Chapter 5:
Loyalty
Or: Strained Pleas

The door to Grimm's room opened and light spilled into it, a yellow glare slicing through a black emptiness until Grimm hit a switch and the pale light from fluorescent lamps bathed the room. His room was untidy, with computers and other devices fighting with a jumble of boxes and unfolded clothes for dominance over an array of furniture.

Rhonda was still talking. She'd been talking almost non-stop from the moment they had left the labs, going over the fight step by step. '...then I was coming at her with the girder and she's like, 'no way!' And I'm like, 'yes way!' and she's like, 'my cheerleader moves will stop you!' And I'm like, 'go ahead and try it!' And when the second spirit strike almost hit her she's like, 'Oh you did not just do that!' and I'm like, 'Oh yes I did!' And then Ron shows up and I knock them both down like dominos and then....'

While she was talking, Grimm laid his pack down on the table and picked up a large lead-lined case. He fit his pack into it carefully and closed it with a click. He turned back to Rhonda, who was still talking as if she were on a timer that was about to expire.

'... and I'm like wham, wham wham, and the wall's like, 'Oh no, have mercy on me Rhonda, you're just too strong!' And that's when you zoomed in and....'

'Rhonda...' he said, putting both hands on her shoulders. '..will you please shut up?' Then he bent his head quickly and kissed her on her lips. The room was quiet for several seconds before they finally broke apart.

'Woah...' Rhonda breathed. 'What was that for....?'

Grimm held her close. 'It's traditional.' he said softly. 'The post-victory kiss. You like?'

'Uh-huh....' she said without thinking.

There was a four-note beep from Grimm's communicator. Grimm held it up, but he kissed Rhonda again, and didn't answer the tinny voice that sounded through the room.

'Guys?' Jade said. She craned her neck, trying to match the tilt of the communicator held loosely in Grimm's hand. 'Guys?' she said again. 'Hey, I hate to interrupt, but you realize we haven't delivered the Overthruster to our client yet.'

Grimm finally turned to Jade and leveled out the communicator screen. 'I hear you Jade.' he said, his voice sounding a little husky, but becoming more business like. Rhonda was blushing, leaning her head against his so they both filled the screen on Jade's monitor.

Jade made a gagging noise, gesturing as if she were pushing a finger down her throat.

'Grow up, Jade.' said Grimm, though he was smiling at Rhonda as he spoke.

'You didn't forget our cautionary measures?' Jade said. 'It'd be tragically funny after the win if they suckered us with a bug or something while you're celebrating prematurely....'

'Relax.' Grimm answered. 'My pack was lead-lined as normal, and it's in the shield case right now until we get it analyzed and screened. We scanned for tracking devices before we came home, the jammers in my room are on, everything's cool.'

'Yeah, cool....' said Rhonda dreamily.

'And for that matter, how'd it go with Wade? You're sure he won't be able to trace you?' Grimm said.

Jade grinned. 'Not a snowball's chance.' she said brightly. 'I even gave him a couple of souvenirs to make sure he doesn't forget the experience anytime soon....'

Grimm was still staring into Rhonda's eyes, and she was staring back at him looking totally moonstruck. 'Then we gear up for the future.' he said. 'Possible's lot isn't gonna roll over after this drubbing. They'll still be after us full bore and we'll need to stay sharp.'

'Yeah, sharp....' said Rhonda softly.

Jade rolled her eyes. 'Will you two stop that? Yeesh, people in love are such a royal pain in the patookus...'

'Yeah, patookus....' Rhonda said, sounding dazed.

Jade shook her head. 'If one of you isn't over here with that case in the next few minutes, I'm gonna buzz your parents. Or your sisters.... Rueful, help me out here!'

And at the mention of his name, Rueful sprang out of Rhonda's backpack, hopping onto the nearby table. He turned and stared at Rhonda and Grimm with his mouth hanging comically open, his paws raised to his stubby ears in a posture of mock astonishment.

'All right, fine.' said Grimm. 'Jade, start coordinating with the client about the drop-off. Rhonda and I will bring the item to your place so you can check it over. See you in a few.'

But once the communicator was off, Grimm pulled Rhonda down onto the beanbag chair in the middle of the floor and they sat together side by side. Rhonda was surprised. 'I thought you said...' she started, but Grimm put one arm around her shoulders.

'I said we'd see her in a few. That gives us a few minutes to just.... enjoy the moment.' he said.

She relaxed in his arms, feeling his hand close softly around her own hand. She smiled bashfully. Grimm's mood was what she could only describe as frisky. She knew he'd never try anything untoward because they'd both agreed on several 'ground rules' when they started shipping. She also knew the mood would wear off soon and it would be back to the training yard. Still, it was a nice change of pace to see him so mellow.

'I should fight Kim Possible more often...' she thought.

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Kim opened the door to her house, made straight for the couch and sat down without saying anything. Ron followed her in somewhat nervously, closing the door behind him as quietly as he could. Rufus was poking his head out of Ron's pants pocket, his whiskers twitching.

'How you feeling, KP?' he said, and instantly wished he hadn't. Kim sent him a withering glance and Ron tried desperately to look nonchalant. He sat down next to her, wondering if he should hold her hand or something. He decided not to try just yet, given that both her hands were clenched into knotted balls that were creaking with tension.

'So.... a flying motorcycle and...... powers, huh?' he tried again. 'Guess they've been busy. That fight was....'

'...a disaster.' Kim finished, breaking in. 'It was bad enough when they were just mercenary jerks. Now they're mercenary jerks with mojo.'

'Hego said they had powers when he called you, right?' Ron ventured.

Kim nodded and her frown became more thoughtful. 'I thought they'd tricked Hego somehow.' Kim said. 'Grimm likes stacking the deck in his favor before a fight, and it makes it seem like he's tougher than he actually is. I thought that was what happened in Go City.'

'They made off with the Oscillasha.... The oscarmeyer.... the... the thingy,' said Ron. 'But we were trying to stop the theft and catch Grimm on tape. We might have blown the first thing, but how about the second...?'

'I'm not sure.' said Kim. 'We lost contact with Wade during the fight. I've been trying to raise him, but....' And at that instant, her Kimmunicator sounded its familiar beeping tones. Kim raised her wrist at once. Wade's face appeared on the Kimmunicator screen. He was eating a lemon square and looking uncharacteristically grumpy. 'Wade?' she said. 'Where have you been? I checked the cameras before we left Yoyodyne and they were all down!'

'I know.' Wade muttered, taking another bite out of the lemon square.

Kim sighed. 'Well they must have recorded Grimm and Rhonda entering the lab. So we can at least place them at the scene....'

'Actually, we can't.' said Wade. 'All the data from the cameras was deleted or corrupted so badly that analyzing it would be pointless.'

Kim put her hand over her eyes for a moment before answering. 'Wade, we needed that footage to get Team Probable on the wanted list! What happened?'

'I don't want to talk about it.' Wade said, looking uncomfortably off to the side.

'Was it Jade?'

'I don't want to talk about it!' Wade snapped.

'But you beat her last time!' Kim said. 'How could she out-hack you?'

