Act III: In which the plot is turned upside-down, multiple twists assail our heroes, the villains triumph, and people die.
Global Justice Middleton teemed with activity. The new facility's compliment of agents pounded the pristine metal deck as they ran to make ready. Even while the facility's paint still dried, and some of its systems sat uncompleted—the Deck Four bathrooms, for example, and much to the consternation of everyone assigned to decks Three through Five—the agents hurried in preparation for their first major win.
They had captured Kim Possible.
The GJ-M hangar opened out of a cliff face on Mount Trinity. When the massive door hung open, the entire tri-city area lay sprawled below on a green carpet that stretched to the horizon. The view imparted a heavy sensation, giving the observer false impressions of Greek godhood, or of being a very detail-oriented modeler.
Today, numerous technicians and guards in the hangar didn't watch the view. Nor did they tend to the smattering of other hover jets. Everyone present in the hangar stood at perfect attention for the battered hover jet entering the mountain now.
The jet wobbled into the hangar, piercing the holographic camouflage over the entrance. Two smaller pursuit jets flew after it, flanking the hover jet's wings. All three aircraft set down in a cacophony of VTOL engines and ratcheting struts. As the jets powered down, the agents in the hangar quick-stepped into a line next to the hover jet's lowering ramp.
Cameron Du rode the ramp down. The ramp settled hard onto the deck, as though its mechanism were damaged. The hard landing didn't dull an inch of Du's smile. He snapped a rakish salute to the line of agents before him, and said, "All of you Tactical grunts take notice. An Intelligence boy just went out and did your job for you."
Two agents emerged at the top of the ramp. Kim Possible walked between her escorts, her arms swinging before her in heavy restraints. Both agents appeared nervous as they gently nudged her down the ramp, but she complied without protest. They herded her to the deck, where Du presented her to the line.
"Here she is. The little girl who's caught more super villains than your entire division twice over. The girl who's been doing your jobs for you for close to a decade." Du grinned and flourished at the disgruntlement peering through the cracks in the agents' decorum. Their bitter mortification almost made the last three days of chase worthwhile.
Turning, he rested a hand on Kim's shoulder. She didn't react to his touch except to stagger slightly beneath the force of his grasp. Du smiled mockingly to her as he gestured to the line of agents, and said, "Here they are, Miss Possible. These are the men you betrayed and attacked. They'll be your keepers for the next hundred years, with time off for good behavior. Do you have anything you'd like to say to them?"
She smiled sweetly, and tilted her head. Her long red hair fell over the sodden lines of her black mission shirt. "Hello!" she chirped. "I'm Kim Possible, and I'm supposed to give you a warm welcome. Hello!"
Two more agents emerged at the top of the ramp with Ron Stoppable between them. The shaggy blond lifted his manacles and shouted, "Booyah!" before his escorts shoved him down the ramp with rifle butts. Ron stumbled and joined Kim on the deck.
"I want you all to start thinking very seriously about your job security," Du told them. "Maybe you would be better suited to burgers and fries. A bunch of grown men, waylaid by a couple of teenagers. Honestly."
Fierce wind billowed from the open hangar door, eating Du's tirade with its howl. Du shielded his eyes to look back at the open hangar mouth. A small reconnaissance craft dressed in GJ black and blue colors hovered into the hangar on its thrusters. Its snub nose dipped toward the deck, leading its struts to touchdown next to Du's triumphant return.
As the recon craft's engines growled down, its hatch extended over its stubby wing. Two tactical GJ agents jogged smartly down the hatch-ramp to secure its bottom for Doctor Director, who appeared in the hatch, looking grim. She tore the equipment belt from her waist and shoved it into the hands of another agent as she marched down the ramp.
Du brightened. His smile threatened to cut the top of his head from the rest of him. "Doctor Director! I didn't know you were out. So good of you to join us. You're just in time to watch your Director of Intelligence bring Kim Possible in for questioning."
Her lone eye slew his smile with a single look. It was then, as she approached him, that Du noticed the dark bruise blossoming on her cheek. A dried red smear lingered in the corner of her mouth. "Yes. I am," she said. Over her shoulder, she barked, "Bring them down."
The agents at the top of the ramp turned, standing flush with the sides of the hatch. Du glanced curiously at the silhouette emerging between the agents. He felt his brain try to kill itself with outrage when that silhouette became the battered visage of Kim Possible.
Kim shuffled down the ramp, dragging her combat boots. Half a GJ jumpsuit and a purple undershirt hung from her in tatters. Du recognized Kim by her hair and eyes alone. The vibrant red and downcast green was her only distinguishable features behind a mask of bruises and dried blood. Heavy metal binders made her wrists droop, and knocked against her legs as she walked.
Behind her, another agent appeared, carrying a small, transparent ball. A wriggling pink blob hammered at the inside of the ball from a dozen different angles at once. Muffled chattering was the only thing to escape the ball, which the agent then secured in a black duffle.
Behind him, three more prisoners emerged. The first prisoner wore a second skin of matte black fabric that ate the light around her. Binders identical to those on Kim made the woman's hands heavy. She held her chin high, tossing back her short crop of dark hair. The second prisoner wore stained pajamas and no bindings. She was less than half Kim's height, who was in turn dwarfed by the agents beside her. Du could hardly believe such a motley collection of girls could have routed an international peacekeeping agency for so long.
A blue figure trailed behind the girls, one that Du recognized. The prisoner's scarred visage spewed complaint loudly before it even came into view. "You can't arrest me! I was kidnapped! I'm a victim here!" Doctor Drakken howled, until the butt of a rifle doubled him over and shoved him into step.
Du gaped as Doctor Director's redheaded prisoner stopped before him, swaying and trembling, as though the act of standing were an epic challenge. He looked between the battered Kim and the perfect, perky Kim he himself had arrested.
"But…but how? But I captured you! You're right here!" Du insisted, and pointed to his Kim.
Trapped between her muscle-bound GJ guards, Du's Kim waved her cuffed hands, and chirped, "Hi! I'm Kim Possible! It's great to see you again, Kim! You too, Yori!"
"Cheerleader. Buffoon," Yori said in stiff reply.
"Booyah!" Du's Ron crowed.
Doctor Director studied Du's captures for a moment. Then she leaned back, nodding. "Congratulations," she said. "You've caught a pair of syntho-drones. Quality ones, too, from the looks of them."
She took the rifle from one of Du's men. Without warning, she cracked the rifle butt through the perky Kim's jaw. Every agent in the bay surged forward at the Doctor's attack, but she stopped them in her tracks with a sharp gesture.
The blow staggered perky Kim, curtaining her face in red hair. When she straightened, she grinned at Du and the Director with a crooked face. "So not the big!" she assured them through a smile that was forty-five degrees off.
"Damnation!" bellowed Du. His fist trembled with the urge to do the same damage to his Director's face as she returned the agent's rifle.
"The good news," added the Director, turning back to Du, "is that I have a spare, and accomplices, who I am officially remanding into your custody." She drew her communicator, tapped it twice, and then tossed it into Du's fumbling grasp. "They're all yours, Commander. If you want them to stay that way, I suggest you not log it. The Load boy is notorious for finding anything anyone types into a computer. I'll be in my office. I expect a call when the interrogations begin."
As Doctor Director left, she brushed past the real Kim. Through blood-encrusted hair and purple swelling, a haunted look followed the aging spy. She met Kim's gaze for only a second. The hurt and disbelief in Kim's eyes was more than Doctor Director could bear.
The communicator shook in Du whitened knuckles as he watched his Kim's—Cheerleader's—smile straighten with sickening slowness. Du's agents found somewhere else to look as Du challenged them in a sweeping glare.
Then he swallowed his rage and faced the four flesh-and-blood prisoners. Both Drakken and Hana shrank from him. Yori arched her glare into his. Kim's eyes remained in the deck.
"Get these children out of my sight," Du uttered. "Separate cells. I want Medical to clear them all for interrogation yesterday. And somebody shove those goo bags somewhere secure until we can take them apart."
"Booyah!" cried Buffoon.
A pair of agents shoved Yori forward, while another pair corralled the whimpering girl beside her. As Hana trembled beneath their descending grasp, she heard a hoarse ghost of a voice that stopped the room.
"Those two stay together," Kim said. Her chin hung heavy, tilting her face down behind her hair. With her back to Hana's keepers, she said, "The girl stays with the ninja."
The agents hovering above Hana exchanged glances. They looked to Du, who repeated his order with a smoldering glare. Firmly, the pair flanked Hana and took her by the arms. Hana shrieked and struggled, scraping her bare heels on the deck as they dragged her.
There were nearly fifty eyewitnesses in the bay at that moment. Each of them would later file incident reports in accordance with GJ SOP. No two of their reports would read exactly the same, save for two details: each report would begin with two highly trained agents leading a juvenile detainee for processing, and each report ended with the same two agents stacked on the floor, their arms broken, with the bound Kim Possible standing over them.
Hana opened her eyes and saw Kim blocking her from a small army of startled GJ agents lifting their rifles. Her would-be keepers lay beside her, groaning and bleeding.
Kim met the pointed rifles without twitching. Her glazed eyes rose to Du, who held his hand high to stay his agents' fire. Her voice did not change one note as she said, "The girls stay together. And Hana needs new clothes."
The agents covering Yori and the whimpering Drakken stared through rifle sights at the prisoner dictating terms. None of them had seen anyone move so fast, or stand so firmly against so many. None of them wanted to gun down a teenage girl.
None of them wanted to end up like their friends on the floor.
"…sir?" one of the agents finally said.
Through a locked jaw, Du growled, "Fine. Put the Gerber with the ninja. But isolate Possible. Maximum lockdown." He spun on his heel, refusing to succumb to the red rage climbing his face as he left.
"If it's a matter of space, I'd be happy to share a cell with the syntho-drones!" Drakken called as the agents shoved him forward. "It's really no trouble!"
Hana fell into step beside Yori, who took the girl's hand in her manacled grasp. Agents closed around them in a wall of muscle and guns. As they began to march, Hana wriggled free from Yori's grasp and threw herself against the agents' legs, stretching her arm as she cried, "No! Kim!"
Her last glimpse of Kim was through another circle of agents escorting the teen in the opposite direction. Kim never looked back at Hana's cry. Her eyes were thousands of miles away, lost in a dark cavern where Global Justice had taken everything from her.
Ron blinked the seawater from his eyes to watch the fantastic craft climb into the sky. A long, smooth, silvery shape, the airship looked like it had been peeled off the cover of a vintage pulp sci-fi comic. The aircraft pointed its nose into the rising sun and flashed at the tail. An echoing blast reached Ron seconds after the speedy ship flitted over the horizon.
"Well," he drawled, and sputtered at a low wave. "Any bets on that spaceship being the Bad Guy Express?"
Monique bobbed next to him, soggy with despair. Her features sank into a frown. "Does it really matter? They're gone now. And we're gonna die," she moaned. Her voice trailed into the water, bubbling.
He kept his arms and legs moving through their tired motions, ignoring how heavy they felt after hours of treading. "Double or nothing, they were here to collect Wade from that bubble-thing. I mean, what else exciting on the island has happened besides us? It's not like they would come this far on a coconut run."
"We can't go back to the island…Can't fight the tide…Too far anyway…" Monique's mouth sank beneath the surface. She choked and coughed, thrashing back up for air. "We should have just flagged down that bad guy rocket," she gagged.
"You mean the one full of people who want us dead?" asked Ron, raising his pickled brows.
Fitfully, Monique splashed him, and shouted, "Get a clue, Ron! You jumped us miles from shore! No one is coming for us! Wade is gone! And Kim…Kim's…"
Ron's wry expression sank as she stilled. Seeing her point seep into him should have made Monique feel satisfied, but it didn't. She felt guilty and cheap. "Kim is fine, Ron. Hana and Yori too," she murmured. "Kim got them all out of there on the jet. I'm sure of it," she lied.
