Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bent, not Broken, Part 3

[More backstory.  Yay.  Much of this was actually written before I started writing Ash, but when that came up it distracted me from everything.]

Chi returned with fresh bottles of ginger-beer and root-beer.

Once he'd given Kim her drink and he was sitting with his, he said, “Ok, so you and Shego both thought that someone, not GJ, tried to kill you and, when that failed, tried to frame you for murdering a bunch of henchmen and assorted other charges.”

“Yeah,” Kim said.

“You thought that Global Justice had been fooled by the framing and genuinely believed you were guilty, while Shego thought that Global Justice didn't care about what happened and was exploiting the situation to make her agree to stay in prison.”

“Yup,” Kim said.

“So when did you realize that that wasn't the way things were?”

“Pretty soon after Shego and I were separated,” Kim said. “Once we were apart our only method of communication was through letters that were read and censored by … I don't even know.  Whoever the authorities in charge were.  A lot of the legwork in keeping me in line with my probation was done by GJ, but I'm not convinced that they were the ones really behind everything.”

“So, what?  After you can't tell Shego whether they're following through on their end of things they reneged?”

“Nothing so … obviously evil,” Kim said.  “They just …” Kim waved a hand in the air as she looked for the right word, “elucidated the exact extent of the probation I'd agreed to.  Couldn't leave Middleton without special permission, I'd understood that.  Communications outside of Middleton would have to be monitored which meant that all of my mail, not just the mail to Shego, went through them.  I hadn't quite understood that, but no big.

“The big was on what exactly it meant to not have contact with anyone of a certain security clearance.  The work I'd been doing on reconstruction?  A lot of it had to be cut off.  The most benefit was coming from the robotics program because the robots could do a lot of the major infrastructure reconstruction we needed, but the head programmer--”

“Who?” Chi asked.  “Out of curiosity.”

“Dr. Porter was in charge of programming, with help from Dr. Freeman, while Dr. Drakken handled the construction.”

“Thanks,” Chi said.  “And sorry about the interruption.”

“The impression I'd had was that I would be prohibited from contacting people with relatively high security clearances, in fact any clearance, no matter how low, meant that if I contacted them it would be a violation of my probation and would be considered to have compromised them pending investigation.  Exceptions were made for my family, who I was allowed to stay with until I turned twenty-one, and Ron, because he was my boyfriend.”

“Ron had a clearance level?”

“Being classified as an independent contractor for the US military was the only way he could get people to leave him alone and stop trying to draft him as their personal super soldier.”

“Fun,” Chi said flatly.

“Having the authorities monitor our every interaction ruined our relationship anyway, not that there weren't some cracks showing already.”

Chi looked like he was about to say something, but then didn't.  Good.  Kim didn't need to hear someone talk about the problems he had seen and she had missed in that chapter of her life.

“After we broke up he left the country and, as far as I know, disappeared,” Kim said.  “I don't blame him.

“Most of the kids in our class went off to college, I had applied to schools in Venice, Hong-Kong, and London.  All accepted.  Couldn't get an exemption to leave Middleton for any of them.  A whole lot of other schools accepted me without me even asking.  No exceptions made for them either.”

“Middleton Community College?” Chi asked.

“Completely demolished by the invasion,” Kim said.  She sighed.  “but it was a lot worse than just that.

“The security clearance thing really was the worst of it.  It changed every aspect of my life.  It extended to 'indirect contact' which meant no Felix because of his mom…”

“No Zita because Felix?” Chi asked.

“Yup.  Once you looked through all of the clearances and interconnections there was basically no one still around that I could talk to,” Kim said. “Monique had gone to Florence, Justine got into a top-secret lab the moment she graduated, Tara was off in the Midwest somewhere, the list went on.”

“So they left you completely isolated except for your family?” Chi asked.

“I only got to keep my family for a few years, but they kept me sane during them,” Kim said.  “I made the best of things.  Once the Community College was rebuilt I went there.  None of things I really wanted to pursue were being offered, so I opted for self-improvement instead.  I took cooking classes.”

Chi looked surprised and she didn't blame him.  Her lack of cooking ability had become legendary.  It was much overstated, but even with Ron as her personal tutor all she'd managed to do was make the equipment function properly instead of splattering the room.

“There was money,” Kim said, “because of my parents' jobs, but I never really managed to do anything that was like a career building.

“The censored letters that Shego and I traded back and forth quickly became entirely personal because if either of us mentioned anything else it was redacted from the copy the other read.

“I feel like we got close --really close-- but it's hard to be sure when you never ever see the other person in person.”  Kim stopped for a moment.  “That sounded weird.”