'She didn't out-hack me.' Wade said defensively. 'She.... out-flanked me.'

'What?'

Wade sighed. 'I blocked every attempt she made to deactivate the cameras.' he said. 'But she used it as a dodge to take control of the Wade-bot. She... tied me up and used my own computer to turn off the cameras. I only just got loose.'

'Oh man!' Ron said clutching his head. 'Getting tied up by a girl - normally I'd be happy for you...'

'Tell me about it.' said Wade, and he was shaking his head, covering his eyes with his hand.

'I guess super genius genes don't come in so handy...' Kim muttered.

'Hey, don't talk to me about super genius genes!' Wade said, looking angry. 'I'm not the only one who didn't come through! Why haven't you guys got Grimm and Rhonda in handcuffs?'

Kim felt stung. 'Rhonda had powers, I couldn't stop her!'

'Shego's got powers too - I thought you could do anything!'

Rufus was squeaking and shaking his head. 'Guys!' Ron said, his voice rising above theirs. 'Team Probable isn't here - why are we still fighting?'

Both Kim and Wade fell quiet. The silence hung in the air for several uncomfortable seconds. 'Sorry Wade.' she said. 'OK - we start again. The goal hasn't changed. We need to find out where Team Probable will hit next and come up with ways to stop them. We just need to adjust for whatever Rhonda's using for her blonde bombshell act.' She looked at Wade. 'Did Jade leave your systems intact?'

Wade was still looking sulky, and his voice was flat when he answered. 'Yeah. She only had time to delay me long enough for Grimm and Rhonda to get away.'

'The more you can find out about Rhonda, the better. She had some kind of mark on her arm, and she was chanting something before she went all super-saiyan.'

'I'm on it.' Wade said, nodding.

'Please and thank you.' Kim said, though it was missing her usual chirpyness. The Kimmunicator screen went blank.

Ron sat quietly, looking at Kim, who was staring at her Kimmunicator, her face looking thoughtful. 'Ron,' Kim said, and her voice sounded impassive. 'If Wade can't find out how to nullify Rhonda's powers, then we need to come up with something to match them. I think.... it's time we tried to find a way to use your Mystical Monkey Power.'

Ron flinched slightly where he sat. 'I need to know more about it.' she went on. 'What exactly can it do? What are you capable of doing when you use it? Rhonda seemed to have super-strength, and she was able to take a lot more punishment, not to mention that weird energy blast. When you've used Monkey Power, I saw you using Tai Shing Pek Kwar with more skill than anything I've ever seen before.'

Ron bit his lip. 'KP... there's no need to start a Mystical Monkey quest.' he said. 'I mean, you always knew if I wanted training I'd ask....'

Kim laid a hand on his. 'And I know that sometimes it takes a nudge get you started. You haven't asked for training. But do you agree with what's going on now, you need it?'

Ron looked away, but nodded. 'You don't have to...' he said, his voice hesitant.

Kim stared hard at him. 'Ron you've had Mystical Monkey Power for a long time,' she said, 'And I don't think I've ever appreciated what it meant, especially after that thing with the Transducer. I should have helped you to understand it right away. We.... I let it rest for too long. But that's something we can both change. Tomorrow, we'll train together.'

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Later at his house, Ron was washing his face and getting ready for bed. He found himself looking in the mirror, his reflection staring back at him with the same expression he'd had on his face when impersonating 'The Kid' and playing poker.

He heaved a great sigh as his mind went over everything that had happened that night, including what Grimm had said. He knew Grimm was a head-gamer; he knew that he couldn't be trusted. But he had predicted the outcome of the fight and Kim's reaction so perfectly that he couldn't help wondering.

'Kim is gonna be so tweaked about getting beat by Rhonda that she'll finally try and teach you how to use your Monkey Powers...'

He laid down on his bed in his pajamas without getting under the covers, staring at the ceiling. Rufus was scampering around him, moving towards his own pillow. Three whole years since he'd gotten Mystical Monkey Power. And hardly any indication from Kim that she had ever considered it as more than a novelty. Now suddenly when it looked like Team Probable had a leg up on them because of a super-strong Rhonda, Kim wanted him to develop it.

'And when she does, you ask yourself - is she training you because she wants you to be her equal? Or is she just using you to get what she wants?'

Ron scowled, clenching his hands. 'Kim is not like Grimm.' he thought. 'She's not a user!' He was also nervous about training side by side with Kim. More often than not, when on missions, she did all the real fighting. When he tried pitching in, he invariably did little more than get in her way, and it was only on rare occasions that he actually beat somebody. How would things go when training alongside her, or actually sparring with her?

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Kim laid down in bed, her eyes flicking across her Pandaroo which was laid carefully on one of the side pillows.

'Maybe I'd get a better fight out of your wittle Pandawoo!'

She had intended to go right to sleep and try to forget the night's events, to hopefully get a fresh start with any frustration burned out over the course of the night. But seeing Pandaroo made Rhonda's words pop into her head. And before she could stop it, her mind made the leap from what Rhonda had said about Pandaroo to the other things she had said.

'You jealous? Because we did more for Ron by making him evil than you ever did for him when he was good?'

Normally after a meeting with Team Probable, she came away picking over Grimm's head games. Now she was obsessing over Rhonda. She thought of all the times Ron had stepped up. The Fearless Ferret sitch, his battle with Eric, not to mention Monkey Fist. And she couldn't help thinking about the things she might have done to continue with and build on the potential he had shown.

When she'd learned that Yamanouchi was a ninja school, had she encouraged Ron to continue martial arts studies after the exchange program? When she learned that Ron was infused with Mystical Monkey Power, had she even looked it up to see what it was?

In terms of training, she had to admit there was little they had done together. Kim had her own training, and her cheerleader skills which she honed every day. Ron had his running away skills, and 'the Ron Factor'. And they'd had an ongoing understanding which bordered on expectation, that when they went out on missions it would all somehow come together. And it usually did. They didn't win every time, like the sitch in Big 6 when Adrena Lynn had escaped. But somehow, in the end, they came out on top.

'Face it pom-pon - Ron was faster, stronger and smarter when he was on our side! Maybe he only steps up depending on the quality of the company he's with!'

With chilling clarity, she saw Ron dressed as Zorpox, wielding the Lotus Blade, with an array of dangerous inventions and an army of robots which he'd built in less than a day. She saw him laughing maniacally in Go Tower as he single-handedly took on an army of Wegos, and he had flattened them all.

Potential Boy. If Ron had a super-hero alter ego, that would probably be it. He had so much potential. And she'd been content to let it idle. Partly because she didn't want to push Ron if he didn't want to develop himself, and partly.... Her nails dug into her palms as she clenched her hands while lying on the soft mattress. She didn't like where her thoughts were leading her. But the memory of Ron being lauded by the MIDX news crew while essentially dissing her came clearly.

'I want him to be good - but not better than me...'

