as to obfuscate the stations from which even mundane calls were made and supported by an technological department so far ahead of the curve that they were using new hardware six to eight months before the NSA knew it was even under development.

There were two definite options, six probables, and nineteen potentials.  "Potentials" being an optimistic euphemism for "long shots".  Kim had no time for maybe.  She picked the best: HenchCo.

There was even a branch not too far from where she was.

The way forward was crystal clear, and that was always nice.

She'd long since thrown dignity aside and the coins she'd scrounged from gutters, storm drains, places with grunge not yet understood by science, and so forth had helped her stay alive and, occasionally, hydrated.  A quick check showed that she did have two quarters.

Five minutes later she went to a disreputable store, 'Gunz for Less', slipped into the back office, and searched online for local transit stations and restaurants that delivered.  Ten minutes after that she ordered pizza from the payphone at a Greyhound station.

Once, Kim had had little use for landlines.  The Kimmunicator had been able to do pretty much whatever she'd needed.  She hadn't even noticed as payphones had disappeared from the modern landscape.  Now, however, it paid to know things like the fact that transit stations --train and bus stations, airports, so forth-- were some of the few places where you could be almost sure to find a payphone.

Payphones had two advantages.  The first was that they were designed to be public.  Anyone could walk up to one and use it, so they weren't tied to any individual or organization.  The second was that the companies that maintained payphones didn't make enough money to have them even the least bit secure.  Thus she'd just given away her location, without implicating anyone as an accomplice, for a couple of quarters

Response time was a bit slow.

The pizza almost beat the hover jet to her location.  It would have been embarrassing for Kim if she'd actually been expected to pay for the pizza.  Worse, it would have endangered the delivery person.  Still, the hover jet did come first, and the pizza delivery girl wisely abandoned the delivery when she arrived to see an armed and armored three man team rush out of the hover jet that, officially, wasn't supposed to exist and charge Kim.

Kim noted colors.  The hover jet was standard issue for top GJ agents; the armor was also GJ standard issue-- though usually it was given to the lower ranking agents that were tasked with mundane law enforcement and operated in groups instead of the usually solo agents that got hover jets.  The coloring --or rather the lack of color-- was definitely not standard issue.  The only reason to replace the standard coloring with monochrome matte black was for deniability.

In most cases a different paint job wouldn't make much of a difference, but the Global Justice Alliance had the WEE copying its every move.  The Doctors Director might have stepped down from heading the organizations, but the two agencies still operated as mirror images of one another.  Without the official colors it was almost impossible to know if the equipment originated with the GJA or the WEE.

Almost.  Kim could tell.  Subtle details here and there.  WEE's refusal to go metric led to minute differences in size, certain modifications to the basic designs were improvised by the two organizations as shortcomings were discovered via use in the field.  Difficulties with the way an agents' gloves and sleeves interacted had been solved by modding the sleeves in one organization and modifying the gloves in the other organization, for example.

The agents from the two agencies also tended to use slightly different tactics, and tended to have markedly distinct comportments.

The equipment was of Global Justice manufacture.  The agents had received Global Justice training.

They'd go down easy.

* * *

The lead agent of Team Echo Niner Tango was very sure of his own professionalism.  His uniform was clean, his vehicle "swept" daily to keep it free of identifying fibers, his weapons perfectly tuned up, his proficiency in each never less than 30% over the level required by regulation.  His orders were always clear, concise, and without ambiguity.

He stressed the importance of certainty to his men.  He made sure they even thought in ways that prevented confusion and ambiguity.  They were required to understand that they were part of Team Echo Niner Tango, not the team designated "E9T".  "E9T" could be easily misheard, miscommunicated, misconstrued.

He made sure that they all obeyed orders without question.  He made sure they polished their boots.

He made sure that they were combat ready 24 hours a day.  An agent who couldn't preform at regulation defined 100% within minutes of being roused would have to either shape up or be washed out of his unit.  An agent who couldn't preform at regulation 100% after being awake for 36 hours would shape up or be wash out.

An agent who couldn't consistently exceed regulation defined 100% when given adequate prep time and adequate sleep would be washed out.  There was no point in even trying to improve on the slackers who didn't meet that standard.

When the order for this mission had come in he had been wide awake and well rested.  He had quickly absorbed the information.  It was a simple mission to capture the subject and transfer her to another unit who would handle her detention.  The subject was a former "freelance hero" --vigilante, obviously-- whose location was ascertained because she ordered pizza from a public payphone at a bus station.  Amateur.