“Just a bit,” Chi said.

“Anyway,” Kim said, “I do know that she helped me stay grounded, stay sane, and I learned more about her through those letters than any government report I'd ever read on her.  Than every report combined, in fact.

“And then...” Kim closed her eyes.  Took a deep breath.  She tried not to cry.

“Hey,” Chi said, “It's getting late and you could probably use a real bed after what you've been through.”

Kim just nodded.  “The guest room is this way,” he said leading her into the hall.

* * *

Kim started to notice odd things.  Monique, Felix and Zita, were all still high school age.  Ron was only about a year older.  The difference wouldn't even be noticeable to anyone without Kim's day-in day-out experience with Ron.  Shego was several years older than she had been when the others were their respective ages.

The beach they were all lounging on was an amalgam of beaches she'd been at in her career as globe trotting hero.

In short, she was apparently dreaming.  That or in some mad scientist's brain altering machine.  But most likely dreaming.

The scenery melted away.

She was cast into a memory.  No surprise which one.  They'd been talking about that day, hadn't they?  It was a memory of the day that had brought her here.

She was back in the lab.  Chi was between her and the technician, facing the tech.  She had to separate them.  Chi was on the verge of doing something he could never take back and would never forgive himself for.

She'd managed to stop him once, but parts of her body hadn't shaken off the zap that had gotten her.  She tried to reason with him, he turned toward her and the look in his eyes was one that she'd never been able to classify.  Too cold to be rage, too motivated to be indifference even if that was all he seemed to have toward his usual moral inhibitions, nothing so simple as hate, but neither was it overly complex.

It shook her.  It had shaken her at the time, it shook her now, but now there was the added factor that she knew she'd had the same look in her own eyes several times of late.  She still didn't have a name for it.

When Chi spoke it was equally difficult to classify, about all that she could pull out of it for sure was annoyance at being delayed and also pain that had been honed into a need for retribution.  His words unnerved her more, "You want to know how I feel?  Fine.  This is how I'm feeling: Salve, nomen mihi est Inego Montoya.  Patrum meum interfecisti. Para mori."

He was ready to fully devote his life to a twenty year quest to murder the six fingered man, metaphorically of course.  Chi didn't have a father.

Kim had all but forgotten about Ron, he'd been silent since Chi got to the technician.  He broke that silence by asking the question in Kim's mind, "What did they do to you, man?"

“They cut out my lower right lateral brain,” Chi said.  Then he turned back to the technician and added, “And I Want It Back.”

“How many brains do you have?” Ron asked.

“One fewer than I'm supposed to have!” Chi shouted over his shoulder.  Focusing on the technician again he said, “How about I rip out a fistful of your gray matter and see how you like it?”

On another day Chi would have talked about how giving a human being extra or enhanced senses didn't mean much without adding more processing power to interpret that input.  He would have talked about how the people who dreamed him up wanted processing on a level even the animals they stole designs from lacked.  He'd have talked about how even a mantis shrimp doesn't use all the information that mantis shrimp eyes collect.

He'd have talked about the modifications to other organs that had been necessary to shove extra brains, small though they were, in body that looked human on the outside.  He'd have talked about which species had been drawn on to make the brains get along and form a single semi-decentralized nervous system.  He'd have joked about how the insult “bird brained” resembled him.

For someone who looked down on his creators as horrible people with limited imagination, Chi was very proud of the way his body was put together.  It was a source of fascination to him that he was more than willing to share with anyone who knew his secret, even if what he ended up sharing was only tangentially related to the conversation before that.

But that day was different.  All he cared about was getting "it" back.  He'd tried to resort to actually hurting someone for information in spite of being completely opposed to such practices and being well aware that the results of torture were extremely shoddy at best.

He'd actually used some of his unique physiology against Kim herself.

That day was different.

The technician told them everything he knew.  There was no need for violence, fear was enough.

* * *

Chi had offered Kim whatever she wanted from the guestroom's bureaus, explaining that he kept them stocked in hopes of serving whomever might drop by.  He even quoted Ron, “You never know, you know?”

Clean clothes were a luxury she hadn't had in what felt like ages, and she ended up in cargo pants and a t-shirt.  Then she ventured out of the room and had little trouble finding the kitchen

“Good morning,” Chi said when she walked in.

“Good morning,” Kim said in return.

“For breakfast we have dead pig,” Chi pointed at back bacon, “dead pig,” he pointed at streaky bacon, “and scrambled eggs from local ducks,” he pointed at eggs.

“What are duck eggs like?” Kim asked as she sat.

