'What's with the silent treatment?' he said, sounding irritated. 'Are you still grousing about Gill? He's alive and well and I hear he's already planning to get even. Everything's back to normal.'
Kim glared, even though she knew Grimm couldn't see her face from the back seat. 'Planning to get even with Ron.' she said. 'He thinks Ron was the one who took him down and it's your fault!'
'So what?' said Grimm. 'He was going after him anyway.'
Kim sputtered. 'That's... not the point!' she said, and was furious when she saw Grimm rolling his eyes in the rear view mirror.
'You know,' said Grimm, who was starting to sound just as annoyed, 'you're not an easy person to help. Do you ever let anyone just do their own thing, or do you always try to brow-beat them into doing it your way?'
Swift memories of the time spent coaching her brothers’ soccer team flashed through her mind, but she decided not to bring it up. 'I don't mind how people do things as long as it isn't evil.' she said.
Grimm sounded defensive. 'It wasn't evil, it was practical.' he said. 'Evil would be if I'd injured him or maimed him, but he's fine.'
'You crossed the line.' Kim insisted.
'Would it have been all right if I'd punched or kicked him into submission like you normally do with the people you fight?' he said, and his voice was suddenly vicious and sarcastic. 'Yeah, it's so much nicer to just bludgeon people until they're unconscious - or maybe I should have knocked him into a tower and made it collapse on him. That's more your style, isn't it?'
Kim had to remind herself that she was driving, otherwise she would have rounded on him to retort. 'I don't attack people, I defend myself!' she snarled.
'I studied the security videos.' Grimm said, sounding smug and feeling he'd scored a point. 'Shego wasn't attacking you when you clobbered her. You did it out of spite. So why don't you stop acting all holier-than-thou and just be glad that Gill's out of the picture?'
Kim returned to her frosty silence, and neither of them said another word until they were at school and when she met with Monique at her locker.
Monique was taking a large white capsule and downing it with water from the nearby drinking fountain. She had a plastic case with a few more capsules in it, which she slipped into her book bag.
'You know, you only need one of those.' said Kim. 'Wade and Lurkin both said the diluted mutagen is weak enough that a single dose will wipe it out.'
Monique shuddered. 'As long as taking more doesn't hurt me, I'm taking them all.' she said. 'I want to make dang sure all Gill's bugs are dead and gone!'
'I wanted to thank you for coming along.' said Kim. 'You did great - you even made the news.'
Monique smiled faintly. 'Yeah, I saw.' she said. 'And Dibble wasn't nearly as snarky. The press coverage last night was actually pretty good...'
'As opposed to the evil press coverage I normally get.' said Grimm, who was leaning against the lockers and looking sulky.
'Say what?' said Monique, confused.
'Nothing.' said Kim, with an angry glance at Grimm.
'What about the factory?' said Monique, turning warily back to Kim. 'That whole tank full of Gill's goo went down the drain. Does that mean it got into the sewers and we'll be having another army of mutant roaches invade the city?'
'No.' said Kim. 'Wade says the drains in the main production room were used for recycling purposes in case of a major spill. They lead to self-contained storage tanks so material can be reprocessed, or treated if it spoils. The Hazmat teams put a big batch of Lurkin's anti-mutagen in the tanks last night and everything was sterilized.'
Monique squinted. 'They sure?' she said.
Kim nodded. 'Wade scanned the whole place when they were done. It's clean.'
'How about the Mutants?' said Monique.
'Being treated.' Kim answered. 'Along with everyone who drank any Eco-La. They'll all be perfectly fine - including you.'
Monique mimed flicking away some imaginary sweat from her forehead, but she drew Kim closer and spoke in a low mutter. 'You both look like you had dill pickles and lemons for breakfast.' she said. 'Everything all right?'
Kim sighed. 'It's fine, it's just that.... well, he's Grimm.'
'Yeah, I noticed.' said Monique, smiling. 'So are you, kind of.'