She hated how selfish it sounded. And she hated herself for even thinking it. She hated how she'd nearly jelled when Ron had gotten the good press that was normally lavished on her. She'd gotten props from the media so often that she had come to ignore it most of the time, like white noise that she'd heard so much it just didn't register anymore. But those brief times when it had been gone, she had most definitely felt it - especially when it was focused on someone else.

Kim thought about Grimm and Rhonda, no doubt celebrating wherever they were. She felt a surge of determination. If Team Probable was trying to play her by taunting her about not training Ron, then she would prove they were wrong. She would help train Ron. And if he stepped up and got more media attention, she would not jell. Ron deserved any time in the spotlight he got.

She felt comforted as she drifted off to sleep, sure as she had ever felt in a long time that she was doing the right thing - for Ron and herself.

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It had taken them a few days before Wade had gathered enough information to track down Team Probable. They were stealing more equipment, and they learned it was to help Professor Dementor launch another one of his schemes.

At Kim's urging, Ron faced off with Rhonda. The two of them clashed, normally at first, but as the battle continued, Rhonda pulled open the patch on her left arm. She chanted softly, then with a great shout like the roar of a wild animal, she charged.

But Ron was ready. A strange feeling of inner peace, combined with the savage fury of a pack of wild monkeys, came over him, just as it had at Yamanouchi. And though he could not see it clearly himself, a blue glow surrounded him. Loose items on the floor around him raised up and he ran to meet her.

They struck with tremendous energy. The walls nearby collapsed and crumbled. Rhonda lashed out with her spirit strike, but Ron easily avoided it, practically dancing through the sickles of white light that she sent speeding towards him. Then he was crouching in front of Rhonda, his arms raised in front of him. Rhonda seemed confused, as Ron was not near enough to hit her, but there was a shuddering sound that rose to a high pitch. Ron thrust his hands out and Rhonda flew backwards as if thrown by invisible hands.

Grimm had been some distance behind them, battling with Kim, but he looked in surprise as Rhonda tumbled through the air, colliding with him and sending them both sprawling across the floor.

Rhonda lay unconscious. Grimm was struggling to his elbows, but stunned by the impact. His left arm and left leg were twitching and it was clear that only will power was keeping him awake.

'This... isn't over!' he hissed through gritted teeth. 'This can't be over...!'

'It's so over Grimm.' said Kim, smiling down at them. 'Deal with it!'

'It looks like I underestimated you....' said Grimm, his voice fading to a hoarse whisper.

'Got that right!' said Ron proudly. 'Who's got the mad monkey moves? Booooo-yah!'

'Not you....' said Grimm, and his eyes, already going out of focus, flicked towards Kim. 'I mean Kim. 'Who knew you could play your own sidekick so well? What did you do to get him motivated? Threaten to dump him if he didn't come through? I gotta hand it to you Possible... You're stone cold....' And then he fell limp next to Rhonda.

And Kim stood smiling with satisfaction as Team Probable was chained up and carted away in a police wagon. 'Well that's that....' Ron said, dusting his hands. 'Nothing left now but to hit Bueno Nacho and celebrate!'

'That's that?' said Kim, a curious gleam in her eyes. 'Are you whack, Ron? This is just the beginning!'

'Huh...?' Ron said.

'Don't go soft on me now.' she said. 'If your monkey power can take down Team Probable, just imagine what it can do to Drakken and Shego!'

'What... right now?' said Ron. 'But... the Nacos are calling....'

'Forget Nacos!' Kim said, and her voice was rising. 'We have a chance now to shut down every villain in the world!' She put both her hands on his shoulders, and he could feel her nails digging in, even through the gloves.

'Uh... Kim?' Ron said. 'Personal space...'

'Dementor... The Seniors... Killigan... The Bebes... With your Mystical Monkey Power, none of them would stand a chance against us!' Kim said. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth was curling into a smile that showed almost all of her pearly white teeth.

Ron was trying to back away, but Kim's grip felt like iron, and her face continued to twist, her grin becoming wider and wider. 'Kim!' he shouted.

But Kim's face began melting, dissolving into a mass of green sludge. And even as her head continued to bubble and cave in on itself, she was laughing...

And Ron sat up in bed, cold beads of sweat running down his forehead. He reached in panic for the phone and had his thumb on the speed dial for Kim's number. But then a memory flashed through his mind about another time when he'd called Kim up in the late hours.

'We kissed.' said Kim's voice, sounding melodic and dreamy, even over the telephone.

'Yeah...' said Ron, his voice taking on the same shy, but pleased sound. 'Did you have the same dream?'

'No - that part really happened, Ron.'

'Yeah... heh....'

'But it won't happen again if you keep calling me in the middle of the night!' and Kim's voice sounded reasonably annoyed before there was a click and a dial tone.

Ron slumped back into his bed, his head sinking into the pillow. 'Man - love is complicated....' he said.

Ron moved his thumb away from the speed dial, his lower lip clenched between his teeth. He wanted assurance, somehow, that Kim wasn't pushing this just because she wanted to get even with Grimm. Even factoring in that Team Probable really did need to be shut down for the greater good, it seemed somehow more selfish if there was the added aspect of revenge. And selfish just wasn't something Kim did.

He put the phone down on his nightstand. His first instinct was to call her, to ask her. But as much as he had wanted to prove how 'cool' he was for Kim when he'd joined the football team, he also wanted to prove that he wouldn't freak out over little things. 'But this is a BIG thing!' he thought. 'If we wind up doing this for revenge, what will Yoda think?' But no matter how many different versions of the question he ran through his mind, they all sounded either smothering or rude.

'Hey KP, are you just doing this to get Grimm?'
'Hey KP, you're not just using me are you?'
'Hey KP, would you tell me what your real motivations are?'
'Hey KP, Grimm said you were doing this for yourself, not for me. That true?'
'Hey KP, you're not just playing me are you?'
'Hey KP, how does Bueno Nacho after school sound?'

The last one caused his mouth to water, but didn't do anything to calm the doubts in his head. He wanted to ask her about it, but every direct approach just didn't sound right. And indirect questions weren't really his thing.

After a few minutes of thought, he started feeling angry with himself. 'Don't let them pull their old tricks.' Kim had said this to him before the battle. Yet here he was, going all angstey over Grimm's head-gaming. He thought about all the times Kim had saved him, and wondered how he could ever doubt her. 'Who am I gonna believe? My bon-diggety GF, or the jerk who turned me into Zorpox?'

But then the memory of what he'd overheard while Kim was talking to Wade on the Kimmunicator came back to him as well. She hadn't been making fun of him really, any more than the good-natured jibes he and his own friends used in polite company. And she had been coming off from that frustrating defeat by Adrena Lynn. Except that she had said them when she thought he wasn't there...

He went back to sleep, his mind still swirling with questions that he didn't have the ability to answer, and that he was too afraid to ask the people he trusted most.

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Kim felt a swell of pride as she saw Rhonda tumble through the air, thrown back by Ron's Mystical Monkey Power. She collided with Grimm and they both went sprawling across the floor.

Rhonda lay unconscious. Grimm was struggling to his elbows, but clearly stunned by the impact. His left arm and left leg were twitching and it was clear that only will power was keeping him awake.

