cloudmonet’s kim stories

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Mind Out Of Time

Part 1
Doing Time

Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable, Rufus, Monique, and Sumo Ninja are characters from the Kim Possible show, created by Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley, owned and copyright by the Walt Disney Company. The story takes place in April of Kim and Ron’s sophomore year of college, nearly three years after “So the Drama,” and not long after my earlier story, “Orinoco.” This story 2006 by cloudmonet. This is part one of a three part story.

Spring had come at last to the stony plain, a wasteland somewhere in western China tucked between mountains just as barren. The Chinese bureaucrats had names for these hills, as did the various American defense agencies. Otherwise, they were known only to people truly obsessed with the details of geography, and the guards and prisoners of Jao Dung Prison.

In a large, brightly-lit room with discolored white walls, a huge Japanese man in a hot magenta jumpsuit was hunched over an industrial sewing machine, hemming the edges of small pieces of brightly-colored flowered fabric, not that any of the pieces were big enough to show an entire flower.

The Pakistani man sitting next to him grumbled in English, one of two languages the pair had in common. “If my sister were ever to wear anything like this, I would whip her to death in the arena.”

“Shut up, Al,” grunted Sumo Ninja. “Thinking of the hot American babes who’re gonna wear these keeps me happy.”

Ali Abdullah glowered. “I was gonna blow up America, and now I’m sewing bikinis for Smarty Mart. I should have blown up China.”

“We got not even the bomb,” said Ho Zhomp, the Malaysian man sitting behind Abdullah. He was hemming in the spaghetti strings of a top.

“Losers,” said Sumo Ninja. “You had an invisible plane and you got shot down. What’s up with that?”

“Loser yourself,” said Abdullah, hemming the front triangle of a bright green thong. “You’re a prisoner, too.”

“No shame in that. I crossed paths with the Ghost and Kim Possible. Gave ’em some real trouble, too.” Sumo Ninja put the finished string bikini top on his pile and picked up the hourglass shaped piece of cloth and ties for the bottom.

“Good thing you saw not the local girls at our base, Al,” said Ho Zhomp, who was hemming the leg holes of a French-cut bottom. “They go all nude.”

Sumo Ninja laughed, hemming the edges of his own bottom. “That’s a good one. You prudish terrorists put your secret base near a nude beach. Who would think?”

“Not correct,” said Ho Zhomp. “Our base sited up Borneo hills. They wild jungle girls.”

“Sounds like fun,” said Sumo Ninja. “Ya do any of ’em?”

“What means do them?” Ho asked.

Sumo Ninja said something in Chinese while hemming the tie strings into his flowered bottom.

“Do them means clouds and rain. Ohhh!”

“You read too much Chinese poetry, not enough Koran,” said Ali Abdullah.

“You don’t wanna do naked jungle babes?” asked Sumo Ninja.

“They’re more not pretty,” said Ho Zhomp. “Too much tattoos and scars.”

“So you do look at ’em,” said Sumo Ninja. “Ha! Gotcha there!”

“You guys speak the words of Satan,” said Ali Abdullah.

“Sure, why not? I’m an evil ninja. But you know what? Even good men look at babes!” He held up the flowered bottom as if inspecting it for flaws. “Honey! I wanna see you in this!” In his enthusiasm, his voice scrawked like a crow.

A young Chinese guard with an automatic rifle walked down the aisle between machines, saying, “Less talk, more work,” in Chinese. His companion, a stern-faced older woman, fondled her coiled bullwhip as she walked behind him.

When they were done with their rounds, the young man whispered in the woman’s ear, in a dialect the prisoners probably didn’t know, “May I ask why, if we want them to talk, we keep forcing them to be quiet?”

“I think you’re clever enough to reach your own understanding of this,” she replied. “I’ll expect you to explain it to me when you report for duty tomorrow.”

“Okay, here’s the deal,” Belinda Brockmeyer told Kim and Ron Stoppable, who were sitting on the edge of the double bed in their dorm room while she sat in the upholstered swivel chair, playing with a green plastic ruler. “Dr. Hurlbetter of the psychology department has developed what more or less amounts to a telepathy machine and needs suitable test subjects.”

“I don’t know,” said Ron. “We’ve heard rumors about that machine supposed to make people go mental in a big way.”