Kim smiled, but before she could answer, a familiar voice sounded out like a gunshot in the corridor, and they both jumped. 'Probable!' a sudden bellow sounded out from the side. Mr. Barkin was standing there, looking at Grimm with a severe expression. Grimm went into a salute at once, but Barkin didn't give him a chance to say anything. 'My office - five minutes. I believe you already know where it is.' Then he turned and left.
Monique turned to Grimm, who was looking after Barkin's retreating figure through the milling students in the hallway. 'Oooooh, I know that tone of voice!' she said slyly. 'Someone's in trouble....!'
Grimm snorted and followed after Barkin.
'Kinda wish I could sneak in and hear it.' said Monique after he was gone. 'Glad it's not me.'
Kim didn't speak, but she agreed with Monique. She wondered if it had anything to do with what Grimm had done yesterday when Rueful and sneaked out of Algebra class. But their first period was about to begin, and she followed Monique through the hall while Rufus poked his head out of the hip pouch and blew a raspberry at Grimm's retreating figure. Kim blushed and looked down at him. 'I told you not to make that sound when you're so close to my backside.' she whispered. Rufus winked and disappeared back into the pouch.
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'Problem, Jade.' Grimm said into his communicator. He had paused once out of sight of Kim and Monique, keeping his eye on the hallway clock to count down to five minutes.
'Hummm?' Jade said, typing and clearly distracted.
'I think Barkin's onto us.'
Jade stopped and suddenly looked more attentive. 'Details.' she said.
'He just called me in. He must know we hacked into his files.'
Jade pushed a breath out through pursed lips. 'Well, I wouldn't worry too much.' she said. 'I took all the normal safeguards so he couldn't have traced it back to me. He's probably just miffed that his office got broken into. Keep your cool - he may yell for a while, but since you didn't actually take anything, the worst he might do is suspend you.'
'I can deal with yelling after Ms. Darken.' said Grimm with a smile. 'As long as home base is secure, anything else he dishes out is fine.'
'It that it?' said Jade, 'Got some irons in the fire here if you're done, but you sound a bit edgy.'
'It's... nothing.' he said. 'Possible's just being a pain about how I took down Gill for her.'
Jade sighed. 'It was neat work, but it was a little nastier than your normal thing.' she said. Then she looked at him keenly. 'Are you just frustrated over Rhonda being gone? You letting it spill over into your work?'
Grimm's eyes gleamed darkly. 'I've always said you were too smart for your age.' he said.
'I'm not hearing 'no'.' she said. 'You want to talk about it....?'
'I'm gonna be late for Barkin.' said Grimm, looking quickly off to the side. 'Gotta go, but let me know when you and Wade are done.' Jade looked like she was about to say something, but Grimm shut off the communicator and stumped to Barkin's office.
When Grimm entered, he found Barkin seated behind his desk and staring at him with a pronounced scowl. 'How may I help you, sir?' Grimm said.
Barkin didn't answer right away. Instead he leaned back in his chair, tenting his fingers and continued staring at him in silence. Finally he spoke, and his voice was an accusatory drawl. 'It may interest you to know Mr. Probable, that I set up a nanny-cam in my office, in case any students try to break in and commit acts of vandalism or theft.'
He resumed staring at Grimm, who didn't react. There was silence for a few more seconds, and then Barkin went on. 'Yesterday at ten-hundred hours and fifteen minutes past, my office was broken into and someone gained access to my computer files.'
There was another pause in which Barkin's eyes were so narrowed, they became gleaming slits. He reached up and swiveled the monitor screen of his computer around so Grimm could see it. A video playback was paused and showed Rueful crouched at the keyboard at Barkin's desk. 'I believe this is yours?' he said, and glanced up at Grimm's shoulder, where Rueful was cringing behind Grimm's neck and looking comically apologetic. Grimm didn't answer, and Barkin's voice sank to a dangerous growl. 'An explanation - if you please.'
Grimm hesitated. 'Permission to speak frankly - sir.' he said.
Barkin didn't stop frowning, but nodded slightly and said, 'Granted.'
Grimm nodded back. 'I was curious sir, as to why so many teachers here experience so many absences which require you to fill in for them. I knew an open question would be impertinent, so I resorted to covert ops. I sent Rueful to access your files in hopes of finding an answer.'
