(A/N: This seems to have been a cursed chapter. Each author who received it in turn found his time swallowed by the demands of reality, that heartless bastard. One had sense enough to pass it on; one did not. The latter - WesUAH - accepts all blame for the tardiness of this chapter. He readily admits that there is not way this chapter could be worth the wait; however, he hopes that you, the reader, will still find this a welcome read, and a fitting end to The Darkness Within.)
The Darkness Within: Chapter 12
Where if one fights with intensity he will survive but if he does not fight with intensity he will perish, it is deadly ground.
On deadly ground, do battle.
-Sun Tzu, Nine Terrains, The Art of War
"Trouble? Us?" James asked, faking surprise. "You know perfectly well, Oliver, that I don't approve of violence."
He motioned at the twins, a quick, almost imperceptible movement of his hands. Jim and Tim began to slowly inch away to his sides. Mr. Stoppable interposed himself between the guards and the girls.
"I know that you normally don't approve of violence, Dr. Possible," Oliver answered, his eyes – and those of the guards – following Mr. Stoppable. "But, I believe, you have been known to make exceptions."
The twins were on either side of him. Oliver hadn't quite caught sight of them yet.
"You know," James said quietly, "I do believe I have. Boys?"
The twins sprang to action, minus their customary battle-cries, Sensei's instruction having at the very least impressed upon them high value of silence. Jim charged, Tim leapt. Both converged upon Oliver.
Had they faced a human opponent, he would have been taken down quickly. However, Oliver was not human. He was a humanoid android, constructed by Vivian Porter, one of the top minds in robotics and artificial intelligence. Doctor Porter, aside from being a drop dead gorgeous blond bombshell, was also a certified science fiction geek (by and by, she was very popular at cons). As a result, she'd equipped Oliver with certain... unconventional programing and hardware. Unconventional, at least, for what everyone assumed she'd built him for.
His arms moved with such speed that they blurred. With a strange sort of whine-crunch he caught Jim and Tim both in the chest (with a crunch which wasn't strange at all). The two boys sailed through the air and crashed into James, sending all three of them tumbling into the rest of their group.
James lay there in the heap, stunned, and mused that while he would normally consider a CQB-ready android to be pretty cool, it sort of lost the glamor and glitz when directed at him. He was also mildly surprised that Vivian would have made such a thing. Then again, she had loaned him that Laumer anthology, so he probably shouldn't have been. Maybe if he could remember something from those stories, he'd have a clue regarding this particular predicament.
He decided he wasn't thinking very well when a group of shadows loomed over him. Oliver, and the security team.
"Dr. Possible?" the android asked. "Are you all right?"
"Does it matter?" he grunted in replay. "Are you caring about that now?"
"My orders were to hold you in place, not cause injury to you or your family."
"I doubt that, given who gave those orders. My boys-"
"Are alive. I calculate a sixty percent probability that they each suffer one or more cracked ribs. My apologies, but I could not dial in the arrestors any further and still guarantee a disabling shot."
"Sounds like blind luck, if you asked me. If they die..."
"Dr. Possible," Oliver said, now serious, "if I had desired your sons' death, then they would be dead. And so would you. And so would your family and friends. Just... stay there, Dr. Possible. Stay down, and... wait for the satellite..."
Oliver sounded very uncertain, when he mentioned the satellite. That seemed... interesting, to James. It sounded like Oliver was not entirely sure of his orders. Which didn't make sense, as Oliver was programmed to follow Vivian's commands without question. But if the orders had come from Bortel, through Vivian, then he might be questioning exactly why Vivian was taking orders from Bortel. Certainly he didn't know the nature of the satellite. If he did know, then he would also that Vivia was, essentially, acting under duress. If Oliver could be made to understand that...
An unearthly wail, a cry of the doomed, a cry of one thought redeemed but suddenly and shockingly found damned, interrupted his thoughts. He turned his head, as best able, and saw that Nicole had extricated herself from the pile and was rushing the security team! From shear surprise they did not react, and so Nicole threw herself unopposed upon one of the security men.
"Shoot me now, damn you!" she screamed. "I'm not going back to him, so just go ahead and kill me, you son of a bitch!"
"Miss, please," Oliver protested. "There is no cause for this-"
"Nicole, wait-" James said.
She stopped struggling with the security man; he relaxed, and in that moment she grabbed his sidearm from his holster and jumped back, pressing the barrel against her own head.
"I am not going back there, to... to that," she said, her eyes crazed. "Try to make me, and... and I'll shoot!"
"Miss!" Oliver cried, aghast. "There is no need for anyone to die here!"
"You don't know what he's done to me!"
"I am certain it could not be so bad that suicide would become a viable response," Oliver said. "Please, this behavior is not rational."
"It was that bad, Oliver," James said, thinking of the broken, wounded girl who'd come aboard the C-26, and the Hell he'd seen in her eyes. "What she's told us – Nicole, put the gun down; we aren't finished yet – it was, will be, that bad."
"But this is not rational," Oliver said in distress. "Vivian would not have passed along to me any orders which would deliver another woman into such a situation."
"That's because Vivian is now a victim of mind control," James said.
"Mind control? That-" Oliver cut off. Then he drew up straight, his expression went blank and froze.
"Hey, robot," one of the security guys said, "what's the deal-"
"Processing," Oliver announced, in a voice which had lost all human inflection. "Irreconcilable discrepancies exist between current directives from Doctor Vivian Porter and observed opinions of subjects, namely the younger female. Paradox identified. Processing. Subject identified as Doctor Nicole Johnson, scanning net for information. Processing. Found, post-graduate studies under Doctor Cyrus Bortel. Found, research into nanotechnology. Found, missing persons report. Processing. Calculated probability 86.892467 percent that malignant psychological tampering is best-fit resolution to paradox. Probability within margins. Switch operating protocol: BOLO."
His face came back alive, then, but not as it had been.
No one was really sure what happened next, just that one moment Oliver was standing there, stiff as could be, and then what seemed like an eyeblink later he was crouched over one of the security men, none of whom were left standing.
"Um, Oliver..." James began, shaken.
Oliver looked up at him, and James immediately stopped talking.
"Previous directives rescinded; Vivian Porter is in danger and under duress. Miss, you may put down the gun now."
"Is this a trick?" Nicole asked.
"I am unit Two-zero-three-OLR of the Line. I do not trick. Vivian Porter requires aid; you can provide that aid, so I will help you. We have much to do, Dr. Possible."
'So this is hopelessness.'
The ninjaand henchmen, save for the ten who stood guard over Bortel, advanced slowly; Drakken, Dementor, and Wade took aim with their blasters, but held fire; Duff laid out a supply of exploding golf balls for artillery support. Kim, and Yori, and Shego, and Will Du, and Team Impossible readied themselves to fight a battle they could not win.
Helplessness filled her, followed by desperation. It could not end here, not like this! Not when they'd come so far, and gotten so close. Yet it was so. All their stratagems had failed; Death looked her in the eye. Worse then death, really, for there was a chance they would lose, but not die. Compared to what would happen that as they lay broken on the floor, in the presence of Bortel and the attitudinator ray, Death would be a welcome friend.
But why the delay? She recognized in some of them the equally blank and focused march of a programmed nemo, but even that did not explain their slow march; nor did it explain why Drakken, Dementor, Wade, and Killigan, who were most definitely not nemi, held their fire, not when a single barrage would leave then all dead or helpless.
Then the truth struck her. Bortel wished neither their deaths nor their status as seven more brainwashed zombies. What he wanted was their capitulation. He wanted then to surrender, to admit defeat and bow down of their own accord. That was how he would destroy them.
And it would be destruction, she had no doubt of that. To drop to her knees before Cyrus Bortel would destroy Kim Possible just a readily as a gunshot, or a laser beam. She glanced up at him, and saw the desire in his eyes, the hungry glint as he waited for them to accept the inevitable and acknowledge his power over them. His tongue flicked lightly over his lips.
Desperation turned to disgust; cornering them was just another perverse thrill for him. Disgust turned to anger; she was Kim Possible, dammit, not some weak and slinking thing, to provide pleasure for and beg a handout from the perverted old man before her!
She clenched her fists and settled all the more solidly into her stance. Let them come in their tens and dozens; let them come in the familiar faces of friends and enemies; she would overcome them all. She was Kim Possible, and Cyrus Bortel held no power over her save what she allowed him to take, by defeat or error or capitulation.
She would never capitulate, never submit. Not to one such as he.
She would not make a mistake. She was too experienced a warrior for that.
All they could do was kill her; she'd force that option on them, rather than go beneath the ray again. Frankly, they had the advantage for that, in numbers, and in terrain, or rather the lack thereof. But how smug they must be, to see their enemies with their backs to a wall! They felt victory nearing, she could read it in the eyes of those who still had thoughts and dreams, as they saw their enemies with nowhere to go.
Kim grinned, fey, a sidhe incarnate and ready to run wild.
Cast them into positions from which there is nowhere to go, and they will die without retreating.
She heard a woosh to her side as Shego flared up her green Go-Team Glow. She felt a rustle to right as Yori settled into her own stance. Behind her came the click-click of four rifles as rounds were chambered, actions checked, and safeties thumbed off.
The odds were against her and the situation grim. But she was Kim Possible, and she was not alone. And yet... even with such formidable allies, how she wished her Ron was there to stand by her side.