“Well these ones are from ducks that are on the same diet as the chickens they live with, so more like chicken eggs than wild duck eggs,” Chi said.  “Though they are free range, so there's probably some pond scum in their diet.”

“You really know how to make a wonderful looking breakfast sound unappetizing,” Kim said, taking some eggs and streaky bacon.

“I do what I can,” Chi said while cutting his back bacon into more manageable pieces.  “How did you sleep?”

“In a bed,” Kim said.  “I feel like I owe you all the favors in the world for that.”

“You've done a hell of a lot more for me,” Chi said, “but we're friends, which means that you wouldn't owe me anything even if you hadn't done anything for me.”  Chi took a bite of back bacon.  “At least, I think that's what friendship is about.”

“It's something like that,” Kim said.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.  Then Kim sighed and said, “I had a dream about when we were in that lab after they …” Kim gestured to Chi, “You know.”

Chi seemed lost for a bit, but then Kim saw realization wash over his face, “Oh.  That lab.”

“I know what happened to me isn't remotely the same as what happened to you,” Kim said, “but I had another dream about it.”

“I had a dream about artichoke,” Chi said in an upbeat conversational tone, as if they weren't talking about his darkest days or the fact Kim was currently in hers.  “Wait, is the plural 'artichoke' or 'artichokes'?”

“Are we talking a discrete plants, or mashed up to be used as an ingredient or some such?” Kim asked.

“Whole plants.”


“Oh,” Chi said, “well, then, I had a dream about artichokes.”

“Fascinating, I'm sure,” Kim said in a flat tone.  Though she did have to admit that Chi had defused the potentially depressing and definitely fraught route the conversation might have taken.

“Actually, it was pretty boring,” Chi said.  “Anyway, you came here about state of mind and future action and whatnot, right?”

“Yeah,” Kim said.

“Then the difference in what happened isn't what matters,” Chi said, “though I do still want to hear the story.  I think it might help, even.  But what matters is where you are mentally, and that could be the same even if things were completely different.”

“You're not as reassuring as you think you are,” Kim said, “But thanks.”

“Like I said,” Chi said, “I do what I can.”

* * *

After breakfast Chi dumped the dishes in the sink, said he'd get back to them later, and walked with Kim to the living room.

“So,” Chi said, “story time, watch a movie –Bricks of Fury Eye Eye Nose Eye Ear Eye--”

Kim laughed, a real genuine laugh, for the first time in so long she didn't remember, and then said, “Ron was never that bad at roman numerals.”

“If you say so,” Chi said.  “Question stands: story time, movie, or something else?”

Kim thought it over.

“Story time.”

* * *

“When you think about it,” Kim said, “when you can't communicate about the details of your situation, current events, or anything external that has any value, your options are to either have your conversation be meaningless or extremely meaningful.

“Ron and I broke up because redacted and I feel like I'll be alone forever, plus I was already feeling bad because redacted,” Kim said, as if that had actually been a letter she sent.  “You can't respond to that by talking about meaningless details, because you're not allowed to know the details, you can either give up or address the emotions directly.

“Shego and I chose to do the second.  We ended up sending a lot of letters back and forth about how we felt, how we saw each other, how we felt about each other, non-classified interests and hobbies, and just stuff that's usually surrounded by minutiae.”

“Makes sense,” Chi said.  “So much of what people say is just chatter--”

“There's nothing wrong with detail and small talk,” Kim said.

“No,” Chi said, “nothing at all.  But it does put the breaks on getting to know someone --who they really are-- if you're more concerned about the juicy details of 'redacted' instead of what's going on in them because of 'redacted'.”

“Maybe,” Kim said, “I think that details matter too.  Shego told me some parts of her past, before the comet and thus not redacted, and I think that the detail gave me a much better understanding of her than I would have if she'd been forced into abstraction.”

“Hey, you're the one who said the lack of details made it--”

“I can contradict myself,” Kim said, “I contain multitudes.”

And now we're quoting poetry,” Chi said.  “I get what you mean though.  At least I think I do.  You couldn't get distracted by the flood of detail in the now, but you could talk about the details that mattered enough to remember from the past, provided they weren't classified.  Right?”

Kim nodded.

“It wasn't a good life,” Kim said, “but I had my family to help me out in person, and my correspondence with Shego to help keep me stable.

“Then I turned twenty one,” Kim said.  “They kicked me out on the street the moment it officially happened.  If I hadn't been a nighttime baby I would been prohibited from seeing my family before they gave me a party.”

Chi seemed to try, repeatedly, to respond to that.  If he was indeed trying, then every attempt ended in failure.

