Upon hearing of the successful rescue mission performed by the teamwork of three sector leaders, the supreme leader, Numbuh 362, had cordially invited the participants to the moon base – now three days after the matter – to commemorate a job well done. With their arrival, she approached Numbuhs 1, 593, and 10 together and shook their hands, beckoning their teams to step forward as well.
“I won’t bite, guys,” she joked. At her right side was Numbuh 86 with her hands behind her back – she congratulated the operatives individually, giving less regard to the boys as the girls.
They were on the main floor of the base; no huge audience, no medals being handed out, and no enthusiastic celebration, but it was an honor enough to have the supreme leader personally thanking them for their courage and loyalty to their fellow brethren and sistren.
“On behalf of the entire Kids Next Door ultimatum, I am proud to call you honorary elite moon base representatives, Numbuh 1, Numbuh 10, and Numbuh 593. If ever the need arise I would be happy to recommend any of you three to become the next Kids Next Door supreme leader,” she announced, giving a nod to Numbuh 1, “I trust that you would do especially well, Nigel.” Then she put her open palm facing downwards and against her forehead; the trio followed suit and they saluted each other before she finished with, “Kids Next Door rule!”
“Kids Next Door rule!” the other kids repeated. And so, they dispersed into their separate teams; Numbuh 652 dragged her feet and fidgeted with her hands as she followed her friends to their S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Her leader glanced over his shoulder and frowned when he caught sight of the concern in her eyes.
“Numbuh 652, you okay?” he asked quietly, slowing to fall in line with her. She looked up rather startled, but before she answered, Numbuh 86 stopped them with the request about where Numbuh 19th Century was.
“He’s in our tree house. Personally, I like that, and I – ”
“– I had him thrown into a makeshift cell we have back in my tree house,” Numbuh 593 cut her off, feeling somewhat threatened by her statement. No longer worried about his companion, he focused solely on the Global Tactical Officer, continuing with his arms crossed, “He destroyed Sector V’s weapons so they couldn’t put up a fight and – by consequence – I almost lost my team getting caught up in their activity. So to answer your question, Numbuh 652 is right – he’s in a ‘cell’ back with us right now fastened to the wall by a chain I had installed last year.”
In the corner of his eye he discovered that his best friend was both annoyed with him and probably going to cry, but he waited to address that issue.
Numbuh 86 crossed her arms too, bitterly disappointed with the report, and shook her head: “And to think I said I – never mind.” Then she met his eyes again. “Good work keeping him contained, Numbuh 593. I’ll send somebody to your base to pick him up so he’ll be transferred into the Arctic base prison center.” They smiled at the thought of those events taking place, but the boy’s eyes softened when Numbuh 652 gasped by his side; he reached his hand out to her, but she simply turned and walked away in the opposite direction.
He watched her go with the rest of his teammates and bid Numbuh 86 good-bye – then he made his way to their ship. Deep down he sensed something that he hoped he would never have to feel in his life for his closest friend. It upset him in the pit of his stomach and caused a lump to form in his throat, but he fought with all his might to believe it not to be true.
. . .
The following morning, Numbuh 593 received information from Numbuh 86 about two moon base Prison Transfer cadets coming for the ex-operative. It was twenty-one hundred hours (or nine o’ clock) and the weather was fair with mild humidity and temperature ranges between 75 – 84o Fahrenheit.
He wandered the tree house in search of his dearest companion, but found no trace of her for quite some time, but then again, he failed to check the one place he’d ruled out earlier. With a heavy heart becoming heavier with each step closer to the room, he found his way up to the power supply door and placed his hand on the knob.
He gulped his fear away from his physical self before turning it.
“Please don’t be in there,” he whispered. Then the door was open and there he found Numbuh 652 laying on the floor with one arm reaching through the bars of the prisoner’s “cell”, but to his displeasure, she was crying. He heard her say, “I forgive you,” before he addressed her and wondered what she would be forgiving him for – he assumed it was because he’d betrayed Sector V.