“Uh huh,” agreed Rufus, Ron’s pet naked mole rat, who was perched on his shoulder.

“That’s exaggerated,” said Belinda.

“I don’t want to get major mood swings,” said Kim.

“Ah, no,” Ron agreed. “No offense,” he added quickly.

Kim smiled at him.

“Yeah, okay, people have had problems,” Belinda admitted, “but let me explain why you two would be ideal subjects.”

“Okay, but I’m not looking at your eyes while you try to persuade me,” said Ron.

Rufus closed his eyes and covered them with his front paws.

Kim gave Ron a raised eyebrow then turned to Belinda. “Go on,” she said, crossing her arms.

“Well, the idea behind the machine is it gives a direct brain-to-brain linkage through a noninvasive interface,” Belinda explained. “You could use a machine like this to communicate with someone in a deep coma, for example. All those people in hospital beds with tubes in their arms who can’t talk or move, you could find out if their minds are still functioning. If they are, this gives them a way to communicate.”

“Sounds like a great idea, if it’s used that way,” said Kim. “I can think of some pretty terrible misuses for it.”

Ron mimed putting on a helmet and affected a sinister voice. “And now, Dr. McDuff, I will learn everything you know about the photon phaser antimatter cruise missile! Booyah ha ha ha ha!”

Rufus gave a squeak of fear, scampered across the bed to his nest box, and burrowed under the shredded paper towels.

“Just kidding, little buddy,” Ron said, and Rufus cautiously looked at him.

“Yeah, and how about this one?” Kim said, dropping the pitch of her voice, “Resistance is futile, Miss Brockmeyer. I will now learn everything about your conspiracy against the Eternal Benevolent Government, and, uh—” She went back to her normal voice, “I’ll also learn everything about your sex life, and spill the details to your mom.”

“Very funny,” said Belinda. “The reality is, the contact is total, both ways. And that’s our problem, finding two people who can handle the intimacy.”

“Oh!” said Kim, turning her head and meeting Ron’s brown eyes. “Hmm—”

“You two have been best friends and constant companions since you were four years old. You know each other so thoroughly, you can’t have many barriers.”

“I like to think we don’t,” said Kim.

“You want to do it, don’tcha?” asked Ron.

“I think it could be a really beautiful experience,” said Kim. “You’re scared it could be weird.”

“No duh.”

“What do you think I don’t know about you?”


“You think this is some kind of mad science,” said Kim.

“Not all mad scientists have henchmen and lairs. Some have grad students and National Science Foundation grants.” Ron affected a Gollum-voice. “Publissh! I mussst Publissh paperss! Seriously, Kim. And you know how I feel about psychologists. Taking the course is evil enough.”

Kim looked at Belinda. “When Ron was traumatized by his summer at Camp Wannaweep, his mom made him see a child psychologist. I don’t think the psychologist helped him.”

“So— not— helpful—” Ron said slowly and emphatically.

“Ron, this isn’t about changing who either of you are,” said Belinda. “It’s about fine-tuning a potentially important medical tool. It’s either too amped up, offering total oneness to people who don’t want it, or tuned so low it doesn’t work. We need two people who can handle the total contact so we can figure out how to make the adjustments.”

“You’re not gonna have some psychologist in your head, Ron. You’ll have me.”


“I really want to do this,” said Kim. “Whatever we share will be good.”

Ron looked into Kim’s moist green eyes and embraced her. “Okay babe, okay,” he whispered. “Why the watery eyes? You almost never cry.”

“I don’t know,” she whispered back. “This is really ’portant.”

She said that the way she would have when she was a small child.

“You’re really gonna do that?” Monique asked Kim and Ron. They were sitting in the Student Union Cafeteria together, eating sloppy joes. “After hearin’ what Yvonne told me ’bout trying that machine, uh-uh, no way, too weird, never gonna try it.”

“So what kind of weird are we talking about?” asked Kim.

“All kinds of stuff in your head just gets exposed, you know, stuff you’d never want to tell anybody. Don’t tell me you two don’t have secrets from each other. I know better. I’ve watched you not tell each other so much obvious stuff—”

“Recently?” asked Kim.

“No, but that don’t matter. Anything that ever happened is recently when you’re looking in each other’s heads with that machine.”

Rufus ate a couple of Ron’s French fries and looked toward Monique.