“My dad did too much classified work at the space center for them to let me contact him,” Kim said.

“And everyone else was considered indirect contact with him,” Chi said.

“Pretty much,” Kim said, “though I think they also had something about my mom being cleared to operate on high value patients.”

“And the bullshit continues,” Chi said.  A moment later he amended, “Sorry, forgot who I was talking to.  Bull-pucky.”

Kim shrugged, “Words may hurt more than sticks and stones, but I think profanity is the least of my concerns.”

“So you're out on your own,” Chi said, “considered a security risk so you can't get a job that really uses your unique skill-set--”

“I tried to join the circus,” Kim said, “but then I was reminded of the travel restrictions.”

“Damn,” Chi said.  “because you're right, you'd fit wonderfully into a circus.  All those flourishes that your enemies never appreciated would have been a huge hit with the audience.”

“They were,” Kim said.  “I couldn't join a circus, but I did manage to get temporary jobs whenever there was one in Middleton.”  Kim smiled at two things.  The first was how such times had been bright points in her life.  The second was at what her dad would think if he'd known she'd been comporting about with circus folk.  “All of the best times I had at that time were when a circus was in town.”

“So what did you do for regular work?” Chi asked.

“Smarty Mart,” Kim said.

“But you had a history with Club Banana.”

“It turns out,” Kim said, “Club Banana patrons are easily frightened off when government enforcers show up to make sure an employee isn't making unauthorized contact with certain individuals under cover of doing retail work, but Smarty Mart customers don't give a damn --yes, I am capable of swearing-- as long as the prices are low.”

“Ok, you turned twenty one, what, six years years ago now?” Chi asked.

“Seven,” Kim said.

“So I'm guessing a lot of sh--stuff,” when Kim raised an eyebrow, Chi stopped.  A moment later, “Right, swearing acceptable zone.  A lot of shit's happened to you since then, right?”

“Right,” Kim said.  “I'd already learned to not even try to make friends--”

“I think you skipped that part, Kim,” Chi said.

“Well, it was simple enough to make sure that I wasn't in contact with people above my clearance level that I know because my overseers had a blacklist of such people already made, but when I started having contact with someone not in my file they needed to check that the person isn't above my, non-existent, clearance level,” Kim said.

“As it turns out, subjecting someone to a full and detailed interrogation and background check by government goons is not, in fact, a good way to break the ice.”

“So,” Chi said.  “No new friends, no old friends.”

“Yeah,” Kim said.  “Pretty much all I had was my contact with Shego, and that only because it had been a condition of the original deal that she flat out demanded, and occasional temporary circus work.”

“And then what went wrong?” Chi asked gently, and tried to hide emotions beyond that but Kim could tell he was dreading the answer.  He was decent at keeping things he didn't want to be known hidden, but not to friends.

“I adapted to the new normal, no friends, basically no human contact outside of work, a cruddy apartment, a tv.  A computer that had been butchered to make it impossible to go online –the alternative was to make it so GJ could monitor every keystroke.

“But I had a bed, and I had my incarcerated pen pal Shego.

“That was pretty much all I had.  I had to watch my brothers' high school graduation through binoculars because if I were actually on the grounds I might” Kim switched to a hushed tone, “contact them.

“Then, maybe a year and a half into adapting to life without human contact save for, 'Welcome to Smarty Mart, where smart shoppers shop smart,' and the occasional small time, Middleton size circus, I finally had something I was really looking forward to.

“A major circus was coming to town for a full month and they actually sent someone ahead to ask me if I could play a major role in some of their acts.  Not me begging to be let in and given a chance in a supporting spot, them actually giving me a chance to really shine.

“They gave me video --VHS because passing DVDs was a no-no-- of the act they wanted to do so I could prepare, at least as much as possible without being with the other performers.  At that point in my life, it was like a dream job.

“This was all about five and a half years ago,” Kim said. “I'm sure of that because I was in prison for five years, and I got out about six months ago.”

Chi's eyes went wide, “Prison!?”

“Don't skip ahead,” Kim said.  “It's my story and we're telling it in my order.”

“But can't we skip ahead to the fire swamp?” Chi said, mock pouting.

Kim smiled despite herself; it was good to be around a friend again.  “No, but I promise there are no kissing parts.”

Chi tilted his head in acknowledgment.

“The night before the circus came I was out on a run --part of how I stayed sane with no one to talk to-- and I heard a massive explosion.  I ran to the sound and found myself at the edge of my allowed territory, just out of reach there was a building on fire.”

“You had to know it was a set up,” Chi said.