Then he'd picked two of his best and headed out to apprehend the target.

One agent would have been enough, but he believed in being thorough.  Others might lament how boring the job would be, others might wish for a challenge, but he believed that the success of a mission should be assured before the jet left the hangar.

For him there was no such thing as too easy.  As he left the hover jet with his men and approached the subject on foot, he knew that this would be extremely easy, but that was as it should be.  Excitement was for amateurs.  Professionals got the job done.

The subject wasn't even trying to flee.  This would be a perfect operation.  Entirely without incident, without difficulty, without ambiguity.  Certain victory.  In a word: easy.  How it should be.

The lead agent of Team Echo Niner Tango was very sure of his own professionalism.  Even his thoughts were filled out in duplicate.

* * *

There had been a time when Global Justice enforcement operations always had an even number of agents.  The pair had been the basic unit of GJ enforcement, so any combination of base units made an even number.  It had taken Global Justice disturbingly long to realize that this meant that any time they surrounded anyone or anything each agent was directly facing another agent.

Once Kim would have thought it somewhat cruel, perhaps even uncouth, to take joy in memories of the various friendly fire issues this situation had caused, but now a smile came to her lips as she thought of why she was facing three agents.  The standard issue hover jet simply didn't seat five comfortably and GJ, and those using their training, no longer fielded teams of four.

Other than the smile she didn't change her composure at all when the men approached.  Standard procedure said that they'd immediately attempt to surround her, so the first threat would be the agent with the least ground to cover: the one that stopped in front of her rather than flanking her.

It was nice of them to put the first obstacle front and center.

Sure enough, the center agent stopped short of her and fired his STOP watch.  Kim easily dodged.

The primary feature of the wrist mounted taser, Kim had no idea what "STOP" stood for, was that it didn't look like a weapon and thus could take people by surprise.  Those who fell victim to it either assumed the agent was unarmed, assumed the agent still had all weapons holstered, or weren't expecting attack from the agent at all.  Once you knew about the STOP watch, though, you knew to treat an agent pointing an arm at you as an agent pointing a loaded weapon at you.

In fact, there were more than a few times that an agent had raised one or both arms in harmless gestures but been misinterpreted as aiming their STOP watch.  Sometimes an attempt to deescalate a situation ended up setting off violence.  Once, Kim had sympathy for the agents in such situation.  Once, she thought it was horrible and pushed for ways to avoid such senseless violence.

That was before.

She still knew, on some level, that most of the agents at Global Justice, and most outside agents to receive training or technology from them, were good people.  She just found it hard to care these days given the side of the agency, and indeed the entire covert community, that had come to dominate her life.

So what if an agent tried to make a harmless "halt" gesture only to be treated as if they'd pulled out a weapon and aimed it straight at someone?  The particular agent might be innocent as an individual, but they all were part of a system that did far worse things than whatever might befall them, and did those things to actual innocent people.  They were colluders.  All of them.

Like Kim had been once.

She'd been so stupid then; she hated herself for it.

She channeled all of that emotion into a lunge at the agent who had fired his STOP watch.  Her hands smashed into his shoulders, knocking him back passed his ability to balance, and she used him as a platform to vault off of.

The agent hit the ground.  Kim landed between him and his hover jet.  His colleagues were still in the process of flanking Kim's previous position; their momentum was carrying them away from her.

As tempting as simply taking what she wanted then and there was, she'd have better luck if the higher ups didn't know she had it until she was done with it.  Plus, beating up these thugs would be fun.  She turned to face the agents.

The one she'd knocked down was getting up, the other two had turned themselves around and were now on either side of that one.  Kim mentally labeled the three agents "Left", "Right", and "Center".

She charged Center again, a move all three would interpret as her trying to finish off the already weakened agent.  Left and Right tried to raise their STOP watches in time to intercept her, but the distance was too small and Kim covered it too quickly.

Center braced himself for an impact, Kim veered to left at the last moment and tackled Left.  She didn't really care about Left --she'd deal with him later-- she cared about his weapon.

The force of the tackle had her landing on Left, which nicely cushioned the landing, behind Center and Right.  That gave her a decent line of sight passed Center to Right.  She wasn't gentle when she pulled Left's arm to fire the STOP watch at Right.

At this point Center was ready to engage her again.  Maybe it was because Kim was still on top of Left, or maybe it was because he had figured out Kim was capable of dealing with the STOP watches, either way, Center adopted a hand to hand fighting stance.