'This... isn't over!' he hissed through gritted teeth. 'This can't be over...!'

'Deal with it dude, it is so over!' Ron said, staring down at him.

Grimm scowled, but his eyes slid out of focus and he collapsed to the floor next to Rhonda. The MIDX news crew seemed to appear out of thin air, the white blaze from the video camera's light shining in their eyes. And Dibble's microphone was in front of Ron's face.

'Ron Stoppable - how does it feel to be the hero who stopped this team of mercenaries?'

Ron was looking at his hands, an elated smile on his face. 'Rockin!' he said. 'It's like sitting in front of a plate full of Nacos with a healthy appetite.'

Dibble looked confused for a moment, but pressed on. 'Does this mean that you and Kim Possible will be going after other villains?'

Kim stepped forward to speak, but Ron was already answering. 'You bet!' he said loudly. 'Villains of the world - consider yourselves on notice!' Ron said, leaning into the camera. 'Ron Stoppable doesn't do 'buffoon' anymore!'

Time went by. Ron's skill and confidence grew more and more with each successful mission. More and more villains were put away, with Ron taking point in more and more missions. It was like Ron had become a superstar, his powers and success making him a media darling, with herself standing more often in the background. And then after one mission, she heard one reporter at a news conference make a jubilant exclamation.

'Team Stoppable is unstoppable!'

Kim awoke with a wheezing gasp. All was quiet. She was still in her room in bed and everything was dark. A glance at her alarm clock showed it was nearly 2am. She fumbled on her nightstand, using the nearby glow of the clock display to guide her until she found her cell phone. She lit up the buttons with a tap of her finger and was just about to hit Ron's speed dial when she stopped herself.

'No....' she thought. This was exactly what she had promised herself she wouldn't do. 'I'm not freaking.... I'm not jelling!' Even if Ron's Mystical Monkey Power did make him more powerful, she reasoned that Ron simply wasn't the type to let it go to his head. At least not for long.

One thing she had learned in dealing with Team Probable was that nothing was as it seemed. She tried to think as they might. For all she knew, Grimm wanted her to be jealous of Ron, so she would keep letting Ron's powers lie dormant, so Team Probable would always have the upper hand. And maybe taunting her about not training Ron was their way using reverse psychology to ensure she didn't train him.

She held her head with her hands, trying to concentrate. 'Easy girl.' she thought. 'You're over-thinking this....' Surely Team Probable wasn't that smart. Surely Grimm wasn't such a head gamer that every little thing he said was some kind of trick designed to lure her and Ron into some kind of trap. She knew Ron. She trusted Ron. And come what may, she wouldn't them distract her from helping him.

Kim laid back in bed and turned her head slightly. She could dimly make out Pandaroo, a black silhouette against the paler blue darkness of the windows. 'Pandaroo...' she said softly. 'Love is complicated....'

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It was after school the next day when Ron walked into one of the private practice rooms in the Middleton Martial Arts dojo. Every step came reluctantly and he was uncomfortably aware of every detail, from the smell of plastic and sweat to the firmness of the mat beneath his bare feet. The mat had just a little give to it, but not enough to make walking difficult. Practice dummies lined the walls, and one padded wall had a number of targets painted on it. All the colors on everything seemed sharp, almost harsh, under the buzzing fluorescent lights in the ceiling.

This was the dojo that Kim used when practicing her kung-fu. She didn't go there very often. Her natural aptitudes and her constant training at cheerleader practice had made coming to the dojo largely unnecessary, as the master of the dojo, Nuck Chorris, had laughingly told her. He seemed in agreement with the mathematical conclusions of Ron's father, that her skill was already at such a high level that there wasn't much they could teach her.

But she had a standing invite to use the dojo whenever she wanted, in exchange for Chorris being allowed to hang posters in the window that read "Kim Possible's dojo of choice". And Kim Possible was the dominant feature of the dojo at the moment, at least in Ron's eyes, though he avoided looking straight at her. She was dressed in her gi, with her black belt tied perfectly around her slim waist, her hair pulled into a pony-tail as she always did when she was anticipating any action.

She was looking expectantly at him, and he felt a sensation of awkweirdness at the thought of why they were both there. It had been different when they fought at Bueno Nacho. Then, Ron had been under the control of Professor Dementor, a puppet moved by his manipulation of the battle-suit. But this was different. Now Kim wanted him to fight her willingly, with the intent of trying to unlock Ron's Mystical Monkey Power, a power that Ron still wasn't sure he could control.

'Hey KP...' he said, smiling faintly, trying to keep a casual air. But Kim was all business. She smiled at him, curling her fingers in a gesture of beckoning as she went into a ready stance.

'Let's start with the basics.' she said. 'Try and hit me. And don't hold back.'

Rufus scurried over to the sidelines of the room. 'Hmm-hmm! Fight!' he squeaked, brining one arm down.

Ron felt he knees trembling as he took up his position, standing opposite to Kim and raising his own arms, looking much less enthusiastic. He looked her over, trying to determine what kind of attack might work best against the way she was holding herself at the moment.

'Any time...' she said softly.

Ron felt a chill. The chirpy tone was back in her voice, but now there was an edge to it. He reflected that he much preferred fighting by her side than facing off with her. He tried a couple of quick strikes, first one one hand, then the other. But Kim dodged them with little effort, then did a quick spin and toss that sent him sliding face down across the mat.

He got up, returning to a ready position. 'That kinda hurt....' he said, though he wasn't sure if he was speaking fully about the physical sensation.

'Not as much as Shego would.' she said. 'Try again!'

Ron went into his monkey crouch and did his battle cry while Kim stood waiting for him. Then before he was half-way through, she seized the collar of his gi and rolled, pulling him down and sending him flying with a swift kick of her legs. Ron's battle-cry turned into a shrill wailing that ended with a loud grunt as he slammed into the mat like a sack of potatoes.

'Too much Monkey, not enough Power.' she said, staring at him, her arms raised and ready. Ron slowly stood up and returned to face her again.

This time he was more cautious, and managed to avoid Kim's counters to his own strikes. They continued for some time, with Kim blocking his attacks and Ron barely managing to keep pace with her. He didn't get thrown again, and after one series of mutual attacks and counters, he found himself with a wide open opportunity for a right cross. His fist rushed towards her.

But she turned so he could see her eyes, her beautiful green eyes, her lips, her face... His fist slowed in mid-flight. And suddenly her head was no longer there. He felt a sharp pain in his ribs as Kim's foot connected and he flew backwards, landing with a painful thud on his rear end.

Kim was glaring at him as he got up. 'I practically gave you that one.' she said. 'What happened?'

Ron stood ready again, but he couldn't look her in the eye. 'I... I can't hit you...' he said. 'I like you too much.'

'That's sweet, Ron.' she said. 'But tonight, those rules are off. If you really like me, then you'll do your best to kick my butt!'

Ron struck again, but again failed to connect. 'If it helps, pretend I'm a super-villain.' Kim said. 'For tonight call me... Terriatrix the Tormentress!' she said, making a very impressive evil grin. 'You should know that I've actually set a plan in motion to destroy Bueno Nacho - unless you can stop me!'

