This story does not require the reader to be familiar with the events of 'Disappearing Doctor', however it is strongly recommended.
The slight tremble that worked its way across the floor and up the table legs shook all the plates and glasses laid out for dinner. The porcelain rattled and slowly crept across the surface to rub against the silverware beside it. The glasses, still empty as the meal was still an hour off, slid around the table as if on ice, colliding with serving bowls and each other swiftly. One glass made it way between the plates and silverware and seemed to fling itself off the edge of the table.
Not missing a beat, a tall, thin woman with pale skin stepped quickly to the side and snatched the falling cup from the air, gently setting it back on the table with its brethren. The woman sighed, and ran a hand through her long black hair pulled mostly into a tail behind her. Her hawkish eyes spied the room for anything else threatening to plummet to the floor and costing her unknown counterpart more money. Seeing nothing immediately in danger, she pulled her apron and laid it beside the sink in the kitchen and headed toward the front door.
Through the glass set in the heavy pine door, the woman stared out at the source of the shaking. The neighborhood was empty, as it typically was this time of day, houses lined in two rows against the wide street. The sun was setting, which cast a reddish hue across the entire vista, and stretched a long black shadow from the iron beast that crept its way down the road.
The shaking intensities as the large machine stormed closer. A second, smaller companion could be seen beside the monster, both roaring engines drowning out all sounds and spitting clouds of black diesel smoke into the sky above. They were dull and grey, even against the red sun, and were stamped in paint with the insignia of the Occupation Army.
Tanks. The OA never failed to remind the people they were occupying most of the Walloon region and Leige was no exception. The raven haired woman cursed to herself about how things could have gotten so bad so quickly. The Monarchy had decided, rather than liberate itself from tyranny it would hole itself up in Brussels and just pray the OA left. Fat chance.
Shaking her head, the woman turned and looked up the stairs. "Juny! Dinner in a few minutes! Start cleaning up!" She paused for a response.
"Yah, Mama!" the darling six year old voice of the woman's daughter returned. She smiled self-consciously and brushed out the wrinkles in her long beige dress. Thinking of her daughter made this whole mess with the OA seem miles away and immediately brightened her mood. Ignoring the rumbling entirely, she started striding back towards the kitchen. Tossing her apron over her head again, she returned to cutting up the lettuce for dinner.
When the leafy vegetable was in pieces, Juny came bounding into the kitchen, a rag doll in her hand. Climbing into a chair at the table, she pulled out a large needle and some threat and continued stitching a line that had apparently been started upstairs. The older woman plated the lettuce placed it on the table.
"Not on the table, sweetheart," said the woman.
Juny pulled the sewing onto her lap and nodded. "Sorry, Mama," she said, cheery and continued working. "Where is Carey?"
The woman's expression darkened slightly. "He should be home soon," she replied, looking at the third place setting at the table. "Your brother is always out late."
With the sun setting, Carey peeked his head out from the rear door of the butcher's shop in town. He was young, seventeen, with dusty brown hair that fell in front of his green eyes as much as it did behind his head. The band of boys behind him, all between sixteen and nineteen years old, held their breath as he looked left, then right, then nodded.
"No OA," he said in whisper. "Let's go before they enact curfew."
The rebellious bunch nodded in unison and quickly filed out of the back of the store and vanished out into the only slightly populated streets. Carey hesitated for a moment, then looked back, catching the eye of the owner of the butchery. He was much older, overweight and balding, but his arms were huge and muscular, built up from a lifetime of at first logging then eventually the army and now butchery. He looked grim, and his eyes pierced Carey's own.
"Get out of here, son," the man said eventually. "The OA patrol comes around ever ten minutes. I don't want to see you caught."
"Thanks, Bart," Carey said. "We'll be back tomorrow."
"I wish you wouldn't," grimaced Bart, shaking his head. "You youngsters shouldn't be getting involved in this."
"Someone has to do something," the boy frowned. "If the King is afraid, then it's up to us."
The old butcher couldn't help but laugh. "I didn't know you were that close in the line of succession," he chuckled. "Son, there are men out there, real men, who are doing what they can, but without the King there is no way this country is going to liberate itself."
"I'm a real man," grumbled Carey, looking away. "We can't wait for someone to rescue us or we'll never be free again."
"Maybe," conceded Bart. "But you dying today won't get us any closer to being free. So get out of here, before it's too late."