Kim was still on the ground, which gave her a distinct disadvantage, so the first thing she did was get Center to join her.  There were any number of approaches that Kim could take, but she opted for simple: she intertwined her legs with his and then rolled sideways a bit.

Center had a soft landing and got back on his feet almost as quickly as Kim got on hers.  This was expected.  The only thing that would have kept him down, their tangled legs, kept Kim down for just as long.  Once they got separated they were on equal footing.  Which had been the plan.

He threw a few punches, Kim blocked them easily.  She made a few feints, but never actually attacked him.  She was just waiting, she might as well have been filing her nails.

When she heard Left getting to his feet, the time was right.  She landed a punch in Center's abdomen and turned to Left.  She didn't do it with any particular speed, there wasn't a need for it.  When she was facing Left, he was just about ready to fire his STOP watch.  She let him think he'd won.

It would have been quicker to just grab his arm and use it herself again, but it was so much more fun to push his arm out of the way at the last moment and watch his face as he realized where the shot would land.

That was the end of the wordlessness that had defined the fight.  As Left watched Center fall, knowing that it was the weapon he fired that did the job, he said, "Crap."

He seemed to have completely forgotten about Kim in that moment, and she decided to remind him she was there.  "Nice banter," she said.  Then threw a punch that landed in the center of his chest.  With the wind knocked out of him the threat was neutralized for the moment.  "Very witty."

The agent was taking longer to recover from the blow than she anticipated, and Kim was getting impatient, so she didn't even bother fighting.  She shoved him to the ground.

Right was shaking off the effect of being hit by Left's weapon, pretty much on Kim's expected schedule, so she turned to him.

"Need a moment?" she asked, mocking, as he got to his feet.  Her respect for him increased when he simply nodded, gestured thanks, and then got to his feet more slowly, more carefully, with the moment she'd offered.

Right closed his eyes, inhaled deeply through his nose, then looked at Kim.  "Ready now," he said as he assumed a fighting stance.

He was a good fighter.  He stood no chance of winning, but Kim had underestimated him and as a result he landed a few hits.  Left was the first of the others to rise.  Kim knocked him back down with a kick to the shoulder.

A complex bit of grappling with Right and she was able fire Right's weapon at Left, taking him out for the moment.

Kim pushed away from Right, spun, and was about to deliver a roundhouse kick when she noticed that Right had stepped back, had his STOP watch arm pointed at the ground and his other hand in a gesture of "hold on."

Kim stumbled a bit because she'd built up momentum for the kick, but she gave the agent a chance to speak.

"Would it save time if I just surrendered?" Right asked.

"It might," Kim said.  "Do you have zip ties?"

"For restraining hands?"

Kim nodded.

Right nodded.  Then he handed them over.

"I accept your surrender," Kim said.

"Wha?" Center asked.

Without hesitation Right shot Center with his STOP watch.  Then he said, "Shut up, boss."

"You fire before saying your one liner," Kim observed.  "Smart."

"Thank you," Right said.  "What do you plan to do to us?"

"Just leave you restrained somewhere you won't be found for at least three hours and fifteen minutes."

"Yay," Right said in a way that reminded Kim of Shego.

Shego.  Kim felt a pang of sadness. but pushed passed it.  She had work to do.

"If you need to pee, now is the time," she said to Right while roughly binding the wrists and ankles of Center and Left.

* * *

Right remained silent as Kim moved the other agents to a dumpster, put him in with them, bound them together, and finally closed the lid.  He had even Helped Kim carry the the other two.  Center remained incapacitated the entire time.  Left, however, returned to his senses just before Kim closed the dumpster lid.

He was dull and predictable.  He literally said, "You'll never get away with this, Possible."

Kim heard a faint, "I knew it," and investigated after closing the lid.

* * *

Darcy the Deliverator generally passed her working time by imagining that her job was more interesting than it was.  She wasn't delivering pizza on a moped, she was delivering vital technology on a space scooter that made the speed of light look like a snail's pace.

She converted units to furlongs, firkins, and fortnights in her head just to make things feel exotic and different.

She imagined laser cannon fire and dragon flights.

Today, though, she didn't have to imagine.  Just before she'd arrived at the bus station, an actual black hover jet --not black helicopter; black hover jet-- landed in front of her and three thugs in black charged out at an apparently unarmed woman.

When she had seen that, Darcy the Deliverator did what anyone with aspirations of being a galactic hero would do: she turned her moped away and found a place to hide.

