Here at last is the final installment of Across The Stars, beginning with what could be called an alternate scene of sorts. One of my story's minor apparent missteps was Shego's gift to Kim, back in Ch. 16. Her new outfit's color scheme did not initially meet with, shall we say, overwhelming approval. The suit was quickly sacrificed for the good of the mission (and hopefully, the story) and I humorously tried to explain my original intention to MrDrP. However, another reviewer thought my response was entertaining enough to be shared with a wider audience, perhaps in some author's notes at the end. So I offer the following for your reading pleasure and general edification.
Although I still defend the logic of my original idea, I probably could have presented it better. This is what I meant to convey:
Now smiling, Shego held the box out to Kim. She quietly said, "Here's something I hope you'll like."
Kim opened the box. Inside was a bodysuit of familiar design and pattern. Identical in form with Shego's outfit, it had one major difference: the colors were now green, red, blue and purple. Each color was outlined with a thin black line, but the design was still in Shego's classic harlequin pattern.
Kim gasped in amazement as she removed the suit from the box. She drank in the exquisite beauty of her new outfit. Kim was almost in tears as she observed the incredible style and perfect cut of the fabric. The muted, pastel colors of Team Go were a delight to her eye, their gentle hues presenting a living testament to the perfect blending of her newly acquired abilities. She knew now that there was nothing that would prevent them from working together to rescue Ron and Drakken. Absolute victory was now assured."
Unfortunately, to some it came across as:
Kim gasped in horror as she removed the suit from the box. Shego's failed attempt at reconciliation was heightened by the horribly garish colors of the harlequin-like outfit, looking more like a Salvador Dali nightmare than anything even remotely aesthetic. But try as she might, she couldn't tear her eyes away from the fashion disaster, not unlike how some people react to a terrific car crash. Kim rapidly approached her hurl factor as she continued to grimace at the horrible affront to her fashion sensibility. It was a perfect visual description of the incredible dysfunction of Team Go. She realized now that there was no way that she could continue under these circumstances, even though it would mean the demise of both Ron and Drakken, as well as the Earth's doom. At least she would be able to look Coco Banana squarely in the eye as she faced the rest of eternity without Ron. The End."
In any case, Kim's attire was quickly used to repair some serious battle damage to the Kepler III , as you may remember. But ... could it reappear in a future sequel, rising from the grave like some kind of ghastly undead zombie from one of Ron's computer games? Oh, the horror … the horror ...
And now, as they say, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Here is one final bonus chapter to close this tome, answering a remaining question, and showing that happy endings can also come with a heavy price ...
Sensei floated weightlessly on the astral plane in an unaccustomed state of anxiety and spiritual exhaustion. He had already spent nearly a week here in this beautiful void between the great realities. He breathed a deep sigh, sadly realizing he would soon need to return to his corporeal body. Even though his search here had once again been fruitless, still he persevered. His search for Yoshiko was far too important not to push himself to the very limit of his spiritual and physical endurance. Besides, a promise had been made to him, and he trusted that that promise would still be kept.
"Perhaps if I stay just an hour longer ..."
He frowned, recalling that he had spoken those very words nearly fifty years before, and in the process had nearly become lost here himself. He remembered his desperation at the time as he frantically searched in vain for the love of his life, who had become irretrievably lost here. Yoshiko was the only woman to have ever become a Mystical Monkey Master, and she had been personally trained by him. Sensei had continued to feel a deep sense of regret for letting her travel on the astral plane by herself without more extensive tutelage. He felt personally responsible, and accepted full blame for her loss. Even though Fujimi, the headmaster of Yamanouchi at the time, had absolved him of any responsibility whatsoever, he still could not forgive himself. He was convinced that it had been his fault, and his fault alone.
He breathed her name. "Yoshiko … I am so sorry ..."
His voice returned to him, empty. The path before him glittered serenely in the mystic light, its beauty reminding him of Yoshiko's own incomparable loveliness. Still, the path's appearance belied its ever present dangers, as it had somehow trapped his one true love here. With sad resignation, he slowly turned back down the path toward the physical plane, and home.
He began to fondly reminisce over the joy he had felt as he began training his beautiful pupil, so very long ago. Just as he had done much more recently with Stoppable-sama, he first trained her in the martial art of Tai Shing Pek Kwar, and later in both the mystical arts as well as the secrets of traveling the astral plane. He held the bittersweet memory in his mind of the first time that they joined their minds, reveling in the amazing oneness of that experience. Their bond naturally deepened as the weeks and months went by. He began to fall deeply in love with his precious Yoshiko, and soon broached the subject of marriage. Once he had gathered up enough courage to actually ask her, she joyfully accepted his proposal. Their courtship lasted throughout the remainder of her training, which was hastened by their anxiousness to be wed. He now regretted that haste, sadly fearing that the accelerated training had contributed to her loss.