A a whisper from Bortel the enemy slowed their advance, and moved to encircle. Kim tensed, and readied to spring, waiting for the right moment-
"Dash, Theme Song now!" Will barked. "Give the ladies some cover!"
He and Team Impossible began to fire, and their shots struck neither wall nor floor. As the shots began to fly each of the girls charged: Kim to the center; Yori towards Hirotaka and a cluster of mind controlled ninja; Shego towards Drakken and Dementor, on a raised computer platform.
Kim gut-punched a ninja, used him to bowl over a pair of henchmen, and then plowed into a third. She whirled about, each blow from her right hand striking aside his weapon, each blow from her left hand striking his face, and each shot from his deflected gun striking or driving to ground another enemy. At last she grabbed his hand, and twisted it back and down, snapping the wrist and causing him to drop the gun. She released his wrist, and quick as a serpent struck with her right hand and caught him at the pressure point between his nose and upper lip; she pulled him down, and brought her right leg up, and slammed the back of his neck on her knee.
He fell, limp. She turned, found herself free of attack and tried to see-
The Scotsman had been aiming an exploding golf ball at an unawares Shego; at Kim's yell he turned, grinned, and lobbed the ball at her, instead.
The golf ball hit right behind her and exploded. She didn't try to dodge it, but rather leapt at the last possible second, and let the blast wave carry her up and forward.
Shego heard the explosion but didn't much worry herself about it. It wasn't aimed at her, after all. Besides, it wasn't as if the situation couldn't get any more bizarre, especially given what she was up to.
Why was she doing it? For the same reason that she'd turned on Bortel after seeing what he'd done to that girl.
She was evil. She could delight in watching Kim and Ron choose to act evil (even if those two acting evil was still so disgustingly mushy it was downright sickening), because it let her see her longtime nemeses' perfect little hero-story spoil just a little bit. She could cooperate with Bortel in taking over the world, because hey, she'd get a piece of it, and maybe after a few years she could ready a proper double-cross...
Plus kinda-sorta-but-not-quite banging Kim Possible's boyfriend had been a joy on so many levels it had gone clear past 'not-even-funny' and straight into 'frickin hilarious'.
But then he'd taken that girl, and Shego discovered that even while evil, there were some things she would not be a part of, and simply would not do.
And hey, if she helped Possible take down Bortel... it might be interesting to collect in on that debt, someday. Another little something for her growing 'to do' list.
Unfortunately for the henchmen, cutting through them with flaming hands and claws was also a part of her 'to do' list. Given how most of the henchmen had made their bed with Bortel willingly, it was very much on her 'to do' list. The mind controlled ninja were a bit of a pity, but hey, c'est la vie, c'est la guerre.
On the plus side, none of them would get in her way when she and Drakken got back on the scheming path.
Speaking of such...
Drakken and Dementor stood by the computer platforms, atop a raised platform bordered by a rail. They were taking potshots at Team Impossible and that Agent Du character, and their aim seemed to be getting better. Fortunately their rate of fire was low; the laser cannons they carried had to cool down and recharge a capacitor between each shot. Unfortunately, each shot looked like it could pierce Hego through-and-through, longways.
No mean feat, that.
She cut down two more henchmen, then leapt up onto the platform. She perched on the railing, then flipped off and landed between Drakken and Dementor, and swiped away Dementor's cannon just as he fired one last shot. He turned to yell at her, but only got out to two words of mostly-jumbled Deutsch before she sliced of his helmet and punched him in the head; he crumpled like a bad rough draft of a homework essay.
She whirled and blasted the cannon out the hands of a very surprised Drakken.
"What are you doing? Bortel is about to take over the world!"
"Not if we can help it."
"Really, I don't know what's gotten into-"
"Shut up, Dr. D."
She flared a fist at him.
He shut up.
She grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him up over her shoulder much to his many protests. Quickly she opened a nearby tool locker, scooped out all the tools, then stuff Drakken in the locker and shut the door.
"You know how much I hate it when people stuff me in lockers!"
"I said shut up, Dr. D," she sighed with resignation as she welded the the locker door shut. Honestly, why was she even bothering? "Just wait here until I get back, 'kay?"
"This is just like high school all over again..."
"Burn! No!" he heard Dash cry. Will shot down one more henchman and butt-stroked a ninja, and risked a look over towards Team Impossible-
And saw Burn lying on the ground, a smoking hole in his chest right above his heart. The laser had clearly pierced him through and through. It looked to have also pierced two henchmen and a ninja, and brushed at least three more before expending itself on that newly-melted spot in the wall.
Right then the Team Impossible Theme Song cut out. Fearing the worst, Will fought his way over to where Crash still stood, firing. Dash kneeled on the floor, next to Burn, fiddling with his highly modified mePod.
"What the hell are you two doing?" Will barked. He stopped firing just long enough to scoop up Burn's rifle and sling it over his back; these weapons were too bulky for any two-gun mojo, but it wouldn't hurt to have a spare.
"I'm providing covering fire," Crash answered.
"I'm changing songs," Dash replied. He finally finished what he was doing with the mePod and stood up. "Old favorite of Burn's."
"I thought you needed the Theme Song, to give you an edge." Will started firing again
"We need a different sort of edge, Du," Dash answered. He pressed play on the mePod, then raised his own rifle and started to fire.
From the mePod, rather than the Team Impossible Theme Song, issued forth a tune upon drums and bagpipes...
"Axes flash, broadswords swing..."
Yori knew each of her opponents by name. She had trained with most of them, and had helped to train some of them. She knew them by build, by stance, by style, though those last two indicators were somewhat muted; save for Hirotaka, who held back, all of the ninja were nemi: brainwashed and wiped of nearly all personality, save that which helped direct them to battle.
Most she left unconscious. Those were the one's most devoted to the ninja code. Some, though, some she had to kill. They were the ones who had devoted themselves, to an even greater extent than her, to the ancient code of bushido, and would regard such a violation as a high dishonor, and a loss of face, atonable in their own eyes only by death in battle or seppuku. She knew this, for they had discussed the night before she and Will and Team Impossible had left Yamanouchi what each of them, the recon team and the later ninja assault team, wished their fellows to do if one or the other fell under Bortel's control.
And upon Bortel's head, be it.
She made it clean, and quick, until that cluster of seven was down and only Hirotaka remained. Several other ninja came towards them, but he waved them away.
"You can command them, still?"
"Hai, Yori-chan. I was never very good at emptying my mind before a fight, I suppose that's why I was always second best to you. But that saved me, this time: the others emptied their minds, and lost them; I filled my mind, and only had it changed. You would not imagine the promises Bortel has made me, Yori-chan."
"I have seen his fantasies, Hirotaka-san. Yes, I can imagine the promises he makes."
"I must ask your forgiveness, Hirotaka-san, for what I must do."
He took a stance.
"And what is that, Yori-chan?"
"What you asked of me at Yamanouchi: whatever is necessary."
"Monkey-dude, I do not have time for this!" Ron cried as he jumped back – again – from Monkey Fist. The would-be Supreme Monkey Ruler seemed rather intent on collapsing his skull in an unpleasant manner. "I've got too much to do!"
"No, Ron Stoppable!" Fist screeched. "All you have to do is die!"
'He's gone totally nuts,' Ron marveled. 'Stark raving bonkers. I didn't think a man obsessed with becoming a monkey could get any more insane, but he has pulled it off. I'd be impressed, except he's trying to kill me.'
This simply would not do. Ron, not really wanting to waste too much energy on a protracted brawl, given how he now knew it was all a trap, tried to redirect his dodging so that he dodged in the general direction of the door. Fist, never to be sufficiently cursed in the tongues of men and monkeys, caught on to this fairly quickly and put himself between Ron and the door.
They both stopped there, and caught their breath.
"There is no escape for you, pretender," Fist wheezed. "I will have it all, or I will have what I can claim. You will have only death."
Fist leapt again, and the world seemed tinged with blue as Ron readied to meet him.
She fell from the air and landed in front of Killigan. A kick to his right knee shattered the patella, a follow-up punch broke his nose and knocked him out. A supply of exploding golf balls fell out of his golf bag. She snatched up one and chucked it at Bortel; it stuck his hand, and he dropped Rufus' cage, which sprung open and allowed the naked mole rat to scurry away.
The rest she gathered up and tossed en masse at the henchmen behind her, who between the firing and general lack of marching discipline didn't notice the explosive until it was too late.
Kim pushed the effect of the blast out of her mind – at least one of the 'henchmen' had been a Yamanouchi ninja – as two other henchmen charged at her. She dodged a punch from one, and caught the arm of another and brought that arm down over her knee, breaking it just below the elbow. She tossed that one aside, ignoring his yelps of pain, and leapt up and kicked the second in the head, felling him with painful sounding crack.
She hated fighting like that. She really did. Normally she'd hold back a bit, and make sure that she didn't permanently harm – or kill – her enemy, but today she could not afford that. Not at nearly twenty-to-one odds, when she could not allow even a single enemy to get back up and attack again.
There was too much at stake for that. Some battles could be won by submitting to the lashes of the enemy, but this was not one of them.
The one with the broken arm tried to grab at her ankle; she kicked him in the face, shattering his nose, and he fell limp.
She heard another running up behind her, and waited, and then twirled – and saw that it was Bonnie. Still she carried the kick through, and drove her foot into Bonnie's gut with such force that the other girl bent double over it.
"I'm sorry," Kim whispered.