Then she had watched.  There was something familiar about the woman, and when the woman started to outfight the thugs in black she seemed even more familiar to Darcy.

At first Darcy had thought that the redheaded woman was like Kim Possible, but soon she'd become convinced that the woman was Kim Possible.  Yes, there were a lot of redheaded women in the world, yes, Possible had dropped off the radar before Darcy reached middle school, and yes, there was no reason for someone famous to be here.  But Darcy was sure she was watching Possible.

She'd followed as Possible moved the agents behind the bus station and gotten them into a dumpster.  When a voice from the dumpster said, "You'll never get away with this, Possible," the words, "I knew it," escaped Darcy before she realized she was making noise.

Possible obviously heard her, and came her way.

She tried to escape unseen; Darcy didn't want Possible to think she'd been spying on her, especially since she had been doing just that.

It didn't work.

"Why are you here?" Possible asked.

Kim Possible talked to Darcy.  Kim Possible.  The Kim Possible.  Talked.  To.  Her.

Darcy found herself at a loss for words and finally stuttered out, "Your pizza is still--" at the moped, but Possible cut her off before she got to that bit.

"Can't pay; I'm broke," Possible said.  "You should have run away."

Darcy found her voice and said, "You can have it for free; I'll pay."

Possible looked a bit surprised, but said nothing.

"You were awesome," Darcy said.

Possible ate a few pieces with Darcy while stripping various parts out of the hover jet.

Darcy the Deliverator got to see Kim Possible --Kim Possible-- steal a hover jet.

When she left, Possible gave Darcy the rest of the pizza, an engine part from the hover jet, and instructions on how to use it to upgrade her moped.

Darcy the Deliverator had a very good day.

* * *

The team that recovered the hover jet found that it had been set on autopilot and that it had made fifty six stops where Possible could have disembarked.  That was if she had ever been on it in the first place.  All sensors that would have indicated if the hover jet had carried a passenger at all had been removed before it launched the first time.  Further, an unknown quantity of fuel had been siphoned from the tanks making it impossible to estimate how long it, if at all, it had been carrying the weight of a person based on fuel consumption.  Even the longest long shot to guess where she had gone was a no-go.

Several of the stops were near transportation hubs, thus exponentially increasing the number of areas to be searched.

Further complicating matters was that the hover jet had broadcast a signal when they entered it.  The signal was too simple to convey any meaningful information so it didn't help them at all.  Their quarry, however, was certainly alerted to the fact that they'd found the hover jet and would therefore begin searching the the places it stopped.

* * *

Kim didn't carry anything that transmitted, since that could be used to locate her, but she did have things that could receive various signals.  One device in particular, which had once been parts of a satellite phone, a wireless router, a cellular phone, a cordless phone, a walky-talky, a police scanner, and a CB radio, she simply called: The Receiver.

A burst of static from The Receiver let her know that the hover jet had been breached.  She was amazed it had taken that long.  She was almost there, and she'd taken the scenic route, getting off the jet further away from her destination than she started, but near an above ground subway station, riding to the other side of the local metro area on top of a subway car, sneaking onto a commuter train, and finally swapping to a freight train.

She avoided cameras, and no one gave much of a damn about transients like her without reason.  She didn't give anyone a reason.

Even with all the indirect travel, she wouldn't even be half way to her destination, much less a few minutes out, if they hadn't handed her a hover jet.

Everyone consistently underestimated her as a solo act.  True, she'd needed Ron and Wade to save the world --Rufus too; especially Rufus-- but that was at least in part because she'd been accustomed to working as part of a team.

Rufus was overlooked; Ron barely noticed, but everyone knew about Wade and assumed Kim would be unable to deal with tech without him.  She once made a high powered signaling system out of things she found in an airport gift shop and then set it up, in a blizzard, so that planes could land after the regular runway equipment was knocked out.  She did it quickly, she did it well, and she did it without difficulty.

Stripping all of the gear that might help them track her down, hot-wiring the hover jet, setting it up to go on a pseudo-random flight that got her where she wanted to be let off without indicating that that was where she had gone ... it was all no big.

* * *

As much as she would have liked to vent some frustrations on Hench's finest, her entire plan called for stealth.  Fortunately, Hench was a traditionalist.

Hench was smart and savvy, which some might assume meant he'd have the best building security imaginable, but in fact it meant he was smart enough and savvy enough to realize that his clients would want access to any noticeable security advances he himself used and that would be a problem.