'And what did you find?' Barkin said, his voice not losing it's thick and dangerous edge.
'I found detailed information which proves that most of the absences are deliberately engineered by you.'
Barkin's face reddened, but Grimm quickly went on. 'At first I thought you were doing it for profit - trying to eliminate competition and enrich yourself by getting paid for the extra work. But I found that wasn't the case. If that were true, there would have been a more random spread of absences among the entire school - but there was a clearly visible pattern.'
Barkin looked suddenly less angry, but more embarrassed as Grimm continued. 'In fact, I found that every absence coincided with classes attended by only two students - Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable. I also found that most of the cover stories of accidents were falsified. I found in fact that none of them were accidents at all. You arranged with the teachers in advance, volunteering your time to cover for them and sometimes even helping to pay the costs of the vacations they took.'
'Given the fact that you were actually sacrificing time and money, I ruled out personal profit for the motivation.' Grimm said. 'So the only thing left was personal.'
Grimm paused here and looked into Barkin's eyes directly. 'I couldn't determine any personal motives, except for two. One, you don't like them and you wanted to make their lives more difficult by hounding them and assigning extra homework. But I found files in which you comment on several students, and in the files for both Stoppable and Possible, you speak of them almost fondly. Which left only one conclusion.'
Grimm now sat down in the chair opposite Barkin's desk and leaned over the edge to speak at him. 'You do it because you care about them.'
Barkin didn't answer.
'I know you don't have any kids of your own.' Grimm went on. 'And as a teacher you care about all your students. But you seem to have taken a more parental interest in Stoppable and Possible. They say the biggest troublemakers are the ones some teachers end up liking the most - because they don't want them to come to harm.'
There was dead silence which drew out for nearly a full minute. At last Barkin spoke. 'You're a sharp kid, Probable.' he said. Again, silence fell between them and neither spoke for some time. 'I could have you suspended for breaking into my office.' he said at last.
Grimm nodded. 'I admit I acted rashly, but I'll only say I did it for the same reasons you did. I was.... concerned about their well-being and thought you might be acting against them. Since that isn't the case, I could help you keep an eye on Possible, and ease your burden a little.'
'Is that a bribe, Probable?' said Barkin.
Grimm shook his head. 'Call it an understanding. Hopefully I won't be here for much longer. But as long as I am here, I can assist you in your work.' He stood up and saluted. 'Request permission to return to class - sir.'
Barkin regarded him for a moment. 'May I count on your discretion in this matter?' he said.
Grimm paused. Finally he sighed. 'Possible would probably think the truth was funny, sir.' he said. 'So I have no problem keeping it from her. But if I might make a request, sir?'
Barkin looked wary, but nodded.
Grimm looked uncomfortable, as if he were treading unfamiliar territory and seemed to be choosing his words carefully. 'This business with Stoppable has affected her.' he said. 'Until it's resolved, I suggest that it may be prudent to ease off a little. Just so she can cope with everything else that's going on.'
Barkin didn't nod or shake his head, but he spoke in a voice that was more normal than his usual bellowing or growling. 'I'll... see what I can do.' he said.
Grimm nodded, then turned and left the office. But after a few seconds walking, he paused in the hall. Classes had already started, so the corridors were deserted, gleaming under the overhead lamps and carrying his every footstep with a lonely sounding echo. Thoughts raced in his head. The information he'd taken from Barkin could have been used any number of ways. He could have leveraged Barkin into being even harder on Kim. He could have used it to blackmail Barkin into being his informant. Or he could have just spilled the beans on Barkin to the school board and watched the scandal unfold.
And what had he done? Asked him to ease off a little. Asked him to be nice to Possible so she'd feel better. He let out an empty laugh. Jade had said what he'd done to Gill was nastier than normal - what would she say about this? He remembered getting hit with Jell-O in the cafeteria the other day, and not doing anything to get even with the jocks who had thrown it. He felt strange, as if a fortune teller had predicted something drastic was about to happen to him, but hadn't told him what to expect.
Are you just frustrated over Rhonda being gone? You letting it spill over into your work?
