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Gathering Clouds

Written by: Charles Gray

Disclaimer: Baloo, Rebecca Cunningham, Don Karnage, Kit Cloudkicker, Molly Cunningham and WildCat are (c)1990/1991 Walt Disney Company and are being used without premission. The writer has made sure that all material represented here is not used for profit and is used with the upmost respect to Disney and the Tale Spin team. All other characters are the property of the writer.

Rebecca glared at her daughter over her desk. Molly looked back, but couldn't quite match her mother.

*This isn't going to be good.* The young bearess thought, looking at her mother, the note from school, and the fact that Baloo had broken speed records leaving the building.

"Molly Elizabeth Cunningham." Rebecca began. Molly hated it when she was right. "What is going on with you, young lady?" Rebecca asked, "Your grades are decent, but these problems in school! Scuffles, fights, and now this! Do you know that that broken desk is going to come out of your allowance, young lady!" Molly tuned her mothers rant out, largely because she had heard, it, with a variety of variations, many times over the last year. Unfortunately, she couldn't say anything to justify herself.

"And furthermore young lady, you're grounded for a month!" Molly looked up, opened her mouth to protest, then sighed.

"Yes mom. Can I go home now?" Becky looked puzzled, not expecting that reaction, then nodded shortly. Molly turned around and walked out to the bus stop.

Baloo poked his head in, as he saw Molly leave.

"No slammed doors?" He asked, then let himself in the rest of the way. "That's a difference, Beckers," Rebecca sighed, not even bothering to make a pro-forma protest against the nick name. She waved Baloo over to the other chair, and the Bear lowered himself into it. He looked better then he had when Becky had bought Baloo's air service, largely because she had badgered him into getting regular check ups... that and the one time a case of severe heartburn on an all nighter cargo flight had turned out to be a minor heart attack. That had convinced him, for Kit's sake if not his, to stop behaving as if he was still 18.

"I don't know, Baloo." Rebecca said, "Usually, well.. you know how Molly can react to a punishment, especially if she doesn't think she deserves it, but...."

"But she's not acting that way?" Baloo asked, rhetorically. The bear shifted in his chair, thinking. He was in some respects a stepfather for Molly, even if he and Rebecca remained strictly friends, whatever some of the more unfriendly competitors might try to say. "Ya'know Rebecca, it's almost as if she does think she deserves it..."

"Then why doesn't she do something about it!" Becky almost yelled, waving at the slips of paper on her desk. "Baloo, she's been in a dozen fights this year. Many more of them, and she'll be expelled, and I'll have to send her to a private school. That's not the worst of it, either! Yesterday I got a call from-" She bit off her words. Baloo looked at her, noticing her knuckles paling on the edge of the desk.

"Who, Rebecca." He asked,

"Child services." She said quietly. "Baloo, I'm a single mother, and... some in city government don't like the idea of working single mothers... as if a single mother has another alternative." She said, laughing bitterly. "If this keeps up, they might try to declare me an unfit mother and...." She broke off, unable to continue.

"Now Beckers, that isn't going to happen." Baloo said, "Buttonnose is having a phase, that's all. You did, I did, Kit did, or have you forgotten about that?" Becky laughed, in spite of herself.

"Oh God, no. I still think that the fact you both survived was a not so minor miracle." She paused, "But I still need to find out what's going on. This weekend, could you come over and we'll both talk to her? If Kit's back in by then, he could come too... she's always confided in him."

"No problem." Baloo said. "I just hope that you both survive the next three days. You do realize the being grounded means she's going to be in the apartment all the time." Becky smiled,

"We survived Don Karnage, We can survive this." As Baloo left, she added in a whisper, "I hope."

The next day at the junior high, Molly sat in a little bubble of anger. She couldn't tell her mother why this was happening. Molly quietly worked during the rest of the day. By the end of the day she had almost caught up with all the work she had had to miss yesterday. In the library, during last period, she almost missed the teachers cough.


"Yes, Ms. Thomson." She said, looking up at the elderly fox.

"I just finished speaking with your mother."

"Did she tell you anything?" Ms Thomson sat on the edge of Molly's desk.

"Only enough to let me know that you've haven't been honest with her." She paused. "Molly, you’ve got to tell us why this is happening someday... and someday soon. It's not like you... and I don't think you’re doing it to cause problems. But no matter how much I think that Dave and his gang are at the bottom of it, it's you who are getting in trouble." Molly dropped her eyes, unable to meet Ms. Thomson's caring ones. She looked up again.

"I'll try to do better, Ms. Thomson. Besides," Molly said with a small grin, "For the next month, I spend all non-school time at home...." Ms. Thomson nodded, and looked up as the last bell rang. The Library was almost deserted, most of the students already gone.

"You'd better get home then, so you don’t get into any more problems with your mother." Molly got her things and left the school, noticing how several of her "friends" realizing that Molly was the focus of trouble, avoided her.

"Hello, Molly." Molly turned around, seeing the small gray coyote who had come up behind her, stooped under the weight of his books.

"Hi, .... ...." She said, smiling. Jereem was smaller then her, and in truth was probably the last person anyone would of expected Molly to hang with, but she liked him.

"I heard about what happened." He continued as he walked with her, leg brace clicking on the concrete. "You know, I'm used to people making those jokes... It's not a big deal."

"Yes it is." Molly said angrily. You shouldn't have to listen to that! It doesn't matter that.

"My father's in jail?" Jereem asked quietly. "But it does Molly, and getting angry about it doesn't change anything." The two youngsters walked along the sidewalk, approaching the place where they would split up. "How much trouble did you get into, Molly?" He asked,

"Not much... I got suspended for a month, but..." Molly tried to crack a smile, "what am I going to do with no money anyway."

"I-" A new, very unpleasant voice cut him off.

"ohhh. Look at our little miss dangerwomen and her boyfriend." Molly and Jereem spun around to see the street behind them, deserted except for Dave and his hangers on. Dave, a large badger, was as usual, dressed in clothes that barely met the schools dress code. Dave was older then most of the other children, largely due to his inability to expend any effort... except when it came to tormenting those smaller then him. Most of his "friends" were about the same level.

Molly backed up slightly, worried but not yet afraid. She had never actually fought Dave... but the last fight with one of his circle had left the kid running to the principle in tears, his muzzle bloody. On the other hand, there were six of them here.

"So, Jereem do you have our money?" Dave said, walking towards him arrogantly. "I wouldn't have to tell everyone what we know about youuuuu....." he finished. Jereem looked down, then back up at Dave.

"I don't have that much money, as I told you earlier. If you're going to do it, then get it over with."

"Oh. I think we need to be taught some respect." The badger walked straight towards Jereem and then shoved him hard, sending him to the ground in a clatter of the leg braces. Molly ran to his side, and tried to help him get up.

"It's ok... Molly, don't do anything you'll regret." Jereem said, face white with the pain of his legs. Daves' shadow fell over them.

"Yeah, 'dangerwomen', " Dave said, advancing. "Take the advice of your boyfriend... Take a powder like your daddy did." Dave was so taken up with his wit that he missed the rage that convulsed Molly's face, that vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

"OK Dave." Molly said, "I'll take a powder," she said, before jumping up and burying both her hands wrist deep into his solar plexus. "When pigs fly!" She snarled, watching as he doubled over gasping and retching. She grabbed Jereem, abandoning her and his books, and took off down the street.

"Get them you idiots." Dave screamed/choked, as his six henchmen took off after them. Molly was only 30 feet down the road when two of them, a Hyena and the bear cub she had bloodied earlier, caught up with her.

"Gonna regret that, little girl." The Bear cub said, before sinking to his knees, the victim of a well aimed knee. Jereem was trying, and loosing in his fight with two others. Molly turned to aid him, when the Hyena and the two remaining members of the gang dogpiled on her. In a moment, they had her held securely, two holding her arms behind her back. Dave hobbled up to them.

"You know." He said. "I was going to let you off easy, but you seem to think you run the school." He slapped her across the face, hard. "Now," <slap> "What" <punch> "you" <slap> "need" <kick> "to" <slap> "understand," he continued, punching her again in the stomach, "Is that you do what I say, because I run the school, and I am-."

"An inbred lout with poor manners and worse breath," A new voice intruded. Dave turned just in time to catch a soda bottle right in the face. He went down like a polaxed steer, and the ones holding Molly let her go, turning to the new threat. Molly collapsed on the ground, trying to get some air into her abused lungs. She looked up and saw the newcomer, a tall tiger, was wearing the uniform of one of the more exclusive private schools in Cape Suzzette. The shock of unruly black hair and piercing green eyes completed his appearance. She figured that he was about her age.

“Look out!” Molly choked out as Dave’s cronies converged on the Tiger. She needn’t have bothered. One minute, they were charging him, the next, the Tiger was standing, surrounded by several groaning bodies.

“hmph.” He murmured. “Uncle Khan seem to have had the right idea... imagine that.” He shook his head and walked over to Molly. He offered his hand to her, and the golden bear cub took it, getting to her feet with a groan.

“Thanks,” Molly said, having the unusual experience of having to look up at someone her own age.

“You’re welcome,” He answered. “Michael Khan, at your service.” Molly blinked.

“You’re Shere Khan’s...”

“Grand nephew,” He said, mouth setting into a firm line. “If you don’t have anything else to say, then perhaps I’d better,”

“No, ah, I mean that thanks for helping me,” Molly stammered, while wondering what she had said to irritate him. He paused, his face smoothing out again.

“I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair.” He turned back looking behind Molly. “It seems the other fellow has left the area. Maybe we should do the same before your friends decide to return.”

“Ah, OK. I’m already grounded, so I really don’t need another fight to get me in trouble.” Molly said, getting her books, and walking with him, favoring her side just slightly. They came to the wall of Michael’s school, where he turned to look at Molly.

“If you want, I could give you a ride back to your home.” He said, gesturing towards a limo with the SK emblem on it.

“I’d better not... As far as mom is concerned, nothing happened today, and I’d like to keep it that way,” The golden bear cub said ruefully. “Anyway, when I get home, I’m going to have to call Jereem, to find out why he left.”

“We could have gone after him.” Michael said,

“No.” Molly said, with certainty, “When Jereem leaves like that, it’s best just to let him be.” She paused, “I’m Molly Cunningham.” Michael nodded.

“Grand uncle has spoken of your mother.” Molly looked at him.

“What did he say?” Michael let his eyes lower, and then, in a passable imitation of the older Shere Khan, said:

“An excellent, if small company. I shall have to one day see about acquiring it. Indeed.” He looked at her, “Then he feeds something to one of his plants.”

“A worker?”

“Only after a dramatic foul up of some kind or another. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“I walk home this way, so yeah.” Molly said, as Michael got into the limo. Several of the female students from his school were gazing at her with unfriendly eyes, but she ignored them.


Jereem panted, his legs twitching with searing pain whenever he moved them. Still, he kept hobbling along until he got to the small, dingy house where he and his mother lived. He ran inside, locking the door after him. Going to the living room, he unhooked the phone. Molly would call. She always did after a problem, and right now, Jereem just needed to be alone. He didn’t have the heart to tell the golden cub that her ‘help’ had just made things worse. Once Dave and the rest told, they’d have to leave. Even Molly would want him gone then.


Molly got back to the apartment, empty with Rebecca still at H&H. Taking advantage of her mom’s absence, she called Jereem, but there was no answer. Either he wasn’t home yet, or he had disconnected the line.... again. What had Dave known about Jereem? The golden bearess sat back in a chair in the living room, looking at the endless river of the waterfall. Chin in her hands, Molly thought about what Dave had said. It couldn’t be anything the school knew... Maybe she could ask Ms. Thomson about it tomorrow. Behind her, she heard the door open, then close, and Rebecca came into the room, the petite bearess looking more then a little exhausted.

“Hi Mom!” Molly said, springing up. “You look horrible.” Becky gave her a look, and Molly noticed the shadows under her eyes. “I mean, you look really exhausted,”

“Don’t try to sweet talk me, Molly.” Rebecca said, “I do look horrible.... There was another raid, and we had to change all of the air routes... which meant more gas, but nobody had thought to tell the rationing office about it....” She sagged into one of the chairs, letting out a sigh. She shot Molly another look. “Any problems at school today?”

“None at all, mom. Don’t worry, I’ve learned my lesson.” Molly said, realizing that she wasn’t quite lying to her mother, even if she doubted Becky would see it that way.

“Good.” Becky paused, “Honey, could you get your own dinner? I really am exhausted.” Molly nodded, and went off, bustling around with the plates and utensils... after dealing with Baloo’s first few attempts at preparing food during babysitting, Molly learned, out of self defense, how to cook. In a few minutes, she returned with soup and sandwiches, then looked at her mother, asleep on the couch. Molly considered, then decided that it would be better to wake her mother up.