Kim nodded, “Yeah, yeah I did.  I was starring at a the border between gravel and grass that marked, more or less, the bound of my probation as if it were the edge of a cliff.  I hated myself for not running to help right away, but I was afraid too.”

“Not for yourself,” Chi said.  “People may change, but it would take centuries to change you enough to make it so it was yourself you were fearing for when there might be people in danger.”

“For Shego,” Kim said.  “I break my probation, she doesn't get the good prison anymore.  And it wasn't entirely selfless.  It felt like Shego was all I had then.  Cross that line and I was throwing away the only thing, the only person, that I had left.

“I was frozen to the spot, paralyzed by fear."

X Five And A Half Years Ago X

Kim couldn't tell if the explosion had been an actual bomb or a broken gas main.  Either way, there was an inferno and one building in particular was both definitely occupied and impossible for the people inside to escape.

Almost everything inside screamed at her to run over to help.  Almost.  She knew about the hole they'd throw Shego in if she broke her probation.

There was hope for the people.  The fire department here had a great response time and they were absurdly competent.  You had to be in the tri-city area since you never knew when a swarm of giant cockroaches or some such might attack.

Maybe she didn't need to help.  She knew this was a trap.

It wasn't just that there was a 'random' explosion precisely when her run took her closest to that spot, it was also that the border here was completely clear so she couldn't pretend she left the area accidentally.  There was grass on the Middleton side, the side she had to stay on, and gravel on the other.  The moment she stepped onto the gravel the deal was over and Shego was damned by her actions.

Nothing she'd ever faced from an evil scientist or would be overlord hurt as much as this moment, right now.  To know that there were people in danger and not help... it felt like her insides were being torn apart.

Then she heard the sirens.  Thank God.  She saw the fire trucks, and her heart soared.  It was as if she were floating, the relief was so great.

Then the trucks stopped.  Why had the stopped?  They weren't close enough for the water from their hoses to reach the building, much less evacuate anyone.

And that was when Kim realized that the explosion had made the street impassible.  Several firefighters jumped out and took portable ladders off the trucks and made their way forward on foot, the trucks retreated, presumably to find another way around.  Kim knew the roads in this area.  The layout was terrible.  By the time they made it, it would be too late.

They'd need to manually evacuate everyone in the building, and they'd need every available person to do it.

Kim took one last look at the line between gravel and grass.  The line she would doom Shego by crossing.

X Present X

"I crossed the line.  When I still thought the fire might be stopped, there was indecision, but there were people in that building and I knew that one person more or less in the rescue operation could mean lives saved or lost.

“I chose to throw away my future, and Shego's too,” she said, “and I was worried that my indecision might have made it too late anyway.”

“You didn't choose,” Chi said.

That threw Kim so much that all she managed was a, “What!?” that was far louder than she had intended.

“Some decisions we make, and some are made for us by the people we've become,” Chi said.  “Our ethos.”

“I took Latin, not Greek,” Kim said.

“It means character.  It means the person you are, and the person you are could no more choose to abandon people in that situation than you could choose to sprout wings and fly,” Chi said.  Then closed his eyes and moved his head from side to side, a mannerism Kim recognized as him thinking something over.  “Actually, the sprouting wings thing might be easier.

“Anyway, we get to decide the kind of people we're going to be with every choice we make,” Chi said, “but that act takes away other, later, choices.  The kind of person you've consistently chosen to be, Kim, is the kind of person who has no choice in situations like that.  You have to help people.  You can choose to change who you are, but that kind of change doesn't come quickly enough to leave people to burn in a fire.”

“Very philosophical,” Kim said.

“I've already told you that most of my income comes from being intellectually stimulating to someone with money to pay for that sort of thing,” Chi said.

“I never would have predicted Bonnie would care that much about something like that,” Kim said.

“That was my initial thinking too,” Chi said.  “Then I tried to imagine what it must be like to live on an island with Junior.  I quickly stopped trying to imagine that, decided I didn't want to know, and decided to take her money without examining her motivation.”

“Good decision,” Kim said.  She sighed.  “Anyway, the building was a six unit apartment building on the Lowerton side of the Middleton-Lowerton border.  Most of the neighborhood had been condemned or foreclosed.”

“Right, this was after the housing crash,” Chi said.

“Yeah,” Kim said. “Though that actually put more people in apartments and fewer in houses.”

“Sorry,” Chi said.  “Sometimes I see patterns where none exist.”

“Anyway,” Kim said, “I ran to help the rescue efforts.”

X Five And A Half Years Ago X

“Get back,” one of the firefighters said to Kim.

“I can help,” She said.