“You think you got yourselves fit together perfectly, gold rings and all. Beautiful wedding. But you know, you make it work by hiding stuff that doesn’t fit so well, forgetting other stuff you might have done. Should Ron be a freelance commando for truth and justice, or a world-class chef baking ‘seven layers of heaven’ for cable TV?”

“Hey, I’m good at cooking, but I never wanted to be a cook,” said Ron.

“You sure?” asked Monique. “Cause Kim’s gonna interact with that, maybe some part of Kim that doesn’t like you so well, and then what happens? What about cheerleader Kim? She’s gotta be frustrated ’bout how life’s goin’ now.”

“No big,” said Kim. “Ron, world-saving, school, cheerleading— something had to go. College is a lot harder than high school, if I want to be serious and do well.”

“No duh,” Monique agreed. “But you hear what I’m saying. You’re gold now. Why mess with what works? How you gonna handle feeling each other crush on other people?”

“We’ve talked about that stuff,” said Ron.

“Talking and reexperiencing, so not the same!” said Monique.

“It’s my hero thing,” said Kim. “Making it possible to communicate with comatose people? That’s beautiful.”

Rufus licked the last bit of ketchup from Ron’s empty plate of French fries.

Monique looked around the room to make sure nobody was paying attention. Everyone else was talking at their own table, and the jukebox was playing pop songs. “Yvonne won’t get on a motorcycle now,” Monique said, dropping her voice. “I promised I wouldn’t tell, but I gotta tell you.”

Kim and Ron looked at her, puzzled by this remark.

Rufus looked longingly at Monique’s French fries, but she was guarding then well.

“You get creeped out when Belinda makes prophecies? How you gonna feel when you make your own?”

“What do you mean?” asked Kim.

“I guess there’s some part of a human mind that knows what’s gonna happen, but it’s blocked off, hmm? This machine unblocks that. Yvonne remembered her future, came out of the session thinking she was in a hospital with casts and all that from a bad motorcycle accident, thinking she had a head injury and couldn’t talk.”

“That is pretty freaky,” said Ron.

“She didn’t tell the doctor, didn’t tell no one but me, and you don’t say nothin’ to no one either, hear? She figures the less she talks and thinks about it, the less energy she feeds it. She loved her bike like you love yours, but she sold it, won’t get on a bike ever again. What if you learn you get killed savin’ the world? Would you still save it?”

“Sure,” said Kim. “I’d appreciate the warning and change my tactics.”

“She can do anything,” Ron said with a smile.

The stern-faced Chinese woman glared at the huge Japanese man in the magenta prison uniform. They were in the interrogation room. She spoke a phrase of Arabic. “Do you ever hear them saying that?” she asked in Chinese.

“Not sure,” Sumo Ninja replied. “Maybe some of the words, or similar words.”

“Does Ali Abdullah talk to the Malay men much?”

“In English, in Chinese, not so much in Arabic. I don’t much understand Arabic yet.”

“You disappoint me, Sumo Ninja,” said the woman. “I have that phrase on many recordings of them. It’s an insult directed at me. It means—”

This narration will omit what it means.

“These terrorists are disrespectful of powerful women like yourself, Madam Tsing,” said Sumo Ninja.

“That’s not the point!” she snapped. “Audio devices have limitations. People mumble. Not every sound gets picked up perfectly. Your sole value to me right now is your ninja-trained hearing. If you can’t recognize a phrase which repeatedly comes up in their conversation—”

“You wish to know when they insult you?”

“If that phrase means me, it can go with words about what I might be doing or thinking. I’m watching them, they’re watching me. I want to know what they see.” Madam Tsing repeated the Arabic phrase, then a couple of shorter variations. “Those all mean me,” she said. “Do they say them much when I’m not around, when I haven’t questioned them for awhile?”

“Please repeat the short versions.”

She did.

“Yes, they say those things, in long sentences.”

“Let me think,” she said, looking through her Chinese/Arabic dictionary and phrase book. “How about, the [characterization omitted] was in a foul mood today?” She translated this to Arabic, repeated it a couple of times till it came out smoothly.

“Yes, I have heard that,” said Sumo Ninja.

“Good. We may get somewhere. How about, I hate that [characterization omitted]?” She repeated this in Arabic.

“I’ve heard Khi Myong say that.”