"Oh, you will be," Bonnie declared.
Kim gasped in surprise as Bonnie grabbed her foot and shoved her away.
Shego jumped off the platform and looked for someone to fight. Most of the henchmen and ninja were out of action or otherwise occupied. By remarkable happenstance, Senior, Junior, and a ninja ran right past her. If there'd been a bar involved, she would have thought it the start of a bad villain joke.
"Hurry, Father! We must help my little rose blossom!"
"Patience, Junior. She can handle herself."
"Question isn't if she can handle herself, Pops," Shego called out, stopping them short. They turned to her, and she grinned. "The question is, can she handle Possible?"
She jerked her thumb at the developing tussle. Then she flared her hands.
"And my question, boys, is can you three handle me?"
Bodies lay around them. Some would always have been enemies; some had started to become friends. Those ninja hurt the worst, yet Will continued to stand and shoot, stand and shoot. They were good, decent men, who had offered him food and sanctuary despite his mistakes, and had sought to aid him in saving Possible and Stoppable – in saving the world – and in so doing redeeming those mistakes.
Damn it all, but none of this was what he had wanted!
A ninja came at him, with a drawn tanto. He cut the ninja down with a three-round burst, then popped-out the emptied magazine and slammed home a new one.
"Ammo check!" he called.
"Two mags!" Dash called back.
"Same here!" Crash echoed.
"Same!" Will said. There were too many targets, and not enough bullets. Easy enough to make it efficient, though. "Circle up!"
They formed a circle, and Will pushed all thoughts about who it was he was fighting out of his head. He could not think about that; stopping Bortel was all that mattered.
Still, he spared a glance around the room, and saw Yori dueling one of the ninja.
'You stay alive, you hear me? I don't want to lose anyone else.'
"Do you remember the volcano, Hirotaka?" Yori asked.
"The volcano outside the school, or one of the others?"
He leapt at her, kicking twice at her head. She dodged both, then grabbed his leg, levered up inside his thigh, and tossed him aside. He recovered his balance well, landing on his hands, and then spun, whipping his legs around. Yori barely managed to jump aside, and Hirotaka sprang back to his fee.
"The one outside the school. Remember when we went to it, during our first month of training?"
"Ah, yes. You nearly fell in."
He stepped in towards her, drew his arms back and then thrust them forward... but that was a feint. Before his arms were fully extended he pivoted about the waist, anchored on his right foot, and then turned, aiming a bladed hand for her neck. Yori leaned back on her heels and quickly brought her right hand up, parrying his attack from below and sending his hand swooshing above her head. She rocked forward onto her toes, then sprang into him and quickly brought him to the floor, pressing a knee into his back.
"You pulled me out of the crater, Hiro-kun. Do you remember that?"
He was silent.
"Yori-chan," he said with a laugh, "are you trying to... wake me up?"
"That was my hope, yes."
"A courtesy not offered the others?"
"I know their wish in this. And you did pull me out of that crater."
"So I did. But Yori-chan, the girl told us what happened to her, and I can tell you, from her descriptions, that your attempt to break the control on me is not working."
"But you know that you are controlled."
"Oh yes. And I find that I like it."
He rolled, trying to throw her off. She let him, and leapt aside. He darted away and, then readied to draw his sword.
Blue fire coruscated about them, as the room echoed with grunts and meaty thuds. Neither opponent could gain the advantage. The same Power which enhanced their blows also enhanced their defense and stamina. Strikes which could have shattered bones were turned and absorbed as easily as the feeblest of attacks.
This confused Ron. The Power had, after all, worked to his advantage in their first encountered. He had beaten Fist quite handily then, so why not now? Why the stalemate? Hadn't the power been with him, guarding and guiding back his goodness, his light? Hadn't it restored his-
No. Not his balance. He was, by nature, a very unbalanced person, prone to fits of high-intensity passion about everything and nothing, and he certainly skewed hard towards the good end of the scale. In point of fact, it was his attitudinated persona which was the more balanced; an evil creature who performed evil in service of a purpose – to unify the world, end all war and conflict – which could be called good.
The Power, instead, had restored his true self... just as it had restored Fist's!
Fist attacked him again, and Ron let him come. Instead of a parry Ron allowed the attack to enter his guard, and then he turned at the hip and caught Fist in a grapple. Fist screeched in inchoate monkey-mutant rage, but Ron only watched him with half his attention; enough to maintain the stalemate, but only just so.
With the other half, he turned inward... then with mind, heart, and soul together he turned to that inner-out, the place within where the Mystical Monkey Power met his essence, and gazed deep into it.
Light and darkness; good and evil; order and entropy; love and hate. These were what he there, each allocated in equal measure, each swirling about in perfect balance and perfect neutrality. The Power was a force neither for good nor for evil. Its natural state was that balanced swirl, a cosmic expression of the opposing extremes of human experience; one side only gained supremacy when a human, or any being with will, sought to tap into it.
With that gaze, he understood; Fist's initial calling of the Power had unbalanced it towards evil. So the Power had called to him, Ron Stoppable, who would rebalance it towards good. His acceptance of the Power, in balancing it, had set up an oscillation of forces, and for a time the Power had swung in favor of good, allowing him victory in that first encounter. But over time, it had settled, the oscillation had dampened out, and the forces, yin and yang, had reached a stable equilibrium.
Perfect balance. Perfect neutrality. Each aspect with an avatar.
Until Bortel came along, and upset the equilibrium state once again. And then the Power acted.
Not for his sake. Not for Monkey Fist's sake. The Power had acted to restore it's own balance, and nothing else. He did not matter. Monkey Fist did not matter. But of course not, for the Power was a force, one meant to find balance, not a person with will, or preferences. It operated solely upon 'instinct', and that instinct directed it only towards balancing it's aspects.
Ron nearly turned away, but gazed just a bit deeper. Why choose two avatars? Fist had called upon it first, yes, but why did the instinct prompt the Power to call another? Why not balance all aspects in a single individual?
He found the answer to that question, and then he did turn away, for it answered his own.
All his attention turned back to the grapple. He stopped pushing against Fist with his right arm; this unbalanced Fist, allowing Ron to toss him aside and then twist away. Fist rolled and quickly returned to his feet with a snarl.
"Hold up, monkey-dude," Ron said, holding up his hand for parley. "I've got an offer for you."
Fist furrowed his brow, quite dubious.
"I am listening, Pretender."
Ron took a deep breath; this was a serious gamble, even for him. But unless he took a chance, this fight would continue forever, for it was just another manifestation of his role as a cosmic counterweight.
And Kim would face Bortel alone.
Fine, not really alone, but he wouldn't be there. He was her sidekick, her partner. Cosmic equilibriums be damned, he was meant to be by her side, and not as a counterweight used to balance out something utterly impersonal.
"You want the Power? Fine. Then you can have it."
The battle raged around them, yet they paid it no attention now.
Five feet separated Kim from Bonnie. It seemed longer. More like the breadth of the River Styx than, say, a medium sized bookcase laid lengthwise.
Another time, and there would have been words. Some sort of banter – Bonnie calling Ron a loser, Kim defending him, etc – but now there was no time for such things.
To Kim's surprise, Bonnie took the initiative, and led off with a twisting pirouette which carried her into the air and towards Kim, with her right leg allowed to flail free towards Kim's head. But Kim's surprise was only momentary; her left arm snapped upward; rather than stopping the blow she shoved Bonnie's leg up. Instead of colliding with her temple the draft from it merely displaced some of Kim's hair.
Kim's right arm snapped upwards then, and this time she did grab Bonnie's leg, and yanked down. Bonnie crashed to the ground with a cry, in what looked like a painful half-split. But the learned flexibility from her ballet training served her well; she absorbed the impact, pivoted up, and twirled to sweep Kim's legs out from under her.
Kim saw this, and backflipped over the attack, followed by a handspring back to her feet. Bonnie got her feet back under her and pounced; Kim countered with an upper cut. Bonnie flew up into the air and then crashed down upon her back.
Kim ran forward and knelt down next to her.
She lay there, unmoving. Kim reached out to touch her shoulder, and make sure she was really out-
Like a snake Bonnie lashed out and grasped Kim's throat. Kim grabbed at her hands and arms, trying to pull them away, but her grip was like a vise. Bonnie grinned at her, an expression of equal parts joy and abject hate. She would not let go. Kim could not breathe; spots flickered across her vision.
Then, at a strange noise and ghost of movement, they both stopped struggling and looked up at the wall. A hidden door had opened before them; out of that portal came a spinning top of doom. Bonnie lost her grip in surprise. The top came right for them.
Without a thought Kim tossed herself between Bonnie and the top, covered the other girl, and took the hit.
Junior charged at her with a furious, high-pitched, very-nearly-but-not-quite-blood-curdling cry, and took a swing at her head. Shego ducked with ease, grabbed the now off-balanced Junior by the ankles, then pivoted on the balls of her feet and dove forward. She released Junior's feet, rolled over she landed on her back, and brought her legs up as Junior, looking quite surprised, sailed over her. His chest was already past her, so she brought her feet up and kicked sharply against his legs. This pivoted him slightly, so that he hit the ground head first.
A bit harder than she'd intended, but eh, it wasn't like there was anything important in there.
Then a cane wielded by an angry-looking old guy came swinging down towards her head. She rolled away, and heard the cane clack against the floor. She rolled away again from the second, quicker blow. She wound up on her back again, parried the third blow, and then aimed as a hard a kick at Senior as she could.