“No, you can get yourself killed,” the firefighter said, more loudly. “Leave this to the professionals.”

“That's right,” another said, “we don't need civ-- Kim Possible?”

Kim nodded.

“It's lucky you're here,” the second firefighter said.  Kim didn't think it was lucky.  Kim thought that the only reason there were people in danger in the first place was because of her.  The firefighter continued, “We've got a bad situation on our hands--”

“Boss?” the first firefighter asked.

“No time,” 'Boss' said.  “She's not a civilian and we'll probably need her.”

The entire ground floor of the building was burning too hot to approach.  The siding on the buildings on either side was was being warped by that heat.  There was no way they could get into the building with the ground ladders.

“Amanda,” 'Boss' said, “what's the situation?”

A firefighter who had run ahead without carrying anything, Amanda presumably, said, “We can't go between the buildings; I had to run around that one,” she pointed to one of the buildings next to the burning one, “Just to scout the back.  It's as bad as here out front.

“I've never seen a fire this perfectly distributed before,” Amanda said.  “I think it has to be arson, Drake.”

Apparently Drake was 'Boss's name.  He said, “That's not our concern, we just have to get the people out and then stop it from spreading.”

After a moment, Amanda asked, “Who's she?”

“Kim Possible,” Drake said.

Kim tuned out a bit as she tried to assess the situation.  They had ladders, but couldn't get close enough to use them.  Without the trucks they were limited to the height of the ground ladders which wasn't that high.  A hose had been brought and was being hooked up to a hydrant now.  If they were lucky the water supply to the hydrant survived the blast, but it wouldn't put the fire out, all it could do would be to slow it down and, maybe, prevent it from spreading to other buildings.

“I thought she retired,” Kim heard Amanda say.

Kim responded with, “I did,” automatically.  She was still looking for solutions.

This area hadn't been built with room to stretch your legs in mind, that meant the buildings were packed close.  The fire stood a good chance of spreading and that would make it even... wait, the buildings were packed close.

Kim scanned the upper floors of the burning building and the buildings on either side.  All they needed were well placed windows.

“Drake, Amanda!” Kim called the only two names she knew.  “Could we put a ladder there,” she pointed to a spot on the second floor between burning building and the one on the right where the windows lined up, she hoped, enough for it to work, “and use it as bridge.”

Amanda said, “That might work, but we'd be very close to the ground floor flames.”

“We'll concentrate the hose there,” Drake said, “Try to keep it open.”

“It could be a death sentence anyway,” Amanda said.  “I'll lead.”

“I'll oversee the hose crew, you take whoever will go with you into the building,” Drake said.  “Volunteers only.”

When people signed up to be a firefighter they signed up to put their lives on the line, but Kim knew that they were also trained when not to help because the risk to themselves was too great.

Kim joined the rescue crew.

While it didn't have the heat of the fire on the first floor, the second floor was definitely burning and also filled with smoke.  The hose had given them a somewhat safe entry point, but that was the only thing that was even somewhat safe.

The firefighters worked in pairs and Amanda sent each pair to search a different part of the building.  Kim stayed on the second floor.  She kicked in doors, inhaled more smoke than was healthy, and was soon bringing a family of three to the ladder they were using as a bridge.  A firefighter had stayed behind on the other side of the ladder to hold it steady, she held her side steady, and one at a time the family made their way to safety.

When Kim headed back into the building's interior, she passed Amanda and others leading another party of survivors.

Amanda told her, “This floor's clear, the first is inaccessible.”

Kim went up to the the third floor and found that there were four families there.  The fire had prevented the first floor families from escaping, definitely arson for that to be true, and they'd simply gone up.

They weren't a problem.  The problem was that one of the third floor families had a kid who liked to play hide and seek but had a habit of falling asleep while hiding.

Kim spent most of the rest of the evacuation trying to find that child, by the time she did there was only one family, the child's family, left to be evacuated, but they were all trapped.

The stairs had collapsed.

Kim thought about what she would have given to have her hairdryer grappling launcher right then.  And then she made one.  A couple of butchered fans for the engine to reel it back in if she screwed up, Christmas lights for the cord, and aerosol cans for propellant.  When she broke off their tops they shot out of the window dragging the Christmas lights behind them.

On the ground, Drake ordered everyone to stop what they were doing and, apparently, search for something.  Kim couldn't hear from where she was.

Things became apparent when Drake tied a rope to the Christmas lights and signaled Kim to pull it back up.  Kim used the fans and soon was securing the rope, several firefighters were holding it at the other end, and all that remained was to send the family down it in improvised zip-line harnesses.