“Of course, what I’m most concerned about is discussion of my movements, my routine, anything that might facilitate an escape or other trouble. Well, let’s go over phrases and words that may be used to discuss these situations. Whether you’ve heard things like this or not, I want you to learn them.” Madam Tsing thumbed through her book and recited more Arabic phrases.

A gray-haired, goateed professor in a white lab coat opened the office door. “I am Avrum Hurlbetter, professor of psychology,” he said, with a slight accent. “You would be Mr. and Mrs. Stoppable?”

“Yes,” said Kim.

“You’re Jewish, aren’t you, Mr. Stoppable?” the professor asked Ron. “Not that this is relevant, but so am I.”

“I’m not, like, orthodox or anything,” Ron replied.

Dr. Hurlbetter chuckled. “And you’re childhood sweethearts who got married.”

“Something like that,” said Kim.

“Such marriages are the happiest and most durable, for those who are lucky enough to make such a match. Often close association in childhood causes the relationship to become more like that of a brother and sister.”

“We’ve experienced that,” said Kim.

“Fortunately, we got over it,” said Ron, briefly clasping her hand.

“Yes, fortunately,” she agreed.

“Well, that’s good,” said Dr. Hurlbetter. “I don’t know how much Miss Brockmeyer told you about our telepathy machine, so I hope I don’t bore you.”

“It’s all about communicating with people in comas, you need to adjust the sensitivity so it’s not overwhelming, and you think Ron and I can handle it till you get it set right,” said Kim.

“I should have you write abstracts for my professional papers,” said the professor. “You have a talent for summary.”

“Comes from years of interrupting and summarizing rants,” said Kim, “not that I would put you in the mad scientist category, of course.”

Dr. Hurlbetter smiled amiably. “There are understandable fears and concerns about how my machine could be misused, but really it does give both parties quite equal access to each other’s minds, which should reduce the chances of this.”

“Belinda suggested we might get, um, course credit for participating—” said Ron.

“Well, yes, assuming you can handle the first session and are willing to come back for more. I have yet to find any experimental subjects who weren’t disturbed in some way by their experiences. Volunteers are getting harder to find.”

“All the more reason to give us what we want,” said Ron. “It’s only fair. The time we spend here is time we can’t spend on regular studies.”

“Let’s try one session and see how it goes. I’ll get you credit for writing a paper or something, if you’ll give me a full account of your experiences. Some people flat out refuse to tell me anything.”

“We’ll tell you everything we can,” said Kim. “You understand that some of my missions involve classified or top secret information, and if we reexperience stuff like that, I’ll have to tell you there’s stuff I can’t tell you.”

“Kim Possible, if I may still use your famous maiden name,” said Dr. Hurlbetter, “ordinarily, I wouldn’t want such an extraordinary subject for experimental work, but I’ve failed completely with ordinary folks.”

“We’ve still got the KP logo on all our vehicles and gear,” said Ron, “but I started calling her KS after the wedding and she likes that.”

Kim smiled and said, “Oh, you!”

“This is so refreshing,” said the professor. “I usually get to see couples who’ve gotten themselves in some kind of trouble. You take genuine delight in each other.”

“Three stripes,” Ali Abdullah told Sumo Ninja, in English. “I bowed toward the holy city and prayed while she whipped my naked back. What does she do to you?”

“She doesn’t whip me, Al,” Sumo Ninja said. His voice could have the most irritating scrawk whenever he spoke above a mumble. “Don’t know why she whips you, unless it’s because you’re a stinking terrorist.”

“You worked for us.”

“The money was good, and I didn’t know who was paying. Now that I do—” he made a noise of disgust.

Abdullah made a threatening pose and Sumo Ninja laughed.

“You don’t want me to throw you down with a bloody back, do you, Al?”

“If I learn you’ve betrayed us—”

“We’re probably being recorded, you know. Think they don’t understand English, or Arabic, or Pashto, or whatever else you choose to babble?”

Abdullah dropped his voice to ask, “You know where the microphones are?”

Sumo Ninja laughed. “What? You think I’m doing clouds and rain with her to get her to tell me stuff like that? Don’t be silly, Al! Huh. I’ve been locked up too long. She is starting to look cute.”

“You’re disgusting.”

Before Ali Abdullah knew what happened, Sumo Ninja flipped him to the hard floor on his back. He would have screamed in pain, but the breath was knocked out of him.