“Nora,” he said uneasily. She jerked her head up and over her shoulder to see him with a little gasp and wiped her tears on her glove with her free hand, so he continued. “I came to tell you that someone is on their way here for Numbuh 19th Century.”
Numbuh 652 reclaimed her other arm and stood up to protest with a sniff: “You can’t let them take him!” Her leader drew nearer and looked her in the eye with a countenance most serious, putting his hands on her shoulders. He enunciated his words and spoke slowly in response.
“He lured Sector V into a trap knowing that Father would be lying in wait for them. He chose his needs over the welfare of the very five kids who risked their lives to save him – you remember that, I know you do.” His grip tightened on her, but not enough to cause harm. “And he disabled their defenses so they stood no chance.” He slid his hands down to her forearms, lowering his head slightly with sincerity beginning to show in his normal eye. “But more importantly, I could have lost you.”
“It was that or he’d have been killed,” she replied sternly. Both were silent and still for a minute. Then he sighed.
“…Personally, I’d rather know he’s dead.”
Numbuh 652’s eyes widened and filled with tears through her terrified gasp; she pushed him away and backed up as if she was afraid of her best friend.
“You’re a monster!” she shouted through her gentle crying, “What if you were gonna die if you didn’t -*sniff* - didn’t help a villain? Would you let them kill you?”
From below the floorboards, who had been involuntarily eavesdropping throughout their conversation, ex-Numbuh 19th Century crouched down on his knees in the darkness of his makeshift cell. He wanted to comfort the girl in some way, but the fear of her leader’s wrath upon him kept him at bay.
“Why do you care so much about him anyways?” Numbuh 593 answered – he suddenly took on an interrogational attitude to the situation and planted his fists on his sides while his bionic eye gradually shaded into the color red.
“I – He’s a friend.” Her stutter raised his suspicions. She leaned forward and crossed her arms.
“He’s taking advantage of your friendship,” he replied, taking a step forward, “He’s only nice to you because he knows you’ll help him.” His eyes narrowed a little when he witnessed the stubborn comeback building up.
“He just wanted to help us – that’s all.” Her tone rose.
“Oh, sure, and next you’ll expect me to believe that boogers are pink,” he spat out sarcastically, raising his tone too, “He ended up helping Father nearly Delightfulize Sector V, that’s all.”
“He’s still learning, Johnny –”
He cut her off to add: “And let’s not forget that we almost lost Numbuhs 641 and 650 to the same trap he helped set up.” Her eyes narrowed and she grit her teeth with her nose crinkled – one of her least favorite things was to be interrupted or talked over by someone else, and she knew he knew that.
“You’re not better than him,” she warned him.
“He alone is responsible for the destruction of the Ice Cream Space Storage Center and all it took was one white lie,” he snapped – more like shouted, at this point. She was practically on the same level.
“He did that to save Numbuh 86 and you know it!” She uncrossed her arms, tensed her shoulders, and laid her clenching fists at her sides, glaring at him with a dangerous gleam in her dark eyes. Likewise, his bionic eye was blood-red and he stared her down, being an inch or two taller than her.
“Girls are only things in his eyes!”
“He was raised to think that!” she barked back, grabbing his shirt collar, “Don’t blame him for the time period he came from because it’s not his –”
“He called you a foreign alien and said you don’t deserve to be in the Kids Next Door!” He squeezed her wrists to the point where she tried to break free, but he showed no mercy. To his words, all she did was gasp and the eyes he stared directly into widened with fear and blinked; after a moment of quiet, he let go of her wrists and stepped back, counting on his fingers the other points he wanted to make.
“He sees all women – no matter their color or political standing – as his servants, shows total disregard to our supreme leader, and he’s a thick-headed, egotistical, whiny – just plain ol’ ignorant little brat!” She opened her mouth to speak, but he wasn’t done yet: “Not to mention that his family owned a slave. I found that to be interesting news.”