"I know," he lied back.
Sighing, Monique closed her eyes, and felt the ocean slap her face. Hot tears cut the cold brine on her cheeks. "So this is it, huh? This is how we're gonna go out? Drowned at sea, or torn apart on an island full of psychos?"
Slim silver defeat flashed on Ron's wrist with each treading stroke. He kicked harder as he rubbed the smooth band in contemplation. "Yeah," he said.
"Not how I thought I'd go," she said, and coughed. "I always thought it would be on top of a pile of cocaine and male models after my triumphant final show in Paris. You know, living the designer's dream. That's how it works, right? That's what…" Her voice cracked. "That's how it was supposed to happen. I guess not so much, now…"
Ron brought his hand to the surface. The silver band surfaced with it, ticking away the time they had remaining. Ron watched the second hand circle inside the Team Possible arcs, and mumbled, "Yeah."
Monique tried to sniffle. She sucked in seawater, and coughed again. "In a small, gargled voice, she asked, "Is it okay that I'm scared? I'm not…I've never been here, y'know? Waiting for it to end. I'm scared."
Sighing with decision, Ron twisted the miniscule knob of his watch. Its complex Kimmunicator circuitry hadn't suffered in the water. The watch face's arcs glowed. "We're not gonna die, Mon," he said.
A scoff frothed beneath her nose. "Sidekick optimism? Not so much a flotation device."
"Kimmunicator," he said crisply. "Place call."
A screen of light emerged from the water, its holographic edges dripping and buzzing. It queried Ron with a single word written in bold letters: "RECIPIENT?"
"Wait, Ron!" Monique cried. "Who are you calling? Global Justice will trace it!"
"They won't need to," Ron said. "They'll know where we are when I call them and tell them. Global Justice," he said clearly to the Kimmunicator's query. The screen dismissed the word and offered instead a directory of GJ contacts that Wade had accrued over the years. Ron slid his finger down the screen, scrolling through the list.
Monique sputtered, "You're just going to let those goose-stepping globe heads pick us up? They're going to be ready for you after that beat-down you gave them! They'll send everything they've got to pound your blond locks down through your neck, monkey-fu or not!"
He slapped the water, and shouted, "I'm a little dry on options and wet on everything else here, Mon! It's either get caught by GJ or play Waterworld out here until our legs give. Besides, I still have a few monkey tricks they haven't seen."
She watched him flick through the contact list. "The kind of tricks that beat squadrons of jets?" she said.
Ron clenched his teeth at his hazy memories of the ballroom in Go City. Yes, he thought, and shivered. "Look, worst-case scenario, we wind up in prison for the rest of our lives being traded for cigarettes. Best case, we steal ourselves a shiny new jet and start tracking down our growing list of AWOL amigos. Right?"
Monique treaded in silence, watching him. A thought occurred to her through the tired fog of her mind. Ron probably had the strength to swim back to the island. Maybe he could have made it back to the plane if it hadn't sunk. But they both knew that Monique wouldn't make such a trip. The ocean would swallow her for trying.
He had treaded next to her through the night, keeping her talking and swimming after her when the current separated them. Right now, he was abandoning his hope of finding Kim to save her from a watery grave.
"Right," she said, forcing agreement into the word.
Ron grinned, and lifted a finger to Doctor Director's name on the light screen. He stared at the name. For just a second, he hesitated.
Then a glimmer on the horizon caught his attention through the hovering translucent screen. He lowered his hand back into the water, drowning the screen as he watched the glimmer skitter back and forth. As the glimmer grew, Ron spied a spray trailing behind it.
"Hey," he said, and pointed. "Do dolphins have jetpacks yet?"
Monique found the spark blurring the horizon, and squinted. "I think they're still beta-testing them. And there's no way that's a fish, right?"
They watched the glimmer grow closer. It became a streak, leaving a misty rainbow in its wake. A purple paint job emerged through the blinding reflection, with glowing headlights and a dark windshield.
Ron's heart leapt into his throat as a familiar purple car skated over the water, homing directly upon them. The car's tires were turned to the ocean's surface, projecting invisible force that held the car aloft. Great turbine engines jutted from the trunk of the car, their roaring jets extinguished as the car floated next to them.
The Sloth's rear passenger door swung upward, revealing a youthful grin marked with a scar. "Hey," Jim Possible said, and stuck his hand at the bobbing pair. "You guys need a lift? We can take you as far as the East Coast, but you gotta chip in for gas and snacks."
Monique laughed giddily. She was almost afraid to reach for the hand, wondering if it was just a hallucination. But Jim's grip was firm, and pulled her from the water. He had a towel around her the instant she entered the car. She shivered beneath the towel, and chattered, "This is a miracle!"
Tim looked over the driver's seat, draping his arm across its back. "Actually, it's more like a belated success. We've been trying to track you guys for days now. It's taken us forever to catch up. What the hell are you guys doing way out here?"
"Pickling," Ron grunted as Jim hauled him out of the ocean. "How did you find us? I've had my watch off to keep the Globies away. You tracked it in the eight seconds it's been on?"
"Not your Kimmunicator," Tim said, and tapped the blinking GPS terminal in the dashboard. "We used the tracking chip Wade put in you. Wait, where is Wade?"
"Gone," Ron grunted. He kneaded the back of his neck, and added, "Seriously, where is that stupid chip? And where's Kim?"
Jim rolled his eyes as he wrapped Ron in another towel. "Gee, what kind of awesome adventures have you guys been on since we left you totally behind?" he said, mimicking Ron's sodden tone with sarcasm. "I bet you guys have gone through a lot to get the old car working again to rescue our ungrateful asses."
"My ass is very, very grateful," Monique said from within the cocooning folds of her towel.
With a chattering smile, Ron said, "Not ungrateful. Just jaded by years of your sister's derring-do." He sobered, and said, "Now where is she? We've got epic problems, ones that go way beyond my significant need for dry underwear right now. Wade's been Wade-napped, and we need to save him."
Worry bounced between Jim and Tim in a wordless exchange. The former sealed up the back of the hovering car, while the latter began swinging the car around in the direction they had come.
"That's, um, one of the adventures we're working on," Tim mumbled.
The back of the car became a jumble of elbows and knees as Jim fished under the seat. He found a small orange box from which he pulled survival bars. He handed one to Monique, who opened it with her teeth and devoured it in two bites. "GJ got her," Jim said, and handed Ron the other bar.
"They got all of them," Tim said. "Yori, Hana, Rufus…even Drakken."
"Drakken?" Monique asked around a mouthful of processed nutrients. "What the hell?"
Jim grimaced as he clambered into the front of the car. "It's a long story."
"Kim broke him out," Tim said.
Scowling, Jim retorted, "Well, sure. It's short when you leave out all the good parts."
Ron chewed while the twins snapped at one another. His thoughtful tone ended their spat: "How do you know GJ has them? Do you know where they are?"
Scoffing, Jim said, "We've had the computer scanning every media source for any mention of you guys. Turns out this big doofy guy overpowered the 'teen terrorist' herself. GJ hasn't shut up about how they're detaining her in some secret location."
"The only problem," Tim said, reaching for a keypad in the dash, "is that we've got eyes on the activity logs of every GJ facility bigger than a broom closet."
"Their firewall may as well be a padlock sitting on top of their mainframe," Jim quipped, smirking.
"Except we got bupkis from their mainframe. If they've got her, they're not saying where, even on their own system."
Monique powered through a second bar. "How is it that all of the taxpayer money in the world can't buy a computer you two can't hack?"
Jim scoffed. "You can't buy something that can't be made, gorgeous."
At Tim's coaxing, the dashboard computer projected a map of the world into the air. The flat hologram hovered, alighted with glowing dots, each one corresponding to a Global Justice site. "With Kim off the grid, it could be months before we figure out which one they've got her at. They could even have another facility we don't know about."
"Stranger things have happened," Jim admitted. "Recently, too."
After licking the nutrient bar wrapper clean, Ron leaned forward to consider the map. He didn't need two seconds before he concluded, "They're in Middleton. You gonna finish that, Mon?" he asked of Monique's second bar.
"Wait. What?" the twins harmonized.
Monique had already swallowed the last of her bar, and glanced in confusion at the wrapper. "This? This empty piece of foil that has, like, three little nibblets of chocolate on it? Am I going to finish that?"
"Yeah," said Ron.
"…yes," Monique said, and then turned the wrapper inside out to slurp its crumbs.
"Forget the stupid chocolate for a second!" Jim snapped.
"How could you know that GJ took Kim back home? They don't even have a base there anymore," insisted Tim.
"Drakken blew it up, remember?" added Jim. "Or, I guess he disintegrated it."
A humorless chuckle tugged at Ron's mouth. He leaned back in his seat. "Oh, ye of too much brains. Not every secret is on a computer. Sometimes they're in people's heads…or on a family videotape your mom refuses to throw out, and then your little sister finds it and threatens to YouTube it unless you buy her an ice cream cake."
The twins exchanged one perplexed expression. "I think we got off-topic again," they said together.
"GJ rushed construction of a new bungalow right after Drakken sank their old one," said Ron. "If it's not done, it'll be almost. Funny thing is, back when KP had our heroics on hiatus, Doctor Director asked us to help test their new place's security. I guess we get to do that now."
Jim shook his head. "No, no. No, no, no. A new facility that's not fully on the grid yet, I can buy. But if Doctor Director already knows you know about the place, why would she take Kim there?"
Any trace of humor evaporated from Ron's face. His eyes fluttered closed as his head thudded back against the seat. "Something tells me Ol' Eyepatch isn't calling as many of the shots as she used to. This new guy, he's something else. He's out for blood, like some kind of…blood…guy. Hound? Whatever. Two bits gets you a dollar, he's got KP back home. You two Scarfaces get us there. I have a plan."
As Jim clambered into the front of the Sloth, he said, "You have a plan? You have a plan to break into a government facility so secret that it isn't even listed in its own secret government bureau database? You're going to bust in using all the resources of two runaway geniuses, a hottie, an ex-sidekick, and a refurbished car from the Seventies? There's a plan for that?"
"And what about Wade?" Tim added. "We might be able to pull off something this insane with Wade behind a keyboard. What happened to him? How are we supposed to rescue him too?"
Long, loud, ratcheting snores answered them from the back. Ron slept with a bone-tired fervor that no irritated look could pierce. His head lolled on the back seat as he unconsciously drew his towel into a makeshift blanket.
"Oh. Great," the twins sighed.
Sliding next to Ron, Monique pressed into his side, stretching her towel around them both. "How long until we reach Middleton, double cuteness?"
"Four hours," Tim answered.
Scoffing, Jim added, "Give or take air traffic."
A yawn followed Monique's heavy head onto Ron's shoulder. She gave into her exhaustion, murmuring, "Wake us up when we hit city limits. It shouldn't take us more than fifteen minutes to come up with something crazy."
Her last thought before drifting off was of her wayward friends. The list, she knew, kept growing. In a handful of hours, it might grow to include all of them.
"Wade Load. Government contractor. Freelance consultant. Heroic troubleshooter. Wanted fugitive. Prisoner." Professor Dementor's mouth quirked haughtily.
Rolling his eyes, Wade staggered down the ramp of the strange aircraft, his lurching steps propelled by Shego's foot. The hangar of Dementor's hidden lair echoed with his squeaking sneakers. "Please tell me we aren't going to the old 'politely tough-talk the prisoner' trope. I am way too tired for clichés."
Dementor chuckled at the bottom of the ramp, watching Shego muscle his prisoner to him. The portly teen fell to his knees at Dementor's feet. "And in very short order," continued Dementor, "you will be one of two things. What that thing will be is dependent on you level of cooperation in the next few minutes. So consider carefully the deal I am about to make you, yes?"