Try as he might, he could think of no counter to that question. He could only decide, as weak an argument as it felt, that keeping his 'be nice' promise to Kim was leading him to let out his frustrations on the people who weren't a part of that promise. But again, it left more questions in his head than answers, and he made his way to Kim's classroom while Rueful's nose snuffled out from the gap in his backpack.
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'You sure held onto this long enough.' Wade said, glaring at Jade's image on his monitor. He had gotten Kim's message early that morning and gone over it, and was now in tele-conference as Kim requested. 'If you'd given us this right away, we'd be a lot further along!'
'And we'll get a lot further along once you stop whining about it.' Jade answered. 'I haven't studied any machines that use all of these devices in concert. What have you got?'
Wade went over the list again, sipping a soda as he often did when he was concentrating. 'It rings some kind of bell....' he said. 'I'm sure I've heard of them being used together for something....'
'Something, huh?' Jade sneered. 'Wow, that's brilliant. It's a good thing we had this little jamming session or we'd never have figured out the parts could be used for something.'
Wade was about to fire back, but suddenly something clunked into place in his mind. 'Jamming!' he said, typing hard. He brought up a mission file that was a few months old and mostly forgotten. It contained pictures of a massive tower with a spiked electrode at the pinnacle, like a thorny robotic finger. 'The items on your list - they're the main components for Dementor's Ultra-Atmospheric Jammer!' said Wade nervously.
'Oh yeah,' said Jade, sudden understanding spreading over her face. 'I heard about that thing when Kim wrecked it a while back, but Global Justice wrapped up the base before I could swipe any blueprints. He almost took down the whole global satellite network. What a guy!'
'Don't tell me you admire him!' Wade blustered. 'If he'd succeeded, internet across the world would have been taken out!'
'Hey, he wouldn't have done it if everyone had just ponied up the ransom!' Jade retorted. 'It was Kim raiding his base and taking out his henchmen that drove him to try and take down all the satellites!'
'And what's Monkey Fist planning to do with his?' said Wade angrily. 'Extort more rocks?' Jade glared, but didn't answer. 'The only reason we were able to stop Dementor the first time around was because he got careless and gave a forwarding address to have his equipment delivered!' Wade went on. 'But Monkey Fist is playing it close to the vest and covering their trail. If they build a full scale Jammer and use it to take out global communications, all our networking could disappear overnight!'
'So what do we do?' said Jade. 'We can't take out the Jammer unless we can find their base. And we can't find their base because of the Jammer. Paradox anyone?'
'Monkey Fist isn't a scientist.' said Wade. 'I don't think he or Maze would know how to build a Jammer large enough to affect the whole globe. But they could probably assemble the components they have into a smaller version. Based on the size of the components, what could they do with one that small?'
Jade was typing at her keyboard. 'As you so smartly noted, they can totally hide their base of operations.' she said. 'They could also use it to monitor our communications. It's also powerful enough that it could hijack one satellite at a time as long as it's in range.'
'They aren't taking any out yet.' said Wade, checking his own screens. 'If satellites were dropping regularly from orbit, I'd have heard about it.'
'That's a start.' said Jade. 'We may not be able to stop them if they try eavesdropping, but if you share the specs you took from Dementor's computers, we might be able to create a detector that lets us know if they're listening in.'
Wade looked thoughtful. 'Maybe.' he said. 'And if that works, then we'd also be able to set up an alert system that lets us know if any satellites have been taken over by the Jammer.'
'Yeah.' said Jade, quietly. 'And if that works, we might be able to determine where their base is. If they're using the closest satellites to their location we could at least make a rough guess....'
'Better than nothing.' Wade said. 'Let's get to work.'
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The school day went almost normally for Kim after that. Classes, lunch and everything else came and went without incident, and she got the impression that Grimm wasn't up to anything because he looked bored the whole day. Classes ended, and she gathered with the cheer squad in the gym for more practice. Grimm was nowhere to be seen, and Kim started to relax a little as practice went on.