Kim was the last to go, and when she landed everyone on the ground celebrated.  The building was an inferno, and starting to collapse, but nobody had died.  Only Kim knew what this day would mean for a woman in a faraway jail cell.

X Present X

“We searched the surrounding buildings,” Kim said, “for fear the fire would spread to them, but no one was living in any of them.”

“The firemen and families called me a hero,” Kim said. “Other authorities showed up in minutes to arrest me for violating probation.”

“That doesn't sound like it was planned at all,” Chi deadpanned.

“I went willingly,” Kim said.  “I was pretty devastated about what I'd done to Shego and honestly didn't care about what happened to me.”

“That's never good, Kim,” Chi said, “I know from experience.”

“I didn't need experience to know it,” Kim said, “But knowing doesn't give you the magic power to change how you feel.”

Chi nodded.

“I was given one minute to explain what happened to Shego,” Kim said.  “It was the first time I'd seen her since the whole thing began.  I had so much I wanted to say to her, so much I wanted to tell her, all I managed to say was, 'I'm sorry,' Then... then she told me, 'It's ok, Princess,' and she--she kissed me.”

Kim looked at Chi.  There was no obvious emotion of any kind on his face.  He didn't say anything.  There was a silence that Kim considered quite awkward.  Then he said, “Oh, wait, was I supposed to say something?”

“I was kind of expecting a response,” Kim said.

“You said there would be no kissing parts?” Chi offered.

“I forgot about one --the only one-- sue me, but it was just a peck on the cheek,” Kim said, “I'd still like an actual response.”

“Well,” Chi said, “How did you respond?”

“I didn't get a chance,” Kim said.  “The ones guarding us during the meeting hit her with tranq darts in response to the physical contact.”

“Assholes,” Chi said.

“Very much so,” Kim responded.  “But I'm more concerned about what it means about Shego, what it means about me, and what it means about us.”

“Well,” Chi said, “do you think it was a friendly kiss or a romantic kiss?”

“I don't know,” Kim said.

“Which would you rather it be?” Chi asked.

“I don't know that either,” Kim said.

“Um...” Chi said.  “I'm not sure there's a lot there to respond to.”

“Well say it was romantic, and say that in the end I did want that,” Kim said, the prospect scared her.  “What would you have to say to that?”

“Give me a second,” Chi said.  He closed his eyes and obviously thought it over a bit.  “Are you more worried that you might be bisexual, or that it's Shego?”

“Bisexual?” Kim asked.  Her worry was that the fact she wasn't sure she was against it meant she might be a lesbian.

“Don't even try to tell me that you didn't have pants feels for Josh,” Chi said.

“Pants feels?” Kim asked.

“Feelings in or originating from a region that we humans like to keep hidden in our pants,” Chi said.  “I've seen you lust.  And not just Josh, Hirotaka and the synthodrone too.” Chi paused a moment.  “I have no idea what your feelings towards women are, and I think you're going to need to work those out on your own, but I know for a fact that you're into men.”

“Point,” Kim said.  “But I could really use some perspective on she Shego sitch.”

“Anything specific about it?” Chi asked.

“I've spent five years... five and a half years actually, thinking about that one little kiss and I have no idea how I even feel about it,” Kim said. “I'm definitely not having 'pants feels' for Shego, but I only felt ... that for boys when I was actually looking at them so I don't think that tells me anything.

“It might have been just being friendly, Shego and I were definitely friends by that point, so all of this thinking might be over nothing,” Kim said. “Even if there is something, Shego was basically all I had, and I was basically all she had, so maybe it was just about there being no options.”

That I can respond to, though what I say might not be useful in any way,” Chi said.  “On long voyages in the past it wasn't uncommon for people to have exclusive relationships that
they treated like marriages for the duration but ended without acrimony when the voyage was over.  So history proves that limited options do mean that people are willing pursue relationships that they wouldn't otherwise.

“In addition, sexuality isn't as set in stone as most people think,” Chi said.  “For some people it is, but a lot of people have more wiggle room than they themselves realize.  That means that it is entirely possible that straight people --possibly Shego or yourself-- could experience non-heterosexual attraction, especially if they're in a situation where there aren't heterosexual options to pursue.”

“Yeah,” Kim said.  “That definitely wasn't useful.”

“I did warn you,” Chi said.

“Yes, you did,” Kim said.  “If there's nothing there... if I don't feel anything, she doesn't feel anything, or both, then there's no problem.  We're just friends and that's the end of it.  Simple, easy, no cause for concern.  What I'd really like you perspective on is if there is something there.”

Chi stood up and walked in a small circle.  Then he sighed and said, “I'm the last person on earth you should be looking to for relationship advice.”