Carey hesitated, then nodded, and scampered out the back door, closing it gently behind him. In the alley, the setting sun created deep, ink-like shadows that the boy's dark duster helped hide him in. Creeping up the alley to the street, he flitted between dumpsters, crates and random debris to keep himself even more hidden. Once out by the road, where he would have to dash into the sunlight, he paused, and studied the shadows, looking for any hint of a OA solider.
Minutes passed like years as Carey watched, seeing the outline of a woman with her children or a man on his way back from work. Those shadows didn't interest him, but it did make him feel relieved that there were still people on the street to blend in with.
Peeking slightly around the corner, Carey spotted two OA soldiers talking by a street sign, completely ignoring the people walking past. Breathing deeply, Carey stood slowly and placed his hands in his pockets, trying to look casual. After a count of three, he turned his eyes down and walked casually out of the alley and onto the sidewalk.
Each step seemed like he was walking on ice, trying to keep his calm and just move as naturally as possible.
Step. Step. The click of his heels was loud on the cobblestone and he rattled internally, waiting for the call out from a nearby soldier. Step. Step. Still he walked on, with no apparent commotion behind him. Unwilling to betray any interest, he moved forward, his eyes on the ground before him, his steps smooth but calculated. Step. Step.
After another dozen steps, he sighed, and finally let himself believe he'd escaped. This time, anyway. He glanced briefly over his shoulder, finally picking his eyes up from the sidewalk, and saw the soldiers at the intersection walking off, back onto their patrol routes. No danger at all. Now he just needed to make the rest of the walk back to home.
He looked back ahead, ready to stride forth confidently, and caught the glimpse of the OA Uniform just before walking straight into it. Unable to stop in time, he collided with the soldier and fell back onto his butt. In turn, the soldier staggered back but kept his balance, looking angrily down at the boy who had just broke his pace. There was a second soldier beside the first, who had his one hand on the first soldier's arm to steady him, and his other hand on his rifle.
"Err," Carey started, tried to think but feeling his brain turn to mush. "Sorry!" he called out, after eternity.
"Watch where you're walking, boy!" the first soldier, who was tall and had a bushy moustache, squawked. He had righted himself now and was holding his rifle menacingly. He eyes burned as he stared a hole through Carey's face.
"I'm sorry," repeated Carey. He started to pick himself up.
"Don't you have any respect for your masters," the mustached man scolded. He grabbed his rifle and poked the boy roughly. "A move like that could be mistaken for an attack."
"I-I didn't mean to--" stammered Carey. He brain decided to catch up with him now and started searching for ways to escape. "Please, I'm just trying to get home."
"I don't care where you're going!" yelled the soldier.
"Hey," the second soldier finally spoke up, and was pulling on the arm of the first. The second soldier was also uniformed, and wore a cap that mostly covered his blonde hair. "Doesn't this kid look familiar?"
Carey swallowed and felt his heart lurch. He had to escape.
"Whattya mean?" the first soldier asked, still too angry to think. "Why do I care who he looks like?"
"No," the blonde soldier said. "Look. He's one of those youth rally kids. Remember the barricade attack?"
"What?" said the first soldier, confused. He peered carefully at Carey and squinted his eyes.
Carey stood frozen for several seconds, hoping to simply slip away, until he saw the look of realization in the soldier's eyes. There was no longer any options.
"I think you're--" started the mustached soldier.
"Sorry!" yelled Carey, then kicked the soldier at hard as he could in the shins.
"AUGH!" cried the soldier as he buckled over to clutch his leg. The blonde soldier, much quicker than Carey had hoped, was already moving into a defensive posture, brining up his rifle to hold defensively. Changing his footing in an instant, the boy kicked off and tackled the second soldier, headbutting him in the gut. The two wend down in a heap and Carey tried to ignore the dizziness and scramble to his feet. With luck, the soldier had the wind knocked out of him and Carey would escape.
Planting his foot on the man's shoulder, Carey launched into an all out run. His legs burned as he pushed them harder, but he ignored it to put some distance between him and the soldiers. There would be other OA men ahead though, his mind whirred, he would have to pick a path that would run into as few of them as possible.
Reaching the end of the street, he banked to the left to keep up his speed, but he sound of heavy footfalls behind him neared all the same. He cursed aloud as he tried to run faster. The soldiers were taller than him, with longer stride lengths. His only hope was that they would tired quicker or he could find a path that was too big for them.