Villains who succeeded would not be villains who needed to keep buying more products and services from him.  He prided himself on only selling the best, so that meant that he had to encourage their failure through means other than sabotaging his own offerings.

Thus, because of pure economic pragmatism, Jack Hench was a traditionalist.  By having features like unsecured air vents large enough to crawl through, he encouraged the lack of imagination in the super villain community that insured none of them ever actually won in the end.  This, in turn, meant that they kept coming to him for their henchmen and new gadgets.

Of course, things that were less obvious to the casual unethical observer, like the means by which he kept his communications secure, were top of the line, ahead of the curve, and made science fiction look like a Renaissance fair.

Kim moved through the facility like a ghost, but markedly less noticeable.

HenchCo communications were absurdly secure, they had to be given the people they sold to.  If their customers could steal from the company, they would.  Shego had been proof of that before things went wrong.

Moreover, in every regional branch office was a room set aside specifically for Jack Hench himself, should he ever be there and need an office to use.  The ordinary looking phone in that room was the most secure form of communication on the planet.

As an added perk, since underlings were reluctant to invade Mr. Hench's personal workspace, the room was almost certain to be empty at any given time.  Only two things made the "almost" necessary.  The first was that there was a chance Hench could actually be in the room.  The second was that Mr. Hench liked his room clean so there was an occasional need to dust it.

Kim didn't anticipate either one being likely on this day, and was soon rewarded with an empty room and the phone she wanted.  She called Chi.

* * *

A generic pre-recorded voice announced, "You have reached the mail box of Mr. Mira.  Mr. Mira is on--"

Kim said, "Down with Bellerophon," and the message stopped.

"Are you in need of immediate rescue?" the voice asked.

"No," Kim said.

A burst of electronic sounds, which was mercifully quite muted, came over the line.

"The line is confirmed secure," the voice said.  "Do you require transportation?"

"No," Kim said.

Finally she heard Chi's voice, giving all of the information necessary to meet with him.

* * *

"You have any trouble getting here?"

The voice surprised Kim and she gave a start, but stopped herself from entering a fighting stance.  It was Chi's voice and this was his apartment.  "No," she said, turning to him, "freight hopping is just a slow way to travel."

"Great way to avoid being noticed though," Chi said, "and usually more comfortable than checking yourself as luggage."

They each looked over the other for a few moments.

"Apart from your clothes and the layer of filth covering you," Chi said, "you look great."

"Thanks," Kim said.  "You've done well for yourself."  She gestured to the the apartment that was larger than her home.  Her former home.  "Guess crime does pay."

"Not that well, actually," Chi said.

"Really," Kim said.  Full on sarcasm as she made a point of taking a look at her surroundings.

"Most of the time," Chi said.  "Most of the time it doesn't pay that well.  If you're the next Shego--"

Kim flinched.

"You know what happened to her?" Chi asked.

"Not yet," Kim said.  She wanted to cry and scream.  She wanted to curl up on the ground and give up.  She wanted to burn down the entire world.  "I'm not ready yet.  Just... just pretend we're friends who are catching up for the sake of catching up and there's nothing horrible behind us meeting.

"Just for a few more minutes," Kim said.  She was pleading.  Actually pleading.  It was pathetic, and it made her hate herself.  But she wasn't ready just yet.

"Ok, so if you've got a name for yourself and you're the best at what you do... then you can make a lot, but most people just see me as a low rent freak for hire."

"So all of this?" Kim asked, gesturing to the whole apartment.

"That comes from one thing, or rather one person: Bonnie."


"She's improved a lot since high school, and even then she always had her moments."

Kim nodded, but added, "Few and far between that they were."

There was an overly long pause, then Kim asked, "So why does Bonnie pay you so much?"

"It's not for my talents," Chi said.  "I'm definitely not worth this."

A memory.

They were in cages intended to hold test animals.  Ron had regained consciousness but he'd need help to hobble out, Chi's bleeding had stopped.  A single guard was bringing them food.  It was their best chance at escape yet.  Previously their captors had always operated in groups of three or more --though occasionally one had arrived a bit early or lingered a bit longer than the others-- but from what she'd been able to overhear most of the guards had been assigned to protect some kind of shipment.

Thus: only one guard.

This was the best chance they'd have, and the key to the cage she was in was tantalizingly close, but the guard was smart enough to have forced her to the back of the cage, and keep a lethal weapon trained on her, when he'd put in the tray of the slop she and Ron were meant to eat.  Now the cage was closed and locked again, the key was on the guard's belt, just out of reach, and the guard was about to walk away.