“ummm-I’m awake!” Rebecca shot up out of the couch, looking around, “oh. Oh, thanks Molly.”

“Mom, maybe you should go to bed early tonight.”

“I think you’re right, honey.” Becky looked at her daughter, “And I expect you to be in bed by 10:00.”

“OK.” Molly said. Then, “Mom? If we aren’t at war yet, why are we getting raided?”

“Well,” Rebecca said, “Officially they’re just air pirate raids.”

“Riiiigghht.” Molly said, “Nobody has even seen Don Karnage for the last three years.... and now he’s hitting half the cargo planes and ships in Usland? It’s the Alemians and everyone knows it. Why don’t we do something about it?”

“If we say anything right now, without proof, it could lead to war.” Becky said quietly, “And nobody wants that, not me at least, especially now that Kit’s in the military.” Molly nodded, and Rebecca continued, “By the way, Molly. Kit will be back this weekend, and... I think we’ll have him over for dinner, if it’s alright with you?”

“Great!” Molly said, and started to eat.

Later, Molly tried to call Jereem for the 12th time, and for the 12th time, got the disconnected signal. She sighed, and looked out of the front window, over the glowing skyline of the city. Finally, she got dressed for bed, and looked in Rebecca’s room before turning the lights out. Her mother was asleep, lines of weariness running across her face. It seemed like more and more adults were looking like that, flinching with every news report. Molly knew why. War was coming. She went to bed, bitterly thinking about the fact that she couldn’t even help a friend, much less stop the course of nations.




Jereem woke up, looking at the predawn glow of the horizon through his smudged window.

“Hey, son.” Oh, God, no. He looked over, and saw his father, standing, a darker blot against the dark wall. “I told you your old man would be back, and this time, I’m gonna get it right.”




Michael waited beside Shere Khan’s desk. The large Tiger, still erect and powerful despite his years, finished up one last series of papers, frowning slightly at the last one. He handed them to a flunky, who silently left, leaving the two tigers alone in the room. Michael said nothing, waiting for his guardian to speak.

“I note that your grades are excellent this term, Michael.” Shere said, no emotion in his voice.

“As always, granduncle.” Michael replied. Shere shifted uneasily.

“However, the reports of a fight this afternoon do disturb me.” Michael’s eyes widened.

“You had someone spying on me?” he said, his claws coming out of their sheaths.

“Of course. You are quite possibly my heir apparent.” Shere met Michael’s eyes unflinchingly. “As such, you are a natural target for a kidnapping attempt, and I could not allow you to go unguarded.”

“Well, then why didn’t they intervene?”

“I thought that you wanted to have a certain amount of freedom, and your guardians understand that.” He paused, “Besides, it is better if you learn to handle these situations yourself... it will aid you in the future.”

“And if I fail, better that the great Khan name not be connected to my foul up. That you, granduncle. May I go now?” Without waiting for an answer, Michael spun on his heel and left the office. Shere raised his hand, then dropped it. He shook his head at the retreating tiger.

“That was a complement...” He said, too softly for Michael to hear. Khan didn’t understand it. He had taken in Michael out of obligation, and with no small amount of trepidation. Michael however, was cut from a different cloth then his layabout father, and Khan had seen someone who might be able to take over his vast corporation. But they couldn’t seem to come to any understanding, especially now that Michael was getting older.

“Hmph... Perhaps I have become to accustomed to having my orders instantly carried out.” Shere said, returning to some more papers, weapons contracts. As much as he wanted to spend more time working to break through with Michael, now, more then ever, he needed to maintain a firm hand on the company.

“Ms. Snarly,” He spoke into the intercom.

“Yes, Mr. Khan.”

“I see that my orders for divesting the company of our Eporuean holdings have not yet be accomplished.”

“Ms. Harmon is trying to negotiate a better price, Mr. Khan.” Khan’s claws came out, then retracted.

“If we still are negotiating when war breaks out, we shall lose everything, tell her to get what she can... and then return home. Quickly.” Harmon was loyal, but sometimes too focused on the immediate task.

“Yes, Mr. Khan.” The intercom clicked off. Khan looked at his desk, strewn with plans for secret weapons, orders for new aircraft... better then 50 percent of his company was now dedicated to war related industries, and more would be converted. Some of his managers had complained.

“Idiots. Do they think we will be spared if the war is lost.” He sighed. Better that it had come in 1938, or 1940. Then, with nobody geared up, maybe it would have fizzled out before too much damage. But now... with everyone armed to the teeth, the world was like a giant powderkeg sitting in a room filled with gasoline, just waiting for the match...

The tiger bent back to his work, feeling for one of the few times in his life, rather small and powerless against the tide sweeping the world.




The sun poked over the horizon, burning off the morning fog that clung to the hills and streets of the city. Molly woke up, listening to the sound of the morning traffic as she threw the covers aside, and went to wash up and dress.

Rebecca was already up and dressed, fixing breakfast as Molly came over, yawning.

“Hi mom.” The bearess said, sitting down at the table. Rebecca came over, putting a plate of food in front of Molly, and sitting down herself. Molly picked at the bacon and eggs for several minutes, then looked at her mother. “Mom?” Molly asked, “I have a question.” Rebecca pushed back her plate and looked at her daughter, wiping her mouth.

“Yes sweetie?” Rebecca looked at Molly, waiting for her daughter to ask. Molly hesitated, trying to find the right words, which was almost never a problem for the bearess.

“Have you ever tried to help someone, and it doesn’t work?” Molly asked. *That sounded awful.* She thought, wincing, but Rebecca didn’t notice, looking seriously at her daughter.

“Yes.” Becky paused. “It happens a lot more then we like to admit Molly.” She paused, then continued. “You don’t have to tell me... but this has something to do with your problems at school, doesn’t it.”

“Yes mom.” Molly answered. “Remember Jereem?”

“Oh, the nice fellow who came to H&H a few times? Of course. Is his leg any better?”

“No, and some of the kids don’t help. They make fun of him, and some of them beat him up!” Rebecca was outraged.

“Doesn’t he tell the teachers?”

“No!” Molly said, frustrated. “He won’t defend himself, and I don’t know why. When Sam pushed him off the stairs during lunch I wanted to-” She put a hand over her mouth, too late.

“-use his head to break a desk?” Rebecca finished the sentence for her. Molly nodded mutely. Becky sighed. “Molly, you can’t help someone if they won’t help themselves. Remember Baloo and his health?” Molly nodded. “Nothing, and I mean nothing I could say made any difference to him. It wasn’t until he had that heart attack and decided that he had to watch his health, for Kit’s sake, that he changed.” Becky got up and started putting away the dishes, before turning back to her daughter.

“Unless Jereem decides to do something about it, the only thing you’re going to do is get yourself expelled, and that will leave him with no friends. Besides, you may be making things more difficult for him. Have you considered what having a girl for a protector might do to his reputation.”

“That’s not the point!” Molly protested.

“I know it’s not sweetie, but some people, especially bullies don’t miss any opportunity to hurt people.” Rebecca looked at the frustration in Molly’s face.

“Then what do I do?” The question was part snarl, part wail.

“Be there for Jereem.” Rebecca said, “Listen to him, and wait and try to know when you can do something-- and when you shouldn’t.” Becky put one hand up to her chin. “Do you know why he hasn’t gone to the teachers?”

“No. Some of the kids were making fun of him, telling him they would tell the school about his dad... I don’t even know his dad’s name.” Rebecca looked at Molly seriously.

“Then be careful Molly. I don’t know what it is about his father, but you could hurt him worse then anything the others have done if it does become known.” Molly groaned.

“Mom, why couldn’t you have just given me an easy answer?”

“Because they get a lot rarer as you get older, Molly.” Becky bent down and gave her daughter a quick peck on the cheek. “Now hurry, or you’ll be late for school.” Molly got up.



“I know I’m on restriction, but does that mean I have to walk home alone?”

“No, Molly...” Becky did a double take, “As long as you get home in a reasonable time... Don’t take lessons from Baloo.”

“Right, as if I’m going to walk to Louie’s.” Becky laughed.

“There were times when I thought he’d done just that, Molly. Now let’s get started. The day isn’t getting any younger.”




When Molly got to school, she noticed that Dave’s little circle of cronies seemed to be giving her a wide berth, which suited the bearess just fine. She was resolved to avoid any more problems, but how long that resolve would last in the face of the temptation of Dave’s face, she didn’t know. Molly looked around, but Jereem was nowhere to be seen.

She didn’t have him for her second and third period, so she applied herself. The other girls complained about the amount of homework they had to do, and how they never had any free time, but Molly noticed that they tended to spend more time whining then working. Still... she definitely could do without third period Algebra, largely because Mr. Torkas, a large possum, had a tendency to put most of the class asleep in the process of lecturing to them.

Finally, after what seemed like years, the lunch bell rang. Molly headed out to the park next to the school, where the students were allowed to eat lunch. She opened up her pail, and laid everything out to eat. Dave came by with some of his cronies.

“Oh, so where’s your boyfriend?” Dave singsonged. “Out looking for a real girl?” Molly looked up, and in a dead pan voice replied.

“Then he’s probably with your girlfriend. I heard she was looking for a real boy.” Dave purpled, and advanced, but one of his circle, noticing Ms. Thomson, urgently pulled him back and down the path. Molly continued to eat, smiling.

“May I join you?” Molly looked up at the new voice. Michael was standing next to her.

“I didn’t- I mean of course!” the bearess said, flustered. The tiger sat down next to her pulling out a lunch of his own. Molly looked curiously at him. “I thought you people had your own cooks over there,” She said, pointing at his school. Michael smiled.

“Sometimes I make my own. It helps me realize that I wouldn’t necessarily starve without granduncles help.” Molly looked at him, noticing the tiny edge to his voice.

“Oh. I’m, well, sorry if I insulted you or something.” Molly said. Michael shook his head.

“It’s not that... It’s just that sometimes I wonder if I’m Michael Khan, or an appendage of the great Shere Khan that walks around on its own two feet.” He laughed, “every other person thinks that I’m their ticket to a job with the Khan corporation.” Molly looked at him.

“And are you?” Molly started as Michael’s claws emerged, involuntarily slashing at the air. Then he looked at her for a long moment, and laughed. “Do you know, that you are one of the only people who’s ever bothered to ask that question?” He grinned, suddenly looking much younger. He brushed a forelock out of his eyes. “Well, to answer you, no. Mr. Khan prefers that I keep to my studies, and stay out of his way, or at least that’s they way it seems. I doubt he’s ever even thought of asking me for advice on who to hire.” Molly laughed.

“Well, then I’ll just have to ask you what it’s like living in the dark tower of Cape Suzzette.” Michael grinned back at her.

“Well, I’ve told you enough about me, what is it like living with the woman who employ’s the best pilot in the city?” Molly laughed.

“Before, or after the screaming matches about pay, vacation, and late deliveries?”

“What about after the incredible flying exploits?”

“Those usually occur trying to cover for the late deliveries.” The both laughed, then fell silent for a moment.

“I envy you.” Michael said, “At Khan enterprises, I’ve seen workers whose names I’ll never learn, and who I’ll probably never see again. It must be nice, having a business where you know everyone.” Molly put her hands under her chin.

“It is... but it can also be bad.” She said, “When it’s like a family... you can’t just walk away from problems. Mom spent a lot of nights catnapping, to try to make things work.”

“Is it still like that?”

“Not so bad now... except for all the problems.” Molly waved out towards the harbor, and by extension, the world outside of Cape Suzzette. Following her arm, she saw the familiar, limping figure of Jereem. Molly lept up and waved him over.

“Jereem! I didn’t think you were going to make it to school today.” The coyote flinched at her words, then looked at Michael.

“I didn’t get a chance to thank you yesterday.”

“It was nothing.” Michael said.

“I’ll let you two talk.” Jereem said, turning to leave. Molly stood up and pulled him over.

“Jereem, we were just talking. Sit down... besides, if you want to finish lunch before the bell, you don’t have time to walk around.” Jereem sat with difficulty, his crippled leg sticking straight out.

“By the way,” Michael said, “do you two walk home?”

“Well, I do, except when it’s raining, and so does Jereem. Why?” Molly asked,

“Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to accompany you home.” Molly’s face lit up, then the light died.

“You can walk me to home, but.... I’m grounded for a month... nobody can come over.” Michael sighed.

“Well, then I’ll just walk you home, then... If your mother asks, then you can just tell her I’m protecting you from enemy spies.” Neither the tiger nor bear noticed Jereem’s miserable expression as they laughed at Michael’s joke. The bell rang, announcing the end of lunch. Michael got up, then extended his hands, pulling Molly and Jereem up easily. He nodded, then walked off towards his own school.