As his eyes scanned the street for a possible broken fence or crawlspace, heavy hands gripped his waist and tackled him to the ground. The cobblestone pavement rushed up and smacked him hard in the face, tearing the skin on his cheeks. The dirty stone ground into his flesh as the soldier who had tackled held his weight against him.
Carey tried to look back but could move his head enough to see who tackled him, but he did see the mustached man standing nearby, trying to catch his breath. After a few heaving mouthfuls of air, the soldier scowled and stood just to the boy's right.
"Get away," the soldier ordered, and Carey has a feeling he wasn't talking to him. The weight on his chest suddenly vanished and he started to plant his fingers and feet for another sprint.
The striking pain came too quickly however. The soldier had kicked him with full force in the chest, and felt like being struck by a cannon ball. Carey writhed in pain as he clutched his arms around his body, but the soldier didn't hesitated. The second strike was across his jaw and the force of the impact caused Carey to roll slightly. He saw stars as he opened his eyes, the pain racing through his whole body.
"You little worm," the soldier said, before taking his rifle and swinging it down on his legs. The sharp crack was loud and Carey couldn't be sure though the pain if his legs had broken or were just bruised. His vision blurred and he saw darkness creep around the edges. The blood in his mouth tasted salty and he trembled as the pain started to overload his brain. He was going to die here, he realized, and started to cry just as the soldier wound up to kick his gut again.
Carey tried to tense his muscles for the blow, but could hardly control himself through the sobs. He cried harder as he heard the impact, but, strangely felt nothing. He felt slightly relieved that he could no longer feel the pain and knew, soon, he would feel nothing at all.
The sound of impact came again, and Carey figured it wouldn't take many more before it was over.
"Who the hell are--augh!" the second soldier yelled, before the sound of fists striking flesh was heard. Carey continued to cry but was confused about what was happening. Wasn't he the one being beaten?
More sounds of conflict ensued and the boy was quite certain something was going on. He blinked to try to clear the flowing tears from his eyes, but the best he could do was look up with blurry vision and see some figure, shorter than the soldiers, with short blonde hair, reach out towards him.
"Are you okay, little buddy?" the newcomer said, with a softness in his voice. "They're gone now, everything is all right. Is anything broken?"
Carey tried to answer but could only think about what had just happened to him. He was moments from death. Death at the hands of their worthless oppressors. He almost was gone for good, and would never see his sister or his mother again.
He cried with renewed strength and the stranger simply nodded and picked him up with strong arms.
"Just tell me how to get you home," he said and, between the sobs, Carey did.
The walk was long, and eventually Carey stopped crying, but he said nothing to the strange boy who was holding him. He could now see that the stranger was young as well, probably only a few years older than Carey himself, but dressed very strangely. He was wearing what looked like pajamas with trousers, both of which were exceptionally oversized and messy looking, and strange shoes with no heels and made of some sort of rubber.
Confused, but grateful to be going home, Carey simply remained silent as they walked up to his house, noticing the lights still on inside. Before they even reached the door, it flung open and Carey could see his mother rushing out to him. Feeling the rush of relief again, Carey started tearing and reached out immediately for the embrace of his mother.
As she was holding him, she looked up to the stranger and started to speak. "What happened to him? Who are--"
She paused, mid-sentence, and Carey looked up to see her frozen in shock. The stranger simply smiled at her and stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Stoppable?" said the woman.
"Hiya, Shego," the stranger replied.
Shego bandaged up Carey, her 'son', and had put him and his sister to bed before coming back down the stairs to deal with the newcomer. She had been explicit with him that they were not to discuss anything until the kids were in bed and he had, respectfully, agreed, much to her surprise. She was a little concerned about the conversation she was about to have confusing her children, but equally concerned that she had really no idea what to say to him. He was an artifact of a life that had long gone by, but one she still yearned to rejoin someday. She just wasn't sure this was that day.
"Ron Stoppable," she said, addressing her guest. "Took your time, didn't you?"
"What?" asked Ron.
"Where's Kimmy?" continued the dark haired woman. "I would have thought she would be the one to find me."
"Oh, well, it's ... um," he stammered. "She's not really capable of finding you. It's pretty complicated. I'm not really sure how it works."
"Then how the hell did you get here?"
The blonde boy sighed. "Sensei calls it sansaku no kyuumu. It's a spirit ability he's been training me in. With it, I can leave my body while sleeping and walk between dreams."