A sudden look of panic crossed Ron's face. 'Heh heh... you're kidding, right KP?' he said, though his voice didn't sound amused at all.

'Note serious face!' she said, narrowing her eyes.

'But... Bueno Nacho is our place!' he said. 'We need it for... eating and sitting down and stuff!'

'Not after tonight.' Kim said, grinning. 'Terriatrix will not be denied!'

Ron came at her much more aggressively, but no more skillfully. She blocked him with ease. 'You're not taking away the Naco!' he said.

'Maybe I won't destroy Bueno Nacho.' she said. 'Maybe I'll just replace everything with broccoli!'

'Nooooooo!'

Again, she deliberately gave him a wide opening, and again he hesitated, giving her the opportunity to counter him and send him sprawling with another toss. She put a little more energy into the throw than she intended, her frustration building.

'What is wrong with you?' Kim said as Ron slowly got to his feet. 'I saw you when you were fighting in Go Tower. It was amazing - how come you can't do it now?'

Ron was chewing his lower lip. 'I've got... monkey issues...' he said.

Kim struggled to be patient. 'Get over them!' she said. 'You've done it before!'

Ron seemed unable to look her in the eye. 'Kim... I'm scared of the Mystical Monkey Power.' he said.

'Why?'

'Because.... the only times I've ever been able to use it... I mean really use it... was when I was evil!' He seemed to be voicing a doubt he'd long kept secret, but which Kim's pressure had finally wrung out of him. 'What if it is evil? What if using it makes me evil?'

'Yori said you used it to save the Yamanouchi school when Monkey Fist was after the Lotus Blade.' said Kim. 'And Sensei doesn't think you're evil.'

'But that time when Team Probable made me Zorpox again - and not long after that in Go Tower!' Ron said, looking at his hands and seeming absolutely tormented. 'I used it so easily then, to... hurt people. I don't want to hurt people, I don't like being evil...!'

'Listen to me Ron,' said Kim, looking him dead in the eyes. 'You're not evil! You can do this! To stop Team Probable, it may be our best option - our only option.'

'But even if I do tap into it somehow, I don't know if I can control it!' he said helplessly. 'I'm not even sure how powerful it is! What if I hurt someone... what if I hurt you?'

I'll risk it!' said Kim, getting more frustrated. 'And in case you hadn't noticed, you haven't laid a finger on me yet.'

Ron looked ashamed and embarrassed. 'I don't want to take that risk...' he said, looking at the floor. 'Your dad, and deep space probes aside, if something happened, and I was responsible, I'd never be able to live with myself. And I can't afford a separate apartment...'

'Are you saying you don't have faith in Sensei?' Kim snapped. 'That you don't have faith in me?'

Ron looked devastated. 'What? No, Kim that's not what I....'

Kim stood right in front of him, glaring angrily. 'I can only carry you so far.' she said. 'At some point you've got to start carrying yourself. The sitch is serious, Ron. Team Probable is on the loose. They've been training together, they're stronger now. We need to get stronger too! You keep saying you want to step up, but you keep stepping back!'

The color blanched from Ron's face, throwing his freckles into even sharper relief against his skin. 'Kim...' he said, and his voice sounded feeble, and pleading.

'I'm going out for some air.' Kim said, suddenly walking past him and moving to the doorway of the practice room. 'And when I come back, we can talk about whether you're serious about being a team player.' Ron held out his hand after her, but did not move from where he stood on the mat. Rufus looked out after her too, his face matching Ron's expression of fear and discomfort.

Ron stood alone in the practice room for several minutes after Kim had left with Rufus staying on the sideline. He stared at the practice dummies, and the target marks on the wall. 'I is what I is.' he thought. 'So... what am I? A member of Team Possible? The buffoon who messes up as often as he comes through? Am I someone Kim only puts up with because we've been friends since pre-K? Or am I someone she can depend on when things get tough? She's helped me out more times than I can count and she's never asked for a thing. Well, she's asking now... can I just ignore that because I'm scared? What am I?'

And he knew the answer. If it came down to a question of loyalties, then he knew. No matter how unsure he was, no matter how much it cost him, no matter how tough things got - he was Kim's best friend. And he stood by her all the way.

He resumed practice on his high kicks, even though no one was there to watch or supervise him. He tried to remember everything he'd been taught at Yamanouchi, wishing he'd paid more attention....

Kim stood in the shadowed alcove that led into the training room, peering around the corner as Ron returned to his practice. She sighed inwardly as she heard the regular thump of Ron's foot, striking against the target on the wall. 'I'm sorry I had to be like that, Ron.' she thought to herself. 'I know its harsh. But if it helps you to take your game to the next level, it'll be worth it - for both of us.'

Even though her ploy seemed to have spurred Ron the way she hoped, she felt awful. 'If you get to the right place by doing the wrong thing, is it worth it?' She frowned as she recalled her own words. 'We haven't even found Grimm yet and he's already got me crossing lines.' And here she was, trying to push Ron into using his Monkey Power by threatening his place on the team when she knew perfectly well she would never send him away.

She sighed and made her way to the dojo's vending machine, though she was sure the empty feeling inside her had nothing to do with hunger.

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Grimm was exchanging books in his locker at school, getting ready to go home for the day. The computer monitor he had mounted inside the locker blipped on and Jade's face was smiling out at him, the rainbow streaks in her hair seemed garishly bright against her dark hair on the screen.

'Good news GP.' she said. 'The Overthruster is clean and I just got coordinates for the drop off. The client wants it tonight - if you and Rhonda can take time out from your hand-holding...' She ended with an impish curl in her lips.

'Wireless the info to my communicator and we're there.' he said. 'But knock it off with the 'love makes me sick' routine, will you? Someday you might not mind it so much.'

'As if.' Jade said.

'Maybe if you were smart enough to make some kind of 'cupid ray', you could analyze romance and reach a more informed conclusion.' he said, closing his book bag and smirking.

Jade glared at him. 'Well then maybe that's what I'll do, smart guy!' she said, and the screen went black.

Rhonda skidded around the corner at that moment, her face looking panicked. 'GP, we gotta move - Ms. Darken is on the warpath again!'

Grimm rolled his eyes. 'What set her off this time? Did the wind change direction or something?'

Rhonda glanced out of a window at a windsock mounted near the school flagpole. 'Actually yeah, but that's not the only reason. I was in the schoolyard for my afternoon 'keep in touch with nature' meditation, and I was near the eaves by her office....'

Grimm moaned and covered his eyes with his hand. 'You sent the chipmunks into her office again?' he said.

'I didn't send them!' she said, fidgeting where she stood. 'They pick up on things that I think would be funny and.... well just because I can communicate with them doesn't mean I can control them!'

And from a distance down the hallway, a throaty, echoing female voice was letting out a bellowing shout. 'Fatigable!!!!'

Grimm closed his locker with a clang. 'That's a few decibels louder than her previous record.' he said. 'Yeah, we'd better move. We've got an appointment later tonight anyway....'