The rest of the day went by quickly for Molly, since all of her other classes were easy for her. The high point of the day, (other then Michael), came when Ms. Thomson had Dave stand up in class and give the report that had been assigned. His performance, gained him the right to spend an hour after school in detention. Molly wanted to kiss her teacher. Without Dave, there would be no danger of any unpleasantness interfering with her afternoon.

When the final bell rang, Molly had to consciously restrain herself to keep from outrunning Jereem on the way out of the school. They turned the corner to Michael’s school and found themselves confronted with several of Michael’s schoolmates, all girls. The four girls were roughly Molly’s age, a fox, lioness, raccoon, and bear roughly Molly’s height.

“Well, look at the ragamuffins Michael has collected. You would think he has some standards.” The fox sniffed. The bear turned to her and replied, ignoring Molly and Jereem completely.

“Well, there’s no accounting for taste, Ceciela.” she said, pointedly looking at their clothes, and Molly’s overalls. “Maybe he’s simply taking pity on them... you know about her... ‘family’s’ reputation.” Ceciela laughed.

“Oh, you mean the fat bear and her mother... I heard that she had to teach him not to eat with his fingers... and that he <still> hasn’t got it.” Molly was still standing, shocked more then angry at the completely unexpected assault. She finally got her mouth working.

“I don’t know any of you.” She said, trying to figure out why they were acting like this.

“Oh, of course not. We move in far higher circles then you do.” Ceciela said, and her circle laughed with her. The black haired fox brushed some of her long tresses over her shoulder, and sniffed. “Maybe you should go home, now. Michael really doesn’t need to be associated with someone like you.” She said, turning around, as Molly got ready to perform murder. Jereem held her back.

“Molly, come on...” She pulled at his arm.

“Let me go!”

“Molly, shut up,” He hissed in her ear. “They’re trying to get you to do this... Their parents may have contracts with your mom... Think of that!” Molly closed her eye, biting the inside of her mouth. Then she opened them, glaring at the smirking faces in front of her.

“I’m sorry we’ve offended you.” She said, the polite words a curse, “We’ll leave now.” Molly spun around and walked off, Jereem trailing after her. The bearess started walking faster, making it difficult for Jereem to keep up. Realizing what she was doing, she slowed down, letting Jereem catch up with her. “Those... self righteous, obnoxious...” He heard her snarl, then stop with a curious catch in her voice.

“Molly?” Jereem asked, then noticed that her eyes were bright as she turned to face him.

“It’s, ah. nothing Jereem. It’s just that every time mom or Baloo got involved with Shere, it seems that things don’t go well. I should have realized that.” She sniffed and pulled out a handkerchief, holding it to her muzzle. “Oh great, now I’m catching a cold.”

“Of course,” Jereem said, accepting the lie. He turned, hearing the sound of someone running down the road behind them. It was Michael.

“Molly, Jereem. Why did you two leave? I got held up back there.” He said, panting slightly. “Is, something wrong?” He said, noticing the posture of the two.

“No.” Molly said. “Well, you probably have somewhere important to be, so we’ll be off.” She said, grabbing Jereem by the arm and walking off. Michael looked confused, then hurried to follow.

“Pardon me for asking, but-- what happened?” He said, “Just three hours ago, things were going great.”

“Some of your equals reminded me of some things.” Molly said, her voice muffled and angry. “Maybe you should just go.”

“Some of my equals? Oh for the love of-” He walked forward, getting in front of Molly and walking backwards, facing her. “If you’re going to be angry at me, please do me the favor of being angry because of something I did, not one of those empty headed fluffbrains.” He said. “Was if Buffy?”

“Ceciela.” Jereem supplied.

“Oh.... a light begins to dawn. Molly, Ceciela is one of the worst clinging vines at the school. If you’re on the way up, she’s your eternal friend... until you’re on the way down, that is.” Molly paused, and looked at Michael. Still blinking rapidly, the young bearess nodded.

“I’m... sorry I snapped at you Michael. I just got so angry!” She slowed down just a little, as Michael fell back into the stride beside her. The tiger nodded.

“I know.” He quietly said, “Ceciela... she doesn’t see anyone as real. They’re either trophies... or threats. I think she saw you as a threat. You should be proud.” He smiled, “That’s probably the biggest rise anyone’s gotten out of Ceciela in the last month.” Michael watched a brief smile play around Molly’s muzzle. “Now, what’s it like at a place like Higher For Hire?” He asked.

“Like I said, it’s... Like a family.” Molly said, as they walked down one of Cape Suzzete’s winding streets, shops and office buildings gleaming in the light. “Sometimes everything’s wonderful, and you never want it to end... and other times, all I want to do is hide in my room.” She laughed, “Not so much anymore... Baloo and mom don’t argue nearly as much as they used to.”

“Who was in the right?” Jereem asked.

“If it was about flying... Baloo. If it was about business, Mom.” Molly grinned at them, “And if it was some crazy money making or treasure scheme well... we’re not rich yet.” She looked at Michael. “What’s life at SK like?” Michael’s face darkened slightly, then he looked at her.

“Fair enough.” He paused, “I told you about all the workers that I don’t really know. And there isn’t really any arguing... granduncle always has the last word, and he’s always right.”

“What’s Shere Khan like?” Molly asked,

“I don’t know.” Michael said. Seeing their surprised faces, he continued. “He’s always reserved and controlled. He never loses his temper... the most I’ve ever seen him do is shred the furniture.” He looked Molly in the eye. “The most I’ve ever gotten out of him is a ‘well done, Michael’, in the exact same tone that he uses to have a factory closed.” Molly tilted her head.

“Does he love you?” She asked, quietly.

“I don’t know.” Michael said, softly.

“What about your father?” Jereem asked.

“Dead, with mother.”

“I’m sorry I asked.” Jereem said, mortified.

“Don’t be. I was very young, and from what I’ve been told, father was a miserable excuse for a Khan. He took his money, and used it to party, get drunk, party some more, and get stinking drunk. I hardly ever saw him and mom.... until I was five I thought that ‘nanny’ meant mom.” Unnoticed by Michael, his claws had extended, slashing the air. Molly put her hand over his. Looking down, he retracted them. “He put himself and mother into a building at 90 miles an hour when I was five.” He laughed softly. “I have to give Granduncle one thing. The first memory I have of him was him coming to take me away, the night father died. He told me what had happened to father and mother... and that’s a hundred times the guts father ever had.” Michael walked on, Jereem and Molly at his side for several minutes.

Shaking his head clear of the memories, Michael turned to Molly.

“If I were to ask if you and Jereem could visit, sometime over the weekend, do you think your mother could relax your grounding?” Molly laughed, happy to change the subject.

“I don’t’ know... it depends on how things go between now and Saturday.” She said. Jereem paused, then turned off on another street.

“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, Molly, Michael.”

“Do you want us to come with you?” Michael asked, looking at the steep street stretching up before Jereem.

“No, I can make it.” The coyote said, limping off.

“Jereem’s never even let me go to his house.” Molly softly said.


“I don’t know.. but he has so few friends that I don’t want to risk it by prying.” Michael nodded, still looking up the road at Jereem’s shrinking figure. After several minutes, they came to Rebecca and Molly’s apartment. She smiled at Michael. “Here’s where I have to go alone... sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry.” Michael said, “I’d hate to get you in more trouble. Do this tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Molly said. “Maybe if Kit’s here, you can say hi to him.” Michael grinned.

“That’d be great. Cya.” Molly walked to the elevator, then turned, seeing Michael walking off down the street. Behind him, she noticed a car driving along slowly, a panther in the passenger seat.

*That’s right... he’s watched all the time. I’d hate to live like that.* Molly thought, as the doors opened and she entered the elevator.




Michael waited at the door to Khan’s office. Normally, he had no problems just walking in, but then, he normally didn’t ask favors of Shere Khan. Finally, he took a deep breath and walked into the office. Khan was alone, signing papers, part of the never ending stream of paperwork that kept the company running.

“Granduncle?” Khan looked up, surprised. Over the past several months he had been the one to initiate these meetings. He watched as Michael walked towards his desk and sat down in a chair by it.


“I was wondering if I could bring some friends over?” Michael said.

“I do not see any difficulty in that. What are their names?”

“Ahhh... Molly Cunningham and Jereem Kalin.” Shere peered over the desk at his grandnephew. He had been expecting friends from the school, but given what the report had said about their meeting, Shere supposed he shouldn’t be surprised.

“I have no objections, Michael. But...”

“Yes.” Michael said, tensing up.

“I have had encounters with Molly Cunningham’s parent... Rebecca Cunningham. They have not always been friendly ones.”

“What does that have to do with me.”

“In a perfect world, nothing. However, I just want to warn you that her mother may not be amiable to her daughters visit, and that it has nothing to do with you.”

“So I’m paying for your deeds?”

“Possibly, yes.” Khan said. That was how the boy would see it, and besides, it was true.

“Very well. I won’t take anymore of your time, granduncle.” Michael left the room, back stiff. Khan sighed, and wrote a note to himself to make a phone call tomorrow.




Jereem opened the front door of his house, and walked in. As usual, his mother was at work, and his father was in the front room, where he usually stayed between jail sentences. Only this time, there were three other men in the room with him. Two of them were some of his dad’s friends... people he had met in jail. The third was a large otter, muscled and fit, who calmly sat in the room.

“Where have you been, boy?” His father demanded, slurring the words slightly. Jereem blanched. A beating was always worse when his dad was drunk. “I’m asking you a questi-”

“Mr. Kalin.” The strangers voice was quiet, but it immediately silenced his father. Jereem saw his father look over at the stranger, fear on his puffy face. “We have other things to do. Send your son to his room.”

“You heard him.” Jereem needed no other prompting. He ran to his room, locking the door behind him. Finally, he flung himself on the bed. Not even out of jail a week, and dad was involved in a crime again... and he’d get caught again. Mom would make the pilgrimage down to the courthouse. Again. The coyote closed his eyes, feeling the hot tears spilling out of them. Molly and Michael, for all their posturing wanted a father... Jereem would give anything to have his father gone.

Outside, in the living room, Otto watched as Kalin and his associates boasted of their skills, with no little amount of liquid courage backing them up. He shook his head. They hadn’t even thought about what would happen later... and Otto Skorzeny was not about to enlighten them. It wouldn’t do to let the help know that they were also the smokescreen, now would it. Khan industries was the biggest company on the planet, and in helping Usland, had become a threat to his government... and Khan would pay for that...




Molly walked into the apartment after getting up from the elevator. She opened the door, noticing that her mom had already arrived. Puzzled, she wondered if there had been a problem at H&H.

“Mom? Why are you back so early?” She asked, walking into the living room.

“She had to drop me off, Buttonnose,” a familiar voice spoke. Molly spun around.

“Kit!” She shouted, leaping up and hugging the 19 year old bear. Kit easily lifted her up. He had grown, from a young cub into a 6’3 tall bear. Easily letting Molly down, he grinned.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, Molly.”

“At least 6 months... You didn’t write as much as you said you would!” Molly accused.

“Well, they kept me busier in air commando training then I thought they would.” Kit replied. “I thought knowing how to fly would move me through part of the training.”

“And didn’t it?” Rebecca asked, coming out of the back.

“Oh, it did.” Kit said, “In fact, they rushed me through pilot, and right into the Underwater Demolitions Course.”

“What’s that?” Molly asked.

“Blowing up bridges, ships, stuff like that, and defusing the other fellows bombs when he tries to blow up your bridges.” Kit looked over, and noticed that Rebecca’s face had tightened. “But it’s pretty boring, actually.” He smiled, “Not nearly as exciting as your life... I heard that you’ve been grounded forever for chasing a classmate off the pier?”

“No! I just... Mommmmmm, you didn’t!!” Molly’s outraged protest was belayed by the laugh in her voice. Rebecca smiled at that. The door opened, and Baloo and Wildcat came in, carrying the cake they had bought for the occasion, setting it on the table.

Later, after dinner and the cake were memories, they talked. Kit, surprisingly, let the others do most of the talking. When they asked him, he told them of his training, but mostly begged off.

“It really is fairly boring to talk about actually. The biggest trauma I can tell you about is never getting enough sleep. There must be a rule somewhere that military personnel always get half the sleep they need.”

“hmmmm..... Maybe I should institute that rule at H&H.” Rebecca said, looking at Baloo.

“Now Becky... I always get the cargo done, so what’s the problem?”

“Trying to work through your snoring!”

“I do not snore!”