Kim stared sidelong at Bonnie. Bonnie seemed leery of being her normal snarky self to Kim directly, and so she was turning her attitude on the rest of the squad. She was making veiled jabs at their performance every time a mistake was made and offering her own advice on solutions. She did it mainly when Kim was looking the other way, but Kim could still hear her. She felt a stab of annoyance at the abashed and affronted expressions on her teammates faces under Bonnie's needling.
She waited for a moment when the rest of the squad was stretching and Bonnie was heading for the cell phone in her gym bag on the sideline. 'I was thinking.' she said, trying to sound pensive, 'Maybe we need some new members on the squad.'
'No!' said Bonnie, waving her hands. 'No - we don't want to mess with the team dynamic in the middle of the season!'
Kim had to fight to keep from laughing as Bonnie seemed to deflate from strutting peacock groveling toad. She tried to make her voice sound as disinterested and curious as she could. 'Maybe.' she said. 'But the team's gonna need some people next year who know what they're doing. Most of us graduate this year. It may be time to swap some of us out and find some new talent...'
'No!' said Bonnie again, and she actually laid a hand on Kim's shoulder. 'I mean... They'll train a new squad next year whether we take on any new people or not.' she said, her voice sounded off-handed and non-concerned, but there was a high squeal in it that betrayed nervousness. 'That's what the coach is for, right? We haven't even seen her in ages because she's trusted you to run things. She'll whip next year's squad into shape - no need to rock the boat!' She ended with a chuckle that was muffled slightly as she forced it through a tooth-gritting smile that didn't extend to her eyes.
Kim hummed as if considering. 'Well,' she said with an artful pause, 'It's still something to think about.' She looked appraisingly at Bonnie. 'Are you getting back in line now?'
Bonnie quickly darted back to join the rest of the squad.
The rest of practice went smoothly, and eventually the squad went back into the locker room while Kim stayed out to put away the equipment.
'See how easy it is?'
Kim jumped and turned, hearing Grimm's amused voice. He had been around the corner behind the bleachers and leaned out after Bonnie had left. He smirked and bowed slightly. 'You don't even have to boot her from the squad if you don't want to.' he said. 'Just keep thinking of clever ways to hold the threat over her head and you'll own her.'
Kim flushed a little. 'I didn't do it to own her.' she said. 'I only did it to get her to back off the rest of the squad.'
Grimm spread out his hands. 'Hey, I'm with you on this.' he said. 'She had it coming - and I think anything you do to protect your friends from her is... justified.' Then he turned away with a sly look.
Kim wanted to argue. But he had just agreed with her - and that disturbed her more than anything else he might have said. She sighed and returned to putting the equipment away.
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Evening was passing, but Kim finished her homework a bit early. Barkin hadn't assigned her nearly as much as he normally did, and she wondered briefly if he was going soft. But as she put her books away, she noticed that Grimm was missing.
Immediately suspicious, she went through most of the rooms on the lower floor, but there was no sign of him. She took Rufus out of her hip pouch and set him down. 'Find jerk guy.' she said, hoping that would be enough for him. Rufus signed OK to her and scampered off, sniffing here and there.
Rufus eventually went into the kitchen and began scrabbling at the sliding glass door. Kim shook her head, guessing where he was. She had no idea why he was so fascinated by the woods behind her house. He had stashed his bike there before they made their arrangement, but his bike was now in the garage at Ron's house - why was he still haunting the area behind her backyard?
She picked up Rufus, made her way stealthily to the small wooded area and saw that he was there, kneeling on the grass with his head bowed as if he were meditating. She edged slightly closer, and heard him chanting the same words he had used before. Puzzled, she backed away and returned to the house, activating her Kimmunicator as she went.
Wade popped up, but he was wearing welding goggles and had a soldering iron in his hand. A veritable tangle of wires was behind him, sending out occasional sparks. 'I'm kinda in the middle of something Kim.' he said without preamble. 'Important?'
'Maybe.' she said. 'I was just wondering if you'd managed to translate those words I gave you yesterday.'
'Oh yeah, I forgot.' said Wade. 'I had the translation earlier, but I got sidetracked when I started on this thing.'
'So how about it?' she asked.
'Do you want it literal or flowery?'