"Dreams," repeated Shego, annoyed. "You're trying to tell me this has all been in my head. The last two years was just a terrible dream."
Ron frowned. "No. The way Sensei describes it dreams are like gateways into other worlds, other dimensions where things aren't necessarily the same as they are here." He paused. "There. I mean, where we come from. Anyway, you haven't been dreaming, but in order to find you, I had to go dream walking."
"Whatever," Shego shook her head, annoyed. "You still took forever."
"It wasn't easy to find you, you know," Ron replied. "I had to trace you through... like, a dozen dreams before coming here."
"Fifteen," said Shego.
"Fifteen different... worlds, I've been to, since putting on that wretched helmet." Shego stared off. "I didn't get it at first, what was going on. People kept calling me different names and acting familiar with me. Then everything would shift and it would be different names and people." She paused. "Well, not entirely different people."
"I noticed," said Ron. "Were you really in a world where Kim was a superhero?"
"Stoppable," Shego raised an eyebrow. "We COME from a world where Kim is a superhero."
"Yes, well, I mean, with super powers and all that."
"Yeah, only for a few weeks though," said Shego. "But that was nothing compared to the world where everyone was the wrong damn gender. If you thought Drakken was whiny as a guy, just imagine him as a prissy woman."
"No, thank you. I've had my fill of experiences being a girl." Ron nodded. "One mind swap and you never really wonder anymore." He was silent for a few moments. "So, did you have any control over where you went?"
"No," Shego said, irritated. "Do you think I'd still be lost out here if I had any control? It would just happen! I'd be in one place one moment, and then suddenly yanked into another world the next. I'm not sure why. It seemed random."
"Okay, okay," Ron held up his hands in defense. "I'm sorry."
"So are you ready to go back?"
Shego stared as if she never expected to be asked that question. "Back?" she said. "You can take me back to my real body?"
Ron started to nod, then his eyes went wide. "Err, kinda?"
"Kinda?" asked Shego, suspiciously. "What do you mean by 'kinda?'"
"Heh, well, it's kinda complicated--"
"You said that already! Just tell me!"
Ron stood and nervously stared out the darkened windows. "Do you know what happened to your body after you put on the helmet?"
Shego paused, but felt a sinking feeling. "What happened?"
"I haven't seen it myself, I only heard from Wade."
"Seen what?" Shego was standing now too.
"From what he says, they're not sure if it was the Mantle of Tenoch itself or whoever it was that finally got it off of you." Ron sweated slightly, unsure if he was going to be hit or maimed by Shego when he told her.
"WHAT. HAPPENED?" she scowled, her hands arched like claws even though she'd long lost her razor gloves.
Ron swallowed and turned around. "You've... aged... a bit."
"How much is a bit?" Shego's eyes were narrow and almost seemed to be glowing green.
"About fifty years," Ron blurted.
Shego stood in shock. "Fifty... years..."
"That's not, exactly, all."
"What else could there be?!"
Ron withered slightly but continued speaking. "Your brothers came to help at one point and, well, it seems as though whatever it is that makes your energy powers is missing. Your body just isn't creating it anymore."
Shego closed her eyes and breathed slowly. Ron shifted his weight back and forth for several moment before finally speaking again. "It may not be permanent," he started. "If we can get back the Mantle of Tenoch--"
"Mama?" a small voice came from the stairs.
Shego turned immediately and looked up at Juny. "What is it, sweetheart?"
"Are you okay, Mama?" said the girl. "You were yelling."
Shego smiled slightly and shook her head. "I'm fine, Juny, I shouldn't have yelled. Did I wake your brother too?"
"No, he's sleeping."
"That's good. Why don't you head back to bed? I'll be up shortly to make sure everything's okay with you."
Juny nodded and padded away back towards her room. Shego watched her leave then turned her head downwards. "I can't leave them alone."
Ron tried not to appear surprised. "What?" He failed miserably.
"They have no one else to care for them," said Shego. "And Carey is always getting into trouble. They can't go on by themselves. Leaving would be--"
"When you leave," interrupted Ron. "The person you displaced will come back as if she never left. It's like that TV show. The kids will have their real mother there for them."
The dark haired woman shook her head. "I can't let her."
"You don't have a lot of choice," admitted Ron. "You said it yourself, you can't control when you leave. Either you leave now or at some random point later, but either way the person who is supposed to be here is going to come back."