“You know Baloo?” Wildcat said, “You’re right, cause a snore is more like a sawing wood, and you don’t sound like that at all... you’re more like the sound a car makes when it needs a tune up... kinda like this.” Wildcat started making a hideous screeching sound, that had Rebecca clap her hands over her ears, even as she doubled over laughing.

Later on, as Wildcat left, to go write some letters to Clementine, Molly found herself nodding off. Rebecca looked at her daughter.

“I think it’s time you went to bed, Molly. It’s past twelve.” Molly sleepily nodded and got up.

“G’nite Baloo, g’nite, Kit.”

“See you tomorrow, Molly.” Kit said, as Baloo affectionately waved. Molly went to her room, closing the door. Later, when Rebecca checked on her, she sighed as she saw her daughter, sound asleep on top of the bed, her shoes still on. Rebecca took off the shoes, then opened the closet and pulled out another blanket to drape over Molly.

“Sweet dreams.” She whispered, bending over to gently kiss her daughters forehead.

Becky walked back outside to where Baloo and Kit were still sitting.

“War’s unavoidable?” The bearess said, looking at Kit.

“Ms. Cunningham....” Kit paused. “I’m just a air commando, and they don’t exactly clue us in on what they’re thinking at HQ.”

“But?” Baloo said,.

“Well, papa bear... we lost five guys to training accidents this last month.” Kit said, ignoring Rebecca’s gasp. “We lost them because we’re training with all live ammo now... I don’t think they would do that unless they thought something was going to be happening... soon.”

“Why can’t they just make peace.” Rebecca snarled. “I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a war.”

“It takes two to make peace, Ms. Cunningham.” Kit said. “If one side doesn’t want it you fight... or surrender.”

“I know, Kit.” Rebecca said, “But I wish... Anyway, lets not get everyone depressed. This is your leave... what do you want to do over the week?” Kit laughed.

“Ms. Cunningham... if Baloo has any cargo missions, well compared to the drill sergeant, an air pirate attack would be positively relaxing!”




The next day, in homeroom, Molly saw Jereem for the first time that day.

“Jereem! What happened?” She asked. The right side of the coyote’s face was puffy and bruised.

“Ran into a door,” He slurred. It wasn’t a lie, since he had hit the door. “It’s nothing.”

“You’re certain you don’t want to go to the nurse?” Molly asked.

“Yes, I’m certain. Drop it.” He said shortly.

“Sorry...” Molly said, surprised and a little hurt. After a moment, she continued. “Are you going to eat lunch with me and Michael today?”

“Are you certain I’m not... interrupting anything?” He asked.

“No, silly. It’s not like he’s my boyfriend, or anything.”

“You certain?”

“Yes! Mom would ground me forever, and Shere Khan would probably disown him for dating outside of his income tax bracket.” The homeroom teacher gave a warning cough, and Molly turned forward in her desk. She sighed as she prepared to endure the homeroom film on boating safety.

After the film, and before her next class, Molly stopped by Ms. Thomson’s room.

“Ms. Thomson?”

“Yes, Molly?”

“I was wondering... Dave hasn’t been, well....”

“As irritating of late?” Ms. Thomson said.

“Yes. Did you?” The fox smiled.

“Molly, I did nothing. However, it seems that after school a few day’s ago, an unimpeachable source witnessed Dave and his cronies assaulting you.” The fox looked at Molly. “Don’t go repeating this, but later, I and the principal had a... discussion with Dave.”

“Thanks.” Molly said, thinking about the car following Michael.

“Just don’t take advantage of it.” Ms. Thomson warned.

“I wouldn’t.” Molly said, “I’m just happy that Jereem and I can go to school without them giving us grief.”

“I know.” Ms. Thomson replied. She looked up at the clock. “However, unless you want your next class to give you grief, I suggest you hurry.” Molly looked at the clock and dove for the door, trying to make it across the school in the next 30 seconds. Thomson smiled. “That girl...” At least Dave would no longer be playing games with her. Molly Cunningham was psychologically incapable of backing down when she thought someone was being unfairly treated. *She must of picked it up from her mother.* The fox thought, turning to greet the next class of the day.




At lunch, Molly, Michael and Jereem staked out their bench in the park. Michael’s eyes widened at Jereem’s face, but he saw Molly shake her head, and covered it with his typical, reserved greeting.

“Being that today is Friday, I was wondering if you would like to come over tonight to spend a few hours.” Michael said, “Granduncle will be off on a trip, so you don’t have to worry about encountering him... Of course there are always people in the tower, it never stops.” He said, seeing Molly’s cocked head. Molly shook her head

“I’d like to, Michael. But... Mom is kinda strict about grounding me.” She said regretfully. “I’ll ask her, but...”

“I understand.” Michael said, not mentioning the other reason that Rebecca might not let Molly come along. “Well,” He continued. “I am sick of what I’ve had to eat.. does anyone want to trade for a ham sandwich?”




Rebecca was finishing up her last paperwork of the day. Baloo and Kit were off on a delivery, and probably catching up on lost time at Louie’s. Becky shook her head. She was actually looking forward to whatever lame excuse Baloo came up with. The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts with its insistent call. Rebecca brushed back her hair and picked up the handset.

“H&H, how may I help you?” She said absently.

“Ah, Ms. Cunningham. A pleasure as always.”

“Mr. Khan?” Rebecca said in surprise, and more then a little worry. She could think of many reasons why Khan would call her personally-- few of them good.

“The same.” Khan replied. “Ms. Cunningham, my ward Michael Khan has made the acquaintance of your daughter. He attends the school near hers.” Khan paused. “He asked me if it was permitted that he invite her and her friend, ah, Jereem, over for a few hours this afternoon.” Rebecca paused, thinking.

“I don’t know, Mr. Khan.” She said, “My daughter is grounded, and I’d hate to let her get into the habit of dodging a punishment.”

“I understand.” Khan paused for a moment. “Ms. Cunningham, Michael has few friends his age... and all too many of those associate with him because he is rich, or his relation to me. I would consider it a... personal favor if you would relax your punishment this once.”

Khan’s asking me for a favor? Rebecca thought.

“Well, very well.” Becky said, “I can imagine how difficult that would be for Michael.” She could have sworn she heard a relieved exhalation over the phone, but when Shere continued, his voice was as calm as always.

“Thank you, Ms. Cunningham. I’ll inform Michael. Would returning your daughter at.... 10:00pm be acceptable?” Rebecca unconsciously nodded.

“Yes. Will you be there?”

“No, although there will be people about. I’ve noticed that sometimes my presence... puts a damper on Michael’s enjoyment, so I will absent myself for the evening.” With that, he finished. “Thank you, and good day, Ms. Cunningham.”

Rebecca put up the phone. That hadn’t sounded at all like the Shere she had encountered before.




Otto walked into Jereem’s house, the living room already taking on the appearance of a filthy bears den. He frowned.

“Hey, Hank!” Jereem’s father bellowed at him. Otto smiled. His cover identity would defend against far more inquisitive minds then Jereem’s father.

“Mr. Kalin” He said, nodding at the other two. He handed out several packets. “Here are your cards and documents. They will get you into the SK tower.” He paused, looking at them. “Get both the transport and attack craft, and fly them to the destination we discussed. There will be a ship there for you.”

“And the money?” Kalin asked. Otto handed him several packets.

“5000 dollars in bearer bonds and small bills” He paused. “The other 50,000 dollars, for each of you, is in the form of gold coins. When you deliver the craft, the keys to the deposit boxes will be given you.”

“Why should we trust you?” Kalin said.

“Because if it becomes known that we airpirates betray our operatives, nobody will ever work for us again.” Otto said. Kalin dropped his gaze, unable to meet the otters flat gaze.

“Hey, just askin... you can’t blame a man for being careful.”

“Of course not, Mr. Kalin.” *Just as I cannot blame a man for being stupid, but that doesn’t mean I will not use him.* “Where is your son?”

“That waste? Who cares.”

“That is your business, of course.” Otto said, realizing that he would not regret the outcome of this mission in the least. “Still, you should be on your way.. the ship will not wait past 10:00.” The men nodded, leaving the dingy room. Otto waited a moment, running a hand over the stained table top. Then, he got up, pulling out his own packet of material, and left, heading off in a different direction.


Part III-- Someone dies.








With the last bell of the last day of school for the week, the students at Molly’s school exploded from the buildings, laughing and chattering as they headed to homes, shops and playgrounds to start the weekend. Molly sighed. She got to go home. Still, she had known what she was getting into when she got into the fight, and so mom really couldn’t be blamed.

The bearess paused at the end of the steps, waiting for Jereem to hobble on down, and then started walking home. The sun was pleasant, and the weather was warm, but not too hot, with a breeze ruffling Molly’s hair, so they walked slowly, enjoying the afternoon.

They both waved as Michael came walking down the street from his school, pointedly ignored by some of the other students from the school. Jereem noticed the cold shoulder treatment the tiger was getting.

“What happened?”

“Oh, I had a discussion with some of my fellow students... regarding how to treat my friends.” Michael said.

“Did it get you in trouble?” Molly asked.

“Not at all.” Michael said, “In fact I can safely say that it was the highpoint of the day.” He paused, “Speaking of that, granduncle called the school to let me know that it was alright if you and Jereem came over tonight. He said that he had called your mom, Molly and gotten her approval.”

“He did!?” Molly said surprised. “How did he get mom to agree?” Michael shrugged.

“Don’t know.” Michael answered. “Are you interested?”

“Sure! What about you, Jereem?” The coyote hesitated.

“Well, I should be going home...”

“You could call from the tower.” Michael said. Jereem looked up, made a decision.

“You’re right. I’ll call later tonight, after mother gets home.” Jereem walked on with them. Michael looked curiously at some of the items on Molly’s belt.

“What are those?”

“These?” said Molly, pulling out a small metal box and metal wedge. “This is my toolbox... Wildcat gave it to me for my birthday, and this,” She said, opening the metal wedge with a flourish, “is a air board.”

“Air board?” Michael asked, “what’s that.”

“Oh, that’s right, you’ve never met Kit.” Molly said. “Well, his parents were into a lot of experimental stuff, and they came up with this. If you’re moving fast enough, well then you can ride it in the air, like a surfboard.” Michael took it and curiously looked at it.

“Interesting... and your mother doesn’t mind.” Jereem laughed. Molly glared at her friend.

“Well.... sometimes.” She said, putting it back into her belt.

“And the tools?” Molly laughed,

“My main babysitter’s for the last 7 years have either been Kit, who loved to cloud surf, or Wildcat, who loved to take things apart.. and put them back together.”

“How good are you at it?”

“Well....” Molly paused. “I can tune up the Seaduck’s engines, and I’ve worked on them a few times, with Wildcat looking on. The plane’s never crashed... at least not because of me.” Michael grinned.

“Well, I wish I had something that exciting to talk about... but my school... St. Peter’s School For the Terminally Dull really doesn’t encourage excitement.”

‘Well.... think.” Molly said

“Ok. I do have a few incidents... some of them starring the acquaintances you made yesterday, Molly....”

By the time the three reached Khan’s tower, they were laughing and talking about their various friends, and not-friends at school.

“Well...” Michael said, “The worst thing that happened at my school was when we were one a field trip... you know, they choose the most boring place in the city to make you thankful for school?”

“Oh yes...” Jereem and Molly chorused, laughing.

“Well Buffy decided to show us how good she was with animals, so when we were at the zoo... she opened the gorilla bird cage.”

“No!” Molly gasped. “What happened?”

“Ceciela, Buffy, our teacher, and the zoo guide all ended up hanging from the branches of an oak tree, with the birds thundering around the bottom like air pirates around a blimp.” He laughed. “It took half the attendants in the zoo to get everything under control.”

“Did they get the birds back?” Jereem asked,

“Evidently not, from what you say about Dave.” Michael supplied. Molly doubled over.

“That is so evil... because it’s true. I hadn’t ever thought of the similarity before, though.” Michael laughed along with her.

“Well, here we are... my home, otherwise known as the dark tower of Cape Suzzette.” He said, gesturing at the tall building. Pulling open one of the glass doors for Molly and Jereem, he gestured them inside. The two kids walked inside, looking around at the marble and chrome office.

“This front room is worth more then mom’s entire business.” Molly softly said. Michael waved at the secretary, who was checking in a worker, the muscular otter taking back his ID.

“Oh, that’s nice. Mr. Khan’s grandnephew doesn’t have many friends over.” The otter looked over at the secretary’s words.

“Friends are important, true.” He said, “I’ll see you tonight.” The secretary smiled as the gentlemen went into the employee’s elevator. He must not have worked for Khan very long if he thought that he’d be finished before her shift ended.