Below them, ex-Numbuh 19th Century was shocked by everything he had heard; as much as he was morally obligated to deny, Numbuh 593 was completely right about all that he had made claimants to of him and his past. He covered his face, unable to watch through the bars of his “cell” any more.
Numbuh 652 was trembling with rage and bitter sorrow while her leader remained indignant to her viewpoint.
“B-but, I love him,” she whispered. Below her, the former operative uncovered his eyes and jumped to his feet, watching her with anxiety in his eyes. He dared not to respond, knowing it would further upset her leader, so instead, he listened.
Her leader heard it and lost his breath. He wanted to protest, but the words got stuck in his throat and his heart beat unsteadily; there was an element within him that he had trouble identifying, as if a part of him had become detached unusually, suddenly. Every memory he had of his best friend as far back as he could remember flashed before his eyes – innocent, charming, and always prevailing through every obstacle with teamwork – and it ended when they met Numbuh 19th Century.
Deep in his heart he had known from the start that he grew jealous of him winning her affection over and, in that same sentiment, felt a rise of betrayal from her. He couldn’t fully grasp the concept of her loving this boy from a time before their years, but still was painfully aware of this truth. Because of this, his hatred for him worsened, reaching a depth never reached in the past for anyone else; yet why he was so blindly enraged with bitter emotion for him, he could not explain.
Alongside this thought, he began to contemplate what the future might hold if he would be able to rid of his competition and how his improvisation-plan could backfire. He considered blackmail, backstabbing him, false arrest, working with a villain to have him kidnapped, leading him into a trap, and other things maybe too severe to describe.
As these ideas settled in his mind, one after another, an opposition struck him: thinking like this creates the next generation of teen villains. So here he was going through the same mental pattern that his enemies were – immediately a chill ran down his spine, reminding him of his weaknesses. Such a coldness formed in his heart that refused to leave and despite still being infuriated with his current situation, he feared for his friend and his future, already visualizing his evil teenage years.
Following the agony of it all, his mind clouded over – a haze of possible futures entangled his entire being, twisting like branches on a tree, and when he regained his mental balance he huffed in frustration. Not knowing who he would become made him feel vulnerable; he knew that his best friend had known this since they first met, and now as he envisioned her being with that former operative, his bionic eye was a dark shade of red.
Having a blank path leading into the future always caused him to worry: from the very day that he had lost his eye in his team’s first mission, he’d planned every day in every way to ensure that no genuine surprises happened to him or his friends again. Through the times that he had no control, however, it weighed heavily on his shoulders and he beat himself up when alone – his firm belief was that if he couldn’t foresee the nearest hour for his comrades, he could fail them as a leader and a friend.
This was exactly what he felt now in this moment as his plans around ex-Numbuh 19th Century collapsed. All he truly wanted was to get him out of their lives as quickly as possible, but in this backfire, his greatest companion lusted for him – he never thought it would come true, so it shocked him.
Profound words to express his feelings came long enough for him to part his lips, but be gone in the split second before it formed. Beyond the seething rage, humiliation, and lowering of his self-confidence, he discovered his deepest remorse: his eye had no shade of blue dark enough to show his depression. It was as if his bones were weakening, cracking, snapping apart, sending horrible aches through his limbs – it all hurt so much. Then once more he questioned his emotions, unable to understand why he was getting so worked up over Numbuh 652 falling in love with this other boy.
Suddenly it hit him.
Lightning practically struck him where he stood; it all became clear so quickly. In the midst of their friendship, it was exactly here that, while staring at her angry-but-also-about-to-cry face, he understood the root of his problems. His mix of infuriation, humiliation, depression, betrayal, and paranoia had all been caused by one single emotion which overpowered all by remaining hidden in the fog of his thoughts.
He was in love with her just as she was in love with his enemy.