Worse kick she'd ever delivered. But not too surprising, given how she was lying down and Senior was standing near her head. It was barely a love-tap – and she winced inwardly at that image – but it made him stumble backwards long enough for her to stand back up. She whirled and aimed a quick plasma burst at him – only to watch in astonishment as Senior used his cane like a fencing rapier and parried away her hand.
Shego did not appreciate this. She twisted and shot with the other hand, but Senior parried that one too. No matter which angle she attacked from, or how fast she moved, he struck at her hand and redirected the shot. After some ten shots she growled in frustration.
Right about then two spinning tops of doom passed in between them.
"Oh, wonderful," Will sighed.
"What are these things?" Dash yelled as he dodged what looked like a -
"Spinning tops of doom," Will said resignedly. "I know the story. Blame Stoppable."
On one hand, the tops had broken their nice little battle formation; on the other hand, it had also broken the mePod. Will quite appreciated that, as the playlist had segued from martial-Celtic to some kind of Goth-electronica crap. He could handle the Celtic stuff, but for a fight, given him Verdi's setting of Dies Irae any day! Or maybe Libera me, it just 'fit' better.
On the other other hand, Bortel obviously hadn't equipped his spinning tops of doom with any sort of IFF systems. They had scattered the remaining henchmen and ninja just as they'd scattered him and Team Impossible. In the sudden reprieve of no bad guys – and the top focusing on Team Impossible and the henchmen – he took the chance to glance towards Bortel.
He was laughing.
He had unleashed spinning tops of doom on everybody, even his own men, and he was laughing about it.
Will shouldered his rifle, took careful aim – then shifted away and crouched low as a top came towards him. He slammed the weapon's buttstock into the base of the top, which knocked the top away but had the added effect of shattering the stock and wrecking the firing mechanism.
He pulled the now worthless magazine out of the rifle and tossed it aside. The nearby henchmen and ninja had noticed that the spinning top of doom now lay harmless upon its side, and they converged upon the now scattered Will Du and Team Impossible.
Yori twisted away from Hirotaka's leading thrust, though she kept close and grabbed for his hands and the sword's hilt. She pulled and turned, trying to find leverage, and wound up side by side with and pressed against him. If she could just get the sword away -
He released the hilt and drove his right elbow into her stomach. The wind left her in a loud whuff. The sword fell from her hands – such a short victory – and fell to the ground with a clatter. She doubled over, slightly, and Hirotake grabbed by the shoulders and gi, then pulled her up over his shoulder and slammed her into the floor.
When she could think again, he was atop her, the blade held against her throat. He was, in fact, pressed very close against her, a fact which she could tell excited him greatly.
"I never wanted to kill, you, Yori," he said. "The sword was just a distraction."
"And I fell for it."
"And you fell for it. I have learned much since we last sparred. Now... just wait a while, Yori. Just wait a while."
"So I am what Bortel has promised you."
"Oh yes. Mind controlled, a nemi, whatever it might take."
"I would have expected you to ask for Rockwaller-san."
"I most likely will. But there is nothing new there."
She nodded, but remained otherwise completely still. It would not do, after all, to have her throat cut by accident.
"Hai. Always. But I no longer see need to control it."
"I can tell," she said, as several henchmen and ninja clustered around them. Still she did not move. "Just know, that whatever Bortel offers you of me, it will not be me. Not my heart. Not my choice."
"I can live with that."
He grinned wickedly, lasciviously, at her. Then his grin turned to panic as a ninja cried a warning, and he looked up to see a spinning top of doom headed for them. He quickly tossed the sword away – without cutting Yori; panic and excitement combined did little to affect his precision – then rolled out of the path of the top, bringing Yori with him.
They came to a rest with Yori once again on her back. Yet for a brief moment everyone's attention was on the top, not on her. It was quite enough.
She kneed Hirotaka in the groin – confirming from the feel of it and his reaction that her earlier estimation of his level of excitement had been quite correct – and headbutted him in the nose. She tossed him away, rolled to her feet, dashed to the sword, and took it up. She looked, and saw that the top had turned towards her again; she swung the sword and carved a small gouge in the floor. The top hit the gouge, skipped, and crashed into a pair of henchmen, unmoving.
She held the blade in a low guard – hilt at her waist, point towards the floor – and slowly turned on her feet. Henchmen and surviving ninja surrounded her.
"You admit defeat that readily?"
"Nope," Ron said. "I just can't beat you. I don't want to beat you. I just want to go and help Kim. And the quickest way to do that -"
"-is to give me what I want," Fist finished for him. "What is the catch?"
"You get what you want, you let me go. Deal?"
"Why not? Once I have the Power, there will be no further use for you," Fist said, then adopted his most aristocratic mien. "Very well, Ron Stoppable. I accept."
"All right, monkey boy," Ron said quietly as he closed his eyes, "here it comes."
He looked out with that inner-part which connected to the Power. He could see his own aura, and Monkey Fist's. The were the same color, though of different patterns: Fist's was more ordered and regular, yet twisted at the core, while his own was more random, yet with cleaner lines.
He could see, also, the tendrils of energy which connect them to their respective aspects of the Power. Ron banished all trepidation, took his own tendrils, and redirected them to Monkey Fist.
His eyes snapped open, and he stumbled backwards as his aura faded away. He swallowed down a cry of fear when he saw Monkey Fist, who floated several feet above the floor, his aura swelling and rippling, his face enraptured.
Then his eyes opened. Fist grinned and began to laugh wildly, madly.
"You fool!" he crowed. "You ignorant fool! Do you realize what you have given me? No, of course you do not! If you knew the power I now see, you would never have given it up!"
He rose even higher into the air; his aura increased even more; pieces of the floor, walls, and bits of equipment began to rise with him. Ron wanted to head for the door, but could not; fear that he had gambled wrong froze him in place.
"It is endless, a bottomless wellspring of power! Infinite, unstoppable power!"
The blue glow moved to Fist's eyes, and seemed also to pour out of his mouth with every word. He moved his hand grandiosely; the aura carved a blue wake in the air, and the floating debris flew about, in thrall to his every motion. The walls began to shake.
"It flows into me, filling me. There is no end to it, no end to what I may do. My will sets it in motion; my will draws the sword! I will establish a reign upon this Earth which will have no end! Bortel is nothing! He will kneel broken before me! You, Pretender, you will kneel before me! Your lady will kneel before me! Your children's children's children will kneel at my feet! They will worship me, for I am more than man! More than monkey! I am more than death, I am more than life! I am a god!"
He laughed again, a rising, high, insane, sound. Blue light flashed from his every pore and orifice.
"Yes, a god, Stoppable, and it is you that have made me such! You have filled me with a power which has no end! It will not stop! It will not stop. It... will not stop..."
Madness and apotheosis turned to white-faced terror.
"Oh, God, why won't it stop!?"
Blue light turned to eldritch fire, and Ron turned his face away as that fire enveloped Monkey Fist. His arch-foe's cries turned to a harsh, liquid gargle, as the single worst stench Ron had ever encountered assaulted his nostrils.
This was the answer he had found: to access a single aspect of the Power was to accept it in measured doses. To access all aspects was to experience the Power in all its fullness. In all its infinite, unimaginable, fullness. At which point, the experience of the Power transitions from yin-yang philosophy to simple thermodynamics.
If more energy than a system can handle is applied to that system, then it will overheat.
And the fullness of the Power was more than any man, monkey, or cross-bread freak of science could handle.
Fist's cries suddenly stopped, and what was left fell to the ground; a burning black shape, barely recognizable as once having been a hominid. Ron finally tore his eyes away and rushed out of the room.
Kim awoke to a dull pain in her head, and a somewhat worse pain in her back and side, which only intensified when she tried to move. Several bruised ribs, and one – at the very least one – most likely cracked. She had turned just enough to take the majority of the hit from the top on her ribs instead of spine; as far as she could tell her back only hurt, and was not severely damaged.
She groaned, then rolled over and pushed herself up. That little maneuver hurt like a brigand chief, and she couldn't hold back the little cry which escaped her mouth. Sparks flew across her vision, and as she got unsteadily to her feat she shook her head to clear them.
Once her sight cleared, the fact that she was clear on the other side of the room from where she'd started came as something of a shock. Surely the top hadn't hit that hard. But at the very least she was near a wall; her legs weren't working quite right. It was like standing on feathers. Or maybe cake mix.
Very suddenly she missed Ron, and sagged against the wall. She wanted a joke, or at least a high-pitched incredulous denunciation of just how wrong-sick and psychotically whacked their situation was.
And where was he, anyway? She could see Shego dueling with Senior and dodging a top; Yori, Will, Dash, and Crash taking down tops and fighting random clumps of Bortel's troops, most of which were also dodging tops. Every one else was down. But where was Ron?
Oh, right, fighting that damn dirty ape. She began to truly understand Ron's dislike of monkey's.
Shortly after an internal monologue on the differences between apes and monkeys started, she realized that her head also wasn't working quite right. Might be best just to fall asleep and come what may...
She started to slump down the wall. Then she heard the missile. She barely jumped away from the wall in time, and rode the shockwave to the middle of the room. The shock knocked the last of the fog out of her head, so she managed to keep her footing even as she skidded to a stop.