A snide retort gathered in Wade's mouth. He was forced to swallow it when Shego grabbed his hair and jerked his head backward. "Listen up, pot pie. I know you and your little buddies like to talk the talk whether you can walk it or not. But I have been up all night, and I am seriously not in the mood to hear your middle school idea of being a hero. M'kay?"
"I'm listening," Wade said hoarsely. Then he gasped as Shego released his hair.
Wade's gasp was cut short as Dementor drew a blue, bizarre gun from the back of his belt and leveled it at Wade's head. After tense seconds of letting Wade stare down the barrel, Dementor smiled, and reversed the gun in his grip. "This is 'Doctor' Drakken's mind reader ray, a device he designed to read, copy, and store the information of a target's brain."
Tentatively, Wade took the gun and examined it. After a moment, he said, "This is incredible. You're sure it's Drakken's?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Dementor grumbled. "And unfortunately, his mastery of electrical engineering is rivaled only by his logistical acumen. I find myself unable to grasp its design to any functional degree."
The gun's grip popped open, revealing a small access panel packed with what Wade would only call "circuitry" if he was feeling generous. "So this is how he jacked Kim's style in the observatory?"
An ugly look darkened Shego's face. "Yeah," she grunted.
"So…what? You want to fix it? Duplicate it?" Wade said, and closed the ray gun.
Dementor smirked at the curiosity in Wade's voice. Even captured and alone, Team Possible's fixer remained a rogue inventor with a fascination for the bizarre. "I need the device integrated with my former Entropy Cannon to amplify its potential. And I need its purpose slightly…altered."
"And you think I'll do that for you," Wade said. A satisfied smirk crossed his face as he added, "Because you can't."
Dementor's expression sharpened. "You possess a knack for technological subversion and retro-engineering. I suspect such a task to be well within your powers, Mister Load."
"Duh," said Wade. "But what I meant was: what makes you think I would ever, in a hundred trillion googol years, do anything to help you? Because I'm pretty sure you'd be better off waiting for universal heat death."
The diminutive scientist snapped his fingers.
Green fire bracketed Wade's head. Shego's palms hovered mere inches from his ears. The heat grew unbearable in an instant. Wade's brow swam in fat, rolling droplets of sweat.
"You will do this for several reasons, Mister Load," Dementor told him. "You are alone and unarmed. You are surrounded. Your friends cannot help you. Shego will kill you slowly if you deny me once more.
"But most of all," Dementor said, looming close to Wade's fiery cage, "you will do this because you aren't sure if you can, and you want to find out."
Wade couldn't argue Dementor's last point. His mind already swam with the new pathways to take the gun's confused circuitry. But the thought of helping Dementor in the slightest made his stomach turn. Any inch he gave Dementor would make him party to the scientist's megalomaniacal schemes, threat of death or no.
But Wade didn't want to die.
For all the times he had been thrust into danger, especially in the last few days, he felt terrified in Shego's clutches. Ron and Monique weren't there. Kim was long gone, maybe arrested, or maybe even dead. And he was at the mercy of people he had helped send to prison multiple times—each—who would probably love to see how many pieces they could tear him into before he stopped screaming.
Fighting to keep his voice steady, Wade said, "You know what? Sure. I'll put Drakken's brain gun in your Cannon."
The fire in Shego's hands extinguished. Dementor chuckled. Then he drew a deep breath, and bellowed, "Possible! Kommt hier, and bring the prisoner to the Kanonetechniklaboratorium!"
In just seconds, the hangar access doors parted, and Wade's relieved breath became a gasp as the likeness of Ron Stoppable marched sullenly into their midst, wearing a cap of close-cropped red hair. "What?" he grunted.
Dementor scowled. "Firstly, 'no' to the giving me attitude in front of my prisoner," he snapped. "Secondly, escort said prisoner to the Cannon. Provide him with whatever tools and assistance he requires to complete the project. Should he even think of entertaining the notion of considering escape, you are to crush him. Klar?"
"Yeah, klar," Sim muttered. But when his eyes fell upon the astonished Wade, he gasped. "Whoa. You?"
Shock spread Wade's eyes wide. He remembered the duplicate Ron from the fight in Dreidelton, but seeing the doppelganger in the light struck Wade with a whole new sense of astonishment. "So," he said to Dementor, clinging desperately to his last shred of bravado, "are you colorblind, or just such a bad scientist that you can't get your clones' hair right?"
Growling, Dementor shoved Wade into Sim's surprised grasp. Sim stared, lost for a long, uncomfortable moment in Wade's face. Then he shook himself free and spun Wade into a forced march out the door.
"For the record, I think it's the second one," Shego said sidelong to Dementor as she watched the two teens leave.
"You are remembering that I had nothing to do with the actual production of Possible, yes?" Dementor said.
Shego smiled. "Vividly. Also: final answer."
Heavy footsteps clanked down the ramp of the aircraft behind them. "Hey, whoa, dude. Nobody told me there would be a quiz. Seriously."
Dementor whirled, and his irritation ballooned into apoplectic rage at the sight of Motor Ed leading a cavalcade of ragged villains out of the aircraft. A few of the familiar faces led the pack, followed by petty thugs and ragged, unshaven henchmen that Dementor could hardly muster enough notice to hate.
"What. Is. THIS?" Dementor thundered. "Lady Shego, why have you dared to sully my new headquarters with this…this circus of dilapidated, incompetent offal?"
Wincing, Adrena Lynne clutched her temples, and staggered into Motor Ed's back. "Oh, God, could you people keep your rage under three thousand decibels? I have an extreme headache in my…everything."
Shego's eyes rolled. "They wandered into the jet while I was out grabbing the fat kid. I wanted to run them out, but I was afraid if I lit them on fire, their stink would catch and blow up the jet. So I locked them in the hold, and told them they could either shut up or find out what high-altitude decompression felt like."
"Their stink would…" Dementor sputtered, wringing his hands through the air. "You are a master of the martial arts! Could you not beat them soundly and throw them off my magnificent air-craft?"
Her nose wrinkled. "Mm'kay, I hope you were planning on taking over the world just to give it to me, because otherwise there is no way you're paying me enough to touch these 'people,' " she said, and framed her fingers around the last word.
"I be takin' offense t' yer air quotes, missy," Killigan said, stumping to the bottom of the ramp. "Besides, we be done freeloadin' off of table scraps and litter. We're ready t' get back in the real game, even if tha' means doin' it on yer coattails."
Dementor sneered at Killigan, casting particular scorn at the Scotsman's rusty shotgun of a cane. "Look at you lot. What could you traitors and filth possibly offer me? You are one missed meal shy of death, and one missed bath shy of becoming apes."
As Dementor uttered that last word, the lanky, unshaven shadow of Monty Fiske came alive behind Killigan. His eyes sparked as he screeched, "I am not an ape!"
Glancing back at the panting former man-monkey, Killigan said, "Oh, aye, we're nae a sight t' be seen now. And ye have this shiny base, and even a couple o' henchmen o' yer own. All ye could e'er want."
"Exactly," Dementor said.
Leaning forward, Killigan fixed Dementor with a hard stare. "We've thrown e'erything we all had at the lass. Twice. All our brains and brawn and magic and arsenals couldn't stop her. So the question ye have to ask yerself," said Killigan, his voice dropping into a whisper, "is, do ye think y' can take the lass all on yer own? Are ye willing t' risk it all for a bit o' pride?"
The Scotsman's words washed over Dementor. His stony expression remained a moment more. Then his scowl deepened, and he stepped back.
"You are all restricted to the hangar or to Lab Twelve," Dementor said curtly. "You will bathe in the chemical shower until your stench becomes tolerable once more. You may use whatever equipment you find to make yourselves useful."
Motor Ed pumped his fist, belting out a laugh that nearly doubled the nearby Adrena Lynne. "Yeah! The Legion of Villainous Evil is back in the game!"
Dementor turned at once to level his hand at the burly mechanical genius. As the scientist's fist clenched, a matrix of energy constructed itself around the gauntlet. In an instant, the glowing lattice arced from Dementor's fist and plunged into Ed. The energy chewed a perfect circle in Ed's chest, leaving blackened edges of burning, noxious flesh surrounding a clear window, through which Lynne stared, horrified. Ed's triumphant expression slackened as he dropped onto his knees, and then toppled forward.
"Let me be perfectly klar," Dementor said to the silent crowd of super villains. His fist smoldered still. "This is not a partnership. This is not a relationship of equals. If I choose to call upon you, you will do as I command without hesitation or delay. Should I decide that you hold no value to my cause, I will eliminate you. Do we have an understanding?"
The pack of feral villains stood in silence. Pyro Pete was the only exception, as he stood over the smoldering remains of Ed, wafting the smoke into his face while he giggled. Eventually, Killigan limped forward, and stood as tall as he could. His weather-beaten cap barely topped Dementor's helmet. "Aye, lad. We have an understanding," he said gruffly.
Dementor turned on his heel and marched out of the hangar. Shego followed, tossing a smug look at her former cohorts. As the doors closed behind her, her expression collapsed into blank concern. "So…" she said to the back of Dementor's head. "Now we're blowing away the ones on our side too? Not that I mind, exactly. Not really. I just want to keep track of the game plan."
His sudden stop almost caught her unawares. She teetered on the tips of her boots as he looked back. A dark look burned in his helmet. "There is only one side, Lady Shego: ours. Everything else will submit or burn."
She watched him continue down the stark corridor without her. A leaden feeling filled her from the bottoms of her soles, climbing up her legs, until her very thoughts were weighed with a strange hesitation. "Okay, then…" she said to the empty air.
The picture on Cameron Du's desk screamed at him. For every second he sat behind his desk, the aging spy endured a pair of deafening eyes and a boyish, enthusiastic smile. If he could have—if he were stronger—he would have turned the picture on its face. He would have put it in a drawer. He would have left it at home, where it belonged.
Instead, Du sat there with a blank report waiting on his computer monitor, and stared back at the frozen image of his son. With the festivities of graduation day behind him, Will's enthusiasm could hardly be contained in a mere picture. He shone, so bright that it hurt Cameron to look.
The intercom on his desk buzzed, chasing the first inklings of tears from his eyes. He hardened his voice and punched the button. "What?" he rasped.
"Sir." The voice of Agent Dini grated through the speaker. "You asked to be notified when Kim Possible was cleared for interrogation."
Du stared at the intercom in mute confusion, and then pressed the button again. "She's been in custody for five hours, Dini. I know it doesn't happen often, but Tactical Division remembers what interrogation protocol means, correct?"
"Yes, sir: sleep deprivation and controlled malnutrition resulting appropriate medical stress levels, sir," Dini answered.
Tiredly, Du said, "Then you're also aware that the protocol typically takes days to effect."
If there was any trace of irony in Dini's reply, she hid it too well for Du to find. "Yes, sir. Except…Sickbay recorded her at appropriate levels all across the board when they processed her for internment. If anything, she's almost too weak to meet interrogation regs. She's, um, apparently been doing it to herself these past few days. The doctors aren't really sure how she's still upright."
Du started to rub his nose, and then winced at the hot pain flashing underneath the white tape that held it in place. "Very well," he said through his teeth. "I want Possible in Interrogation Room Four in five minutes."
"Yes, sir," Dini replied. "I'll see to the preparations myself, sir."
Du reached for the button, and then hesitated. "Agent? Do not inform the Director until I instruct you to. Understood?"
There was a long pause, and then Dini answered, "Yes, sir." The intercom hissed and clicked, and left Du in silence.
He stared at the black speaker for over a minute before the reality of Dini's call reached his legs. He rose mechanically from his desk and squeezed into the base's narrow corridors. The base's personnel turned sideways and hugged the wall, saluting as he shouldered through them. They barely received a salute in return.