Chi caught her attention, he looked at the keys, then at her.  She didn't know what his move was, but she knew he was ready.  She nodded.

"Hey bright eyes," Chi said.  The guard turned toward Chi, away from Kim, and then cried out in pain.  He stumbled backward and Kim was able to grab the keys to her cage.  Soon she, Ron, and Chi were all out of the cages.

As they left the room, Chi said, "My grandma was a spitting cobra, you piece of merde," to the guard.

"I've seen what you can do," Kim said.  "I think you're probably worth more."

"Yeah, well it's just you who thinks that," Chi said.

"And Bonnie?" Kim asked.

"I think she considers me a hetaira minus the sex," Chi said.

Kim blinked.  She closed her eyes.  She rubbed her temples.  Finally she just said, "What!?"

"In ancient Greece, hetairai were the highest class of prostitute, but what defined them wasn't primarily, sex.  It was ... intellectual.  Conversation, I guess you'd say.  They were supposed to be able to engage the wealthy male elites' minds by being their intellectual equals.  Or their betters.  The only person to completely school Socrates was a hetaira."

"So," Kim said, "without the sex..."

"I think Bonnie pays me, basically, to be someone intelligent to talk to.  Junior gives her what she wants from a romantic relationship--"

"Whatever that is," Kim said.

"I don't ask.  Anyway, Junior does not satisfy her needs when it come to intelligent conversation, and since the old man died--"

"She pays you."

"Yeah.  I mean, she did before, but definitely more since he passed.  I miss him."

"He was one of a kind," Kim said.

"Bonnie really appreciated what you said at his funeral, by the way.  Junior did too in his own way.  So did I, and I wasn't even close to S S S.  It was really nice of you to say that."

"It was the right thing to do."

"That's hard to come by, these days," Chi said.

"Yeah," Kim said, "I've noticed."

There was a silence.

Kim finally broke it with the word, "Ok," but then lost her steam.

"Ok," she said again.  "How to...

"I've been thinking about that time you came to me --to Team Possible-- for help."

"I remember," Chi said, rubbing his right side slightly.

"I've been thinking about what they did to you, and what it did to you.  How you changed."

"Not my best week," Chi admitted.

"I never knew how far someone could be pushed, how dark a good person could get... I never realized until you used the platypus venom."

"It's a completely non-lethal way of incapacitating someone," Chi said defensively.

"Incapacitating via sheer force of pain, pain that can last for as much as a month, with effects that can linger for a lifetime."

"You know what they did to me," Chi said.  His hand now firmly on his right side.  Kim wondered if the scar was still there or if Chi's unique physiology had erased all trace.  "What they took from me."

"I know.  I didn't come here to judge you," Kim said.

"Sorry, I just get... you know."  Chi walked in a small circle.  "I owe you.  Even if you weren't my friend, I'd owe you so much.   Your mother too, for putting it back in.  Thank her again for me when you see her."

"I won't."

Chi's response --"What?"-- was spoken with pure bafflement.

"It's not that I wouldn't tell her, it's that I won't see her," Kim explained.  "The reason is part of why I came here.

"These past few years..." She sighed. "Oh God, this past decade... it's forced me to ... bend."

Chi turned away from Kim.  "I milk my own venoms regularly.  The platypus venom is in a jar in the refrigerator labeled, 'Don't drink,' line break, 'No,' comma, 'seriously,' comma, 'do not drink'."

"I didn't come here for venom," Kim said.

"Whatever you need," Chi said.  "But don't expect me to like it any more than you liked watching what I did."



  1. Mm.

    This is interesting. I'm interested. And that was a solid fight scene - well done.

    (I like Darcy - is "the Deliverator" a Snow Crash reference?)

    1. (I like Darcy


      is "the Deliverator" a Snow Crash reference?)

      Sort of. When trying to figure out precisely what to put after the "the", the description of the Deliverator from Snow Crash came to mind (and was possibly a factor in giving her a "the X" after Darcy, I'm hazy on that) but I didn't remember the exact word and decided not to look it up.

      Instead I decided to look at the etymology of "deliver", go back to Latin roots, be a bit creative in how I used that knowledge, and come up with the right word for me.

      Which ended up being the exact same word as used in in Snow Crash, though I didn't know that until after I published the post.

    2. Huh! Props to Neal Stephenson, then. :)

  2. I can't think of anything in particular to say, but I thought I should let you know that I enjoyed reading this.