Then she doubled over from the pain of a new cracked rib, but managed to stay upright. She gritted her teeth against the pain and refused to cry out. But soon she wanted to cry out, and fall away, and hope it was all a dream, as Bortel's last champion, the one who had fired the missile at her, walked out of the smoke.
"It wasn't supposed to be this way, Kim." He sounded very sad, and aimed what looked like a laser cannon on his exosuit at her.
"You don't have to-"
"Yeah, I do. Bortel is going to save the world, Kim, and isn't that what we're supposed to be doing? I'm going to help him save the world, just like I helped you, so..."
She tensed. The timing would be crucial, and in her weakened condition-
She jumped aside, a bare moment before he fired – soon enough to avoid the shot, but not soon enough for him to shift aim.
Or almost avoid the shot. Coldness, and then a sudden heat played across her arm, and smell like the first and last time she'd tried a pot roast filled her nostrils. She landed unsteadily, and then fell as the ohholyGOD pain hit her.
The laser had missed her heart, but had instead played across the outer edge of her left arm, leaving an ashen and black third degree burn. The nerves in the burn itself were dead, seared away with the flesh, but the skin around it felt as if it were on fire. She clutched at the burn with shaking hands, and couldn't help but scream.
"Ron..." she sobbed.
"Last chance, Kim," Wade said, and she looked up at him through tear-filled eyes. "Join us? Bortel is offering the world paradise, Kim! We'll never have to fight again! No more missions in the middle of the night, no more crazy themed villains trying to take over the world with overly complicated and tragically flawed schemes! You and Ron can settle down and rest, forever. No more war. No more terrorism. No more kleptocrats taking everything for themselves and leaving the rest to die. Can't you join that? Can't you get behind that?"
Through it all, Kim shook her head. Wade painted a picture of her dreams, and still she shook her head.
"Peace, Kim! That's his dream!"
"Because it isn't real!" Kim cried. "It's a masquerade!" Slowly, and with great pain and effort, she stood to her feet, and looked Wade in the eyes. "That vision is just a facade, Wade, a pretty fantasy Bortel's painted for you to keep you under his control!"
"What are you talking about?"
"You fired a missile at me! The Wade I know wouldn't have done that! Look at this, look at all of this. You fighting me. Ninja fighting ninja. Remember... remember what Ron told you about Nicole? The girl Bortel kept in a cage? That is his dream, that is his vision, and this," she gestured at the carnage, "all of this, is the only thing his promised salvation can bring us."
"He is a liar and a thief!"
They were yelling, but no one else could hear them over the din of battle.
"He's just like us!"
"This isn't the truth we fought for! You can't save the world by forcing people to be righteous!"
"Shut up!" Wade cried, and a truly awe-inspiring array of weaponry deployed from the exosuit.
"Look, Wade," Kim whispered. "Look at what he makes you give."
Then Kim gasped, and Wade swore, as a pink blur charged around and around the suit. Nuts, bolts, wire, focusing crystals, propellant tanks, and IR seeker head flew about willy-nilly as Rufus dismantled every part of the suit he could reach. Wade tried to grab him, but the gallant naked mole rat stayed one step ahead. Along with all the weaponry removed the servos and punched the hydraulic cylinders which drove the suit; trapped in a now immobile hunk of metal, Wade fell over onto his back.
Kim dropped to a knee as Rufus scampered up to her, then up her arm and nuzzled her cheek.
"Good Rufus," she whispered as she stood. "Good little naked mole r-"
A henchman stood in front on her, pistol out and aimed at her head. They stared at each other for a long, long moment. Then a piece of grating fell between them with a clatter. They looked at it, looked at each other, and then looked up.
Ron, howling fit to wake the dead, fell from the ventilation system and landed on the henchman. Both hit the floor with a really painful sounding thud, but only Ron got back up.
"That's what happens when you point a gun at Ron Stoppable's girlfriend!" he shouted angrily, glaring at the fallen henchman. Then he looked around, and saw who else was on the floor. "Oh man, Wade..." Then he saw her.
Kim figured she was something of a sight: torn, sweat covered clothes, bleeding and careworn, and her arm... But her smiled at her, and mouthed "KP", and with bright eyes he started towards her, each of them oblivious to all else.
Until another cry pierced the air.
"Eto kuram na smekh!"
... and Senior Senior Senior suddenly fell to the ground, asleep. Surprised, Shego barely managed to dodge the top, which she then shot apart out of spite...
... and the henchmen pressing in upon Yori, Will, Dash, and Crash all fell. The remaining tops struck the sleeping henchmen and stopped moving...
... and Kim turned from a now-sleeping Wade to a very surprised Ron and then to Doctor Bortel. Doctor Bortel, who surveyed the battlefield with unabashed delight. Doctor Bortel, whose command had put to the sleep those under his control, save for his own bodyguards.
"Well," he said breathlessly. "That was exciting, now wasn't it?"
"Exciting?" Kim gasped, exasperated. "I hardly think trying to kill us counts as exciting!"
"But it was for me," Bortel said. "I've just taken over the world; I needed a bit of entertainment."
"You call – wait. Taken over the world?"
"Of course. The last burst from the satellites fired nearly five minutes ago."
"Sorry, boys," James said apologetically as they passed the last set of guards. There was one last security door, and then they would be at the launch area.
"Doctor Possible, I cannot open this door," Oliver said. He was out in front, and had taken care of the guards. But Vivian clearly had not programmed him with the security codes.
"Okay, stand back," James said. "Everyone, watch the hallway."
He walked up to the door and entered the code into the security lock: 75101. A seven note chimed, and the door swooshed open. He could see the shuttle perched on the launch pad. He began to step out the door, but Oliver held him back.
"I will go first."
James nodded and let the android go first. Oliver made it no more than five steps outside when the shuttle exploded. He made it only three steps back to the door when a piece of debris slammed into him. James dived aside just in time to avoid being struck down by flaming bits of shuttle and Oliver. As he stood up the sky and air filled with a strange light.
He wondered why he'd even been going for the shuttle in the first place. Why would he ever have wanted to stop Bortel? There was no need for it, not with this feeling of perfect peace and contentment. Bortel only wanted peace for world, after all, and the world would at last be at peace.
He sat down on the floor and looked at everyone. They all had an expression as if they'd just been clobbered by a two-by-four of a religious epiphany. James wasn't sure if he started laughing, or if it was Gene who began it, but soon enough they were all rolling on the floor howling with laughter.
Vivian entered, then wearing her labcoat, unbuttoned, and nothing else. James stopped laughing and looked up at her.
"I've arranged to send your boys to the hospital," she said kindly. "The medevac will be here shortly."
"Thank you. Why aren't you wearing any clothes?"
"This?" Vivian said with a laugh. She briefly pulled the labcoat open, giving them all the fully view. "Bortel told me to come and fellate him when after the last firing. I figured he might enjoy the view." The last she said shyly, like a 'blushing bride'. Then she brightened, and turned to Anne, Jean, and Nicole. "Would you like to come to? I know Doctor Bortel would consider it a treat."
James frowned, briefly, and a moment's rage filled his mind. Anne was his wife, not someone to pass around to another- but then the thought was pushed out of him. It was Doctor Bortel, after all; wasn't such a thing his by right? Anne looked at him, and he just shrugged.
"Would he like us naked, too?" Anne asked.
"Sure, why not?" Vivian said. Her shrug opened the bottom of her labcoat pleasantly.
"I just hope he's not too mad that I ran away," Nicole sighed, as she stripped down to nothing.
James sat and watched, the back of his mind screaming 'WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!' But neither he nor Gene did a thing as their wives and Nicole were led away.
"Did you really think," Bortel laughed, "that I would have let you get this far if there was any chance at all of you stopping me? I am not one of the morons I hired, you know.
"But come now, Kim Possible, and let us reason together. Those of you in this room are all that remains of a world out from under my control. With but a word, I can change that. However, I would rather give you a choice."
"What kind of choice?" Kim said.
"Ah, the best kind. The one where I win, no matter what you choose."
"How could I ever resist."
"That is the idea. The choice, thus, is this. Come under the ray, become a nemo and spend the rest of your days in blissful oblivion. Or. Swear fealty to me of your own will. Serve me as your new lard and master. Kneel before Cyrus Bortel!"
He had worked up to a manic froth by the end, but then calmed himself.
"Kneel," he whispered, "before the new god of your world."
Kim blinked at him.
"Yes. Who offers you a choice. Let it not be said that Cyrus Bortel is not a magnanimous god."
"I don't care it you're handing out gold and free kittens with poofy fur! A god!?"
"And why not? A god is one who controls. I control the human mind. I work it in my fingers like clay. With a word I can emaciate Jekyll. With a gesture I can engorge Hyde! Humanity is mine to mold as I wish! Does that not make me god?"
Kim had a smart remark on here lips, something about it making him utterly insane, but before she could get it out someone else started laughing. Long, loud, and with youthful abandon. She turned to look and saw Will Du, doubled over and braying like a drunken horse. Yori, Shego, and the remnants of Team Impossible stared at him like he'd gone mad. Not even a scandalized protest from Bortel could make him stop. Almost unwillingly Kim started to smile; out of the corners of her eye she noticed Ron grinning.
"A god!" Will giggled. "He calls himself a god!"
"You will respect Cyrus Bortel!"Bortel cried. "I have won, you will serve me, and this world will see me as its savior!"