“When talking to a man who is big and strong as a mountain, but swift as the wind, it is wise to be polite,” Sumo Ninja said quietly.

Khi Myong, the small Malaysian who shared their cell, waved his hands in a gesture of negation, saying, “No trouble, sir, no trouble,” in heavily accented English.

Sumo Ninja smiled, and lay down on his mat.

Kim sat down on a reclining chair in the middle of a small room and placed the lightweight helmet on her head. A bundle of wires led to some electronic gear and a computer.

“Can you record thoughts with this gear?” Kim asked.

Dr. Hurlbetter chuckled. “Now that would be a breakthrough! But, fortunately perhaps, no. There’s way too much going on. Only another human mind can possibly sort through all the noise to perceive a signal. It’s be like recording the sound from fifty televisions tuned to different channels and trying to sort anything out. But if you’re actually in the room with this, with concentration you can hear what you want to hear.”

“Ron would probably get confused. He’s easily distracted. Oooh, I hope he can make sense of my thoughts. I’ll try to stay focused.”

“Does Ron have an attention deficit disorder?” Dr. Hurlbetter asked.

“He can focus when he really wants to,” said Kim.

“No, for your work it’s good for him to be that way. While you’re fighting, he’ll notice things off to the side that you don’t notice, things that might threaten your lives.”

“That’s so true,” said Kim. “You are perceptive, aren’t you?”

“If you’re ready, I’ll dim the lights. You may want to close your eyes as well, to focus your attention inward.”

Ron heard Kim’s voice in the dark, calling his name.

“Kim?” he asked.

“Hey,” she said. “I guess it’s working.”

“Big whoop! This is just like a phone call in the dark, only I think we’re not actually talking.”

“Babe, it’s more than that. I’ve been here before.”

“Oh yeah, in my body, when the brain switch machine switched our brains.”

“I don’t think it actually did that,” said Kim. “I think it did something like this, only instead of being together, we switched places. I’m feeling the shape of your body from the inside, the strength in your muscles. It’s familiar.”


“I didn’t say this back then, but you’ve got a pretty good body. I mean, I had little trouble making it do most of my usual stunts, though it hurt some afterwards. You feel quite a bit stronger now.”

“All that martial arts practice with you,” said Ron.



“I wish we could, you know, get sweet, hooked up to this thing. Wouldn’t that be fun?”


“You agree with me. I can feel you.”

In a warm softness under blankets and sheets, skin against skin.

“A memory, sweetheart?” Kim whispered. “I’m liking the way I make you feel.”

“No duh. I love you, Kim.”

Suddenly Ron was tumbling through space, no, flying through the air with his jetpack, catching a falling Kim under her arms.

“Nice,” she said, and Ron felt the warm glow of her happiness. “Be careful, sweetheart, it’s still a long way down,” she added.

Ron was standing in the shadows of the trees in the park, upwind from Kim, who just sneezed from the pollen of the special orchid he was holding, which somehow ended the terrible gradual disappearance of her body. She was back, she was whole, she felt like herself again. She was embracing Josh Mankey, but looking over his shoulder at Ron, who was trying to smile away the tears he felt like weeping.

“Excuse me,” Kim told Josh, pushing him away from her and running toward Ron, wrapping her arms around him and looking into his eyes. “This is what I should have done, sweetheart,” she said. “I never should have caused you any pain.”

“Wow, KP, I’m confused.”

“I’m KS now, your wife!”

“But we’re in high school.”

Kim suddenly felt uncertain. “I want to be with you always,” she said. “I don’t want to be with him or anyone else. I know you love me, and I love you, and I don’t care what anybody thinks. You should be my boyfriend.”

Kim and Ron were children sitting in Ron’s backyard on plastic chairs, with a tablecloth spread over a cardboard box, and two paper plates with cheese sandwiches and sliced apples, pretending they were on a date.

“Um, okay, I guess, sure,” said Ron.

“Now you need a ’gagement ring,” said Kim, handing him a keyring with no keys on it. “This could be the ’gagement ring.”

Ron looked at the empty keyring dubiously.

“We should eat our sandwiches first,” said Kim.

“Okay,” said Ron, and took a big bite.

“And I say stuff like, ‘This is a nice rest’rant,’ and you say stuff like, ‘You look nice, Kimmie.’ ”

“Mumple murph,” said Ron.