That was why he had become so jealous of him; why he’d tried so hard to break his spirit; why he’d competed for her attention, and why he had gone through all the trouble of keeping her ignorant of how he really treated him behind her back. It was simply all for the zesty, zany, insanity of love.
Finally, what felt like an hour was merely a few seconds of near-silence passed, so she approached him, inhaled (though it sounded shaky), dug her heel into his left foot, and then fled the room.
Numbuh 593 cried out in agony and hopped on one foot, biting his lip as the stinging pain travelled up his leg. It still wasn’t enough to match what he felt in his chest hearing her admit her feelings for his enemy. It took a while, but finally it died down and he was able to stand on both feet again, so he knelt down to see the former KND kid.
He tightly held one of the bars and through the darkness, his bionic eye contained a light that turned on like a flashlight – it shone down on the boy as he stared back up at him with frightened eyes. He was noticeably afraid, cowering in the corner farthest from the sector leader as he could go, and whimpered.
“At least you’ll be gone soon,” he muttered, “You’ve caused enough trouble already, putting stress on me and Nora like this. I don’t see her the same way anymore and she doesn’t for me either – all thanks to you.” The prisoner he spoke to bit his lip hearing that, but he was still cold stone about how he felt in the situation. Then his capturer got up and stormed out of the room, slamming the door on his way out.
After trudging down the three flights of stairs and entering the main chamber room, he was forced to mask his hot (and cold) temper in response to two moon base boys approaching, led by Numbuh 650. She stood in front of him and pointed her thumb over her shoulder: “These dweebs are here for Mr. Better-Than-Every-Girl-Ever, Numbuh 593. Ya might as well let ‘em take him.” She was obviously enthusiastic about their visit to the tree house. He nodded and stepped past her with his hand out for the boys to shake.
“Hey, guys!” he greeted them happily, “So glad to have you here.” They each shook his hand.
“I’m Numbuh 44 and this is Numbuh 44,” one said, pointing to his twin, “Lead us to him, Numbuh 593.” For a second, Numbuh 593 stopped smiling and seemed confused.
“How do you guys know which one I’m talking to if you’re both Numbuh 44?” he asked, hooking one thumb in his pant side. Their expressions were nulled – he wondered how many times they’d been asked the same question before.
“We just know.”
He shrugged and said, “Good enough for me. Right this way.” He turned around and briskly headed up to the main supply room, but before disappearing on the stairs, he shouted, “Thanks, Numbuh 650!” to his teammate.
. . .
In the meantime, Numbuh 666 was about to pass Numbuh 652’s room when he heard her crying inside – her Owl City CD was playing loudly as her way of trying to drown it out, but through the door and the music, he always knew she was hurting. It wasn’t like her louder-than-normal CD wasn’t already a dead giveaway. Curious, he turned the knob and laid eyes on her; she was lying on her bed facing the wall and hugging her pillow, so he stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and sat by her feet. It wasn’t until he lowered the volume on her CD player that she realized he was with her.
“What do you want, James?” she said bitterly. He removed his hood to reveal his face – pleasuring warmth was in the eye not concealed by black bangs – and gently caressed her ankle, waiting for her to calm down enough to think rationally. It took a mere minute or two.
“I’m gonna guess that was you n’ Forsythe screaming at each other earlier,” he began calmly, still rubbing his thumb across her ankle, “Is that why you’re crying?”
Her cheeks turned red and she sat up to see eye-to-eye with her second-best friend. “You heard that?”
“I think the whole neighborhood might’ve heard it if everyone was listening,” he replied. He tried to make it sound like a light joke, but she was quiet, so he continued speaking. “Do you know why he’s being so hostile towards Numbuh 19th Century right now?”
“He’s probably trying to put him down so he can feel good about himself,” she said, snubbing at the very idea. “Either that or he doesn’t like not being able to control the outcome between me and him.” Numbuh 666 shook his head and pulled his bangs up over his head, letting them fall back over his eye when he dropped his arm at his side. In translation, he was irritated; his friend raised one eyebrow and dried the last tear from her cheek as he added one more thing.