The trip across the base happened in a daze. When Du found his senses again, he stood outside the Interrogation Center's observation room. His hand trembled almost imperceptibly as he entered his code into the door's keypad. The door swished inside its housing. Du held his breath and stepped inside.
Six windows lined the room's walls, three on either side. Each window peered into one of the six interrogation rooms. A flash of color through the far left window drew him to the glass. His broken nose all but pressed against the barrier as he stared at the broken, bound redhead inside the room.
"And, hast thou slain the Jabberwock?" he murmured. The memory of the smiling picture on his desk flashed before him. "Come to my arms, my beamish boy. Oh frabjous day. Calloo. Callay…"
With another code, Du entered the interrogation room. Practice wiped his face clear of the roiling tempest in his chest. He took his seat at the room's only table, and examined the clipboard that waited for him there.
Kim never twitched. She hung limply in her chair, wearing a sleeveless orange prisoner jumpsuit, and handcuffs on each wrist that bound her to the chair's arms.
GJ's doctors had re-dressed her wounds. Her arms were mummified in tape and gauze to protect a series of lengthy, nasty burns. Nearly every other square inch of her was bruised or cut somehow. An intravenous line fed saline into her arm from a tall metal stand set next to her chair. Her swollen eyes never lifted from the cold metal table. They barely registered the movement of Du's reflection as he leaned forward.
Lacing his fingers together, Du said, "You aren't going to tell me where Demens is, are you?"
The soft rasp of her breath was Kim's only answer.
He leaned back and took up his clipboard, pretending to flip through its pages as though he hadn't already memorized every iota of data on Kim Possible that Global Justice possessed. "Now, if your fan club is to be believed, you won't tell me anything because you don't know anything, because you would never work for Demens. You spent your entire pre-adult life fighting him and people like him. It wouldn't make sense."
She didn't move.
"Unless, of course, you just cracked."
He watched her intently for a reaction. She didn't even blink.
"As I said, you spent most of your life fighting these crackpots," Du continued, shrugging. "What's the old adage? 'Stare into the abyss long enough, and the abyss stares back?' Becoming what you hate most? The world is hard and cruel, and these costumed megalomaniacs can move a lot of cash. They have power. That's why Global Justice exists, after all. If they weren't a real threat, I wouldn't have a job. A job which you always seemed content to do for free…unless that changed.
"But do you want to know what I really think?" he asked.
Kim's ragged breathing stopped.
Rifling through the clipboard's pages, he showed Kim a black-and-white image of the Boise Locker heist, which prominently displayed Team Possible directing a group of Dementor's henchmen. "I think your motive doesn't matter because I can place you at our facility at the time of the heist. And, on the off chance that you can provide a solid alibi, I have you attacking GJ personnel, stealing government equipment, fleeing custody, breaking a felon out of maximum security lockup, and about a dozen other charges I haven't dreamed up yet.
"As of this minute," Du crowed, taking back his clipboard, "you are no longer a person. You're a number in a box. And thanks to the Champion Act, I get to keep you in that box, without a trial, without a fuss, for as long as I deem absolutely necessary to global peace."
Her eyes made the barest flicker of motion toward him. Her shoulders twitched with a single, shallow breath.
Du slammed the clipboard on the edge of the table, breaking it in half. His chair tumbled backwards as he rose, slamming his palms on the tabletop. Hot color flushed across his cheeks as he drew his face into Kim's. "Say something!" he bellowed.
Flecks of his spittle hung on Kim's cheek. She blinked once, and lifted her heavy gaze to meet his. Her cracked lips parted, and a soft wheeze escaped, as though she were trying to remember how to speak. On the fourth try, she said, "I'm sorry about Will."
The red anger spread across Du's face.
"And I'm sorry I didn't realize it before," she rasped. "I don't know how I could have missed the family resemblance. Officious, pompous…you even have the same haircut."
"Stop," he growled.
"But what happened to Will was awful." Her voice was a ghost. "He deserved a lot better than that. I'm sorry."
Breath ragged, Du collected a page from the broken clipboard and slapped it onto the tabletop. He pushed it under Kim's nose with trembling hand. But his voice resumed a calm, even keel. "Will did his duty; he died guarding two civilians in his charge. No commander could ask more of his subordinate."
Kim's eyes closed. Her chin fell to her chest, making a curtain of her hair.
His finger rang against the table as he tapped the paper. "This is a full confession. It implicates you in both of the Boise Locker attacks, the Middleton escape, and breaking Drakken out of prison," he said. "If you sign this, we forego the trial. We forego the secret cell. I'm offering you life in prison without parole. If you play ball, we'll send you to a medium security facility and segregate you from the general prisoner population."
She didn't move. His face tightened.
"Let me be clear," he said slowly. "This confession implicates you, and only you, in these crimes. Your friends walk. I know a ringleader when I see one." He leaned over the table, drawing his face down to hers. "You've created this cult of personality, duping these innocent people into fighting your battles for you. After what you pulled, I could lock up anyone who ever so much as gave you a stick of gum. But I Just. Want. You."
Du hovered above her, waiting. In his years of interrogation, he had cracked some of the hardest villains on the planet with nothing but words. This blank wall in a chair that refused him wasn't some hardened criminal that needed breaking. Kim Possible was an arrogant polymath that had burned too bright too quickly. Like so many of the lunatics she had fought, she kept craving more. More power. More control. And yet, she still remained a teenaged girl.
The seat squeaked as Du settled back again. He folded his hands on the tabletop and smiled. "How well do you think your boyfriend will do in prison?"
The hair over Kim's face stirred, just a little. A sliver of green peered through the red curtain, shrinking at Du's smug expression.
"That's right," Du said. "We found your little sidekick. Right after Middleton, in fact. And let me tell you, he is not handling incarceration as well as you seem to be. He's been crying a lot. He's been asking for you, too. I think he was almost relieved when the guards told him we had captured you and the two little ninjas."
A ripple stirred the hair at Kim's lips as she whispered, "Ron."
His smile widened. "Ron," he echoed. "He's been so worried. Imagine how worried he'll be when he's standing next to you before a grand jury, facing these charges as a co-conspirator."
Slowly, Kim lifted her head. Her hair slid away, revealing a haunted look buried under days' worth of bruises and cuts. Her eyes shook, pupils dilated, as she struggled to focus on the piece of paper before her.
"This guillotine blade that's poised above your neck? It will fall on him, too," Du said. "He'll be sent away for the rest of his life in the worst prison we can find." His face tightened and his voice dropped an octave. "I will personally see to it that he shares a cell block with every Tom, Dick, and Monkey Fist you two have ever thwarted.
"Or," he said, his voice softening again, "you sign this confession. You protect him. That's what you want, isn't it? A hero protects her sidekick. And I truly believe that, somewhere inside you, you still believe you're a hero, Kim Possible. You have one last chance to be that hero: protect the people you love. Protect Ron. All it will take is one signature."
The long silence pulled Du's smile all the way to his eyes. He knew he had won. And it took every ounce of his professional experience to keep himself from laughing as Kim's hand drifted to the tabletop. The handcuff chain gave her barely enough slack to reach the paper and pen.
Her fingertips brushed the cheap, bulk ballpoint pen when a disembodied voice crackled above them. "Commander Du! Sir!"
Du's brows crashed together as Kim's hand froze. "Dini? I'm in the middle of an interrogation! What is so important that you have to violate—" He counted silently. "—fifteen protocols?"
"We have a situation outside that demands your attention, sir."
Her stammering report stopped him cold. "Outside? As in, outside of the base?"
"Dini, we're in a secret mountain fortress. The one advantage to basing our operations out of this action figure playset is the anonymity it offers. Are we talking about a couple of free climbers that wandered too close to the perimeter? Perhaps an ill-tempered mountain goat?"
"No, sir. It's… We have video, sir. Camera Thirty-six. I really think you need to see this, Commander."
He pressed circles into his temples. Pushing away from the table, he approached the room's two-way mirror. The reflection shimmered as he pressed his palm to the glass, activating its dormant touch interface. The mirror became a large, interactive screen, and drew the outline of a video window as Du brushed his fingertips across its surface. "Fine. Send the feed down to the Interrogation Room."
"…sir," Dini replied several seconds later, "I don't think—"
The glass shook under his palm. "Dini! You interrupted the most important interrogation you will ever know of in your rapidly shortening career. Now, since this matter demands my attention, you will follow my orders, or I will find a marmoset capable of doing so, stuff it into a Global Justice uniform, grant it a field commission, and give it preferential duty roster assignment! Now stream the feed!" he snarled.
Seconds later, the empty video window in the mirror flickered, filling with the image of a mountainside outcropping. Mist whispered across the crags, tendrils of the cloud that blanked the sky behind the rock. The muted colors of the security feed washed everything into a gray tapestry.
Everything on the screen remained still at first. Du didn't see Dini's issue until the figure turned its head toward the camera. The movement forced Du to realize the black masculine shape standing at the left side of the frame. Only once he saw it did Du recognize the outline of the battle suit that had humiliated GJ's Tactical division in Middleton.
"Attention, Global Jerks!" The voice of Ron Stoppable rang tinnily through the connection. The suit's blank, masking visor stared right through the screen and struck Du cold. "I hear you've been looking for a handsome blond criminal. Well, I think I've got a solid lead for you. I don't suppose there's a reward, is there?"
No stranger to super-science, Wade was nevertheless amazed at the vile abomination of technology Dementor was forcing him to augment, and the lab in which he was kept prisoner.
He lay on a dolly, staring up at the exposed guts of the Entropy Cannon. The disassembled pieces of Drakken's Memory Ray lay splayed on his chest, strung together by its wiring. With a tool in each hand, and another clenched in his teeth, he pried at the spaghetti tangle of conduits packed into the Cannon's housing.
Mouthing the clamp into place, Wade spat at the metallic tang in his mouth, and grimaced at the new configuration. "I'll give this for the little turd: when he shoves a project up your ass at Shego-point, he doesn't do it small." His grimace deepened, and he added, "And that sounded way less gross in my head. Man, I miss my bubble."
He grasped the Cannon's housing and hauled himself out from under its edge. Cradling the pieces of the Memory Ray, he began searching the room's expansive workbenches for the delicate tools he would need to break the laws of nature and men. He selected a soldering iron and examined its quality.
"So, are you just going to stare at me this whole time, or are we gonna kiss?" Wade said absently, and squinted at the tool.
The redheaded Ron guarding the lab door blinked, moving for the first time since the lab had sealed behind them. He crossed his arms, then uncrossed them, and then crossed them again. "Prisoners are to remain silent," he snapped.
Wade placed the Memory Ray pieces on a workbench. He fit a pair of magnifying goggles over his eyes, and began to solder new connections into Drakken's chaotic circuit boards. As tired and miserable as Wade was, his hands moved with flawless precision. "Sure," he said between soldering, "we can't let 'the prisoner' flap his gums. Then you might imprison him without food and force him to complete a weapon of mass destruction. You know, if you won't let me out, and you won't make me a sandwich, the least you can do is talk to me."
His guard hesitated, and then replied, "I don't have anything to say to you."
Wade snorted, nearly ruining his delicate work. "Well, that's a lie," he said. "Nice to know that you at least fib like Ron."
"I am nothing like him!" the redhead snarled.
The sudden outburst made Wade smile. "That's one hell of a nerve I just touched. And that was another lie, by the way. One of my best friends has those same freckles. You are a little light on the quippage, though." He set his work aside and turned around. "So what's your deal, anyway?"
Stony silence gathered in the redhead's face.
"Oh, come on," Wade cajoled. "Are you a clone? Syntho-drone? A transdimensional version of Ron with a dye job? Shapeshifter? Holographically cloaked assassin? Ooh!" he cried, brightening. "Are you Kim and Ron's kid from the future, traveled back in time to infiltrate Dementor's operation to avert some horrible disaster?"