Baloo and Kit took off from Louie’s and came back onto a heading for Cape Suzzette, moving at a leisurely pace. Kit finished taking the compass reading, and put the navigation gear back into the compartment.

“What did, Ms. Cunningham call you about? Are we late again?” The younger bear asked Baloo.

“Naw, ever more of a surprise then that.” Baloo answered. “It seems Molly has a new friend.”

“That’s a surprise?” Kit said, puzzled.

“His name is Michael Khan... as in Shere Khan’s grandnephew.” Kit paused, a bottle of coke halfway to his lips.

“That is a surprise.” He thought, “Does Ms. Cunningham approve, Papa Bear?” Baloo shifted in his seat.

“I don’t think she knows herself, yet. I just hope Molly understands that some of those rich folks really don’t care about anyone but themselves.... I’d hate to see pigtails get hurt.” The bear continued, face darkening. Kit nodded, but spoke up.

“I wouldn’t worry about that, Baloo... Molly’s tough and smart, and not easy to fool at all.... or don’t you remember the first time she snuck aboard the Sea Duck?” Baloo involuntarily looked back into the cargo bay.

“Heh... You’ve got a point, Kit... She’s gonna be at Khannies tower tonight... I just hope it doesn’t turn out like that flight did...”

“Well,” Kit said, “We can always take a quick spin around the tower... if it’s there... and not on fire, we know everything’s all right.”

“Ya’know, Kit... I think I’ll take you up on that.” Baloo said. “Wanna take over? I’ve gotta go and check the soda’s in back... wouldn’t do to have Becker’s cargo sloshing all over the floor.”

“Sure Baloo.” The younger bear laughed, taking the stick. “Just remember that she does intend to sell it, so don’t drink it all testing for taste.”




Molly peered around Michael’s room... or rather rooms. Apparently, when he had come to live with Shere Khan, the elder tiger had simply converted some of the office space adjoining his main suite to rooms for the younger tiger. Everything was nice, neat, and far too sterile for Molly’s taste. She looked over a rack of plants at the main window.

*Plants? That doesn’t seem like Michael* Michael walked up beside her. He smiled, somewhat uncomfortably.

“The maid decided that the room needed a more comfortable touch... so I let her put them in.” He smiled, “She’s one of the nicer workers here.” Molly looked over at him.

“They’re not like the plants mom described in Mr. Khan’s office.”

“Oh, of course not.” Michael said, “You don’t think I want the maid to get eaten?”

“Well no.” Molly answered. Jereem was peering out the window, turning a faint shade of green.

“Don’t you ever get nervous, living so high.” The coyote asked, Michael laughed.

“Not really. Remember, I’ve lived her since I was five.”

*And it still looks more like a hotel room... or maybe I’m just as messy as mom claims.* Molly thought.

“I bet you have a problem keeping this place so neat.” Jereem said, echoing Molly’s thoughts.

“No.” Michael said, “I have a problem getting it messy. I could destroy the entire place... and by the time I got back from school, It’d look like this.” He sighed. “It’d be nice to be able to make some sign I live here, though.” He shook his head. “Well, does anyone want anything to eat? One nice thing about living here is that the cafeteria is open 24 hours... something having to do with having a vampire for a boss.” Molly laughed at that, Jereem chuckled somewhat more uneasily. Michael opened the door for them, then followed them out into the corridor.




Far below the main tower, Khan had long since excavated the underpinnings, installing subbasements, underground garages, and extensive power, heating and cooling plants to support the massive visible operations above. In many ways, the tower was like an iceberg-- many of its operations concealed under the ground, layered in ferroconcrete and steel.

At the lowest parking garage, a nondescript van entered, its perfect, and counterfeit, ID getting past all of the guard posts above. Stopping, the garage fell silent for a moment, most of the day shift already gone, and few of the night workers yet arrived. Three men got out, with the one in the lead, a puffy, scruffy looking Coyote, looking at a map.

“OK.” Kalin said, “The hanger is midway up the tower.... Khan only has people working on it during the day.. so it should be empty now, except for a few guards.”

“And they’re going to be fueled?” One of the others, a muscular wolf asked.

“Yeah... not only that, but Khan’s demonstrating them tomorrow... which means that they’ll have everything up there ready to arm ‘em too.” He put the map away. “C’mon you guys... Time’s awasting.” They walked over to the door, where Kaolin opened up a circuit breaker box, and pulled two fuses.

“There. Now the elevators between the hanger floor and anywhere else aren’t working.”

“How do we get up there then?”

“I left the cargo lift running... and we can jam it once we get up there. Otto said he’d also deal with the phones.” Kalin grinned, as he pulled a .45 from one of his pockets and gestured. “Let’s go.”




Molly leaned against the elevator wall, watching the dial wind back up. She had to admit that the cafeteria had been better then most resturants she had been to. Still, it had seemed a bit inpersonal.

“What happens if the power goes out?” She asked Michael.

“It never has.” The tiger answered, “Granduncle has four separate power systems feeding the elevators and lights, so no possible problem could knock them out.” At that moment, the elevator shuddered and stalled, and the lights went down, flashed brightly, then died all together, leaving the three kids in the dark.

“Michael?” Jereem asked, “Have you ever heard the phrase... ‘don’t tempt fate’?” Michael paid no attention to Jereem, and went to the emergency phone, picking it up. He fumbled for a minute in the darkness, and then clicked a switch. Light flooded the elevator from the pocket flash he had taken from the same rack holding the phone.

“Of course, granduncle didn’t get where he is by trusting to anything.” Michael said, triumphantly, holding the light up.

“and the phone?”

“dead.” Michael said, puzzled. “I didn’t think it used the same system as the elevator...”

“It wouldn’t.” Molly said, “that’s why you don’t lose phones even when the city loses power.... They’re on a completely different system.” She looked around. “So how do we get out?” Jereem looked up at the dial.

“Well, we were almost at the 34th floor when the power died... maybe we could open the door?”

“No.” Michael said. “If the elevator came back on while we were half way in and out...” he left the gruesome possibility unsaid. Molly looked at him.

“I can fix that.” The golden bearess said, She pulled out Wildcat’s gift. Opening it, she pulled out a variety of small tools.

“What are you going to do?” Michael asked, leaning in close to her. Molly looked over at him.

“Elevators have clamps to keep from falling if the cable breaks.” She said, looking for a screwdriver, and finding it, setting to work on one of the expensive oak panels. “If you trigger it, then the elevator’s locked... and it can’t move regardless, so we can get out.” Jereem and Michael knelt next to the bear, helping her pull free the panel. Just as Molly had thought, there was a bundle of wires underneath it.

“So... which one is it?” Michael asked, peering down, shoulder touching Molly’s shoulder. Molly looked for several minutes then pointed.

“That one.”

“How can you tell?”

“It’s the only hydraulic tube... you wouldn’t use electricity for the clamps, in case it went out.” She reached down to the release valve. “Anyone want to say anything?”

“No. I’ll save my breath for the scream of terror when the elevator plummets.” Jereem said. Michael shook his head as Molly glared at her friend. She gently turned the valve, and the three heard a screech of metal on metal as the clamps fastened tightly around the guiderails.

“We are going to look very bad if the power comes on now.” Michael said, looking up. However, the light’s remained stubbornly off. He got his claws in the gap between the two sides of the door, and started to pull. Jereem and Molly got on the other one and helped him. With a protesting groan, the door opened slowly, revealing another elevator door in front of them. The next door was even harder to open. Grunting and puffing, Molly and the others pried it open.

The hallway outside was also dark, only a few emergency lights relieving the gloom. Michael directed the light up at the floor label and frowned.

“What’s wrong, Michael?”

“We shouldn’t be here.” The tiger replied, uneasily. “This is one of Shere’s very hush hush floors.... he never told me what he’s doing here.”

“Then let’s find a guard.” Jereem said practically, “We can explain what happened and then get them to let us out.”

“Right.” Michael said. Choosing a direction at random, the three set out. Before too long, they came to an intersection... with a guard lying, face down, in it. Michael ran up to the guard and turned him over. The hound dog breathed noisily through his mouth, but nothing the kids could do could wake him up.

“What’s wrong with him?” Molly asked, “Is he drugged?”

“Maybe...” Michael paused. “Jereem?”


“There should be a first aid pack in the room down the hall... could you get it and put a pillow under his head. Molly and I will go and find a phone.”

“OK, I’ll catch up with you in a minute.” Jereem said, walking off.

“Here, Jereem.” Molly said, handing him the flashlight. “I can see more light down that way so you need it more.” Jereem nodded, walking off. Molly and Michael headed off in the other direction. The building was dead silent, even the normal murmur of the ventilation system stilled by the power outage. Unconsciously, Molly grabbed Michael’s hand, and he gave it a squeeze, both to comfort her... and to calm himself as well.

“Well...” he said, trying to lighten the mood, “I told you it would be interesting.”

“Yes you- do you hear that?” The bearess said. Michael nodded, as they walked forward. This part of the corridor opened up on one of Khan’s hanger’s, its sliding roof rolled back to expose the pad, to the sky. The light they had seen was the glow of Cape Suzzette the lit buildings and streets sending a glow onto the darkened surface of the Khan building.

Two aircraft sat on the pad, one looking like an odd transport, the others waspish, spidery outline unlike any other plane Molly had ever seen. The twin props of both airplanes were sticking straight up, like helicopters, the propellers were far too small. Two men were working on the smaller plane.

“So... what are you going to do with your money?” One asked the other.

“Well, I’ve got some girlfriends that I’m going to show the town,” the other laughed.

“Heh. I wonder what Khan’s going to do when his secret project goes away out from under his nose?” The other laughed at the words, and they continued, loading cylindrical objects under the wing of the slim plane. Michael pulled Molly back into the door.

“They’re stealing the planes!” He hissed in the bearess’s ear. “We’ve got to get help?”

“How?” Molly whispered back, “No phones.”

“We’ll find a stairway and go down to the ground floor.” Michael said, “Then we’ll call the cops from there.” As he turned to go, a third shape appeared in the hallway behind them. For a moment, Molly thought it was Jereem, but it was far to big to be her friend.

A fist lashed out and caught Michael on the side of his head. The young tiger staggered and fell, stunned, as Molly looked on in shock. The young bearess tried to grab at the stranger as he raised his hand for another blow. She managed to hold his hand back, giving Michael a chance to scrabble backwards. Growling, the man, a large coyote, threw Molly into the side of the wall, stunning her as her head struck the concrete. Getting a painful grip on her hair, he looked at Michael and then walked away from him. The Tiger rose up.

“Hey! Get away from her!” With a snort, the stranger lifted Molly off her feet by her hair, causing her to cry out in pain, then swung her over the edge of the pad, leaving nothing but air beneath her feet, all 32 stories worth of it. Molly cried out, fear now added to the pain in her voice, as she frantically tried to reach up and grab at the hand holding her.

“Shut up and relax, or I’ll drop you know.” The stranger said. “Unless you want your little friend to go splat,” this to Michael, “You’ll come over here.” Michael walked out, shaking his head a little to stop the ringing. “Hey, boys!” The man called over to his two compatriots, “Look who I caught! Mr. Khan’s little grandnephew and a girlfriend. They were probably out here for some kissy face!” He laughed coarsely. Molly said nothing, looking down at the ground. Michael stood as the two others grabbed him and threw him roughly onto the ground, binding his hands and feet. Molly gasped as the man threw her down next to Michael and quickly bound her in the same way.

“What do we do with ‘em, Kalin?” One of the two, a large wolf asked. Molly looked up in shock. *This was Jereem’s father?*

“Well boy’s... I don’t know who the little blonde chippie is, but the tiger is Mr. Michael Khan... and I’m certain that Shere will pay as much as we’re getting from Hank to get junior back safe and sound.” He smiled. “And I’m certain that the parents of this kid we’ll also pay.”

“I dunno...” The wolf said, “That’s a kidnapping rap... they don’t play around with that, and if we hurt Khan’s family...” His companion also looked uncertain. Kalin spat at the ground.

“That for Khan. He won’t do anything!”

“You think Khan is going to pay a ransom for me?” Michael said.

“You shut up!” Kalin said,

“Well, I was just going to tell you that.” Kalin viciously slapped the child, snapping Michael’s head to the side. Stunned, he said nothing more.




Down five floors, Otto finished taking the last of the microfilm pictures of the plans, not just for the planes above, but for several other projects of Khan. Walking calmly out of the room, he opened the camera and placed one of the two rolls of film in an envelope. and put it in his pocket. The other he kept in the camera. Looking up at the ceiling, he wondered how the others were doing.




Jereem finished making the guard comfortable, then walked towards the light, turning off the fading flashlight to preserve its batteries. He paused at the sound of voices. One of them sounded familiar. Then he heard it. It was his fathers voice! In shock, Jereem quietly walked towards the hanger, every sense on the alert.