Once she had disappeared on the astral plane, he began a desperate attempt to find her. After several unsuccessful attempts in locating her, his desperation soon tuned to despair, then to resignation in face of the inevitable. On his last try, he barely made it back in time himself before his body expired, having had no sustenance for over three days. Through training over the years, he had managed to extend that period of time to seven days, but he was at present critically close to that limit. He was forced to start back, his mystical cord retracting automatically as he grew closer to the physical plane. But before long, a strange apparition materialized before him, one he had not seen for many years.
A deep, otherworldly voice spoke. "Sensei ..."
A wave of relief washed over his soul. The master slowed his progress, then stopped completely. The comet aliens had finally returned, just as they had promised. The three beings glowed in a multicolored display of energy. Incorporeal, the three orbs slowly circled each other as they floated before Sensei.
The first alien spoke. "Our apologies, Sensei. We were delayed by a critical mission of grave import. However, we have not forgotten our promise to you."
The second alien added, "We are deeply grateful for your assistance during this crisis. If this had not been resolved, not only galactic peace would have been threatened, but interdimensional peace as well. With your help, Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable have have succeeded in defeating the Lorwardians, and peace has once again been restored to your galaxy. We have therefore returned to fulfill our agreement."
The third alien continued. "Sensei, as we are not of your dimension, we do not share the same type of physical form as yourself. We do have similar emotions, however, and therefore considerable empathy for your predicament. Behold ..."
Sensei's eyes widened as a small light appeared in the distance, growing ever larger at it approached. Even before the light had coalesced, he could sense the presence of his one true love. Deep feelings, long forgotten, buoyed up within him.
The light grew closer, finally assimilating into the one lithe form that Sensei had nearly given up hope of ever seeing again.
"Yes, Sensei. It is I. It is your Yoshiko." Her lilting voice was just as youthful and full of life as it had been the day she left. Her appearance was likewise unblemished by time, and every bit as beautiful as Sensei had remembered.
Sensei was astounded. She floated before him, clothed in a dark blue keikogi, the very same attire as she had worn the last time he had seen her. The last time before she had disappeared, seemingly forever.
He could barely believe what his senses were telling him. "Yoshiko, is it really you, after so very long?"
"Yes, my love, it is truly me. I have held your memory close to my heart for these many years, always and ever hoping to see you one last time."
Sensei cocked an eyebrow. "One last time? I do not understand."
Yoshiko wistfully bowed her head. "My most earnest wish was to see you one more time before passing into the eternal realm. Now, that has been fulfilled. My soul overflows with the joy of seeing you once again, but now we must part."
Sensei was thunderstruck. "No … it cannot be! But why?"
Yoshiko continued. "Due to my inexperience, my spirit became completely diffuse while here on the astral plane. Spread out over such a wide area, I was unable to communicate with you as you searched for me, although I could sense your presence. For that same reason, I was also unable to pass through through the portal and into the eternal realm when my only chance to do so occurred, nearly fifty years ago."
She smiled gratefully at the three comet aliens. "Mere words cannot convey my deep thanks to these beings, who have reconstituted my spirit and are now able to reopen that portal, allowing me to enter into my eternal rest."
In spite of his tremendous self-control, Sensei was nearly overwhelmed with emotion. The incredible happiness he felt in seeing Yoshiko again bordered on the miraculous, but the sudden realization that their reunion would only be short-lived brought soul-crushing sorrow.
Sensei angrily turned toward the aliens. "But what of our agreement? Was I not to be reunited with Yoshiko?"
The first alien replied, "Yes, and that has now been fulfilled, though perhaps not in exactly the way that either you or we had intended. Unfortunately, the time of your reunion must be brief. We have since discovered that even we cannot hold your Yoshiko's spirit together for long, while simultaneously summoning the portal and keeping it open. This is regretfully beyond even our considerable powers."
The grief Sensei now felt filled him with great anguish, bordering on despair. Having just been reunited with his great love after so long, he could not bear to lose her once again. He frantically tried to think of another answer to the apparently insoluble problem. "But, cannot she return with me to the physical realm?"
His voice tinged with regret, the second alien responded, "Your own powers, though great, would not be able to keep her spirit unified as you made the transition back to your physical reality. And regrettably, we are unable to cross into your dimension without resulting in our own destruction."
Yoshiko smiled as she sadly shook her head. "And even if I could, what would I return to, my love? My body has been dead and buried these past fifty years. I think you would find it difficult carrying on a relationship with an undead spirit, even if that were possible."
"But perhaps we could find another form for you to inhabit?" Sensei realized the folly of his question as soon as he had voiced it. He knew that he was grasping at straws as he desperately cast about for a solution, but he wasn't quite willing to give up just yet. "A clone might be the answer. Technology exists even now for such a process. The process itself may not be quite perfected, but there is still a chance ..."