Kim made a face. “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she said. “That’s so gross.”

Ron swallowed. “Sorry,” he said.

“That’s ’kay,” she said, with a smile. “So you wanted to ask me something?”

“What am I spozed to do?” asked Ron.

“Well, you kneel on the floor, or the grass, and show me the ’gagement ring, and ask me to marry you.”

The little boy kneeled on the grass beside the little girl’s chair, holding her right hand with his left. “Like this?” he asked, looking into his friend’s beautiful green eyes.

“Ron, how old are we?” asked Kim, in quiet darkness.

“I know I’m bad at math, but this is ridiculous,” he replied. “I can’t get my mind around how numbers work, or what a year should be.”

“Kinda dreamlike, as though the touching parts of our minds are timeless.”

“I’m thinking the cheese sandwiches, the keyring, that was a long time ago.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Kim agreed.

Kim was with Monique in the terminal of an airport, probably Middleton International, but it was hard to be sure. She saw Ron with his suitcases and ran to embrace him. It just was a brief hug but she felt— No, it was a much longer hug. She was wearing a thin blue dress, practically melting into his arms while the lights changed color and swirled. He was slightly taller than her now. She didn’t care that he was wearing that ill-fitting light blue tux with the ridiculous ruffled shirt. She looked into those deep brown eyes.

He looked into those emerald green eyes, seeing all the love of his childhood reflected back at him.

One kiss merged with another. The clothes they were wearing changed, the setting changed, the position of the rest of their bodies changed, but the kiss was one kaleidoscope of love.

“So we’re in love,” said Kim. “Or is this your imagination? Is this how I look to you? I’m overwhelming you, flooding your senses with smooth, warm, wow!”

“Can I feel how you feel it?” Ron asked.

“Welcome, sweetheart.”

“We are in love,” said Ron.

“It’s a very secure feeling,” said Kim, “your presence always with me, guarding me and protecting me. You seem uncertain.”

“I’m guarding you?”

“With you fighting by my side, I can do anything, or even with you just cheering me on. You protect me from my doubt.”

“I make you feel like that?” Ron asked, his mind wandering toward moments of skin against skin.

“Boys really do only think about that!”

“I just want to, you know, learn what feels best to you.”

“It’s not how you touch me, but how you love me.”

Ron was standing on the altar, watching Kim’s dad escorting her down the center aisle of the church. Now he was kissing her. They were dancing, somewhere, kissing again. That white gown, bare shoulders, and long red hair! “See, we’re married,” said Kim.

Kim and Ron were sitting next to each other on a couch in an old room with pale striped wallpaper. Kim had a baby girl on her lap who was wearing a sleeper. “Daddy’s got your foot,” Ron kept saying, moving the baby’s foot around while she gave him a biggie grin.

“What’s her name?” asked Kim. “This is awful! I can’t remember her name.”

“Bye, Mom, bye, Dad,” the teenaged girl said, hugging them both before bouncing toward a yellow school bus.

“Bye, Marlena,” said Kim. “Okay, her name’s Marlena. Wait a moment, we can’t possibly be that old, can we? You’re going bald.”

“Well, I got strong male hormones, babe.”

“Oh, you!”

“I guess we must be this old.”

“What do we do?” asked Kim. “I don’t remember anything but being heroes. You know, kicking bad guy butt and saving people from natural disasters.”

“Oh, Kimberly, we haven’t done that for a long time,” Ronald said with a voice that sounded shaky and wheezy.

“Ronald, don’t try to walk without your cane.”

He gasped and collapsed on the floor. Kimberly cried and cried. “Ronald! Ronald! Don’t leave me all alone!”

There was nothing but darkness and silence.

“Ron?” asked Kim. “You’re not really dead, are you?”

“I’m trying to understand what we’re experiencing. Either we’re both dead now, and going over our lives together before, well, whatever comes next, or, I kind of remember we’re doing a telepathy experiment with Professor Hurlbetter’s machine—”

“Right. What’s real? I mean, all this stuff. Are we married? Are we lovers? Cause if we’re not, I want to do that.”

“Oh, that’s real!” said Ron.