Kalin turned around to his two fellow criminals.

“Have you got the planes ready?” They both nodded. “Good. Put these two in the transport, and I’ll fly it out of here. You guys take the gunship.”

“Oh... Scared of a little boy?” Molly snarled, glaring at Kalin after seeing Michael, his head lolled over to the side from the force of the slap.

“You shut up.” Kalin said walking over. His two compatriots looked nervous, but said nothing.

“Oh, that’s your answer for everything?” Molly sneered, angrily. “It must be awful, having to pound on a son half your size.. crippled too.” At the wall, Jereem was frantically praying that Molly would shut up. She had no idea what his father was like if one of his rages was triggered. His prayers were unanswered.

“In fact, I guess that’s just the natural reaction to having a son who is more of a man then you will ever be in a million years.” The young bear continued, as Kalin walked over to her, an odd smile on his face.

“You know, little girl. You need some discipline. And since your mommy and daddy aren’t here to provide it-” Kalin kicked the girl viciously, the toe of his boot sinking into her. Molly gurgled as agony exploded up and down her body, her breath whooshing out of her as she desperately tried to roll away from the man. Kalin flipped her over with his toe and grinned down. “Ohhh... I thought that you were tougher then that! Weren’t you that miserable excuse of a son’s bodyguard?”

“No? Well here’s some more.” He said, kicking her in the face. Molly choked and spasmed. The wolf and hippo ran up and grabbed the coyote.

“That’s enough man! Are you nuts!” The wolf demanded as he pulled Kalin away from the sobbing girl. Molly gagged, her hands bound so she couldn’t even curl up. Michael screamed at Kalin.

“You coward! Leave her alone!” Kalin tried to walk towards him, but the two held him back.

“Kalin, No! If we hurt him... Khan will have our skins on the wall in his office.” “Yeah.” Kalin reluctantly agreed. “Put ‘em into the transport.” He walked into the small office that served as the pads control tower, and got a small book. Walking back onto the pad, he entered the transport, laughing as the weeping girl cringed away from him. At the laughter, Molly tried to ignore the pain and sit up, still sucking air into her abused lungs. Kalin warmed up the transports radio then tuned it to the proper frequency.

“Hello? Is anyone on this?” An official sounding voice came back.

“Who is this? This is Mr. Khan’s private frequency. Get off of it Immediately!”

“No, you get ‘Mr.’ Khan.” Kalin replied, “Unless you want to be responsible for seeing his grandnephew die.” For a moment, the radio was silent. Then another, very familiar voice came on.

“This is Shere Khan. Who is this.” Coming into Cape Suzzette, Khan spoke calmly into the mike, while his free hand gripped the armrest so tightly that the metal bent under it.

“That doesn’t matter, Mr. Khan. I have your brat, and his friend, and your tiltrotors.” Kalin smiled. “I was wondering... how much would your little cubs safe return be to you?” Michael looked up, feeling Molly trembling next to him.

*I wonder what this man will do when he finds out how little I’m worth.* He thought.

“How much do you want?” Shere said, calmly.

“Oh... How about one million for your brat, and I’ll throw the other in for a hundred thousand.” Khan immediately replied.

“I will pay two million, for the safe return of the children. You may specify the place of delivery. If either one is harmed, in any way, I will pay however much it takes to see you, and your associates, dead.” Khan turned to his pilot. “Get on another channel. Inform the police, but they are not to try anything. Also... send a car to Ms. Cunningham’s.”

“And the retrieval of the prototypes?”

“Is unimportant. The children’s safety is to take precedence... complete precedence... Is this clear?” The tiger paused. “He only spoke of two... the other child may not have been taken, or may be dead. Find out.”

“Yes, Mr. Khan.”




Skorzeny listened to the conversation in barely restrained fury. He had noticed that they had not left yet, and had found a radio transmitter, in order to find out what was going on. Instead of providing a distraction, those idiots might start a crusade. If Khan’s nephew was killed, Khan would take the building apart. There was no garuntee that Skorzney’s espionage would remain undiscovered, and half the importance of the information lay in Khan not knowing anyone else had it... The otter formed a fist, considering going up to the pad and dealing with the three himself, then shook his head. Police were already on their way to cordon the building off, he was certain, and mucking about was a good way to get caught and lose everything. He turned, heading for the stairway, and considered that if he didn’t make it down before the police arrived, his ID would get a considerably more in depth check then he had expected.




Jereem waited, watching his father crowing over his victory, as he walked over to the smaller aircraft, where his compatriots waited. The coyote couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but it was plain that Kalin’s improvisation hadn’t gone over that well. Creeping softly, and mentally cursing at every click of his brace, he entered the transport.. Michael and Molly were on the cargo deck, huddled together. Looking up, Michael saw Jereem and jerked his head towards his bonds. Jereem shook his head, and quietly took out a flaregun, taking up position behind the door. Carefully, he sighted in on the barrels of fuel behind the men, then pulled the trigger.

Kalin howled as the lance of fire skinned past him, crisping his hair. He turned and saw his son slamming the transport hatch shut.

“You little! I’m going to kill you?”

“We’re all gonna die!” The wolf yelled, “Unless we get out of here, look!” He pointed to where the flare had come to lie, next to the kerosene tanks and racks of ammunition.

“Good.” Kalin viciously said, “Let the little gits burn!” He ran towards the gunship, yelling at the hippo to start it up.

Meanwhile, inside the transport, Jereem had untied the other two.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” The coyote shouted. Michael shook his head. “We can’t.. that fire... It’s already spread between us and the door.” Jereem looked out the front of the craft, and saw that Michael was right. Michael jumped into the pilot’s seat, then turned around. “It’s a good thing that I’ve flown with granduncle before.” Then he got a load of the completely unfamiliar controls. “ah. Molly... Could you give me a hand.”

“OK, Michael.” Molly whispered, still favoring her abused side. She gingerly slid into the copilots seat, and winced in pain. “Oh... wow. This looks like a jet model... Wildcat showed me one of these at the Winger city exhibition.”

“Good. How do we turn it on?” Molly looked, biting her lip. Then the bearess punched several switches. With a whine, quickly building into a howl, the turbines at the end of the wings came to life, spinning their props. Michael grabbed the stick. “Damn... it’s like a cross between a helicopter and planes controls.” He muttered.

Behind them, in the gunship, Kalin looked out with disbelief.

“Those! Give me the gun!” He snarled.


“Idiot... They’ve seen us... all of us.” He reached out and flipped the safety switch off, then opened up with one of gunship’s rocket pods even as the transport lumbered off the platform. The rocket barely missed the wing of the transport, slamming into the stored jet fuel and completing the work of Jereem’s flaregun. With an explosion heard across the city, the ammunition and fuel detonated. The gunship itself barely cleared the debrie as it lifted off. Meanwhile, in the transport, a spirited discussion was taking place.

“How do I get this thing to move!” Michael snarled.

“There must be a way to get the propellers facing forward..” Jereem said, looking around the complex control board. “What about the radio?” He asked. Molly silently pointed to the radio box, impaled by a fragment from one of the tanks, “oh.:”

“Here.” Molly said, grabbing a stick, this should do it.

“Molly wait, we’re not moving fast enough yet, we- AIEEEE” Michael gave a cry as the rotors at the end of the wing obediently rotated down. Unfortunately, the craft was moving far slower then stall speed, and plummeted towards the street below. Michael desperately fought the stick, pushing the planes nose down, trying to get enough speed for the wings to bite into the air. Just a few hundred feet above the earth, he felt a response, and pulled back on the stick, clearing the ground by a few feet as the plane rocketed along at 200mph.

“Next time you try to kill us ask permission first!” He yelled at Molly.

“Oh really! And maybe waiting for them to shoot us down wasn’t trying to kill us?” She yelled back, wincing in pain.

“BRIDGE!” Jereem screamed, pointed toward the span flying towards the plane with terrifying speed. Michael pulled up on his stick and Molly pushed down on hers, and the combination sent the plane into a corkscrew... just in time to fit between the spans.”

“Argue later?” Michael asked.

“Argue later.” Molly said. “Let’s find a place to land this thing and get help... I don’t feel so good.” Now that she could do something, Molly no longer felt like crying. Anything was better then lying tied up on the floor, being kicked by that monster.

“Don’t worry. I’ve got the hang of it now,” Michael said, just as twin steaks of light lashed out from above, obliterating the street below. Jereem hung his head out a shattered window and pulled it back in, pale.

“The other...”

“Is after us.” Michael said, hauling the stick over as the gunship descended, rocket and gunpods blazing. “That idiot is tearing the city to pieces!” With a shriek, a hole was punched in the wing by a 30mm round. Several gauges on the dashboard began to twitch and an ominous buzzer started to sound.

“The city isn’t the only thing he’s tearing to pieces.” Molly said, “Do something!” Michael tried. But at best, he barely had control of the plane, and the pilot of the other craft hung on to them like glue.

“Shoot them down already!” Kalin snarled.

“I’m trying!” The wolf snarled back... “But I’ve never used these weapons and whoever’s piloting that thing is either crazy or an ace!” He continued as the transport nearly fishtailed into the facade of a building.

“Then get closer!” Kalin ordered. Another spray of .50 caliber and 30mm shells went out and some of those hit.

“AAIIGGGHH” Jereem screamed, as something hot and agonizing tore through his good leg.




Rebecca leaped out of the car, and gasped as she saw the pad at Khan’s building. The fire was roaring, consuming all that remained on the pad, and it was all the buildings firefighters could do to keep it from spreading. Dimly, she heard an onlooker say.

“Poor devils... if anyone was there, then they’re dead.” The bearess sank to her knees, then felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw one of Khan’s security personnel.

“Ms. Cunningham, the children weren’t up there. We believe that they’re on a aircraft that took off just before the pad exploded.” He pulled her to her feet. “They’re tracking the planes. Come on!” He pulled the woman into a police car, which roared off sirens wailing.




Kit and Baloo looked on in horrified fascination at the scene below the Sea Duck.

“The Kids...” Baloo whispered. Kit looked down and to the left.

“Baloo!” He said, and pointed. They both saw the two aircraft twisting down in the city, fire stabbing out from the pursuer and the pursued aircraft’s frantic attempts at dodging the fire.

“We can’t follow them, Kit.” Baloo said. “The Duck can’t maneuver down there.” Kit nodded.

“Let’s stay up here... Sooner or later they’ll have to land-- or crash.”





The Tiltrotor spun around the corner of the building, barely avoiding the edge. Michael hauled back on the stick, fighting the bulk of the aircraft as it threatened to spin out.

“I thought Mr. Khan let you fly!!” Molly yelled at the 12 year old tiger.

“Yes, He Does... In an open sky, when we’re not being shot at.” Michael gritted out as the attack tiltrotor came around the corner behind the larger, slower transport, and opened fire, fist sized balls of fire marking the passage of 30 millimeter tracer rounds.

“Maybe we should land... try to get away on foot.” Jereem said. Molly turned around and looked at her friend, his eyes closed in pain as his hands wrapped around his blood-soaked leg, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Her face hardened.

“Michael, hold the plane steady, I have an idea.” She said as she grabbed a canister of oil, and started the cargo hoist running, playing out cable. It wasn’t like the Seaduck’s... but...

“What in God’s name are you planning!?” Michael asked.

“Kit did this to Karnage all the time,” Molly said, flipping out the board.

“I thought you said your mom never let you do that!”

“No, I said she didn’t let me do it much. I’ve done it before.”

“While being shot at?!” Molly paused.

“No, but there’s a first time for everything. Besides, once I pour the oil down the intake, well, that’s all I need to do.”

“YOU ARE CRAZY!!” Michael screamed, then shouted a very un-Khanish word as he almost lost control of the aircraft. That was fortunate, because the unexpected gyration saved them, as a missile rocketed out, obliterating the facade of an unfortunate office building, and sending onlookers diving for cover.

“Well, we don’t have a choice.” Molly said, opening the rear bay doors, opening the air board, and leaping out. Her first thought was that keeping steady was much harder with Michael at the controls then the steady hand of Baloo. Her second thought, as a cannon shell screamed past her head with the sound of a thousand angry hornets, was that Michael was right. This was much different.

*OK... Now all I have to do is keep from dying* Molly thought trying to hold onto the rope without losing the skin on her palms. The wind whipped by her, the gyrations of the transport threatening to dump her at any moment. She looked back. almost lost her footing, then watched as the gunship closed on them.

Michael concentrated on the controls, the added damage making them mushy and unresponsive. It didn’t matter, trying to turn now would sling Molly right into a building. He hung on and tried to ignore the sound of bullets smacking into the hull and wing.

