Chapter 5: Zoom Doom

Drakken was baffled by the pace of the phosphor dot. "She's just creeping along. Sixty, seventy, seventy-five miles an hour. She'll be practically out of time when she arrives."

Shego was engrossed in a crossword puzzle. "And we're worried about this why?"

"The code. The signal. The plan."

With a sigh, she closed the magazine, stood up. "Dr.D, let me make some things clear. First, this plan, and I use the word 'plan' very loosely, was the worst you've ever coughed up."

""Coughed up?' I don't like that analogy. Besides, this was providence. Not the city in Rhode Island, but the philosophical concept of –"

She reached out, pinched his lips shut. "You don't talk now, ok? I talk." She let go hesitantly, ready to pinch again, but Drakken stayed silent, lips still pursed. "You told sugar-honey-baby-bunch that if she failed, she was finished. What happens when you're faced with this?" The harlequin fell to her knees, looked up at Drakken with synthetic sorrow on her face. "'Pleeease, Dr. Drakken, hon, have mercy. That cute little girl gave me the puppy dog pout and I just couldn't do it.' "

"That's not bad, Shego. You have a gift!"

She stood up, a thundercloud ready to strike. "What happens then?"

The blue man looked from side to side, sweat beading on his brow. "I – I don't know, I mean, we can't really just go around – that is to say, er, you can't just, you know – " Perplexity became petulant rage. "Everyone deserves a second chance!"

Shego laughed, humorlessly, bitterly. "That's why you don't get any respect. That's why Dementor has all the fans. That's why Kim Possible ridicules you. Her sidekick thinks you're a joke. Even the rodent thinks you're a joke!"

"Shego – "

She would not be silenced. "You're always asking me if you're evil enough. 'Do you think I'm evil, Shego?' 'Am I as evil as Dementor, Shego?' Show me that you are. If Speedy fails you, make an example of her. Be ruthless. Merciless. "

Drakken hesitated, almost afraid to speak. "But there is a possibility that – that she might not fail."

"Oh, puh-leeze. There's a possibility that the earth'll fall into the sun. There's a possibility that Lindsay Lohan'll make a comeback. There're all sorts of possibilities, but honeybaby's not gonna take down Kim Possible." She went back to her puzzle. "You do what you want. And it'll all go south. As usual."

An hour of silence passed before Suzanne Personich's features, cold and hard, appeared on the wall monitor. "Disarm your boobytraps and death rays. I'm outside cargo bay ten. Bring the signal box."

Shego closed her crossword book. "Hmm, no honeybunches or sugarplums. That's a plus."

"Was she in a car?"

"Looked like it. Maybe Speedy ran out of gas. Some people's powers are unreliable. That would make her pretty much useless, don't you think?'"

"I'll deal with this, all right?" snarled Drakken.

"'Outlived their usefulness.' I think Dementor says that occasionally. "

"You don't have to give me any hints. You don't have to push. In fact, stay here and finish that crossword."

"Oh, no. I'll be right at your side, Dr.D. Me and my crossword."

"Thanks for nothing," he grumbled, as they entered the lift. Unexpectedly, Shego reached down, grabbed the signal box from Drakken's hand.

"Give me that!"

"Nope. I'll hang onto it until you need it." But you won't.

Before he could protest, the lift doors opened; Suzanne Personich stood before them, waiting.

Drakken wondered how to handle this, especially after the tirade upstairs. Shego found a seat at the receiving desk, started in on her crossword; he imagined her with a compliance chip on her forehead. Things would be so much easier. Oh well. "You were cutting it sort of close. Why the car?"

For answer, Personich walked to the vehicle, opened the trunk. A familiar red-headed figure lay within, clad in her usual mission gear, seemingly unconscious. "I could hardly carry her that far."

Appalled, the mad doctor drew back, as if she would spring from the trunk and attack him at any moment. "What th – why did you bring her back here? That wasn't the deal. I told you to 'get rid of Kim Possible.' I think we all know what I meant."

"Crush, kill, destroy," said Shego, still concentrating on her puzzle. "Terminate, exterminate, delete, annihilate, send to Dukhonin's staff – "

"Thank you, little miss thesaurus. I wanted her dead."

"She is."

With a sharp gasp, Shego stood up, the puzzle forgotten. "You're a liar. "

"Is - is what?" Drakken stammered. Nothing had changed, and yet now he couldn't look at the body in the trunk.

Personich seemed unfazed. "Didn't you want proof that I did it? The code, please."

The harlequin came forward, slowly, dangerously. "You couldn't beat Possible. You're not good enough."

Suzanne was not intimidated. "We didn't fight, hon. Drakken said 'make it quick.' I did."

The scientist knew he should do something. Shine a penlight in the eyes, see if the pupils dilated. Check for a pulse. Something. Instead, he stepped away from the car. "This had better not be a trick."

Suzanne shrugged. "Examine the body."

"Er – ha ha! Of course! Of course I will! What do you take me for? Squeamish? No one can say Dr. Drakken is squeamish. I will examine the body," he said, moving still further from the trunk and its contents. "You bet. Anyone can say they've finished Kim Possible, but where is the evidence? Only examining the evidence can – "

" I'm on sort of a deadline here."