“Are you sure? Cause you’re lying on a hospital bed, with tubes in your arms and bags of fluid, and I’m holding your wrinkled hand with tears in my eyes, and Marlena’s got her arm around my waist, handing me tissues and brushing my long white hair. You just had a stroke, I think. Maybe that’s where we are, why we’re using the telepathy machine. I’m trying to find you, trying to bring you back. Ron, it feels so real! Come back to me!”

“Kim, I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m right here. We’re in college at Northwestern State University, hooked up to Avrum Hurlbetter’s machine. Okay. I remember being the old dude in the hospital bed with the tubes. I don’t know how. I saw you crying, crying, crying, and tried to get up to comfort you, and found I was somehow out of my body, and you were crying even more, and— I blew it! I’m so dead.”

“Ron, no—”

“Ya got that right. I think I know what happens. Whatever part of your mind and my mind that are touching— it’s like timeless— not past, present, or future, but all there at once. That’s why we can’t figure out where in this continuum of life we really are. Unhook the machine, we’re back in college. Remember, some of his test subjects had strange reactions to the intimacy of telepathy? He wanted us because we spend our whole lives together.”

“But Ron— your stroke! We used the machine again. We really are old. If we’re not, everything that will happen to us is predestined. The future’s as real as the past.”

“Nah, I think you can change it.”

Ron opened his eyes. As Kim said, he was lying in a hospital bed, IV tubes taped to his wrinkled hands, a telepathy helmet on his head. He looked at Kim, who removed her own telepathy helmet from her long white hair and smiled through her tears. “Baby,” she said, pulling his head toward her breasts and covering it with little kisses. “You came back to me, you came back. I love you so much.”

“Kimmie,” he said with a wheezy whisper. “Will you marry me? I gotta a ’gagement ring for you.”

“Yes, Ron, yes,” she said, gently kissing the old man’s dry lips. “I’ll marry you every time you forget we’ve already been married for fifty nine years!”

Kim opened her eyes to the gradually brightening light in the room, and stared at her young hands.

“The machine’s off, isn’t it, doctor? This is real, now, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Hurlbetter. “What did you experience?”

“So far beyond freaky,” Kim said.

“You, too?”

“Ron and I remembered the future, really far in the future,” Kim explained. “We were nearly eighty, and he had a stroke, and we were using a machine like this one for me to find him and make him conscious again, and it worked, and, where’s my pack?”

She got off the chair, found it in the corner, pulled out her compact, and looked at her face in the small round mirror. To her relief, her skin was smooth, her hair red.

“I just experienced coming out of trance in Ron’s hospital room, as an old woman. It’s like I came out twice, and now I’m not sure how many times I’m gonna come out before I’m in the real reality.”

“This is extraordinary. Can you start at the beginning of your experience and try to recreate it for me?” The professor asked gently. “You can gloss over anything embarrassing or intimate if you wish.”

Kim gave him a quizzical look.

“You’re newlyweds. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t share some thoughts of a sexual nature.”

“Yeah, we did, a few times. It was all about our relationship, from childhood to old age, but it was kinda random, out of order, free-associated.”

“Can you start at the beginning, and—”

“Yeah, sure. My first thought was, I’m better at staying focused, so I went out in the dark calling Ron’s name, and he called back to me, and then we were together in Ron’s head. I know cause I could feel how his body feels from the inside—”

Belinda knocked on the door. “Dr. Hurlbetter, Ron wants to ask Kim a question.”

“I bet I know exactly what he’s gonna ask,” said Kim. “Better let him do it if you want to compare us.”

“Okay,” the professor told Belinda, who opened the door.

“Uh, Kim,” said Ron. “Should I tell Belinda any private intimate stuff?”

“It’s okay,” Kim replied. “This is important. This is gonna save lives. You don’t have to be, like, graphic, though.”

“Oh, okay, gottcha,” Ron said, and left the room with Belinda.

The cell door opened. A guard pointed his automatic rifle at Sumo Ninja and led him away.

Ali Abdullah whispered to Khi Myong in Arabic, “Now, my friend, I will show you what can be made from stretch polyester besides garments for shameless women.” He applied a small wad of what looked like chewing gum to the steel doorframe and heated it with a cigarette lighter. It began foaming, dissolving the metal like a strong acid. “No alarm, and no latch,” he said. “In a minute and a half, Wang Tsu will walk by. His automatic rifle will prove most useful.”

“I follow your lead, sir,” Khi Myong replied.

Continued in Part 2