"Enough!" the redhead barked. "I am none of these ridiculous things! And I am devoted to my father's cause!"
The flexing and snarling didn't even make Wade flinch. He leaned back against the workbench, bracing his palms against the table's edge. "See, now I believe you." As his guard glowered, Wade shrugged, and said, "Okay, fine. How about a name? Do you have a name?"
After a long moment, the redhead said, "Sim. My name is Sim."
"Sim. Is that a family name?" Wade asked. A sour look was his answer. He raised his hands, and said, "Right, right. You've got nothing to say to me."
"Get back to work," Sim commanded him.
"Okay, so you've got one thing to say to me." Wade resumed his work on the collection of circuit boards. The tap of the soldering iron filled their silence for several minutes. As he worked, Wade half-watched his guard. The way Sim moved, and the way he talked, struck Wade with a surreal feeling he couldn't quite explain.
Except for the eyes and hair, Sim was a dead ringer for Ron Stoppable. But Sim moved with purpose, not the easygoing lope Wade associated with Ron. When Sim had raised his voice, his eyes had flashed like a forge, filling his gaze with a blend of steel and iron. Wade had never seen a look like that in Ron's eyes.
"Why did you save me?" Wade asked without warning.
Sim blinked. "What?"
Looking back, Wade said, "Back at the apartment building. That was you, wasn't it? Why did you save me from Global Justice? You're obviously working for the competition, so keeping me locked up in a GJ secret prison would be a big win for you."
Sim stumbled over his own thoughts. Even Shego and his father didn't know what he had done for Wade in Dreidelton. He had tried to push the incident out of his own thoughts, because when he asked himself that same question, he couldn't come up with a satisfying answer.
"I…dreamed of you," Sim said. "Before father woke me, I dreamed of you. I dreamed of Kim and Ron, and my lives in Middleton."
Wade's eyebrows rose sharply. "Your 'lives?' " he echoed. "What does that mean? And what do you mean, Dementor 'woke' you?"
Sim scowled, and squirmed. "Father and Shego rescued me, and woke me. They told me of my true destiny to save the world from the hubris and shortsightedness of mankind. But before them, I dreamed of all of you. Before them, you were my friend. So I saved you, because that's what you do for your friends."
"Friends," Wade said, trying to fathom Sim's strange admission. "And now I'm your prisoner? How does that work?" As Sim fell into impenetrable silence, Wade thought further, and asked, "If Dementor and Shego rescued you—if you're not one of the little guy's experiments—then what are you? Where did you come from?"
Du gaped at the screen for ten full seconds before composing himself. He tapped the controls of the digital projection in the mirrored glass, activating the external speakers nearest to the active camera feed. "Is that you, Stoppable? We've been looking everywhere for you."
The tiny figure in the battle suit waved at the camera as Du silently seethed. He could feel Kim Possible's eyes drilling through his back, watching the security feed. His entire interrogation had been shattered in a matter of seconds.
But Stoppable's arrival opened up whole new doors into closing this quagmire he had inherited from Doctor Director. Playing Possible and Stoppable against each other would be easier with Stoppable actually in custody.
But firstly, he needed to attend to one small detail. "Let me make this simple for you, sidekick: remove your fancy suit and surrender yourself to the security detail currently en route to your position."
"Yeah, it's good to see you too. Sorry it too so long to visit, but I lost the supersonic jet we borrowed from you guys. I don't suppose I could have another one, could I? I'd bring it back with a full tank."
Du leaned hard against the glass, glaring at the security feed. "This is your last chance, Stoppable. Lie down with your hands behind your head, and we take you in without a scratch. Otherwise—"
"Mmn, no. See, here's how this is going to go instead." Folded arms and a jutting chin met Du's invisible gaze. "You're gonna do three things for me, jarhead."
"You little—!" Du hissed.
"No, you listen! I know you think you've got me pegged. You think I'm the dopey, loser sidekick. And, you know, any other day of the week you would probably be right. I've got some pretty fly footwork, but running face-first into an army of GJ agents sounds like suicide any way you look at it.
"Except, here's the thing." A pair of fingers rose toward the camera. "There are two people on this planet—just two—that I get my act together for. There are two people I love so much that, for them, there is no line. There is no limit. I will do anything and everything to save those two people, and you, you lucky son of a bitch, just happen to be holding both of them.
"So you're gonna do three things for me. You're going to let everyone go. You're going to back the hell off. And you're going to say the following sentence: Ron Stoppable, you are the ninja king. Feel free to paraphrase that last one if you need to."
Gnashing his teeth, Du bit down on his first two responses, which were more profanity than anything. "Where do you get off ordering me, boy? Who do you think you are?"
"Because, if you don't…" A jaunty salute through the camera lit fire in Du's eyes. "Then I come in there and I make you."
A single thrown rock crushed three thousand dollars of surveillance equipment. The camera feed dissolved into static. Du snarled and slapped the projected controls, rattling the observation glass as he opened the communication from Dini to include all departments. "All agents, now here this! I want every available warm body armed and outside at Zone East-Three. We have a Class Alpha threat: lethal force is authorized, but I want containment and capture if possible."
As he closed the channel, Du's hand absently brushed his sidearm. With every agent outside trying to capture the super-suited Stoppable, Du would have to secure Kim Possible himself, and quickly. He didn't intend to risk his only major asset by being sloppy.
But when Du turned to collect his prisoner, all of his intentions became moot as Kim swung her metal chair through his face. The blow bounced his head off the two-way glass hard enough to leave a web of cracks. Du collapsed onto the floor, landing squarely on his broken nose.
Huffing, Kim let the chair drop. It half-dangled from her restraints. "I warned you about handcuffing me," she said to the insensate agent. She draped the chair across his back and began clumsily searching his pockets until she found the cuffs' key. She took his keycard for good measure, and relieved his sidearm of its clip.
Once freed, Kim rubbed her wrists. She noticed the sticky warmth trickling down her arm, and pressed at the bleeding spot where she had ripped out her IV drip. Her head swam. Her legs buckled, throwing her forward. She caught herself against the wall, leaning her face against the cool metal as she fought to keep her eyes open.
She clenched her bloody hand. The muscle and tendon burned with exhaustion, but she kept her fist tight. Pain blossomed up and down her arm. She took hold of the pain, and used it to chase away the blackness nipping at her vision.
People were still counting on her, which meant that her body didn't get to quit.
Du's keycard opened the door. Kim lurched out into the corridors of Global Justice central, determined to find her friends. Her bloody handprint lingered on the doorframe behind her.
The muffled commotion drew Yori's ear flat against the door of her cell. She closed her eyes and listened, following the troop of boots that rattled up and down the hall of the detention area. As Yori held her breath, the footfalls grew distant, and then disappeared.
"Ready yourself. I believe we may have a chance to escape our incarceration," she said.
Her cellmate, Hana, sat on the opposite side of the cold metal room, glowering at Yori from the cell's only bunk. "I'm not going anywhere with you. I want Kim."
Yori closed her eyes against a wave of bubbling frustration. "Please, child, we—"
"My name is Hana!" the little girl bellowed in retort. "Stop talking to me like I'm not a person!"
Scowling in kind, Yori replied, "I am talking to you like you are a fellow prisoner in need of escaping with me. You are under my care now, child, and such care would be easier to administer if you would simply heed me."
An ugly sneer twisted Hana's cherubic features. "Heed 'you?' I'm the physical manifestation of supernatural deific energies. If anything, you should be heeding me. And I say, I'm not moving until Kim comes to get me!" She crossed her arms and wriggled, trying to settle deeper into the thin mattress.
Yori forced her clenched, trembling fists to open. "Hana," she began.
"No! I hate you!" Hana screamed.
The last of Yori's patience broke and vanished. She cowed Hana's sneer with a sharp look and a sharper tone. "Fine! Then you may hate me outside of this facility as well, because you are leaving with me. Now be silent!"
With trembling breath, Yori turned back to the door. She began to draw her three sources of power into focus. Her mind, her body, and her spirit came together as one, drawing their collective power down Yori's arm and into her Quivering Palm.
She banished all thought from her mind, focusing it entirely on one of the cell door's rivets. With a single blow, her tripart energies would unite onto that one point, sending a shockwave through the metal that would rend it asunder. Whatever energies she could not direct out of herself would rebound and do the same to her.
For a split second, Yori's mind wandered back to when Ron had attempted the move despite her warnings, and the two weeks she had lost to the coma after absorbing half of the move's backlash. She knew she did not have the control necessary to perfectly direct such force, as Sensei did. But perhaps, if she applied all of her focus, she could shatter the steel door and only break every bone in her arm. At least that would leave her with a remaining arm to carry Hana to safety.
The cell door opened without warning, startling Yori out of her distraction. As she lost control of the energy she had been gathering, her palm shot forward, discharging what she had gathered. Desperately, she tried to aim to one side, and felt her shoulder wrench from its socket as she struck the doorframe. The metal shrieked, splitting away from the wall, bowed and twisted from the fraction of Yori's full attack.
Ron jumped back in surprise at the near miss. "Whoa! Same team!" he cried.
As Yori collapsed to her knees, Hana leapt from the bed and bowled past her. The little girl wrapped herself around Ron's waist and cried, "Wana!"
He caught Hana and hoisted her up into his arms. As he buried his face in her hair, he felt a days-old knot of panic uncurl in his chest. It was hard to fight the tears welling in his eyes as he felt Hana's muffled crying soak his chest.
"Hey there, Intruder," he cooed into her hair. "That's an awful outfit you're wearing. What say we find you some new duds?"
Hana looked down at the small prisoner jumpsuit that had been cut and pinned into the poor fit she now wore. "Uh-huh," she agreed, and wiped her snotty nose.
Hearing a groan, Ron set Hana aside and knelt next to Yori. The young ninja cradled her shoulder and tried to offer Ron a reassuring smile, all without success. "Easy," Ron said, and lifted her hand from the dislocated joint. "Was that move what I think it was?"
Yori grimaced. "I had little option remaining. I heard the guards leaving, and had to capitalize on the opportunity," she said. Then she yelped as Ron drove her shoulder back into place.
"Yeah, they were leaving to chase me," Ron said.
His hand lingered on Yori's shoulder. A warm, red glow trickled out from under his fingers and seeped through Yori's skin. Instantly, Yori's tensed expression slackened. She nodded in gratitude as Ron helped her to her feet. Then she gasped in surprise when Ron pulled her into a tight, long hug. After a second, Yori closed her eyes and gladly returned the gesture, savoring the same relief she could feel in him.
Hana tugged at Ron's dark, taut leggings, drawing apart the reunited ninjas. "Wana, shouldn't we hurry? They could come back any second!"
Ron smirked and folded his arms, puffing out his chest. "No worries, li'l lady. The 'me' they're chasing isn't me-me. They're outside the base right now looking for a dashingly good-looking rogue in a battle suit."
Yori eyed Ron's stealthy bodysuit and backpack. The thin fabric was a far cry from the impossible living metal of the new Team Possible battle suits. "And why would they be doing that?" she asked.
His smirk tripled. "Because right now there's a dashingly good-looking rogue in a battle suit running around outside their base," he said.
Rocks crumbled beneath the battle suit's hands. The heavy metal material made the climb up the rocky slope all the more difficult, but the half a dozen armed GJ agents behind her gave Monique all the encouragement she needed to reach the top of the ridge.
She huffed, looking back at the agents gaining on her. It was hard enough to breathe with the battle suit binding her chest to look more like Ron's. The fact that Jim and Tim hadn't been able to get it to work for her without an interface chip meant that she was lugging around a clinging dead weight while incredibly fit trained killers chased her around Mount Trinity.