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Kim had returned to the dojo a little later to continue practice. Neither of them spoke much this time, so the atmosphere was more tense. But the practice itself went much better. Ron definitely seemed more energized, and he even managed a few tosses against her that she didn't need to fake or stage for him.

Tai Shing Pek Kwar was one of the styles she had trouble fighting against. It involved a lot of weaving and sidling which was much different from the solid stances and stable positioning that most of her other styles required.

The center of balance had to be a lot more flexible while doing Monkey Kung Fu and the body hardly ever came to a full stop. Kim reflected that her cheerleader practice should have made her a natural for Tai Shing Pek Kwar, because cheerleaders hardly ever stayed still either. But it simply hadn't worked out that way. Her cheerleader moves, like the other styles of Kung Fu which came more naturally to her, also involved solid positioning and a steady center of balance.

Which was, she thought, probably the reason why Monkey Fist was one of the few villains besides Shego who gave her so much trouble in hand to hand combat. And also why she found fighting Grimm so frustrating. They were both masters of Tai Shing Pek Kwar, and so they were peculiarly fitted to take advantage of Kim's weaknesses.

And as the practice continued, Kim began to feel the same sense of frustration in fighting Ron as she often did when fighting Monkey Fist or Grimm. Maybe it really was simply a matter of getting Ron working on something, or prodding him into getting started. But like with his homework, or his running away skills or his cooking, once he started something and kept at it for a while, he seemed to slip into a natural groove. And once he was in that groove, he got really good at whatever it was he was doing.

And so she found herself actively trying to hit him as practice went on, but having more and more trouble doing so. And even though she was no longer offering him any openings, he snaked in with several taps and jabs as he stepped and circled like a monkey in front of her. He was still holding back, stopping short of putting any real force behind his strikes.

But Kim wasn't about to complain and ask him to hit harder now that he was doing so much better. She still felt guilty about what she had said before and wasn't disposed to lecture him for not clobbering her.

'Okay... take five!' Kim said, doing the 'time out' sign. They had been going at it for over two hours, and Ron was looking more relaxed as he continued. He was sweaty and his hair was plastered to his head like a skullcap, but he looked like he was actually having fun as he continued going through motions and routines even as Kim stepped away.

'But I don't feel tired....' he said. 'I'm actually feelin' loosey-goosey....' He posed on one foot, his hands held out in front of him, then shifted to a crouch, keeping his arms and hands in the same position, then pranced about in a small circle. 'Wauuuuu....!' he squealed, facing off against each target dummy as he kept moving across the mat.

Kim couldn't help smiling. 'I'm going to the soda fountain for a Crocade.' she said. 'You want anything?'

'Wauuuuu!' Ron said, doing the crane stance in front of another dummy. 'Waaaaauuuuu! Maybe a glass of waaaaaaauuuuuuuter! Waaaaaauuuuuuu!!!'

Kim rolled her eyes and was walking back towards the door leading back into the hallway when she heard Ron making his wailing battle cry.

'Waauuuughhhh-sha-sha-sha-sha-sha!!!!'

But Kim saw the lights dim, except for a brilliant blue that flared suddenly behind her, casting her own shadow on the wall of the dojo. There was a sound like an explosive burst and she heard a loud clattering of something wooden, then a crash against the side wall.

She whirled around and saw Ron standing in the middle of the matted floor. Both his arms were still held out, one above the other, with his wrists held together and his hands held open as if to catch something. But his face was wide with surprise and shock as he stared in front of him. Kim followed his eyes and saw one of the practice dummies lying on the floor, broken into splinters. There was a large depression in the wall where the dummy had struck. Faintly, as if from some great distance, she thought she heard something like the shrill cry of a monkey, but it faded to silence before she could be sure of it.

'Ron?' she said, walking back to him. 'Was that you?'

Ron looked around suddenly, as if trying to see if someone else was practicing next to him. 'Ah... uh... I think so.' he said, his posture relaxing into a nervous shrug.

Kim smiled. 'Ron, you see? All you ever need is to believe in yourself. You can do it!'

'It... still kinda comes and goes...' Ron said, staring at his hands again.

Kim stood in front of him. 'It comes when you call.' she said. 'You're stronger than you think, Ron. You're stronger than Grimm thinks. They're going to be sorry they ever tried to mess with you.'

Ron looked past her to the shattered dummy. 'I'm just glad you weren't standing there.' he said. 'And I have to say... it's a lot easier to believe in yourself when you have someone special who believes in you too.'

Kim smiled. 'I think I'll keep you around....' she said warmly.

+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-

'This is A. U. Dibble, MIDX news.' Dibble spoke, his voice charged with it's usual enthusiasm. 'Reporting the final segment in our series about Kim Possible, teenage crime fighter.'

It was late evening. Kim had come home with Ron and Rufus in tow to tend to their homework and also to relax after the days' training. Kim had set up a schedule for them to return to the dojo every day that week. She had also checked in with Wade. Like Kim herself, Wade seemed in much better spirits after a nights' sleep and a days' recovery. But he'd found no news of Team Probable. There had been no thefts that day either.

Kim and Ron had left the kitchen to find her mother and father sitting in the living room couch and looking at the television with expressions that were both surprised and offended. And they saw they were watching MIDX news, viewing the opening of Dibble's next report.

Mr. Dr. Possible turned to her. 'Kimmy-cub, were you aware of what this.... huckster was doing?'

Kim sighed. She had forgotten to tell her parents about Dibble's 'series', and warn them that unlike most reports that covered her crime fighting work, MIDX was running with a negative slant. 'Yeah.' she said sullenly. 'If you insist on watching I should warn you to prepare for gorchiness.'

Their attention turned back to the TV, where Dibble was still speaking. 'In our previous segments, we've gone over some of the collateral effects of her activities. Destruction of property, misleading the public, setting the lives of bystanders at risk while fighting criminals in areas where innocent people have little or no protection. In this segment, we touch on the ethical ramifications of Kim Possible's very existence as a crime fighter.'

The scene shifted to a medley of scenes from Middleton High. Students were shown walking through the halls, at football practice, having lunch in the cafeteria and other such things. 'There are several hundred students attending Middleton High School.' said Dibble's voice-over. 'And as most parents, superintendents and teachers will attest, there is a network of laws and regulations in place to protect them from abuse, exploitation and other forms of harm.'

The scene then showed Kim snowboarding down a mountainside, some footage of her battling Shego, and one of Drakken's lairs exploding in a raging fireball. 'Why then, do all of these laws seem to get thrown out the window in the case of one Kimberly Ann Possible?'

The screen continued to show various news footage of Kim's past missions. There was security footage of the Nakatomi toy factory incident with Kim fighting the assembly line after it had made its transformation into a mechanical monster. There was footage of Kim in her skydiving duel with Senor Senior Senior, and camcorder footage of the battle with Dementor and his henchmen in the streets of Middleton. 'In a number of instances, this girl, still an underage minor, has gone, or been sent into veritable war zones, braving laser cannons, giant robots and trained outlaws. We consulted child services and asked them if this behavior should be tolerated, even with her personal consent.'