Yoshiko hesitated, but again shook her head. "No, it cannot be. I cannot return, and even if that were possible, I could not do so without upsetting the delicate balance of what must be, both here and in the physical realm. We both know that more than anyone, my dear friend. This is the way of existence, the graceful symmetry between Yin and Yang. We must not tamper with it without risking dire consequences."
Sensei knew this intuitively, as he himself had taught her these very ways so long ago. Nevertheless, he was close to tears, his formidable self-control withering under the assault between his reawakened feelings of hope and the grim reality he now faced. He sighed deeply as he bowed his head, now prepared to accept the inevitable.
"Yes, you are correct, my Yoshiko. I now regret having taught you these truths all too well, but that does not alter their veracity. Change is a necessary part of life, and often we cannot regain what has been lost, as much as we may desire it."
A small smile tugged at his lips. "We can, however, remember those times with fondness."
"Yes, Sensei. And nothing can ever take those times away from us, neither then nor now. I shall always remember you, my love, and with deep fondness."
"As shall I, my precious Yoshiko."
Several seconds passed without either speaking a word. Neither wished to break the spell of these last few moments together, as each tried to etch this precious memory forever within their minds.
The first alien spoke again. "It is time. We are deeply grateful to have been able to arrange both this last meeting and farewell, but time grows short."
Now resigned to their separate fates, Sensei responded, "You as well have my eternal thanks for retrieving my Yoshiko, and enabling her to complete her long delayed spiritual journey."
Yoshiko smiled. "I knew that one day you would return to rescue me, Sensei. I can easily sense that your love has not abated for me in the slightest, even though much time has passed. I only regret that our present reunion has been so cruelly short, and that its resolution will spell our further separation. But I shall never let this moment fade from my memory. I shall indeed remember you, forever ..."
A small light in the distance began to form.
The third alien instructed, "Once the portal appears, all you need do is allow yourself to pass through it to the other side. The eternal realm is a place of great peace and beauty, far above any mortal comprehension. It is our great honor to assist in your passage."
The portal grew in size until it was just large enough for Yoshiko to pass through. The edges of the doorway to the great beyond flickered brightly, lighting the surrounding area with its otherworldly glow. Yoshiko began to be slowly drawn into it. Suddenly, Sensei reached out and touched her shoulder, briefly holding her back.
He turned to the aliens. "Is it possible for more than one spirit to pass through the portal at once?"
The three aliens began to spin faster in mild consternation as they considered this unusual request. The first alien replied, "This portal is only set for one being to pass. However, with additional effort on our part, it may just be possible."
Yoshiko tuned back to Sensei in horror. "No, Sensei! As much as I desire never to part from you, I cannot condone your sacrifice. What of your own life, your friends, and your duties at Yamanouchi?"
Sensei offered a wan smile. "I am an old man, my Yoshiko. I have lived a full life, and my own destiny has been fulfilled. Thanks to Kim Possible, the Earth is now safe from the threat of the Lorwardians. As the Mystical Monkey Master, Ron Stoppable has finally gained complete control over his powers, and together with Rufus-san, they shall continue to protect the Earth from peril. Yamanouchi is in excellent hands as well, and is now being led by Yori, a former pupil of mine in whom I have the utmost confidence. My work in the physical realm has been fully completed, and I have no qualms about passing the torch on to those who are eminently qualified to do so."
He sighed heavily. "Besides, it is long past the time to enter my rest as well. And to be blessed by beginning eternity reunited with my one true love fills my soul with unspeakable joy."
Even in her spirit form, tears began to fill Yoshiko's eyes. "Nothing would please my soul more, my Sensei. But I cannot allow myself to deny you of your physical life merely to fulfill my own happiness. I will agree only if you are absolutely certain."
Sensei nodded with complete confidence. "I am. And let there not be the slightest lingering of doubt in your own mind, my love."
The aliens spoke again, but this time with one single voice. "We are prepared. The portal may now allow both of you to pass. But be forewarned that this decision is irrevocable. Even our considerable powers have their limits: once you pass through, there will be no turning back."
Sensei chuckled. "Nor would we want to, my alien friends. Are you ready, my Yoshiko?"
As she looked longingly at Sensei, she smiled and nodded. "Hai. I am ready."
As Sensei and Yoshiko gazed deeply into the other's eyes, they allowed themselves to pass through the portal. In another few moments, the portal gently closed and disappeared in a sparkle of coruscating color.
Back on Earth, Sensei slowly exhaled his final breath, a deep smile of contentment gracing his now still physical form.
The aliens smiled, and slowly turned toward home.
This chapter is respectfully dedicated to those who lost their lives in the recent San Bruno, CA explosion and fire, which has devastated the neighborhood of my youth. May those they left behind be comforted by the knowledge of God's peace and grace in the midst of suffering and loss, and the hope of an eternal reunion. You will be sorely missed.