"Ron, if I get out of this," Monique wheezed through the full mask, "I am gonna use this ultra-tux to turn you into a pretzel."
A stray plasma bolt glanced off her shoulder, making her yelp. She felt the heat of the ricochet, and rolled over the edge of the ridge. Her heels skittered down a steep incline, dragging her hindquarters across the rough rock until she struck an outcropping.
Monique scrambled underneath the outcropping. She hammered the side of her helmet, and snarled, "Hey!"
"Augh!" one of Kim's brothers yelped in reply. "What? What is it?"
"I'm starting to feel the heat out here, Tweeb." Monique grasped at the spot on her shoulder, feeling around for any breach in the armor. "You said these fancy duds were invincible, right?"
"We're a little busy here, Mon."
"And I'm getting shot at! Answer the question!"
She could practically feel him cringing from the volume of her shout. "Yes, already! Even without power, the battle suit is totally invincible…ish."
Her eyes bugged behind the visor. "Ish? Ish! What the hell does 'ish' mean?"
"Listen, Monique, I have to go. We're busy trying to break about eighteen federal laws—"
"Which one of you is this?" Monique demanded.
"…I don't think I wanna say," the unknown twin mumbled.
She pounded the rocks. "You don't, huh? Well, I'll tell you which one you are. If I start losing limbs out here because this suit is too 'ish,' you're the one that's gonna give me yours to replace 'em!"
The rock above her exploded with chattering plasma fire. Monique yelped and scrambled backwards, and spied a line of GJ agents cresting the ridge with rifles trained on her. As she pushed back onto her feet and began to run up the next ridge, she pressed the hidden control in the suit's wrist.
"You want me, Goober Justice?" Ron's voice burst out of the suit's faceplate. "You gotta catch me first!"
Monique murmured much more softly, "Please, God, don't let them kill me…"
"—so as long as the suit stays locked to my body type, and nobody measures how tall Mon is, the Globies should keep chasing her." Ron propped his hands on his hips, smiling. "Pretty clever, right?"
Yori frowned. "What is a 'tweebs?' " she asked.
"Wait," said Hana, interrupting. "You prerecorded everything Monique would say? How could you know what they would say?"
He hoisted his sister up onto his shoulders, steadying her with his hand. "I've been knocking around with Global Justice since I was fifteen. After so many years, you learn to speak Blowhard as a second language."
Hana scowled, and leaned over to look at Ron upside-down. "But why didn't you just have the Tweebs reprogram the suit's external speakers to emulate your voiceprint?"
Ron blinked, and then turned to the door, leading them out into the abandoned corridor. Hana had to duck to avoid the cell doorframe as Ron said, "Next time you can plan the rescue, and I'll lounge in the cell Princess Leia-style. Now let's grab Kim and Rufus and get out of here. Where are they?"
"We do not know. Kim-san was separated from us upon our arrival. I suspect Commander Du wished to interrogate her first," Yori said.
"Right. Let's finish checking the rest of the cells. I really hope we don't have to search the whole base. This place is mad big, and nobody here likes us," said Ron.
He crossed the corridor to the other row of cell doors and held his Kimmunicator watch up to the door's keypad. The watch buzzed against Ron's wrist, and then the keypad beeped. Ron swung the cell door open to reveal a scarred, blue look of gratitude.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you, sidekick!" Drakken exclaimed, falling to his knees. "Regular prison is bad enough, but I'd never survive a secret prison cell. I'm a very social creature!"
Ron balked, turning back to Yori. "Wait a minute," he said, and casually swung the door shut in Drakken's face. "Did you say Commander 'Du?' "
Drakken's muffled screams spilled through the thick door as Yori answered, "I believe so. He seemed quite serious about capturing Kim-san."
"Yeah, I bet," Ron muttered. "Let's work double-time, ladies. Things are so much worse than I thought they were. We need to find Kim and Rufus, like, yesterday."
Rufus thumped against the spherical energy barrier. He stretched his shape in a hundred different ways, hitting the inside of the sphere from every possible direction. He hit a dozen directions at once, slamming amorphous tendrils every which way. All the while, he chattered, and swore, and hissed at the hooded face outside of his prison.
Phil leaned close to the containment sphere. He rapped his pen on the sphere's solid exterior, and then against the breath mask of his full containment hazard suit. "These Possible cases always give us the neatest stuff," he said. "This thing has trace DNA markers of Heterocephalus Glaber, but the rest of its makeup is completely artificial. It's like some kind of bioengineered organic machine that thinks it's a naked mole rat!"
His partner stood at the lab table behind him, turning a petite wristwatch over in his hands. The deceptively ingenious device was reflected in his containment suit's visor. "Hey," Lem said, setting aside the watch, "do you think they meant us when they called for all available personnel?"
"No, Lem," Phil said, returning to the single lab table of their small, purportedly overfunded investigative lab. "The Commander was calling for all combat personnel. You know: brave people."
Lem started to pick up the watch again, and then set it down. "We can be brave too," he insisted.
The monogrammed badge on the table disappeared in Phil's oversized gloves. "Please. We are the only two people in this entire base that failed weapon maintenance certification because of grievous injury."
"True," Lem admitted. "But I hear Agent Crate got the hang of his artificial foot enough to resume training again. Maybe he would give us private lessons this time."
"Look at this. Look at it!" Phil said, and held out the badge for Lem to see. "We have spent the last two years trying to reverse engineer the scans we took from the Generation One Load Battle Suit. Do you know what this is?"
"…a tacky alternative to nametags?" Lem guessed.
"This is Third Generation! It's different than the Gen Two battle suit that little weasel genius debuted less than two months ago. It deploys an adaptive bodysuit made from an alloy I'm not even sure they have a name for yet. It has force fields and exponential physical attribute magnification. It's self-recharging! It recharges itself, Lem!" Phil whined, and tossed the badge onto the lab table.
Lem shook his head. "Wow. That kid just can't stop dreaming up reasons for GJ to fire us, can he?"
"Imagine if we could figure out one of these battle suits," Phil said, and sighed onto his work stool. "Then we wouldn't need weapon maintenance clearance. We wouldn't need anybody."
"We could be brave all on our own," Lem said wistfully. Sobering, he said, "At least, I assume I would be brave, given the ability to throw a car at my enemies."
"We wouldn't need a Tactical division. Science would double as the Tactical division with our mighty technology," Phil said. "No super villain would dare stand against us."
Poking at the badge, Lem added, "We could even solve this Possible dilemma. Beat them with their own tech. Wouldn't that be something?"
They both chuckled awkwardly until a shuffling footstep behind them made them stop. Turning around, they both recoiled at the sight of Kim Possible standing in the open doorway of their lab. The dark bruising around her face made her almost unrecognizable, but her fiery hair and sleeveless prisoner jumpsuit were clue enough.
She walked into the lab slowly, her leg dragging stiffly behind her. One of her bandaged arms was caked in blood from the elbow down. Lem and Phil scrambled backwards as her bloody hand reached out.
"Oh, God, please don't kill us!" Phil's scream trickled through the filters in his mask. He shrank into a fetal ball in the corner of the lab and covered his head.
Lem flattened himself against the equipment cabinets, holding his breath as Kim's shaking hand grew closer. "I have to warn you," he stammered, "if your plan is to torture me, you won't get anything out of me, because they don't trust me with any knowledge of value."
Kim's glittering green eyes passed over both scientists to rest on the lab table. Her bloody grasp closed around the Kimmunicator watch, and then around the battle suit badge.
Then she turned her sights to the containment field in the corner of the lab. Both scientists flinched as she raised her hand again. Seconds later, Lem risked cracking a single eye, and saw Kim pointing at the field. Her finger remained steadfast on the naked mole rat's cage. Her eyes, unfocused, were nevertheless flat and hard.
"Phil," Lem hissed. "Phil, open the containment unit!"
Phil uncoiled himself enough to see Kim's silent demand. His hand trembled like a leaf as it slapped the control panel above his head, searching blindly until he pressed the field's deactivation control. The field flickered out, freeing the pink blob inside.
Rufus chittered gleefully as he glorped onto Kim's outstretched hand. The living pink putty flowed up her arm and congealed himself back into shape on her shoulder. He blew a long, wet raspberry at the two scientists as Kim silently stumped out of the lab.
After several moments, Phil managed to emerge from the cocoon of his arms and legs. He peered out the empty door, and then tapped at his partner. "Lem? Lem?"
Lem jolted at the touch. He collapsed back against the cabinets, and then caught himself on the lab table and half-laid across the now empty workspace. "Oh, my God," he wheezed, "that was…that was…do they have a word for a kind of terror that locks every muscle in your body?"
Phil collapsed against the opposite side of the table. "Do you realize what just happened?" he squeaked.
"We just encountered an Alpha-level threat right here in our own lab," Lem said.
"…and survived," Phil said emphatically.
Realization steeped Lem's steadying voice. "Not only that," he realized, "but we're still conscious."
"That's more than half the Tactical division can say right now!" Phil exclaimed.
Lem met Phil's hooded gaze with what Phil assumed to be a meaningful look. "We are badasses," he said.
"Yes, we are," Phil said proudly. "Now let's hurry and seal the door in case she comes back."
"Agreed," Lem said, and raced ahead of Phil to the door controls.
Wade sagged in his chair. He scratched his head, careful of the soldering iron still in his hand. "That is one hell of a story," he admitted.
"As much of it as I know, anyway," Sim said. His brow furrowed. He started to speak, and then hesitated. A moment later, he said, "Sometimes I don't think my father or Shego are telling me everything."
"Color me shocked," Wade mumbled. Louder, he said, "You know, you don't strike me as the villainous type."
Sim's frown deepened. "What do you mean?" he asked.
Wade shrugged. Plucking idly at a loose wire in the gutted Memory Ray, he said, "Well, for one thing, you haven't beaten me or pushed me around. In fact, of all the people giving me a hard time this week, you seem almost reasonable."
"No," Sim insisted, "I mean, why would you think I was villainous?"
The sheer earnest confusion in Sim's voice made Wade blink. He cocked his head, and said, "You're kidding me, right? You're working for Professor Dementor. Even if the name didn't imply a baseline malevolence, you have to know his history. Your boss, or dad, or whatever, is one bad dude."
Sim shook his head. "No," he said again. "I know what the rest of the world thinks of him. But you're smarter than that, Wade. You're better than that. You have to see that Father only wants what's best for the world. That's all he's ever wanted."
"…wow." Wade whistled as he tossed aside the soldering iron. He spun back to the worktable, turning his back on Sim, and pushed his attentions back into the Ray. "That little half-witted fireplug has got you wrapped around his finger."
The table rattled as Sim slammed his fist next to the ray gun. Startled, Wade could not move as Sim forcibly spun him on his stool. "That isn't fair!" Sim snapped. "You only know the biased slant of a cruel and capricious world! You've stood against him without truly understanding his work!"
Wade took a deep breath. He had to force himself to remember that the freckled face glaring at him wasn't that of his friend. "Okay, first? Don't talk to me about media bias. I worked all the soft science out of my system when I was seven years old and I consulted on that losing presidential campaign. Never again.
"Second," he said, "if I actually believe anything you say…you're, like, a month old. Do you actually know anything about the achondroplastic megalomaniac with the inferiority complex you call a father?"
"I…" Sim faltered. "Y-You know what memories I have. I remembered you, didn't I? I remember Professor Dementor!"
The teenage fixer snorted. "Uh-huh. See, that's the problem. If you really did have 'those' memories, then we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Sim's mouth flapped soundlessly. He balled up his fist, ready to lash out at Wade, or the bench, or anything in reach. But Wade's flat stare opened his hands. "I remember Dementor," he insisted limply.