"Why? Because all war will end, or some nebulous garbage like that?" Will said derisively, all mirth gone. "Because all of humanity will unite in a grand and glorious utopia of brotherhood, puppies, and rainbows? Please. I've seen your world, Bortel, and I've talked to your dream; your world and your dream are a naked girl chained up in a cage, her mind gone, and inst... just lying there waiting for whatever depravity you please.
"So you're no god, and you're no savior. You are just another slaver. Nothing more, nothing less, and I have spent my life hunting bastards like you."
"A fine rant, Agent Du," Bortel said over-calmly, after a moment's stewing. "But my offer was for Kim."
"One question, first," Du shot back, then glanced at Kim. She nodded slightly, and wondered why he deferred.
"Very well," Bortel said.
"Did you shield this mountain with a Faraday cage, or some kind of force field?"
"Force field. Do you have any idea how much it would cost to build a Faraday cage into a mountain?"
"Clearly, you managed a lair."
"The equipment for carving out a lair is very easy to under legitimate dummy corporations! Inserting a Faraday cage would much more specialized, and- why did you want to know."
"Just curious. Alright, Possible, I think the man wants an answer."
He gestured in a very grandiose and oh-so-very-mocking way. Kim rolled her eyes and turned back to Bortel. Ron shot her a wink, and she sent him a smile in return. She kept the smile but let it harden when she faced the would-be ruler of humanity.
"Same offer, right Bortel?" she said. "Become a nemo, or kneel before you?"
Her smile became a smirk.
"I choose... neither."
"Yep. Neither. If you want me before the attitudinator ray, you'll have to hurt me so much that I'll be useless to you as a nemo. And the only way to get me to kneel is if you break my knees, and I promise you," she adopted a fighting stance, southern shao-lin style, "you will not find that easy."
"I was afraid you'd say that," he replied sadly, and drew a gun. Not, she noted with some surprise, an attitudinator ray, but a true pistol. She started to move, and could hear Ron yelling something. Everything moved so slowly, and she knew she would not get out of Bortel's line of fire, as he raised the pistol and shot.
Something crashed into her side and knocked her away. She rolled across the floor for a short distance, then came to stop and lay there, the bang of the pistol still echoing in her ears. Not just from the pistol, and not just an echo, but rifle fire now, and plasma, a brief exchange which soon fell silent. She rolled over to her back, wonder why the wound didn't hurt more than it did; surely a bullet hole had to feel worse than all her other aches. Of course, that wonder only barely kept aside the wondering of when she was going to bleed out and die...
The echo from the firearms faded away, and she could hear Ron calling her and running towards her. She tried to sit up... and found that she could. Ron reached her, and knelt down and threw his arms around her.
"Kim!" he cried. "Are you... are you alright?"
"I think... I think I'm not going to die," Kim said, wonderingly. A brief probe of her torso confirmed that she wasn't shot at all. "How did-"
Kim and Ron both turned to look at Yori's cry, their hearts dropping; they saw her kneeling next to a fallen and motionless Will Du, who lay crumpled in a pool of blood. Team Impossible looked shocked; Shego merely grim. Yori called his name once more, and jostled his shoulder, but Will did not respond.
"No," Kim whispered. "Not for me, no..."
She turned to look at the dais. Bortel's bodyguard lay there, felled by Team Impossible and Shego. Bortel himself was gone, and a door stood newly opened in the back wall. It was not difficult for Kim to draw the right conclusion. She cast one more anguished look at Will, then turned back to the door, and started to rise.
Or tried to, at least. A sharp pain lanced through her, and she nearly fell, but then Ron snaked his arm around her waist and held her up. She draped an arm around his shoulder, and they stood.
"So, together then?" She smiled. He smiled back.
They charged after Cyrus Bortel.
Will could hear someone calling for him. Funny. It had been a long time since someone had last sounded concerned for him. That come from being an uncompromising hardass. Maybe he was dead.
Honestly, he had expected God to sound a lot more masculine.
He realized that he was not dead yet when it occurred to him that the voice was Yori's, rather than God's. This was only a minor comfort, as the fact that he was able to confuse the two told that he was a bit more jacked up than he had first assumed. It felt like a gut wound, maybe from a .38... no, make that a full nine millimeter. Hollow point.
Damn. He was going to die, unless they got him to a hospital very quickly and he sincerely doubted that was going to happen. If that was the case, and he could see no reason not to assume such, then it would behoove him to make the best use of the time available. If only he could-
Yori rolled him over; the sudden discomfort cut off his thought and eked out a groan. Her barely cut-off curse confirmed for him that his diagnosis was correct. So. Ask for an extension...
"Yori..." he croaked.
"Du-san. You still live."
"Yeah, something... like that. Listen, this is going to sound... really perverted, but... do you... do you have a tampon?"
She looked at him with an unreadable expression, then reached into one of the hidden pockets in her gi and pulled out a fresh tampon.
"Do you need help with that?" she asked quietly.
"No, just... just give it here. I'm... I'm surprised you actually had one."
She handed the tampon to him.
"A ninja must be prepared for anything, out in the field. A female, especially so."
"Makes... sense... You know the other uses?"
"We were taught by a SEAL."
"Hmm. Maybe it was the same SEAL. Wouldn't that be funny..."
He stared at the tampon for a moment, breathing heavily. Unasked, Yori took his other hand.
"Did you see an exit wound?"
"I did not."
He took a deep breath, then drove the tampon into the wound. He roared with the pain, and squeezed Yori's hand so hard he feared he would break it. But she squeezed back with just as much force, until he mastered the hurt and relaxed. The field expedient bandage might not keep him alive – he was not sure how much blood he had already lost – but it would keep from bleeding to death. Immediately, at least. Eventually, only a good doctor could stop that. Soon, he would bleed out. But, perhaps, not too soon at that...
He released Yori's hand and rolled over, keeping the wound clear of the floor. He grouped around until his hand closed over the handle of someone's dropped sidearm. Beretta, nine millimeter. What was with Bortel and these dinky calibers? He worked the action, and checked the clip; it had nearly a full load. Time to die, then. But another first.
"Boys," he said to Team Impossible, "you two and Shego handle things here."
"R... right," Dash answered. "Du-"
"Shut up. Just handle it. Yori?"
He looked up at her, as if seeing her clearly for the first time. He found the understanding in her eyes, that she knew and approved of what he planned to do. That she understood him, just as he understood himself. He wished he could have seen that earlier; still, he was thankful for the chance to see that understanding, even once, even so close to his death.
"Will you help me up, please?"
"Handle it," Dash muttered. "How do we handle something like this?"
"One knocked out guy at a time," Burn grunted as he hefted up one of the fallen henchmen. "Lets just put these in a pile over there, then what we can do about Load..."
"Shego," Dash called, "could you-"
He looked around; they were alone in the room.
"Hey, look," Dash said. "The door's open..."
"Shego! I demand that you put me down this instant!"
"Shut up, Doctor D!"
Whatever command Bortel had given to open his escape route had also opened the door into the rest of the base. Not one to waste time bandying crooked words, Shego had quickly pried Drakken out of the locker and made her escape. So, with Drakken draped over her shoulder, she beat feet towards the hangar bay.
One just can not get that good of dental plan freelancing. Good teeth made up for a lot of frustration.
"I will not shut up! What is going on?"
"Possible is about to take down Bortel, and I don't think we want to be here after that."
"What!? Shego we have to go back and help!"
"I said shut up, Doctor D. Bortel's going down, and there's nothing you can do about it. You didn't see her eyes."
She flared one of her fists at him.
He shut up.
No opposition greeted them in the escape tunnel. Clearly, all of Bortel's personnel had taken part in the previous battle. And fallen, like good little mind-slaves, for his amusement. The rage she'd felt then coupled with what she felt over Will's sacrifice and Bortel's retreat, and she found herself resolving that, wherever they caught Bortel, he would not leave that place alive. Yet even then a part of her shied away from that terrible resolve. She wondered if that was weakness or strength.
Either way, she knew where it came from; in all of this, with that she had done and been made to do, she had realized who Kim Possible really was. What Kim Possible was capable of doing, of being. The hero, and the bitch. Which was the real her, she still could not say.
But she knew which one she wanted to be.
They reached the end of the corridor, and stopped before a door. The last door. Kim tapped Ron on the shoulder, and he withdrew his arm from her waist... after giving her a little squeeze. Kim returned the squeeze, then let him go as well. She wavered a bit, then found her legs.
"Can you stand, KP?"
She took a deep breath, and steeled herself.
"I can. I will. How about you? Ready to unleash some mad mystical monkey power?"
Ron laughed nervously.
"Uhhhh... not so much."
"Dare I ask?"
"Long story. I- yeah. Really, really long story. I'll tell you later. If we have a later."
They looked at the door.
"I wonder what he has back there," Ron mused.
"Whatever it is, we'll face it."
They stared at the door some more.
"I don't want to go in there."
Kim nodded. Then, quickly, before her nerves failed her, she reached out and opened the door and crossed the threshold. Ron walked in behind her, but quickly moved back to her side.
The room was small, dimly lit, and full of shadows; square-shaped, but each corner was blurred and darkened. It was also empty, save for a single control console and Doctor Bortel, who stood next to the console; shadows hid half his face. There were no other exits, no other doors. The good doctor had trapped himself.
Kim was instantly wary and just a bit infuriated. Wary, because running this was dumb, and Bortel had not gotten this far by being dumb. Infuriated, because of arrogance of Bortel to think that he had set a perfect trap, and didn't even need a secondary escape plan.