“He’s jealous of him, Wilkins.”
Her eyes softened as anger was replaced by incomprehension: “Why would he be – oh… I see…” He saw the light bulb turn on in her eyes at that instant, so he let out a hummed sigh and stood, pushing his hands into his hoodie pockets, and walked to the doorway. He slowed his steps long enough to be sure she heard him say, “There you go.”
He took one more step out and leaned back a little so his head was still in the room, quickly adding, “And you know I know you’re head over heels for him.” With that, he disappeared around the corner and left her to contemplate her next move. He had faith that she would prevail however she moved her pawn.
. . .
“Come on, you,” said Numbuh 44. He lifted the ex-operative out of the hole in the floor and turned him around while his partner handed him a durable rope. He then pulled the boy’s hands behind his back and tied it around his wrists, one over the other, and fastened it tightly – the prisoner winced at the tug against his skin. Otherwise his eyes were dull and colorless from the fighting he’d witnessed earlier, his head hung low, and he stayed mute after Numbuh 652 had left.
Numbuh 44 held his forearm while his partner took the boy’s other arm and they proceeded to lead him back to the S.P.R.A.Y.S.H.I.P. (Spray-can Powered Rocket Always Yields Super High Intensity Power) from which they had arrived in. While leaving the power supply room and heading down the flight of stairs, he chuckled and addressed his comrade.
“Can you imagine what Numbuh 86 will do when she sees him? You know, after the whole ‘kissing’ thing?” The other operative snickered and shook his head: “Oh man, I’m so glad I’m not him right now!” Then Numbuh 593 – who was trailing behind them – cut in with a merry tone.
“If she beats him into next week, I’m buying you two ice cream cones, double scoop.” The three of them shared a laugh together, now away from the stairs and in the main chamber room, when suddenly Numbuh 652 caught up to them. She slid in from the doorway on the farther left wall – hers and Numbuh 666’s rooms were through it, after all.
“Wait – hold up!” she cried. Her leader turned halfway around, fairly surprised, and one eyebrow rose.
“What now?” he asked, noticeably annoyed with her outburst. She brushed past him and embraced ex-Numbuh 19th Century with such warmth that caught him completely off-guard, and with wide, sparkling eyes she said, “I don’t want you to go.” His cheeks became pink and he blinked with a blank expression on his face until she let him go and they saw eye-to-eye; more of a reaction took place then. He smiled and his dull eyes regained their blue intensity like before, but when he was about to speak, Numbuh 44 stepped up.
“Sorry, Numbuh 652, but Numbuh 86 gave us strict instructions to get him from you guys and take him straight up to the moon base,” he explained. “She’s in charge, not me.” Her attitude molded into a defensive mother’s frown and she poked his chest badge.
“Now you listen here, kid! I’d rather go with him than stay here,” she warned them, “I know that he’ll just be kept in solitude once you leave, and you can do and say whatever you want, but you’ll never change my mind about letting him outta my sight.” She crossed her arms. At her left her leader’s eye lightened to yellow, so he put his hand on her shoulder. Without even letting him get a word out or turning to look at him, she slapped it away and showed him callous attention.
“I won’t let you take him under any circumstances,” she continued, “and I don’t care what you do to me as long as you don’t hurt him.” The moon base boys were still indignant to her, so she resonated on hope with a pleading tone and added, “Maybe he could be placed amongst the Amish Kids Next Door or stay with my dad and me, or even Father if we just –”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Numbuh 44 interjected abruptly. With his hands up, he told her, “Okay, first off no way is a kid going to live with Father unless they’ve been permanently Delightfulized. Second, he can’t stay with another Kids Next Door member because he’s already been decommissioned.” He pointed to him, catching ex-Numbuh 19th Century’s attention, since he hadn’t been watching them, and added, “He’s like forty-eight kamillion years old, remember? Technically, he’s not even a kid anymore.”