Wade grunted. "Sure you do. But that's not the point, is it?" He leaned close, almost pressing his nose to Sim's. His breath made the lookalike tremble. "The real question is: what do you remember about him? Or here's a better one: what do you really know about this plan of his?"
"W-What do you mean?" Sim stammered.
"What do you know about Dementor's plan?" Wade asked again, stretching every word into its own uncomfortable moment. "What are you helping him do?"
Sim stepped back. A shadow fell over him, drawing is gaze upward. He stood in the long shadow of the Entropy Cannon's barrel. When he looked down again, he saw Wade smirking, and felt an icy stab of rage and fear.
"Good guys don't kidnap people. And they sure as hell don't force people to work on doomsday weapons for them," Wade said.
"Shut up," Sim said.
"Shut up!" snarled Sim. "You…you just keep working. No more talking. I have to…have to…"
He backpedaled out of the room, slapping the door lock as he left.
Wade held his smirk until the doors sealed. As soon as the metal leaves touched, he sagged back against the workbench, letting the gutted ray gun clatter to the floor. His racing heart gradually slowed.
"This is why I stay in my room," he muttered. "I am not wired for this half of the hero equation."
He looked around the lab, surveying his options. The glint of a lens in the ceiling's corner assured him that, even with his babysitter gone, Wade still had eyes watching him.
The computer monitor in the wall gave him more bad news. He worked at it for five of his precious private minutes before realizing that Dementor had outthought him before he'd arrived.
"Everything outside of this room is physically disconnected," Wade muttered to the computer, his hand dancing across the touchscreen in the wall. "Which includes the communications equipment. And I'm betting if I try to change a single one or zero in your software, you've got a dozen watchdog programs waiting to let you know."
If he'd had even one of his computers, Wade could have sent out signals to any of the dozens of law enforcement agencies that kept him on a consultation retainer. He could even call Global Justice or, preferably, Kim, and gift-wrap his coordinates for any number of rescuers.
What he had instead was a recycled, repurposed engine of destruction, a smattering of tools, a hobbled computer, and…
Wade looked down at the broken Memory Ray at his feet. Then he looked back at the Cannon. Half a smile worked its way out of his frustration. "Drakken, if I ever see your ugly mug again, I just might have to kiss it," he said, and bent to retrieve his new project.
Ron's footsteps echoed into the base's hangar. He followed the echo closely, moving as fast as he could with Hana balanced on his shoulders. The distant sound of boots striking metal spurred him onward against the fatigue still burning in his muscles. A handful of hours' sleep had barely nibbled at his exhaustion, but he still had one large, burning, redheaded question that kept him moving forward.
He grinned at the sight of the pair of hover jets parked in the middle of the hangar. "If I know my Global Justice protocol—and I really don't—then these bad boys are both fueled up and rarin' to go. Let's pick the shiniest one and get it ready."
"Very good," Yori said.
Ron looked left to find the ninja at his elbow. It occurred to him when she spoke that he hadn't heard her footsteps echoing alongside his when they had entered the hangar. The twinkle in her eye made him suspect that she had noticed it as well.
"Right. So take Hana and pick the shiny one," Ron said, and reached up for Hana's waist. "Get it revved up. I'm going back for Kim and Rufus."
Hana wrapped her arms around his forehead, clinging to him with all her strength. "No!" she squalled. "I'm not going anywhere with her!"
"Regardless of who goes with whom," Yori said, raising a finger, "you seem to be exaggerating my abilities. I can break into the jet, and clear it, but I sincerely doubt I can decipher its controls. I have never even started a car…"
With a decisive yank, Ron pulled Hana from his shoulders and set her onto the deck. "Hana rewired my Gamestation to adjust the Hubble telescope so she could collect her own data. She can figure out a super-advanced hover jet."
When he tried to give Hana an encouraging nudge, Hana grabbed his hand and held steadfast. "No!" she whined. "I don't—"
Then her eyes flickered, catching movement behind Ron.
"No!" Hana cried again.
Ron scowled, and opened his mouth to argue. A sharp, hard blow against the back of his skull clacked his teeth together as he tumbled forward onto the decking. He sprawled onto his face, his skin squeaking against the metal as he skidded to a stop.
Hana's quickness kept her from being smashed under her brother. It didn't keep her from the arm of Cameron Du, who snatched her off the deck and clutched her against his chest one-handed. His other hand trained a shaking pistol at Yori.
"No," Du told the surprised ninja. "Just no. On the ground, facedown, now." His eyes glittered through blackened bruises, framing the swollen bridge of his nose. Blood stained his lips and chin.
Yori glared at the agent. "How dare you—"
A bolt of plasma flashed past her ear. She felt her hair sway, and clutched reflexively at the motion. The ends of her burnt locks smoldered in her hand where the bolt had chewed through them. With one centimeter's difference, the bolt would have trimmed her ear to the bone.
Du's muzzle shifted slightly, squaring her in his sights. "That was the last of my restraint," he told her.
As Yori lowered herself to the deck, Hana began to kick at the ironclad grasp of Du's arm. Her heels slammed against Du's ribs without effect. "Let me go!" she shrieked. "Let me go!"
He wrenched her to one side, squeezing her until her voice became a squeak. "Be quiet!" he bellowed in her ear.
The sound of wrenching metal struck Du silent, and turned every head in the landing bay. Ron's hands twisted the alloy beneath him as though it were soft clay. He pushed himself onto his feet with one motion, landing on the balls of his feet. His fists hung loosely at his sides, speaking of a casual danger that made the hairs on Du's neck stand at stiff attention.
"Let her go," Ron said.
Without any warning, without a second's hesitation, Du turned his pistol on Ron and fired."
Red fire burst from Ron, engulfing him in a flickering haze. Or rather, to Du's astonished gaze, it appeared to be fire. But when the flames reached out and caught the burning white plasma bolt, Du looked harder, unable to fathom such a force. The rolling flames slowed, revealing their shape to Du. The red haze was a hundredfold simian shapes bound within Ron's aura. It was claws, and tails, and glittering eyes, and shrieking, toothy maws that reached out as if to break free from Ron's body before they snapped back, disappearing into the light once more, only to make room for another ethereal monkey to try in its place.
The shot Du fired hovered in front of Ron's chest, held in the jaws of one of those hundredfold monkeys. As Du watched, the ethereal face bit down hard on the bolt, extinguishing it without a second's effort. Then the jaws split for a single shriek that dissolved into the frenzied crescendo of dozens of monkeys' howls.
"Put her down," Ron said again. His voice pierced the dissonance that howled around him without effort. "Now."
Hana fell limp in Du's grasp. Fear spread in her eyes, and trembled in her lips. "R-Ron?" she whispered.
Du fired again, and again. This time Ron raised his hand to the attack, grasping and smothering each bolt as quickly as Du could pull the trigger. When Du's gun clicked empty, Ron opened his hand. The symbol of the Monkey King flared in the teen's palm.
The light drew Yori's face up from the floor. She saw Ron burning within the red blaze of howling, clawing monkeys. Tears filled her eyes. "Oh, Ron-kun…" she moaned.
Desperate, Du flung Hana aside and dropped the power cell from his pistol. He slammed a new cell into the butt of his weapon. When he raised it again, Ron had already crossed the half-dozen steps between them, and wrapped his glowing hand around the spymaster's throat. The world around Du blurred, and then slammed back into focus as he felt the wall shudder behind him.
Ron lifted the taller, heavier man up the wall without any sign of effort. His dark eyes burned at Du as he spoke calmly. "You should have quit while you were ahead," Ron sneered. "That little stunt pushed you from 'funny' to 'annoying.' Guess who just lost breathing privileges?"
Du pounded against the grasp at his throat. It was like trying to break steel. He tried to speak, but the grasp tightened like a vice, closing his windpipe. It tightened further still, straining sinew and bone. He felt the enormous pressure threaten to pop his skull. All the while, the aura surrounding Ron tore and bit and scratched at Du, shredding the front of his uniform. Thin lines of blood welled all across his skin.
The hellish light glimmered in Hana's tears. She clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle her cry. Staggering forward, she reached out toward the flickering aura that had engulfed her brother. "Ron!" she sobbed. "Ron, stop!"
Clever hands snatched her off the deck to hold her back from the aura's edge. "You must not touch him," Yori whispered into Hana's ear, and carried her backwards.
Ron didn't hear his sister's cries. He glared at Du, relishing the sensation of soft flesh beneath his fingers. With one gesture, he would end their Global Justice problem. This pompous little dictator would serve as a warning to the rest of his tin soldiers. This man, this pathetic nothing, had made Ron flee for days, and now choked and thrashed in Ron's hand. The very idea seemed ridiculous. It seemed hilarious!
He threw back his head and shook with a long, hooting laugh as he prepared to snuff Cameron Du's life.
A solid right cross slammed into the side of Ron's face, knocking his laughter to one side. His mouth snapped shut as he looked toward the source of the punch, glaring. Rage smoldered in his eyes, ready to strike down whatever fool deigned to attack him.
Kim Possible glared back at him from behind a mask of bruises. She drew her fist back to punch him again. The thick gauze bandaging her arm had been shredded by Ron's aura, revealing angry burns with new, thin, oozing cuts.
Ron snarled and jumped back, dragging his knuckles through the floor. His former quarry fell in a heap, blissfully unconscious. An inhuman howl split the air as he reared up, his hands twisted like claws, readied to counter whatever Kim could bring against him. The aura around him exploded into a fevered storm, the ghostly shapes within joining his howl with theirs.
She didn't waver. Her stance never changed in the face of such supernatural frenzy. She just fixed him with that same hard, cold stare.
The rage gripping Ron's features vanished in a single instant. The red storm around him evaporated, leaving no trace but the circle of deep claw marks left in the decking around him. "Kim?" he asked, dazed for half a second. Then his daze gave way to shock and alarm. "Kim!" he cried, and rushed forward.
Still glaring, Kim teetered forward, toppling off her feet. Only Ron's desperate grab kept her upright. Her sudden weight staggered him, so that her chin fell across his shoulder. Her arms dropped to her sides, swaying as Ron wrapped himself around her.
"KP," he murmured. The state of her nearly sent him into a panic. "What the hell happened to you? Are you okay?"
The barest thread of a whisper tickled Ron's ear. "I found you…" Kim said.
As Ron reeled with Kim in his arms, he felt something tug on his black legging. He looked down, and saw Rufus emerging from the pocket of Kim's jumpsuit. The mole rat jabbered at him, and then stretched and slithered up Ron's side to climb onto Ron's shoulder.
"Rufus?" Ron closed an eye as Rufus hugged his cheek. "Buddy, am I ever glad to see you!" He felt a great swell of relief at the tiny, plasticized rodent's embrace. Shifting, he wrapped an arm around Kim's hip and ducked under her arm. "Okay," he grunted, "now we just need—"
A pinprick of light appeared in the far wall of the hangar, cutting Ron short. He watched the light spread through the alloy to become a long, glowing oval. The light intensified, forcing his arm across his eyes as the world vanished into a blinding haze, and then faded just as quickly.
Blinking at the spots in his vision, Ron looked again. There was a hole in the metal bulkhead the size of a two-car garage door. The smooth edges glowed faintly with heat as Jim and Tim stepped through.
"See?" Jim said, pocketing a device. "Like a charm."
Tim grinned. "And we didn't lose our eyebrows this time. Progress," he quipped. Then, looking across the bay, his bravado dissolved. "Kim!" he cried.
Ron struggled forward to meet the twins charging across the hangar. His gaze pointedly avoided the shredded mess of a GJ commander left slumped against the wall. "Front and center, Scarface-Squared. I need someone who knows how to fly a supersonic jet."
A jabbering voice filled Ron's ear as Rufus thumped his shoulder.
"Preferably someone who can reach more than two buttons at a time," Ron amended, and shot the mole rat an annoyed look.