“Jereem... are you ok?” He asked.

“Fine....” came the faint reply. He didn’t sound fine to Michael.

Molly brought herself down and closer to the gunship. Gulping once, the golden bearess let go of the rope with one hand and prepared to throw the can with the other. Molly waited, seeing he black gulf of the jet intake, mounted on the top of the fuselage.

“Oh, very nice you little...” Kalin said, bringing the nose up slightly and centering on the overall clad girl trailing behind the transport. His finger tightened on the trigger.

Molly threw the can. It tumbled, trailing oil as it was sucked into the intake. The cannon muzzles under the nose flashed and Molly screamed as the tracers seemed to float towards her and the plane.

Kalin’s grin vanished from his face as the gunship jerked in midair, a tearing, grinding sound coming from behind him.

“What the-”

“She threw something in the turbine.” The hippo yelled. “It’s gonna-” The turbine exploded, sending pieces of the blades in all directions. The gunship veered off, staggering in the air as the rotor blades lost power, and chunks of the engine broke apart, slashing through hydraulic and fuel lines.

“I can’t-!” Kalin screamed as he lost control and the gunship, still firing, dived towards the ground.




“They’re heading for the beach, Baloo!!” Kit yelled, as Baloo prepared to put the Duck down at the waters edge. There was no way to tell if there was any underwater snags, but the older pilot didn’t think so... besides, there were things more important then his plane.

Kit dove from his seat, heading for the rear. He grabbed the first aid kit, and then paused, and pulled out a pistol from an unobtrusive box in the cargo bay.




Michael was panicking. The last shots from the now absent gunship had sliced through the right wing. All of its control surfaces were fluttering in the wind, shredded and useless. The beach was right ahead-- but there were still a dozen buildings between them and its clean white sand.

“C’mon... C’mon....” He prayed, the control stick getting mushier by the minute. Suddenly, there was another lurch, and half the remaining lights on the panel turned red. He spared a quick glance at the right engine nacelle.. its propeller was slowing while the turbine merrily burned. Michael turned and frantically looked for the fire extinguisher controls, and almost didn’t see the radio tower coming up in front of the plane. He tried to avoid it, but the transport was too sluggish, and it caught the edge of the wing. He cried out as the stick whipsawed to the side, moving with irresistible force. With a shower of sparks, and the scream of shredding metal, the transport dove, then slammed into the white sand, coming to a shuddering, grinding stop.

Molly felt the transport start to go over, and let go the line just in time to avoid loosing what little skin remained on her palms. She kept her balance on the board long enough to get over the water. She tried to remember how Kit had landed on the water using the board, got it for a while, then lost it and hit the surf, twisting an ankle on impact.. Even at her reduced speed, the water hit her like a freezing deluge of bricks. She felt her breath explode from her, sucked in seawater, then came to the surface, gasping and retching.

She staggered out of the surf, feeling every pain and twinge coming back to her. She made the error of putting to much weight on her injured ankle, and cried out at the pain, falling down, holding her hands to her chest while her ankle screamed out. She looked around the beach. There was nobody there, but she could hear sirens approaching, while several aircraft were circling overhead.

Both planes had somehow made it to the beach, lying in crumpled, burning heaps on the sand. Molly felt tears begin to come to her eyes. She didn’t see Michael or Jereem.

*Are they dead?*

“There-uhh, you are.” A familiar voice came out of the shadows, as Kalin staggered into view. The crash had not been kind to him. Blood poured down his face, and his breath rasped through his smashed muzzle. One arm hung uselessly at his side, but the other was steady enough, the gun pointed right at her head. “I’m going to put you out of my misery...” He said, raising the gun.

Molly tried to get to her feet, failed, and fell back to her knees. She looked up at the gun, as it swung in line with her head. She didn’t say anything... she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of begging, not as if it would do any good. Pain and fear combined, as she tried and failed to keep from sniffing, tears crawling down the matted fur of her cheeks. A tiny sob escaped her.

*I love you, Mommy* She had gone directly to the tower... she hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to Rebecca. Kalin lowered the gun... as Kit came flying out of the shadows. Molly didn’t see what exactly he had done, but Kalin screamed in agony, a high pitched squeal. and went flying. He staggered to his feet and turned, to see that Kit had his own gun out, locked on Kalins body like the eyes of Kali.

“Don’t.” Kit softly said. Kalin froze like his feet had grown roots.

“You OK, Pigtails?” Kit asked Molly. Molly tried to speak but found that her throat and vocal chords weren’t working that well.

“Kit... Kit....” She sobbed out, “Michael and Jereem...” Kit didn’t take his eyes off of Kalin, but he put his arm around her, gently draping the blanket he had also taken off the Duck around her sodden and trembling body.

“Shhh.” He said, “It’ll be ok. Baloo’s checking the other plane... Michael and Jereem will be alright.”




Michael came to. It seemed that every single bone in his body was crying out for attention. He tried to move, groaned, then lay still. The smoke was getting irritating, though.

*Wait a minute- Smoke!?* Michael tried to get up again, and cried out as he saw that the control stick had painfully pinned his leg against the shattered control panel. The rear of the cargo bay was already engulfed in fire, little rivulets of burning fuel migrating down towards the cockpit. Jereem was coughing, gradually coming too.

“Jeer-<cough>, Jereem!” Michael called out. “I can’t move.” Jereem dragged himself over to the other boy and tried to pull him free, but the stick refused to budge. The air was getting thicker and hotter, and now he could see burning fuel pooling outside of the cockpit. Jereem tried again, and failed.

“Jereem... get out of here yourself.” Michael said, thinking that it would sound more heroic if he wasn’t crying from the smoke and fear. Jereem ignored him, pulling at the leg again. Then, the pilot’s door got pulled open from the outside, and Jereem and Michael both gaped at the rotund gray bear that filled it.

“Heya guys.... I think it’s time to leave this party.” Baloo cheerfully said. He lifted Jereem out and pointed him towards the beach, and then swung the crowbar, wedging it between the stick and the firewall. The bear leaned back, straining briefly and with the sound of failing metal, the stick broke in two. He leaned down and easily swung Michael out of the cockpit, walking away quickly, but with no sign of panic, from the burning plane.

“I can walk...” Michael protested feebly.

“Sure you can,” Baloo answered, making no motion to put the boy down. Noticing Jereem’s injured leg, Baloo casually shouldered the other youth and kept walking. Once safely away from the burning plane, he put Michael down.

“How...” Baloo pointed to the Seaduck, bobbing a few yards off the surf.

“We saw you coming in, and figured you could use a little help.” The bear started as the ammunition in the gunship began to cook off, sending trails of sparks high into the night sky. “Hope that isn’t coming out of your allowance...” The bear commented to Michael. While he was talking, Baloo wrapped Jereem’s injured leg in a preassure bandage.

“Muh-Molly?” Michael asked, then started up. “She was behind the plane!! I tried to hold it steady but we crashed, she must be-” The tears threatened to start up again.

“She’s down the beach, with Kit.” Baloo said, “I saw him get her, and take care of the bad guy... she’s alright.” He continued, wrapping blankets around the two shocked youngsters. He looked back towards the city, and saw more and more emergency lights flashing, as police and medics approached the beach.




“I know stuff!!” Kalin gobbled, “More then those other two, but you’ll have to cut a deal, and I-” Kit didn’t take his hand off Molly’s shoulder, as he stood up.

“Shut. Up.” Kit said, quietly. “I don’t care what information you have. If you say anything else, I’ll make certain you regret it.” Molly was staring at the criminal, shrinking back behind Kit. Without taking his eyes off Kalin, Kit said. “Don’t be afraid Molly... you three beat him.”

“I-I was so scared Kit...” Molly said, reaction and shock making her babble. “When he tied us up, he kicked me and it hurt...” She didn’t see Kit’s face, but Kalin did, and he quailed, realizing how easy it would be for Kit to shoot him right then and there.




Back, off the beach, Otto heard enough of the discussion to understand what was being said, but not enough to know what was going on. The fat bear was a civilian, but the younger one was clearly a soldier... what was he doing, and how had he gotten here that quickly? Had one of those morons bragged, alerting the wrong people? Otto shook his head. If that had happened, they would have been taken the minute they walked into the building. No, this was simply bad luck. He waited for a moment, then sighed. The soldier on the beach was simply too good to be goaded into killing Kalin. Unfortunate. Kalin knew too much, and if he couldn’t tell anyone who had hired him, it wouldn’t take much to realize that airpirates probably had nothing to do with this.

He screwed the silencer into his pistol. Getting involved like this was bad tradecraft, he thought, sighting in on the target, but then, there were no prizes for neatness in this business.




Kalin opened his mouth, then looked surprised at a small, unassuming <pop>, as he fell forward. Kit fell on top of Molly, ignoring her cry of pain and trying to look around the beach. That had been a silenced pistol! The young bear cursed the burning wrecks that made it impossible to see back behind the beach, but gradually relaxed as the first police cars careened onto the sand.




Otto calmly walked up off the beach, stopping off in an ally to dump the gun and gloves in a dumpster behind a Chinese diner. By the time he had made it to the first major street, he had exchanged his clothes for proper business attire, and joined the gathering throng, murmuring and pointing at the chaos at the Khan tower and the beach.

Later that night, he boarded a train heading out of the city, after mailing the first set of microfilm to an address in Macadamia. The other set would come with him, but the chances of anyone examining one package out of the tens of thousands that moved out of Cape Suzzette everyday was next to nil. All in all, it had been, if not completely successful, a profitable evening. He opened up the newspaper, and started unconcernedly doing the crossword puzzle as the train moved out across the darkened countryside.




The beach was becoming crowded with dozens of police and rescue workers shining flashlights this way and that. An occasional shot echoed accross the beach as the gunship’s ammunition continued to cook off. That had the unexpected bonus of keeping most onlookers well clear of the beach.

A police car came to a stop and Rebecca exploded from the passenger seat. A reporter made the error of trying to block her way for an interview and ended up curled up aound where Rebecca’s elbow had smashed into his solar plexus. The petite bearess ran over to where a cluster of ambulance and fire vehicles were. Baloo walked up to her.

“Baloo! Where’s Molly? Is she-” Rebecca couldn’t continue.

“She’s fine, Beckers.” The gray bear said, “Just a little banged up and upset.” Becky didn’t pause, runnng to the rear of the ambulance. Inside, Molly was sitting, covered in a heavy woolen blanket with a paramedic flashing a light in her eyes.

“Doesn’t look like anything worse then a mild concussion, a lot of contusions, bruised ribs, a twisted ankle. Maybe some other stuff, but we’ll know once we get her to the hospital. Are you the mother?” He turned to Rebecca. The bearess mutely nodded. “Then you can ride along with her.” He said. Baloo waved as the door closed and went over to Kit and the other two.

“I thought I had been shot.” Jereem muttered, still in shock.

“Nah.” Kit said, “It was shrapnel... pieces of the hull getting blown free. A hit from a 30mm would have taken your leg right of- oh, sorry.” He said, noticing Jereem’s pale face. The Paramedics lifted Jereem into the stretcher next to Michael. The tiger was weakly protesting.

“I can walk, you know.” Michael said.

“Well you aren’t.” a paramedic said as they strapped him down and lifted him up.

“Hey Kit.” Baloo asked.

“Yeah, Papa Bear?”

“I’m going to take the duck over to H&H and get Wildcat. You wanta head on over to the hospital?” Kit nodded, and the older bear headed off to the plane.

“Where’s granduncle?” Michael whispered. Kit looked at him compassionatly.

“He was in a regular plane... couldn’t land anywhere but the airport. He’s heading for the hospital.”

“I thought he would want to check out the wrecks...” Kit looked over at the skeletal remains.

“I don’t think that even entered his mind.” Kit said.




Rebecca paced around the hospital waiting room like a caged animal. Molly had been too stunned to speak much on the way to the hospital. Rebecca hadn’t asked anything, just gently brushed her matted hair back and spoke soothingly to her daughter. When they had come to the hospital, a doctor had shooed Becky away, just as other doctors had shooed Kit away from Jereem and Michael as they had vanished into the emergency room. Rebecca sat, her arms wrapped around her, while Kit talked to the police.

“I’m certain it was a gunshot.” Kit was saying.

“Maybe, but we’ve found nothing else. Are you certai that it wasn’t just a round cooking off from the gunship? We found pistols in the wreckage.” Kit paused, then nodded.

“That could have been it,” The bear said, still unsatisfied. He walked over to Rebecca.

“What’s taking them so long?” The bearess said, miserably. Kit took her hand.