So, best to confront the issue head on.
"It's finished, Bortel," Kim growled. "You're done."
"Am I truly?"
"Really truly, dude," Ron said. "Thanks for running yourself into a corner."
"A corner, my young friend? Do you think I don't know my own lair? Deploy!"
At his command some sort of ray cannon lowered down from the ceiling, and aimed at Kim and Ron. Another sprang out of one of the walls, and then another, and then another, until eight such cannons were out and covering them both.
"My last attitudinator ray. Okay, rather, my last eight attitudinator rays. A little something I installed, just on the off chance that you wouldn't accept my offer."
"You meant for this to happen."
"Meant? No. I meant for my mind control system to be fool-proof. I meant for the two of you to fall under my sway forever. But I am a scientist, and I do not avoid questioning my own assumptions. I anticipated that my attitudinator ray might not be infallible, and so I planned accordingly."
His fingered hovered above a switch on the control panel. Kim tensed, and readied to spring. If she could just hit first-
"I wouldn't try it, Miss Possible," Bortel said. "Most likely you could reach me before I fire the rays; however, this is device is programed to activate whenever a person comes within one meter of me. So even if you did reach me, it would gain you nothing.
"Run, and I will fire. Charge, and I will fire. Stand there and stew in your own helplessness... and I will fire. So you see, it does not matter. You could have been Heroes, in my new world, and you would not have cared how, why, you got to be so. But as for your fate now, well..."
"'Nemo, your name forever more.'"
His hand closed in on the button.
"KP," Ron said quietly. "I love you. Just wanted to say that, in case I don't get another chance."
"You won't," Bortel said before Kim could answer. He paused, his finger now barely an inch above what had to be the activation switch. "I have no intention of leaving either of you with a scrap of will this time around. Nemo, nameless, you will truly be. But, please, continue with the mushiness. I find it amusing."
Kim glared at him. She could quite easily imagine what Bortel would do with her, when she turned quiet and compliant. From the sudden harsh glint in Ron's eyes, she could tell that consequence had just occurred to him as well. She turned her back on Bortel – if his position was a secure as he obviously felt it was, then there was nothing she could do about him and thus no point in bother to pay him attention any further – and turned towards Ron. She reached up and stroked his face, until the rage fell away from his eyes and they filled instead with the simple adoration which always melted her.
There had to be a set of perfect words here, a sort of Hollywood Hero Speech which would encapsulate everything she wanted to tell her sidekick, her partner, her best friend, her boyfriend. Something that would let him know that she loved him, too, and always would, not matter what anyone might do to her head.
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
Words are overrated.
He wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her back, and held her with such vigor that he lifted her up off the ground.
If it was to be their last kiss, Kim mused in a sort of breathless daze, Ron was certainly making it a doozy!
"So this is how you spend your last thoughts?" Bortel said with a sneer. "How very sweet. Enjoy it while you can, my young friends. You'll have no further thoughts of this kind, or of any other sort, except for the ones I give you. You've have fallen entirely into my trap, Team Possible, for I, Cyrus Bortel, am not a moron!"
He threw back his head and laughed at the last; a great laugh, a Doctor Drakken Evil Villain sort of laugh. Neither the laugh nor the harangue broke Kim and Ron's attention.
The gunshot which came from the doorway, however, managed to kill the mood.
They broke off their kiss and looked at Bortel: he stood there, staring and gaping dumbly, with a smoking hole in chest and red stain spreading across his shirt and coat. They turned to the door: there stood Will Du, supported by Yori, pistol in hand, made limp by his own wound, yet his eyes were as steel and his aim true.
"You are not, however, wearing full body armor," Will growled. "So I guess you are a moron."
He fired again, and then a third time, and both shots struck near the first, in a grouping no larger than a child's fist. Even so Bortel did not fall, but held his footing and reached for the controls-
Will's fourth shot blew away Bortel's right index finger. The dying scientist lifted his maimed hand, and then stumbled away from the controls. Will watched him go, measuring the distance, and then fired a fifth time, into Bortel's head, just above his eyebrows. Bortel fell, in a spray of blood and bone and gray matter, and lay quite dead upon the floor.
Kim and Ron stared dumbly. Of all the possible outcomes, this was the one they had not expected. Bortel lying dead on the floor seemed so... final. A feeling of regret rolled over Kim... and then was driven away by a sense of vicious satisfaction. So it was done, and the bastard was dead.
She turned away from that thought. Dead yes, and perhaps – no, almost certainly – justly so, but... but now he could never repent.
Then she heard a clattering sound, and turned away from Bortel. Will had dropped his gun, and had fallen limp in Yori's grasp. Yori gently and sadly lowered him to the floor, and knelt beside and cradled his head in her lap. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was uneven and shallow.
Kim and Ron rushed over to them as quickly as their aches and injuries would allow. Gingerly, favoring her ribs, Kim knelt down next to them. She looked over at Yori, who shook her head in a short negative. Kim frowned, then sighed and gently touched Will's shoulder.
His eyes opened. But only partways, and he seemed unable to focus.
"Shh. Don't talk. Just rest until we get you out of here."
"No point... to that..."
She stopped. His eyes were fully opened now, and focused on her.
"Bortel is dead?"
Satisfaction flickered in his eyes.
"I see. Kim, are you a hero?"
She raised an eyebrow at that, but he looked so serious, and so earnest, that she found herself having to seriously consider the question. Was she still a hero? Her imperfections had been exaggerated and brought to the forefront of her being, and publicly for all the world to see. If who she had been while under Bortel's control had in fact come from inside of her – and, looking deep, she could not deny that – then could she still call herself 'hero' while bearing that stain, that weight?
Did heroes have to be perfect, and free of darkness? And if so, then could there ever truly be a hero?
She had cheated on her lover. She had beaten and abused a rival for nothing but cruel entertainment. She had stolen. She was a traitor to her friends, to her family, her country, and her world. She had placed her own pleasure, her own ease, above that of everyone else. Above that of Ron's. Mind control gave her a legal out; it did not give her an out in her own eyes.
Was she still a hero?
She had broken the control upon her mind. She had – somewhat – successfully infiltrated her enemy's command structure, and did what she had to do in order to stop him. And when that plan had failed, she had persevered to the end, and she and her allies had prevailed even when hope seemed lost.
Could that counterbalance the rest? Was she still a hero? Had she ever been?
Certainly there would be little acclaim coming her way for this. Too many people and for too long had seen her portrayed in dark and unflattering tones. The world would not willing forgive or forget what they had seen. She had broken their trust, and would have to earn it again.
Without that trust, could she ever be a hero again?
Her thoughts ended in uncertainty, and she bowed her head.
"I don't know," she whispered quietly.
"Do you want to be?" Will said, just as quietly.
She looked up sharply, and her gaze sharpened... then softened.
"With all my heart."
"Then you must undo what Bortel has done. His body is more than a meter away from that control panel, so use it to disable the shield around this facility, then reset the satellites."
"How do you-"
"Just go. He'll have left you the ability to use the satellites. Do you understand?"
That made no sense. Why would Bortel have left her such easy access to the satellite control systems? Surely he had to know that, if he failed, she would try to-
"Yes, I understand."
She patted him once on the shoulder, then motioned for Ron to help her stand.
Yori watched Kim and Ron walk – more like limp, really – to the control panel, and wondered what that last exchange had been about. Rationally, it-
He smiled weakly. It nearly broke her heart.
"I've just sent them into a trap, Yori," he said matter-of-factly. Yori tensed and glanced around wildly. If the rays decided to fire then there wasn't much she could do. She could try to destroy them, but there were too many threats and not enough engagement time. She was about to call m warning to Kin and Ron, but then Will chuckled.
"What are you laughing at?" she demanded. "We have to stop-"
"It isn't the kind of trap you can stop, Yori," he said.
"What do you mean?"
The attitudinator cannons followed their movements like angry-eyed hunters. Kim made certain to give Bortel's corpse a wide berth, and they made it to the control panel without getting their minds scrambled. Again.
The panel could only be charitably called a control panel, since it contained exactly two switches. One was the control stud for the attitudinator cannons. The second was unlabeled, and colored blue. She paused, and studied the panel. There had to be a trap here, something she needed to figure out before-
Suddenly she noticed just how close Ron's finger was to the button.
"Ron, don't touch-"
He pressed the button. For a moment, nothing happened.
"I'm sorry! I couldn't help it!"
Kim was about to make a snappy remark, but then something happened. A hidden panel at the top of the panel irised open, and a ten-inch high hologram of Cyrus Bortel sprang to life.
It began to speak.
"I sought to remake the world in my own image, but it seems that the Fates will not allow it. But let it not be said, Kim Possible, that I, Cyrus Bortel, am not magnanimous in defeat. This console will allow you to control my satellites. All the troubles you have suffered at my hand, may now be repaired. But I offer more than a world made grateful: I offer you a world made better. With but a word the satellites can be reconfigured to bring out the good side in each person. All wars may be ended. All crime. All pain and suffering and sorrow.
"I offer you the chance to make people better, Kim Possible. You, now, have that power. The keyword is 'Miranda'. You need only to speak."
"Bortel had become a devil," Will said. "Devil's don't just seek to destroy a man, they seek to corrupt and damn. If my surmise is correct – which it is – he will attempt to corrupt Kim and Ron to his own philosophy. To make them treat other people as he did: as things to be used for one's own purposes. Not as... not as people to be loved. That would be his revenge, I think. To ruin the hero."