The camera then showed a middle-aged woman seated behind a desk in a gray business jacket and blouse. The caption read "Bjeria Cratt - Child Social Services" 'I find it gravely disturbing, both as a civil servant and as a mother, that this girl is allowed to conduct such activities and her parents are seemingly in agreement with it. What kind of mother would allow her child to face such dangerous criminals and such perilous situations and do nothing to protect her? A responsible parent would not allow an underage child to get married or make major financial decisions. By the same token, Kimberly Ann Possible is too young and inexperienced to realize the danger she is exposing herself, and others to, in her life as a vigilante.'

The camera cut to another scene, showing a bespectacled man with thinning hair and an aura of intellectual smugness. The caption read "Dr. Cyrus K. Atrix - Child Therapist" Dibble appeared to be interviewing him, though the audio was muffled by Dibble's own voice-over. 'We also consulted with Dr. Atrix, a noted juvenile therapist and psychiatrist with over twenty years of experience in dealing with troubled youth and dysfunctional families.' Then Dibble's voice faded and Dr. Atrix could be heard clearly.

'I believe that Kimberly Ann Possible suffers from several developmental disorders.' he said, his voice had a fruity sound to it, with a clipped German accent. 'It is not uncommon among today's youth. They have a great deal of leisure time, and highly active imaginations. They desperately want to feel important and needed. Many are, in the main, either ignored, or too heavily indulged by their parents. Both parents often have careers of their own, and therefore the children do not receive the boundaries and structure they need for healthy development. These children develop a sense of invulnerability, thinking that because of their youth they can never be harmed. And I would classify Kim Possible as their standard-bearer.'

Dibble leaned forward in his chair, gesturing towards Dr. Atrix. 'But there are many people who say that Kim Possible's actions have saved lives, and prevented dangerous criminals from launching schemes that would harm thousands. Isn't that worthwhile?'

Dr. Atrix shook his head patronizingly. 'Kim Possible's exploits could be said to have some benefits to the community.' he said, his voice laced with disbelief. 'But I would call such conclusions questionable at best. First of all, these people are presuming that only one underage girl has the power to stop these criminals. And by making Ms. Possible believe that these people are dependent on her for protection, they are doing great harm to her psychologically. She would be much better served if her parents discouraged her reckless behavior, and instructed her to notify trained authorities if she encounters any wrongdoers. Instead she takes it on herself to act in place of the authorities, and I am sorry to say, there is evidence that even some international organizations are encouraging this. It makes the situation extremely dire for Ms. Possible. Not only does she herself believe she is justified in her vigilante exploits, but she is being driven to continue by her indulgent parents, and by black organizations that may have hidden, even sinister political agendas. And if Ms. Possible should be injured, or killed on one of her 'missions', then who will hold these people to account for their role in the inevitable tragedy?'

The scene cut back to Cratt, still seated behind her own desk. 'I tried to contact Kim Possible's parents to discuss these issues. Her father, Dr. Possible, is a noted scientist at the Middleton Space Center. Her mother, also a doctor, is an accomplished neurosurgeon. Both of these are extremely time-intensive careers and I can't help doubting whether the parents are actively engaged in guiding their daughter through her critical years of juvenile development. They may think they're helping her by letting her 'make her own decisions' as it were, but at what point will those with clearer vision be allowed to step in and say that she may be making the wrong decisions?'

'And were you able to contact the parents?' said Dibble.

'I did manage a brief phone conversation with the father.' said Cratt. 'When I expressed my concern, he said "Oh, you know how kids are these days. Besides, anything is Possible for a Possible."

'How did they react to your proposal that Child Services be allowed to counsel Kim Possible, or oversee her activities?' said Dibble.

Cratt shook her head sadly. 'The parents didn't agree. And our office received word from higher up that we would not be allowed to pursue the matter. I was outraged of course, but when I tried to make further inquiries, I was informed that I was interfering in matters of 'global security' and I should let it drop.'

The scene cut back to the MIDX studio, with Dibble facing the camera. 'Anything is possible for a Possible.' he said. 'Pretty words. But when the possibility of injury or death is raised, her parents don't seem concerned. Is it right for parents to allow their underage child to go after mad scientists and super-villains? To date, Kim Possible has not been seriously injured on any of her missions. The Possible family has been lucky so far, and avoided tragedy. Kim Possible has her parents, political organizations and legions of supporters who want her to stay the course. How long will her luck hold? Whatever her next mission may be, we can only hope that when it is reported, it will not include an obituary. A. U. Dibble, MIDX news.'

Mrs. Dr. Possible looked at the screen, shaking her head. 'Oh dear.' she said. 'That didn't make us look good at all.'

Mr. Dr. Possible picked up the remote and hit the 'power' button with a lot more force than was needed. The TV blipped off. 'To even suggest that we don't care about our daughter.... Well that just frosts my Kelvinator! I've got half a mind to call that Dibble right now and give him what for...'

Ron piped up, squealing loudly. 'Don't do it, Dr. P! If you let Dibble know he got to you, it'd be like an early Christmas present for him!'

'Ron's right.' said Kim gloomily. 'As much as I'd like to go point by point to answer him, it would just be throwing fuel on the fire. He'd start another set of reports if we said we wanted to respond.' She sighed. 'He said this was his last segment. It'll settle down after this.'

Mrs. Dr. Possible still looked shaken. 'I don't know. Since you started saving the world... we've never gotten bad press before. You have so many people thanking you all the time for saving them. No one's ever complained or accused us of neglecting you. Is he right? Did we let all the kudos and praise blind us into letting you put yourself in danger?'

'Don't believe it for one minute!' Kim said, throwing her arms around both of them. 'You're the best parents in the world! You've always been there, and you did a great job raising me! You've always made sure one of you was home for us, to look after us and take care of us. You even took time to make us do homework and chores...'

'Though I'm not so sure I agreed with that....' said Ron, but Kim spoke over him.

'That news guy doesn't know anything, Mom.' Kim said firmly. 'He wasn't there on a speeding train with me when I was fighting Drakken - you were. And when the Diablos were tearing through our house, he wasn't there in the garage building rocket engines so we could get to the emitters and shut them down!'

Mr. Dr. Possible had his hand on his wife's shoulder as she sat on the couch, looking down at the floor. 'But would they have even come after us if it weren't for the crime fighting?' she said. 'Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea for you to just... talk with someone about your work....'

Kim shook her head. 'And what would they say?' she said. 'Play it safe? Stay home and leave it to someone else? When monsters and maniacs are going after people, the bad guys don't sit still and wait for the hero to get permission to act. If Dibble and those pencil pushers had their way, I would never have done anything to stop Drakken, or Dementor, or anyone else. And then where would they be?'

'That's the can-do Possible sprit!' said Mr. Dr. Possible. 'If Dibble thinks the family that isn't intimidated by super-villains will kow-tow to a snarky reporter, then he doesn't know the Possibles!'

Still, as the day drew to a close, Kim had to admit to herself that Dibble's reports grated on her. He never came out and said anything blatant. It was all veiled jabs and insinuation, and she wondered briefly if Dibble and Bonnie were related....