“Don’t worry, Ms. Cunningham.” He paused, “They’re probably checking to make certain nothing got by the paramedics, and that no bones are broken. The means they have to wait for X-ray’s to be developed.”

“Kit’s right, Beckers,” Baloo said, as he and Wildcat came in. The bear must have broken every safety reg in the book getting back to H&H, Kit thought. “You know doctors... they always take twice as long as they have to.” Kit didn’t comment that the big bear looked no more patient then Rebecca. The door to the ward opened again, and Shere Khan came striding in, ignoring the camera’s and microphones... and ignoring the perhaps overly energetic efforts of his guards to keep the area clear.

“Ms. Cunningham.” The tiger said, “Has there been any word?”

“No.” Rebecca answered. Kit looked up at Shere.

“I saw them, Mr. Khan. They’re not seriously injured, but the doctors want to go over them first.”

“Not seriously injured... We should be thankful for small favors, at least.” The tiger said, relaxing just slightly. “Still,” he went on, slashing the air. “This should have never happened. Ms. Cunningham, I beg your forgiveness. I had no idea.” Rebecca looked up at him.

“You couldn’t control what those people did, Mr. Khan.” she said, “Let’s just be thankful that they seem to be alright.” A doctor poked his head out of the door.

“Ms. Cunningham?” He asked, “I’m doctor Lacy. Could you come with me?” Becky seeming teleported to his side. As he walked her down the hallway, he continued. “Your daughter was really very lucky-- no serious injuries at all. She had contusions on her knees and side, some severe bruisng-- evidently, she was kicked in the solar plexus, several times, as well as having someone stomp down on her thigh, a severely twisted ankle-- I’m afraid that she won’t be walking for the next week or so, severe abrasions to the palms of her hands, bruises and contusions to her ribs and legs-- probably from the impact with the water, and of course, she did swallow a fair amount of sea water.” He paused, then looked over to Rebecca, who had a hand up to her mouth in horror.

“Those are ‘no serious injuries!?’” Becky demanded in a faint voice.

“Well, yes.” The doctor replied. “Ms. Cunningham... your daughter will be in great pain for the next several days, and it will probably be a week or two before she can properly be considered healed, more then that to get rid of the twinges. BUT,” He stressed, “none of these injuries will lead to permament injury or dysfunction, and her life was never in danger-- at least not from the injuries.” He paused, and went on in a lower voice. “However, your daughter was beaten, and had a man point a gun at her, intending to kill her. I would suggest that you prepare yourself for some nightmares... how bad, I can’t say, since you know her better then I do.” He opened a door, and gestured her in. “Well, here we are. I’ll leave you two alone for a while, but you daughter needs rest, Ms. Cunningham, so don’t let her overtalk.”

Rebecca walked over to the bed and sat down besides it. Molly’s face had more then a dozen bandages on it, scratches and cuts that she hadn’t even realized she had had, and her hands were bandaged, the palms skinned raw where the tow rope had pulled through her grasp.

“Mom?” Her daughter said, Rebecca winced at the pain in her daughters voice.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“I’m sorry I messed up... You were right... I just made things worse for Jereem.” Becky hushed her daughter, leaning down gently kissing her on the forhead.

“No you didn’t, Molly.” She paused, “You’ve made me prouder then I ever thought I could be.”

“I don’t f-feel like it,” Molly said. “He, he was going to kill me mom... He had kicked me, then he laughed and did it again.” She paused, her breath beginning to come faster with the memory of the pain and fear. “Then on the beach he was going to shoot me... and I couldn’t do anything, just sit there, and I was so scared...” Rebecca leaned over and hugged her daughter, her own tears mixing with Molly’s.

“Hush, baby.” Molly’s mother said, gently stroking her daughters hair, “He can’t hurt you now, you’re safe.”

“But why?” Molly asked, “Why would anyone do that? He was beating Jereem... all the times Jereem said he ran into a door, or fell down. Why??”

“Because some men are evil, Molly.” Rebecca said. She didn’t want to upset her daughter, but she deserved the truth. “I’m just grateful that you survived, you, and Jereem and Michael.” She looked down at Molly and saw that the day had taken it’s toll on her daughter. Molly’s eyes were closing, despite everything she could do to keep them open. “Tired, sweetie?”

“mmmm-hmmm..” Molly said, Rebecca gave her hand a gentle squeeze, not hard enough to hurt.

“Then go to sleep. I’ll be here.” Molly didn’t say anything, as her breath started coming regularly, relaxing into the calm rythymn of sleep. The doctor poked his head in.

“Is she- Good.” He looked at Rebecca. “I’ll have a cot brought in, but if everything’s fine in the morning, she can probably go home tomorrow afternoon. She shouldn’t go to school or carry out any energetic activities for at least a week, though I don’t think you’ll get much arguement there.”

“Thank you doctor.” Rebecca said.




Michael was trying to get out of bed for the third time, when a shadow fell over him. He looked up and saw Shere Khan, standing at the end of the bed.

“Michael.” Khan said, walking towards him. Michael looked up and sighed.

“I’m sorry about the planes, granduncle-whoof!” He said, as he was unexpectedly caught up in a bear hug from his granduncle-- the first one he could remember.

“The planes are unimportant.” Khan said, “You, and your friends lives... are much more important.” Michael looked up.

“They beat Molly.”

“I know.”

“Why did you double the price?” Michael asked.

“It offended me.” Khan said, “and I did not wish to risk them feeling that your friends were expendable.”

“Thank you. Are Molly and Jereem?”

“The young lady is fine, although she might disagree tomorrow. Jereem is under sedation. He needed an operation on his leg.”

“Oh God...” Michael said, “Does he know about-”

“His fathers death?” Khan sighed, “Yes. I have sent a car to get his mother...”

“What are they going to do?” Khan shook his head. “I don’t know, Michael. I will have to give it some thought.” He looked down and saw that Michael had sagged back into the bed, the end of the adrenilen rush knocking him out as effectively as any drug. The older tiger stood, put his hand on Michael’s forehead for a moment, then walked back out.




Molly slowly woke up, looking around the room in confusion. This wasn’t her room! She looked around, then remembered the events of last night. The bearess looked over, seeing a cot, but then realized that Rebecca had fallen asleep in the chair by the bed, her hand still covering Molly’s. Molly smiled, then winced as every muscle in her face protested the move.

“Mom?” Rebecca woke up, looking at her daughter. Molly winced at the streaks running down her face where the older woman had been crying.

“How are you, Molly?”

“I hurt.” Molly said, “all over.”

“I’ll go get you some breakfast, if you think you can keep it down.” Molly smiled, then frowned.

“Mom... what about Michael and Jereem?”

“They’re fine. Jereem will be her for a while, but I think Michael might get out before you do.” She got up, kissed her daughter, and walked out to find some breakfast. Molly looked up at a knock on her door, and grinned as Michael came walking in, wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday.

“What, don’t they let you get new clothes?” She asked the tiger.

“Of course they do... but I’m not about to go wondering around in a hospital robe... they have no backside!” Michael finished offendedly. He walked the rest of the way over to the bed, using a cane he had found somewhere.

“Is your leg ok?” Molly asked,

“It hurts. How are you?”

“Fine. OK.” Molly said. Michael leaned in closer to Molly.



“I wanted to thank you... That was one of the bravest things I ever saw-” Rebecca came walking back in, and Michael sat up straight. Becky walked towards them, pretending not to notice.

“Oh, Michael!” She said. “I didn’t know you were up. Well, you can have the breakfast I got for myself.”

“Ms. Cunningham-”

“No, I insist.” The woman said, putting down the food, and retreating back out of the door. Neither Molly nor Michael noticed the grin playing around Becky’s face. The two started to eat, and quickly found that they were famished, polishing off the food quickly. Later, they simply sat together, until Michael brought up the subject that they had both been avoiding.

“Jereem’s father died.”

“I know...” Molly looked at him, “I saw him die.” She shuddered, remembering how he had looked surpised, then when Kit carried her away, she had chanced to see the boneless figure, crumpled on the ground.

“What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“They say he’ll be awake later today.” Molly sighed. “We’ll have to talk to him.” Michael nodded solemnly. Then he looked at the bearess.

“You saved our lives.” Michael said,

“Don’t worry about it.” Michael looked at her, then gently bent down and kissed her. Molly’s eyes widened for a moment, then she reciprocated the kiss. They held it for just a few seconds, then broke off, both faces tinged with red.

“Thanks... I think...” Molly said.

“It was a thanks,” Michael said, “For everything.” He took her hand in one of his. “If you are still willing... maybe I could come over to your house... after you’re feeling better?“ Molly smiled up at him.

“I’d like that. A lot.”




Outside, Jereem’s mother was talking to Shere Khan.

“Ms. Kalin.” The tiger said, “I trust your son is well?” The skinny coyote nodded, trembling. “I have,” The tiger continued, “noted that you went to college and gained a CPA... why are you not in that field.”

“Once my husband.... started his activities,” She said softly, “Nobody would hire me.”

“Do you wish to be hired?” Khan said,

“Charity?” She asked,

“No. Payment. Your son saved my son.” Khan continued. “The actions of his father and your husband were not your responsibility. If you wish a job, it is yours.” She looked at him.

“I don’t know if I can stay in Cape Suzzette, Mr. Khan.” She looked beyond him, “I used to love it, but after all of this...”

“Take your time,” Khan said, “A benefit of having the largest corporation in the world is having many other offices. Wherever you move, there will be a job.” The tiger took her hand and gravely bent his head over it. Watching him leave, Jereem’s mother felt her eyes fill. Why couldn’t Jereem’s father been like that, like the father Jereem had deserved?




Later, Molly and Michael headed for Jereem’s room. Michael was nearly completely recovered, so much so that he was pushing the wheelchair Molly had proven to need. The bearcub had recovered much of her spirit, enough to glare at her hands, still bandage covered.

“It’ll be weeks before I can play baseball again.” She had grumped to Michael on the way up.

“Don’t worry.” Michael said, “Remember, you’re still grounded.” he continued, purposefully not noticing her glare. As they got closer to Jereem’s room, the conversation flagged. Finally, Michael wheeled Molly around and into the room. Jereem sat in the bed, looking out the window.

“Hi.” Molly said,

“Hello.” Jereem said, looking at her, “Are you ok?” Molly laughed, then winced.

“I hurt all over, but the doctor says’ I’ll be fine in a week or two... This one,” She said, mock glaring at Michael, “had the bad grace to get up and be walking around. No decency towards ill people at all.” She looked over at Jereem, “how are you?” Molly said, wheeling herself closer.

“I don’t know.” Jereem said, “I... I feel kinda empty on the inside.” He looked at Molly. “Everytime he got drunk, He’d beat me... which was better then when he beat mom.” He paused, “I remember when I was five... I ran in to show him something, and spilled a bottle... that’s when I started needing the brace.” Molly looked shocked, and put a hand over his.

“But he’s gone now.” Molly said, softly, as Michael walked up beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I-I know. I should be happy, that he didn’t kill you, and that he won’t be hurting mom anymore...” Jereem’s face started to crumple, sorrow replacing it’s empty expression. “But he-he wsa my father. Oh, God... I wished he would just once have been happy, or wanted to see me... Now I’ll never be able to hope that one day he might love-” His voice choked off into a sob. Molly leaned forward, ignoring the pain as Jereem unconciously bore down on her injured hands.

“Oh, Jereem, I’m so sorry...” Molly said.

“It-it doesn’t matter.” Jereem said, still choked. “It’s just me and mom, now, like it has been so many other times, only this time, it’ll be that way forever.” Molly hugged him from the wheelchair, and looked up as Michael spoke.

“No. It won’t be. You’re our friend, Jereem Kalin. I don’t have a lot of them, and certainly not enough to leave them in the lurch.”

“But it was my father...” Jereem said,

“So?” interrupted Michael. “You couldn’t control what he did... and you risked your life to save us. You didn’t leave me in the cockpit... and I dont’ know if I would have done the same.” He smiled. “You are our friend, there’s nothing you can do about it, and so you might as well get used to it.”

“He’s right.” Molly whispered, hugging Jereem. “You’d better get better, cause when I can play baseball again I want to show Michael why you always get picked first for pitching.” Jereem suddenly found his throat too tight to reply.

“You are our friend.” Molly repeated, and reached out her other hand to Michael. “Besides, given what’s happened in the first week, we’d better stick together. That’s what friends, and families do, isn’t it?” Jereem looked at the tiger and bear, looking back at him.

“Yes.” he said, suddenly not finding it difficult to speak at all. “They do. We do.” He finished, reaching out and clasping Michaels’ free hand as Molly held his other hand. “Whatever comes...” Jereem whisphered. “We stick together.”



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