"Then we have to find a way to stop that."
"Shego, you don't even know anything about this woman, she could be--"
"She abuses them."
Ron hesitated. "How do you know?"
Shego looked back up at the empty stairs. "The way they acted." She closed her eyes. "The way they kept their distance at first, the way they flinched when I raised my hands to wave. I've seen it before... I know when a child is afraid of their parent."
Unsteadily, Ron softly said, "Shego, were you...?" but he couldn't finish. Shego shook her head all the same.
"My parents were wretched beings." She opened her eyes to look at Ron. "They never laid a hand on me or my brothers, but that doesn't mean they didn't treat us like dirt." She frowned. "Children are supposed to be loved and protected by their parents. Not hurt or experimented on. It infuriates me every time I see it, and I see it all the time." She hung her head. "Whatever you opinions of me are, I can't let children be hurt."
"I'm sorry," apologized Ron. "I just... I didn't expect--"
"That I cared about anything other than myself?" bristled Shego.
"Well, yeah, honestly." Stoppable shrugged. "Shego, you've shown more heart in the last ten minutes than I've seen as long as I've known you."
"Well you don't very well go around acting emotional around your enemies do you?" She paused. "And it's been a long two years."
"Yeah, that's another thing I need to mention," Ron rubbed the back of his neck. "It hasn't exactly been two years, it's only been six months."
Shego just glared and waited for the explanation.
"Some of the places you went to must have moved slower than our world," continued Ron. "What felt like two years for you, was only six months for me."
The world-traveling thief buried her head in her hands. "Maybe I don't want to go back."
Stoppable frowned and stared at the floor. After a moment, he picked his head up and said softly, "It's where you belong."
"Easy for you to say," sighed Shego. Her shoulders slumped but she lowered her hands from her face. "Carey and Juny. I won't abandon them. What do we do?"
Ron frowned. "I'm not sure there is a whole lot we can do."
"That's not good enough."
"Shego," Ron paced. "I was barely able to get here. Learning how to take you with me took me six weeks of intensive, locked-down training. I have no idea how I'd even approach this."
Shego rose her head. "Lockdown?" She pushed out the wrinkles in her dress. "Wait, I think I have an idea."
The small warehouse was dark, lit only by a few lanterns hung randomly across the structure, but what little light was available left no doubt as to what was being stored in the tall building. The silent, cold, metal tanks of the OA sat still in rows around Ron and Shego as they crept quietly across the room.
"This is a crazy idea," whispered Ron as they ducked under a cannon. "And I'm the king of crazy ideas."
"Quit yapping," hissed Shego. "And this is the only way to help Carey and Juny."
"They're going to hate you for this, I hope you realize." Ron watched as Shego leapt deftly onto the top of a tank and started silently running along the barrel towards another parked armor. "For all they know, you just dumped them and went off to commit a heist."
"Actually, I think Carey might like me better after this," mused Shego as she leapt onto the next tank and pulled out the package from her pouch. "He's quite a revolutionary." She dropped the package into the cockpit of the armor and then leapt to the next one.
Ron braced for a second, then leapt up quickly onto the top of a nearby tank. He shook his head in disbelief as he watched Shego drop the final package into the tank hatch. "I hope you're right about this woman, Shego. You're about to commit her to a terrible life. This is not exactly 'justice.'"
Shego bounded over to Stoppable's tank. "Don't start with me," she rose a finger. "I may not be able to burn you to a crisp but I can easily kick your ass." Lowering her finger, Shego stared off at the tanks she'd just tagged. "I'm not wrong, this is what the bitch deserves."
"If you say so," said Ron. "Let's just get it over with."
Shego pulled out a simple pocket watch. "I set them for twelve-thirty, which is in five minutes. Once they blow, we bail, the old bitch returns and takes the blame. Carey and Juny get to be safe with their aunt and uncle while the vile woman spends time in an OA prison. Perfect."
"I still say it's not right," warned Ron.
"Suit yourself." Shego looked at her watch again. "Do you have to do any, like, meditation or something? Because you've only got about three minutes le--"
An explosion suddenly rocked the landscape and both Ron and Shego nearly lost their footing amongst the smoke, debris, and the ear shattering sound that accompanied the blast. Ron shook his head and tried to clear the ring while Shego seemed to just brush it off.
"Three minutes, huh?" asked Ron.
"Eh, give or take," replied Shego with a shrug. "Do your mojo, boy."