"Right!" Jim said, changing directions. "We just have to find the—"
He stopped suddenly, doubling over against some invisible barrier with a metallic whud. Breathless, he half-lay in the air.
Tim pulled a key and fob from his pocket and pressed the fob's button. The Sloth materialized under Jim, honking obediently. "—car," Tim finished for his twin, who slid off the hood, groaning.
"Get it on the cargo lift," Ron said. Then, remembering something, he added, "Mission accomplished?"
Jim got to his feet with a new grin. He gave a thumbs-up, and said, "So accomplished!"
Nodding in relief, Ron cast a look about the expansive room. "Good. The less trouble we have following us, the—"
He stopped cold as his look drifted across the hangar's upper catwalk. A black GJ jumpsuit leaned against the railing, watching him intently. He froze, bracing himself for an attack, or some alarm. But as seconds passed, nothing happened.
Then he recognized the figure. "Doctor Director," he said.
The woman made no reply.
They stood locked in a silent contest, neither willing to break from the other's gaze. They might have stood there forever, except for Yori's intervention. "Ron-san," she whispered, suddenly behind him. "Please, we must not linger."
Her soft plea jolted Ron from his scowl. He looked around, a small swell of panic growing in his chest again until he spotted Hana being helped into the Sloth's passenger seat by Jim. Then he felt Kim sag harder against his side, and nodded. "Right," he said. "C'mon."
But as he and Yori half-carried Kim to the lowering ramp of the hover jet, Ron's eyes trailed back up to the catwalk. Doctor Director still watched them without motion or expression.
Memories rushed back to Ron. He remembered the Director standing silently by when Du had shot Monique. He remembered her silence when Du had forced them into Wade's house. Her silence now made him tremble with rage.
"Try something," he said, meeting her eye with a flat glare. "I dare you."
The whine of engines spurred the teens onto the lowered cargo platform of the hover jet. With the parked Sloth, there was barely enough room for them to stand at the platform's edge. Then the whine became a shriek as the jet's VTOL thrusters stirred the air into a maelstrom. The platform lurched beneath them, forcing Ron to grab the lowered platform's pneumatic struts or be tossed from the jet with Kim in tow.
Tim's voice blared over the ship's loudspeaker, fighting to be heard above the engines. "Sorry about that," he shouted. "Just trying to get a feel for her. Any sign of Monique?"
"I don't…there!" Jim shouted, and pointed.
As the hover jet swung about, the hangar doors began to retract. Monique stood at the parting metal curtain. Still clad in the ill-fitted battle suit, she waved her arms in panic. White-hot bolts of plasma began to bracket her, making her duck and flinch.
Jim threw himself onto the thin sliver of platform next to the Sloth. As the jet drifted forward, he lowered his arm over the edge. The engine backwash forced his eyes into slits as he watched Monique reach for him. "Jump!" he screamed.
"This is a shit plan!" Monique screamed back, her voice made hollow by the visor. She gathered herself up, trying to ignore the spraying fire of the GJ agents from the ridge above, and hurled herself into the air.
Straining, Jim's hand closed around her wrist. She grabbed at his wrist in kind, nearly breaking the joint in a death-grip. "Ha!" he cried.
The sudden weight yanked him off the platform. His cry became a short scream as he slid over the harsh metal edge.
Even before he could cry out, Ron felt a cannon blow against his shoulder, and saw Rufus shoot forward with unthinkable speed. A faint red glow lingered in the mole rat's wake. Rufus struck Jim's disappearing ankle and molded himself to fit the teen's foot. Then, in half an instant, he stretched the rest of his mass to wrap and knot himself around the platform's strut. The amorphous rat stretched, but held. His bungeed mouth split open for a tiny scream.
"Ah! Don't let go! Don't let go!" Jim shrieked, even himself unsure whether he meant it for Monique or for whoever stopped his fall.
Monique swung like a pendulum, buffeted by the jet's engines. "I hate these planes!" she screamed. "Hate! Them!"
Yori moved almost as quickly as Rufus, vaulting the hood of the Sloth despite the rocking motion of the aircraft. She flipped and dropped, hooking her feet into the undercarriage of the car as she swung backwards over the edge of the platform. Her hand wrapped into the back of Jim's pants, and she began to pull him straight up, her corded muscles straining against the weight of the two teens.
"I am so glad I remembered the belt today," Jim said, his laughter manic as Yori dragged his hips onto the platform. As soon as he was up, Rufus uncoiled from his foot and collapsed shapelessly against the Sloth's tire.
Together, the two of them lifted Monique up to join them. Monique pressed herself against the side of the Sloth as though she would never leave it. Her too-wide shoulders rose and fell with the deep, terrified gulps of air whistling through her breather mask.
Jim dove over the Sloth and jabbed the platform's controls. Shuddering, the cargo lift began to climb back into the jet's fuselage, forcing everyone aboard the platform to mimic Monique, and hug the car to avoid being scissored by the jet's bulkhead.
The instant the platform clamped into place, the roar of the engines died down to a miniscule squall. Jim shouted into the control's speaker, "We're clear! Punch it!"
Their stolen jet needed little encouragement, and bowled them off their feet in a sudden fit of acceleration. Ron landed sandwiched between Kim's listless form and the pointed corner of a small GJ crate. By the time the stars of pain faded from his eyes, the jet's thrashing had settled into a light, steady turbulence.
"We're clear," Tim reported. "Middleton's in our six, and I'm not being shy about the throttle. Hicka bicka boo?"
Jim turned back to the cargo hold. "Anybody dead?"
There was a chorus of noes, and a belabored peep from Monique.
"Hoo-sha," he commed to Tim.
"Roger. We are…" There was a click. "—running dark. Now somebody tell me where I'm going."
"On my way up," Jim answered, and clicked the controls. He looked to the older teens, who were just now struggling to their feet. "So, um, where exactly are we going?"
Ron lifted Kim back to his side. Her persistent quiet was beginning to worry him. "How long can this thing stay in the air?"
"With a full tank?" Jim did the calculations in his head. "Thirty-six hours, minus combat time."
"Then keep us in the air and far away from anybody who has a beef with us," Ron said.
Jim shook his head and slapped the hatch control. "Sure," he grumbled, and stepped into the next compartment. "Plenty of friendly airspace in the world, right?"
Ron glanced to Yori, who was helping the still suited Monique. "You girls mind keeping the Tweebs company topside? I, uh…"
It was impossible to miss the worried glances Ron cast at Kim. Yori smiled wanly, and nodded. "Of course," she said. Then she sobered, and added, "But we have much we still need to discuss, Ron-san."
Her dark look lingered even after she had left the cargo hold. Ron shivered, not just at her tone, but at the memory of what she undoubtedly wanted to discuss.
Monique slapped his shoulder before he could disappear into reverie. He looked up and saw his own face reflected in the battle suit visor. "Hey," she snapped.
"Right. Sorry, Mon." Ron touched his initials on the suit's breast.
The slick black material slithered back into the badge, which Monique pulled from her shirt. She drew a long, clear breath, closing her eyes. Then she handed the badge to Ron, and held it in his grasp for an extra second. "You have no idea how much you owe me," she said. "Swear to God, that is the last time I get shot at to save your ass. I don't care how cute it is."
"My ass and I are grateful," he assured Monique.
Her face softened as she looked to Kim. She bent a little, trying to meet Kim's eyes, but they were hidden behind a curtain of red hair. "Make sure she's okay," Monique told him. She backed out of the compartment, visibly reluctant to leave them. "And make sure you're okay too."
"Look who's talking," Ron joked. Then, more softly, he said, "Thanks, Mon."
As the hatch closed behind Monique, Ron turned back to Kim. When he lifted her hair, he expected her to be unconscious, given how heavily she hung in his grasp. But her glittering green eyes stared back at him in perfect focus. She watched him in silence, as if waiting.
Jabbering at his feet drew Ron's attention downward. "Hey, buddy," he said to Rufus, who sat on the tip of his boot. "That was a nice snag with Jim. Think you can get the door for me?"
Rufus nodded, and stretched. While clearly exhausted, the mole rat managed to unlatch the car door. He grabbed hold of Ron's suit as the car door swung open, and climbed into a pouch on Ron's belt. Ron guessed Rufus would be asleep before he could even button the pouch again.
Gently, Ron eased Kim onto the car seat, sitting her in place. He'd barely gotten her settled before a cannonball struck him in the back and wrapped her little arms around him.
"Wana!" Hana sobbed, pressing her face into his neck. She had climbed the front seat of the Sloth to cling to his back, practically pressing him face-first into Kim in the tiny car. "Don't ever, ever, ever leave me again! Ever!" she said.
Ron caught her and set her on the seat next to Kim. He mustered a smile to ease the tears streaming down her face. "I'm not going anywhere without my girls again," he said, and meant it fiercely. "Now, give me a second."
He checked Kim's mottled face, and the burns along her arms. He felt at her ribs and watched her wince quietly. With each new injury, the smile on his face lessened, until he was close to tears himself. The ribbon cuts in her fist were the freshest wounds, and made Ron's stomach lurch.
"Kim," he murmured, brushing the hair from her puffy, blackened eyes, "what happened?"
Her lips parted, and a hoarse ghost of her voice emerged. "I had to find you you," she said. "So I did."
The words came so matter-of-factly that they made Ron's eyes burn with tears. He looked away, refusing to let her see him cry. After a few deep breaths, he steeled himself, and met her gaze again. His hands rose to take the sides of her face with a gentle touch.
"You sure did," he said. "Now, hold still."
A red glow filled his hands. As the light began to seep into Kim's skin, Ron heard a tiny squeak beside him. Hana sat frozen, watching uncertainly as the magic began to take hold of Kim's injuries.
"It's okay, Hana," he murmured, and concentrated.
The magic rewrote Kim's body, erasing the nasty echoes of her adventures. Her cuts knit together into lines of dried blood. The burns faded beneath their bandages, becoming pink, healthy skin. Slowly, the bruising that covered Kim's face shrank back into the beautiful, familiar features Ron had been waiting to see for days.
As Ron's hands dropped, their power dimming, the corner of Kim's mouth lifted. "I found you," she said again.
"It's okay, KP," Ron said, and took her hands in his. "I'm here. It's okay."
"I found you." She mouthed the words, her voice but a breath. The focus drifted out of her eyes. Her eyelids grew heavy as her chin began to drop. "I found you."
"KP? Hey," Ron said, dipping to stay in her eye line. "Hey!"
Kim's head lolled to one side, her eyes closed. The lines of her face hung slackened. Ron had to catch her by the shoulders to keep her upright as her body slumped. He held his breath, too terrified to think of what to do. Had his magic been too late?
Then she began to snore.
The soft wheezing was a beautiful song in Ron's ears. He bit his lip to keep from laughing with relief, and rested his forehead against Kim's, luxuriating in the sound of her slumber.
"Is she okay?" Hana whispered.
Ron slid onto the seat between Kim and Hana, and gathered them both close. Hana clung to his arm, while Kim molded herself bonelessly to his side. "We're definitely okay, Intruder," he said.
In minutes, Hana followed Kim into slumber. Ron rested his head back against the seat and listened to them breathing in peace. The steady sound began to lull the adrenaline out of his system, drawing his heavy eyelids closed.
There were still too many problems for Ron to count. Wade's rescue sat at the top of the list, and carried with it precious few clues. The incident in the GJ hangar still worried him, just as he knew it worried Yori. Her death threat, almost forgotten after three days' time, rushed back into focus to hang over his head like the looming blade of a guillotine. And if Yori deigned to spare him, they still had to worry about the international intelligence agency calling for their blood, and the super villains whose plot they still had yet to unravel.
But for now, Ron could content himself with a long, well earned nap in the backseat of a car with the two most important people in his world.
To Be Continued