“Really?” Kim asked.

“Really,” Chi said.

“Your turn at story time,” Kim said.

“Ok,” Chi said.  “But first drinks.”

* * *

When they were back in the living room, Kim with a bottle of ginger-beer and Chi with a bottle of root-beer, Chi said, “I've known I was unique forever.

“My 'grandparents' didn't try to hide that from me, and even if they had I've have eventually noticed that other people couldn't see the colors I can see, other people didn't have the abilities I have, and so forth.

“I'm not sure you can understand the crushing weight of being the only one of your kind,” Chi said.  “What you do reflects on you.  What you risk is risk to yourself.  If you were to disappear there would still be your brothers, your parents, your cousins aunts and uncles.  Even if all of the Possibles disappeared, there would still be humanity.

“But me,” Chi said, “well I knew that if something happened to me then there would never be another one like me.  My entire subspecies would go extinct.

“I've thought about whether I should be alone forever, or if I should try to make more like me since I was five or six years old,” Chi said.  “When some of the scientists working on the project that created me realized that the full scope of the project would involve ferociously unethical experiments on any subjects created, they didn't just smuggle me out, they deleted all the data and all the back ups and, where possible, destroyed the hard drives too.  As for the information on paper, it burns quite nicely.

“Not that I knew all of that at the age of six, but I did at least have some understanding that the only way there would ever be more like me involved me having children,” Chi said.  “And I thought about things in those terms.  Would it be selfish to create more like me so that I wouldn't be alone?  What unforeseen consequences might arise from mixing precisely designed inhuman genetics with that of ordinary people?

“About four years after high school I finally decided that I didn't want to be alone, to Hell with other concerns, and I started looking up people who I could completely trust that wanted kids but needed outside help.

“Do you remember Alex from high school?”

“Which Alex?” Kim asked.

“Alex Saffic,” Chi said.

“Yeah,” Kim said. “She and I didn't know each other well or anything, but I never had to worry about the treatment of LGBT kids at school because of the work she did to increase understanding and acceptance and also to make sure that the rules protected those students.”

“Well, about the time I decided that I'd inflict more people like me on the world, she and Tara had just gotten married.”

“Tara?  Cheer squad Tara?” Kim asked.


“I didn't know she was gay.”

“She's not,” Chi said.  “She's bi, Alex is a lesbian.  Anyway, they wanted kids and preferred that the sperm donor be someone that they knew.  I explained the risks and such, they were willing to take them, and that was where it started.

“From there I found more people I could trust who wanted help having children.  I gave sperm donations, egg donations, whatever the person in question needed.”

“You have eggs?” Kim asked.

“And pistils and stamens, oh my!” Chi said, somewhat playfully.

“I didn't know you had plant parts,” Kim said.

“They threw in the the kitchen sink,” Chi said.  “The point here has nothing to do with non-humanish bits, though.  I donated stuff, and as a result there are now seventeen little Chi's out there.”

“Seventeen?” Kim asked.

“Yeah, for some reason my genetics seems to be highly conducive to twins,” Chi said.

Kim laughed.  Whenever they'd needed an excuse for anything strange back in high school, Chi had always said that they were representatives of a scientific project to determine why there were so many twins in Middleton.

“Anyway, Tara's kids were the first,” Chi said. “When they were born do you know what I realized?”

“Not a clue,” Kim said.

“I realized that I'd spent so much time thinking about being alone or not in terms of my species... time during which any pants feels had made me think not about possible relationships but instead about whether or not I should perpetuate said species, that I had never once pursued a romantic relationship with anyone.

“And that,” Chi said, “had left me woefully unprepared for dating.”

“But that was five or six years ago,” Kim said.

“Yes, and I'm still terrible at small talk and flirting; though,” Chi said, his tone becoming a bit more upbeat, “the one time that I was briefly in a relationship I was informed that I was good kisser.  I'm guessing that counts for something.

“And thus endth the part where we talk about me and relationships,” Chi said.  “Back to you.  The only thing that I can really say about you and Shego is that to sort things out you need to both be in the same place, at the same time and in a setting where you feel like you have options other than each other.  Then you need to talk.”

“Easier said than done,” Kim said.  “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?”


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For those who don't know, as I did not know, back bacon is what we in the US call "Canadian bacon" and "streaky bacon" is what we call, "bacon."

Kim and Chi know Canada (and the rest of the world) better than I do, so I look things up when my own terminology seems like it might be too provincial for them.

1 comment:

  1. I would definitely be willing to talk philosophy with Chi.

    Still interested in where this will go.