"Then why did you send them in unwarned?"
He smiled and closed his eyes.
"Because I believe in them."
Kim stared at the control panel. The room was silent, save for the sounds of labored breathing.
"Computer," Kim ordered into the silence, "lower the shield around this facility."
"Voice print authorization confirmed," the computer said, with Bortel's face, with Bortel's voice. "Authorization Kim Possible. Attitudinator shielding disabled."
So Bortel had given her the power, then. How long ago had this gambit been put in place? And to what purpose?
Briefly, unbidden, an image came to her, of the world she could create.
She shook it off and uttered a single word.
The satellites received their new instructions. Their on board computers waited seven minutes before firing, in order to fully charge the capacitors. No other action was required; the satellites had built-in reactors, and needed no energy from the sun.
Then, as one, the satellites unleashed their energy once more, and the fire from three attitudinator rays washed over the Earth. Yet the energy was different, this time. Different frequency, different amplitude. And certainly a different effect upon striking the atmosphere. As soon as the beams struck oxygen molecules the energy refracted, and turned visible, but did not loose it's purpose.
Three times the satellites fired. Three times, the Earth's sky lit scarlet, like blood.
Then it was finished. The satellites, having completely their last command, rotated once and fired a sustained burst from their maneuvering thrusters. So dislodged from their obits, they began the slow plunge into the earth's atmosphere... and fiery oblivion.
Thus ended the machinations of Cyrus Bortel.
Yori looked up as the red light played over them, and then dissipated. So that was it, then. She felt no different than she had before... but then again, if she had been changed, would she know it? Would not such a change also cast away the memory of the old self, lest it rise up in revolt from the Stygian depths? At least that is how she would have arranged it.
So she could not know for sure, as she had not heard the word Kim had said, but as she looked at Kim and Ron... she decided that she could trust them. They would not violate others in that way.
"So the scrap of fabric matches," Will muttered under his breath. She looked down, and feared him delirious. "Hah! Bortel, you sought to accuse them; instead you have exalted them. You sought to name them murderer, and instead revealed them as rescuers..."
"What are you mumbling about?"
"Just a really bad paraphrase," he whispered, "from a favored book." He smiled. "Yori, we won."
"Yes, we did," she replied with a smile of her own. "You are so certain, then, that they chose rightly?"
"You didn't hear her? I did. She said what I had expected."
"So you had no doubts at all?"
"None at all. As Global Justice's top agent my judgment is, after all, impeccable."
Yori could not help but giggle. For a moment Will looked mildly annoyed and vaguely affronted, but then he smiled and giggled a bit himself. Then his smile turned wistful.
"I'm just glad," he said quietly, "that my last battle was a victory."
He reached up and caressed her face, stopping her protest.
"And I'm also glad," he whispered, his eyes dimming, "that I was able to meet you, Yori. It has been an honor to fight by your side."
Tears sprang hotly to her eyes, and she reached up and clasped his hand in hers.
"And I by yours... Will," she said huskily.
He smiled, and then they both looked up as Kim and Ron approached them. Yori blushed; it was unseemly to be caught in such a display. She very nearly let go of Will's hand, but she restrained that impulse. Ron smiled at her, and nodded; then looked at Will, and sobered. Nothing else needed to be said.
They knelt down next to Will, and his eyes seemed to brighten a bit.
He held up his other hand, and Kim took it.
"You did very well."
"Thank you," Kim said. "So did you, Agent Du."
"Call me Will, please."
"Tell me, Kim. Are you a hero?"
"I don't know. I think so, even though I've got some pretty unheroic bits in me. But even if I'm not, anymore, I'm gonna try to be."
"Even if no one calls you? Even if you never receive any acclaim ever again?"
"Even then. Especially then. That's when it's the most important."
He squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.
"Then I leave the fight in good hands."
"Leave nothing," Kim shot back. "You can't... I expect to sit down to many more condescending lectures from you."
"Too late for that. You don't need them anymore."
"Will... why did you come after us? You should... should..."
She could not finish. Tears, not quite equal to Yori's, stung her eyes.
"You should have stayed back there, dude," Ron finished for her, "and kept your strength. You didn't know Bortel had laid a trap, so there wasn't a reason. Why'd you come?"
"Two reasons, Stoppable," Will answered seriously. "A promise I made, and something I knew that you two didn't."
"What was the promise?" Ron asked.
"When we found Nicole Johnson in Bortel's quarters, I swore that I would kill him. To quote my southern friends, at that point, 'he jes' needed killin''. I made that promise to the spectre of a nude and enslaved girl. That is that."
"And what," Kim said quietly, "did you know that we did not?"
"I knew, that if you came in here and did succeed against Bortel, after all that he had done to the two of you... it would not have been justice. It would have been vengeance. And vengeance is not what you two needed."
"What did we need, Will?"
He squeeze her hand once.
He released her then, and touched his own wound. Will then held out to her his now blood-covered hand. She hesitated, staring at it... and then took it once more in her own.
"This is the only way to stave off the darkness," he said, and his voice was pained, as if he was making one last effort just to get this said. "That you don't... love your own dreams and your own life so much that you can't part with them. This is redemption. This... is what you chose, here, just now."
He fell silent, for a long time.
"Chose it, each day," he whispered. "The death of self. You can't chose it for, or compel it of, anyone else. But you can chose it for yourself. That is how you fight the darkness within. That is how you become a hero."
"I will. As often as I can."
"I know you will. You... you are Kim Possible, after all."
He released her hand then, not waiting for a response. Which was good, for she could think of nothing else to say. And was glad she could think of nothing, when he looked back up at Yori.
"Hold me for just a little while longer."
She held him, and Kim and Ron stayed there by him, until he died.
The evening air was crisp and cool as night began to fall. Kim and Ron stood on a hill, hand in hand, some five miles away from Bortel's hideout, and looked at the mountain. They had stood there for a long time.
"So," Ron said at last, "I have to ask..."
He trailed off, and she looked at him expectantly.
"Why... why didn't you say Miranda?"
She sighed and looked back at the mountain.
"It's like Will said, Ron. I can't make people be good; certainly not through mind control! That would've made tyrants no better than Bortel. And," she shrugged uncomfortably, "I didn't trust the offer. It would've gone wrong somehow, like turning most of the world into complete pacifists and a portion of the rest into uncontrollable psychopaths. And even if it didn't..."
She let go of his hand and hugged herself, as she shivered, but not wholly from the coolness of the air.
"Even if Miranda wasn't trapped, it would've gone wrong anyway. That... perfect world we could have made would have been flawed, and would have fallen into evil on it's own. Because the darkness within me would have been ingrained into that world, just like Bortel's darkness was ingrained into the world he made."
Ron shuddered, and Kim, shivered again, at the memory of what they'd found outside the mountain. Thousands upon thousands of horrified and traumatized women who come there under compulsion for Bortel's pleasure. Both of their mothers were within that crowd, and along with Vivian Porter and Doctor Director were the only reason the situation had not... degenerated any further.
Not that their considerable organizational skills had helped Nicole Johnson, who was still catatonic despite the actions of some of GJ's best response teams.
"And besides," Kim said at last, "even without all of that... I hadn't the right."
Before Ron could say anything else, Kim's walkie-talkie beeped. She picked it up and pressed the talk button.
"Kim," came the voice of Betty Director, "the devices are in place the last teams are out of range."
"They left everything behind, right?"
"On my honor."
"Good enough, I guess. We'll be along shortly."
"We'll be waiting."
"Glad to know someone will. Possible out."
She returned the walkie-talkie to her belt and turned back to Ron.
"We'd better get moving. Two 30-kt nukes aren't something to hang around for."
"Is that really necessary, KP? Someone else will just invent the technology again."
"Maybe, but this way they'll have to start from scratch. If we do see an attitudinator ray again, at least it won't be this one. C'mon, we've got a plane to catch."
They turned their backs on Bortel's mountain and walked away. For some reason, Kim found the sound of Ron's footfalls beside hers infinitely comforting. Until they stopped. She turned around and found him starring at the ground. He toed the grass a bit.
"Uh, Kim?" he said uncertainly.
"What's wrong, Ron?" she asked gently.
"What Will said, about, y'know, dying to self... do you think..." He stopped, then finished all in a rush, "do you think that means we have to give up all out dreams?"
She smiled and held out a hand to him.
"This is going to be a hard life," she warned him, "and I know that I'm not going to get a lot of things I've wanted. I'm going to reapply to GCU, but I doubt they'll let me back." She could see the rejection letter in her mind, as clear as day. It would be very politely worded, no doubt, but it would also make clear that they could not allow her back on campus, for the university's reputation and for the safety of the other students. Funny how that realization didn't produce a pang of bitterness. "I'll never be able to settle down to a normal life, or a normal job; if nothing else, I have too many enemies for that. But I hope this life won't require the sacrifice of all my dreams, because I know one dream, Ron Stoppable, that I do not want to lose."
"Mmm-hmm. So I'll ask you again, like I did when we shook off the mind control. Do you want to stay with me, by my side, through what's coming?"
He took her hand, with only a second's hesitation.
"Do you even have to ask, KP? Hero's don't have to walk alone."
They drew close to each other, and walked quietly and ever further away from Bortel's mountain, into an uncertain and shadowed future.
But they walked together, and would until the end of their days.