Kim took a look at the eager glint in his eye and smiled. 'Flowery.' she said. And Wade smiled back. A string of words popped up on Kim's screen and she read them curiously.
Spirit of the Bear,
hear your servant's prayer
Strength from mother Earth,
break the evil curse
When she was finished reading closed the window and brought up Wade's face again. 'What does that mean?' she said.
'Pretty much what it says.' said Wade, shrugging. 'He's asking the Great Bear Spirit for help.'
Kim blinked in surprise. 'Thanks....' she said off-handedly. Wade had nodded and was back working on the mass of wires before she had turned off the Kimmunicator. Kim sat down on a picnic table bench on the patio, thinking.
She remembered that Maze had mentioned the Bear Spirit when they met at the UNIT labs.
'It is a mystical power that belongs to my people - the Blackfoot Indians. These two came among our tribe some time ago, they deceived us and stole the power for themselves....'
Kim felt troubled. She knew Grimm was a louse, he had proved it time and again - even when he said he was trying to help her. But if he and Rhonda had somehow 'stolen' the power of this Bear Spirit, then why was Grimm asking it for help? The normal pattern for when a villain got some new power was to crow about it and jump around saying 'now this power belongs to me' or 'now this power is mine to command'. It just didn't seem like Grimm to supplicate himself to anyone. She tried to see it from another perspective, wondering what his angle was and what he was trying to accomplish. But again she could think of no answers, and went back into the house to get ready for bed.
Grimm continued to kneel and chant softly, trying to shut out any distractions, trying to ignore even the feel of the air around him and the sound of Rueful nosing around in the grove.
He sighed, cracking his eyes open to look at his watch. He could only spare a few more minutes before he had to tend to other things. 'Come on Great Bear...' he thought in exasperation. 'I'm trying to help you here, why won't you answer?'
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Ron was talking eagerly to Rhonda. While sharing truths, somehow they had gotten onto the subject of his camp experience. It had started off normally enough, but Rhonda had stared at him with such intensity as he spoke, and had sympathized so perfectly, that the conversation had turned into a full-blown emotional tennis match as they rapidly spoke back and forth.
'...and they made me share my cabin with the camp's rabid monkey mascot!' Ron said.
'I had to share mine with a grizzly bear cub!' she said.
'...there was poison ivy everywhere! I was itching for months...'
'...everything I touched caught on fire - they called me "Firebringer!"
'...I had to hide food under a floorboard in the cabin, or the monkey would eat all my meals!'
'...the Kwitcherbeliakin food was always 'healthy'! I never had to hide it because no one ever wanted to steal any! They never had pizza night...!'
'...there was a bully there who hassled me every day! He called me squeeb!'
'...two jerks from my troop ditched me in the woods...!'
'...the lake was full of toxic waste and they wanted us to swim in it!'
'...none of the animals would leave me alone!'
And both of them shouted at the same time. '...and my parents wouldn't take my phone calls anymore!'
'No one believed me when I told them what it was like!' Ron said, holding out his arms. 'They all said I was just imagining things! Do you have any idea how much that hurts?'
Rhonda threw her arms around him. 'Yes!' she shouted, bursting into tears. 'Yes! Oh god, yes!'
They hugged for a few seconds before they seemed to realize what had happened and then they quickly broke apart, stammering uncomfortably.
'Ah, OK I guess that's enough truth sharing for now.' he said, twiddling his thumbs.
'Yeah. Yeah.' Rhonda, looking off in the distance. 'I... feel much better, guess we should call it a night... or a day... or whatever they call it here.'
An awkward silence fell in which Rhonda wiped away the tears from her eyes. She really was feeling better - the uncomfortable sensations that had oppressed her seemed mostly gone, or maybe they had simply been replaced by the feelings she had shared with Ron while remembering their camp days. As much as she liked Grimm, he simply hadn't grasped what a nightmare it had been...
As her mind drifted to thoughts about Grimm, it seemed to her that the mists in front of her drew aside, forming a ragged window. As if through a foggy glass, she saw a teenage boy with spiked hair kneeling down on a patch of grass in a wooded glade. Distant and echoing, she heard a voice chanting.