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Rhonda held onto Grimm as the Ksikkikini sped through the night air, with a purple-black layer of clouds above them, and a patchwork of city lights far beneath. 'Not so tight!' Grimm's voice sounded slightly muffled through her helmet. Rhonda tried to relax her grip, but it was hard. With the vast, empty air howling around them and the immensity of the sky surrounding her, the bike's safety belts felt like little more than flimsy loops of string. Grimm was checking the sensors for any nearby craft or obstacles, and also talking to Jade on the dashboard communicator.

'Drop off coordinates are locked in.' Jade's tinny voice said. 'And I'm not detecting any satellite scans or ground radar tracking you. You're good to go.'

'Spankin.' said Grimm. 'We'll keep the line open for when we need the payment verified.' There was a blip, and then Rhonda had to fight back a squeal of fear as she felt the bike diving. They landed silently in the park section of the city and converted to regular ground travel, navigating the dark city streets until they reached what looked like the entrance to a business district. They parked, locked the bike and continued on foot, with Grimm holding a metal case in one hand.

'We OK leaving the bike alone?' Rhonda said. 'It'd ruin our street cred if our ride got boosted....'

'I hope someone tries.' said Grimm with a mischievous smile. 'Jade's got all kinds of ADM's installed, including the always-hilarious high voltage touch sensors. It'd be a hoot to watch on the bike's camcorder....' They walked through the high ornamental iron gate and into a wide alley with various business buildings, all closed and dark.

'You all rested up after your donnybrook with Kim?' he asked, his voice lower, as if wanting to carry on the conversation, but not so loudly that they couldn't overhear anyone approaching.

'Oh yeah,' said Rhonda. 'No sweat.'

'And during the fight - did you tell her what I suggested?'

'Yeah. She didn't say much though...' Rhonda answered, shrugging her shoulders.

Grimm smiled. 'But the seeds are planted.' he said. 'Maybe nothing will come of it, but we've probably given them both a couple of sleepless nights while they wonder.'

It was nearly midnight, but a bright moon broke through the clouds above, making the sky pale instead of dark. Grimm and Rhonda entered a plaza with a river-walk. On either side of a thin canal full of softly flowing water, various stores and buildings formed a high man-made valley. Everything was deserted and their footsteps pattered softly as they made their way to one of the decorative bridges which spanned the waterway. They said nothing, and were both aguard, looking around suspiciously until they heard a voice across the bridge.

'Right there will do my friends,' came a smooth, erudite voice that echoed slightly from across the way. It was loud enough to be heard, and still muffled enough that they couldn't tell who was speaking. 'Do you have the item?'

Grimm squinted, but was unable to make out anything but a man-sized shape in the shadows on the other side of the bridge. He held up the case containing the Overthruster. 'As promised,' he said, opening the case slightly to reveal the contents. 'One Oscillation Overthruster. We've screened it for tracking devices and other bugs. It's clean and ready to go.'

'Well done!' came the voice. 'Put the case on the center of the bridge.'

Grimm smirked. 'You wouldn't expect us to do that without a show of good faith.' he said.

A soft laugh floated across the waterway. 'I suppose not.' came the voice. 'Catch.'

A black shape flew across the bridge, landing at Grimm's feet with a muffled thud. He gestured to Rhonda, who lifted it up and saw it was a tied paper sack containing bundles of cash. She flipped through several of the bundles and nodded to Grimm. Grimm crossed half-way over the bridge and laid the case down.

'Slide it.' Came the voice. 'And do not approach any further. I feel it best that we know as little about each other as.... possible.'

Grimm nodded and pushed the case hard. It slid roughly across the rest of the bridge, where it was quickly snatched by a large hand before vanishing into the shade.

'And if you have found this job and my methods agreeable, I have other tasks that need doing,' said the voice, 'Assuming of course that you are up to the challenge.' And with that, another bundle of cash flew through the air and landed at Grimm's feet.

Grimm smiled and picked up the money. 'I think we can arrange something.' he said. 'Play it straight with us, and we'll come through for you. You know how to contact us. We'll be waiting.' Then he turned and crossed the bridge, taking out his communicator. Once he was all the way across, he threw the extra bundle into the sack Rhonda was carrying. 'Standard OP's Jade.' he said softly. 'Sweep the cash for counterfeits and bugs. If it's good, we're gone.'

The scanning beam from his communicator swept over the money, and after a moment, Jade popped onto the screen. 'Oh, love me legal tender, love me true!' she said. 'Come on home guys, it's clean!' Grimm nodded towards the darkness across the bridge, then he and Rhonda turned and left the plaza.

It was several minutes later when the nearly silent Ksikkikini was seen rising up above the tops of the buildings, and then zooming off into the distance. Once they were gone the figure in the shadows was joined by a man who emerged from the darkness as if the shadows were a blanket he had just removed.

The man was tall and almost skeletally thin, dressed in the garb of an Indian medicine man, with two eagle feathers tied behind his left ear. Maze stood staring at the other figure, who had the case containing the Overthruster clutched in his hand. 'You are sure that obtaining these items will help in fulfilling my plans?' Maze said quietly.

'Oh my, yes.' said Monkey Fist, stepping forward to join him. He was dressed in a black gi, marking him as a ninja. He also was thin, with abnormally long fingers and the toes on his bare feet were grossly elongated with what appeared to be opposable big toes. Monkey Fist strode out of the shadows, still looking down at the prize he held. 'Trust me - though the original scope of your plan was impressive, once we have the components and the personnel, it will expand a thousand fold!'

Maze's eyes narrowed slightly. 'I care nothing for the rest of the world.' he said darkly. 'It is my people I wish to rule over.'

Monkey Fist laughed. 'If things work out - as I am sure they will - then the entire continent will be yours to do with as you wish! So long as you leave the rest of the world to me.'

Maze continued to stare. 'You speak as one with great ambitions, Maokiiwa.' he said. 'But remember - if you think to betray me, that it is only through my power that you even able to move. I can easily render your body as motionless as it was before.'

Monkey Fist sounded both annoyed and bored. 'Yes, yes, I'm well aware.' he said, flexing the fingers on his left hand. Beneath his black clothing, his skin, his hands, feet and face, even his hair, looked rough and gray. He was still made of stone. 'Just remember - if you think to betray me, that it is only my resources and connections that are allowing your plan to proceed.'

Maze nodded. 'I am glad that we understand each other, Maokiiwa.' he said, and he glanced with slitted eyes at the sky where Grimm and Rhonda had left. 'Though I dislike relying on Katasistsikoowa and Otaatoyiwa in this manner. They were responsible for my defeat, and the sooner we have them collect the rest of the items, the better. He is cunning, and the longer we rely on them, the greater the risk. It is essential that they do not know I am involved - until the moment we strike.'

'Yes,' said Monkey Fist, sighing. 'I am almost sorry - they are a competent team of mercenaries. For the moment though, they can serve as our useful idiots. And if you do what I want - then I will do what you want. We both have enemies we wish to vanquish, and powers we believe that we alone should wield....'

Next:
Chapter 6