“If he’s not a kid, doesn’t that mean he could be raised by Father if he wanted to and not have to be in the Moon Base Prison Center?” she replied deviously with her arms crossed. Numbuh 44 looked at his partner – the one who’d been talking a moment ago: “She’s got a point, dude.” His twin stood his ground despite the fault.
“Can’t he live with my family, then? I barely have any 2x4 technology in my house, and it’s just me and my dad,” she begged, “and we have a guest bedroom that he can have! It would work.” The boys shook their heads and farther behind them Numbuh 593 finally exhaled; what meager hope the former Numbuh 19th Century had left dwindled.
“It’s nothing against you or nothing, but we can’t afford him getting any important Kids Next Door information. No matter what you do, there’s always a way for him to know something he’s not supposed to if he’s with you,” one of the twins answered. He stepped forward and punched her arm in a failed attempt to lift her spirits.
Numbuh 652 dropped her shoulders and let her arms hangs at her sides: “Oh,” she breathed sadly. The boys turned around and Numbuh 44 held onto the prisoner’s arm with his comrade, headed back to their S.P.R.A.Y.S.H.I.P. They stopped and separated – one to open the side door for the other boy and the other to enter the driver’s seat up front. The former KND kid stepped into the aircraft and quickly spun around, looking at his friend urgently.
“Nora,” he called to her. Numbuh 44 held the door open and stood off to the side to witness their interaction. The girl rushed to him: “Yes?”
With her attention solely on him, he smiled at her quite sincerely and said, “If I could tell you only one thing, it would be this.” And while she gazed up at him, he noticed her leader behind her and there was stress in his countenance.
“Visit me, won’t you?” he continued, “I value your company a great deal.”
“I will, Century,” she exclaimed, standing on her toes. Feeling relieved of that issue, he added, “Do you want that kiss before I’m gone?” Numbuh 593 gulped and rushed to the girl, but he had no reason to worry because she crossed her arms with her hips to the side.
“I don’t think so,” she replied. He stopped and breathed behind her, and then she continued, in a playful tone: “But it’s cute that you want me to kiss you.”
Former Numbuh 19th Century smirked slightly and stepped back when Numbuh 44 approached the door.
“You’re certainly no Marry Jane,” he admitted sheepishly, “but one day I’ll be content with a lady under my wing and you’ll wish you had taken this opportunity while you’d had the chance.”
“I’ll send her a yellow rose and wish her good luck when that happens.”
“Ouch, well played,” he teased with a chuckle.
He smiled hearing her giggle before the airtight door closed – it was enough to ensure him that they’d left off on a good foot – and then he craned his neck to see her through the tiny circular window of the wall to his right. There she stood, waving good-bye with a lovely smile and teary eyes, and her best friend was beside her with his hand on her shoulder. He wasn’t sure if she simply chose to ignore him or if she didn’t feel him there; he thought little of it.
“Farewell, dear maiden,” he thought aloud. Just at that moment the engines roared beneath his feet and the ship lifted off the docking station of the tree house. The force of gravity pressed him into the door, and his face to the glass, so he watched the girl as she watched him. She became smaller and smaller until after a minute she was out of sight, therefore indicating that he was leaving the earth for the moon base.
Some time passed and then he sighed, closing his eyes as the ship steadied and he was able to sit on a bench sticking out of the wall opposite the door. He remembered how his and Numbuh 652’s paths had crossed in the decommissioning room; how he regretted insulting her when they’d met.
Through his discouragement, a spark of determination engulfed his soul and he opened his eyes. A confident smile followed as the feeling made itself more apparent, and then he felt a strange emotion take his heart as if it were another person resting their hand on his shoulder to guide him.
“Don’t fret my girl,” he stated, sitting up, “This shan’t be our final encounter. I’ll see to it that we meet again.” He paused to look out the window at the nearing moon base in its glory and his proud expression became a deviously charming smirk.
“Indeed, this was merely the dawn before the day we realize our destiny.”