"Not so fast. You'll get the code when I'm satisfied with the job. Good thing you brought the, uh, remains here. I never take anything at face value. Shego, I have a job for you."

There was no answer. "Shego?"

Drakken's harlequin sidekick was leaning into the trunk of the car, two pale green fingers pressed against the side of the redheaded girl's throat. Nearly two months earlier, Kim had felt for Shego's pulse in Bortel's lab; Shego had no idea she was imitating that action. Strange feelings were churning inside her, feelings she couldn't identify or control.

"Kimmy?" She had to find a pulse. Had to. But beneath her fingers there was nothing. The flesh was stiff, gelid.

She put her hand on the girl's shoulder, shook the lifeless body with a tenderness that gave Suzanne and Drakken chills. "Wake up, Kim. Wake up." Bending close to the dead face, she pleaded, "It can't end like this. Can't be over, cupcake. Please." Without realizing it, she had begun stroking the girl's hair. "Don't do this to me, Kim." She moaned, looked up at Drakken. "Do something, Dr. D. You have to do something." There were tears on her cheeks, accusation in her eyes. She tore herself away from the body, stalked threateningly toward the scientist.

"Stop it, Shego." He backed away, not liking the looks of this at all. "There's nothing I can do."

"You have to fix this!"

"What's wrong with you? This is what we want, remember? 'Ruthless, merciless.' Pull yourself together."

"Drakken, I need that code." There was an edge in Suzanne's voice. "I did my part."

"Yes. Yes, you did. " The blue man cautiously held out a hand to the harlequin. "Shego, give me the box."

"No. She killed Kimmy. My Kimmy." Her eyes smouldered, her features hard as flint. "She can't have it."

"Give it here."

"No!"

"Are you insane? Obey me!"

Shego held the precious device high; a burst of green fire fused its circuits into junk. With a frightening laugh she threw it down, crushed it under foot. Pieces skittered across the floor.

Suzanne was too stunned to move, much less accelerate. That box was her only hope. This whole crazy scheme had been a longshot, but no one had expected this.

"Whatcha gonna do now, honeypie?" the harlequin jeered, and attacked without warning. A fierce kick to the solar plexus sent the little blonde across the floor, clutching her stomach, gasping for breath. She was no fighter. Not like Kim had been. This would be easy. "Can't speed up if you can't think, can you?" Another kick. No plasma bolts. Speedy didn't deserve them. "Stupid little grease monkey! You've ruined everything. Everything!"

Drakken fled across the cargo bay, never looking back. Without the signal box Personich had minutes to live, regardless of the fight's outcome. Trying to get through to Shego right now would be a fool's errand. In time she would accept the situation; until then, it would be better to stay out of her way. The hovercar was just down the hall. It was definitely time to go.

He ran around the corner, out of sight.

"This is for Kimmy." Enraged beyond reason, Shego raised the woman above her head, flung her with all her strength into a stack of crates; it teetered and fell, separating the combatants. In a panic she leaped to the top of the debris, power sizzling around her hands, but her target was already nowhere to be seen. Stupid, stupid, stupid, thought the harlequin, frantically throwing bolts of green fire across the room at random. What was I doing? She accelerated, and now I can't find her, and any second-

"I STILL WIN!" she screamed to the empty air, just as the knockout blow fell. This time Suzanne felt no remorse about slugging the woman. More than once, in fact.

As the harlequin went down, Drakken reappeared, struggling in the grip of one of Wade Load's robotic avatars; behind the machine came Ron and Kim.

"A dirty trick!" bellowed the mad scientist, shaking a fist at Kim. "It didn't fool me for a moment!"

Suzanne decelerated, looked at her watch, like it mattered.

Five minutes.

"We had some henchman trouble," Kim quickly explained, "but a Wadebot's a handy thing to have around. Did they fall for it?"

"Too well. Shego smashed the signal box. She was avenging you. I think." Suzanne's heart pounded, her breathing came in short, sharp gasps. She'd never been afraid of death before. "I'm done."

"Not yet,' said Wade's image, on the robot's facescreen. The machine extended a scanner, swept its beam over Personich. "I can transmit the proper frequency. That's no biggie. But the implant won't accept it without the access code."

Kim confronted the scientist, icy rage in her eyes. "Drakken, I promise you, if you don't talk, I'll –"

Looking beyond the girl, he saw his sidekick lying sprawled on the cold floor. "What have you done to Shego?"

"That's the least of your worries. Spill!"

"Ruthless. Merciless," he muttered. "You will never get anything out of me. How're you feeling, Speedy? You're running out of time." He laughed. "And I'll fill Shego in on the juicy bits."

"Wade – "

On the Wadebot's screen, the boy was furiously typing. "I'm trying everything I know, Kim. I've got cryptography computers tied in from all over the world. Whatever sort of cipher he used, we're not breaking it. It must be more complicated than anything in the data banks."

"Of course it is," gloated Drakken, dangling from the machine's claws. "My genius shall not be defied. You think you're all that, Wade Load, but you are not!"

In the grip of mortal fear, it was all Suzanne could do to speak. "Kim, please, promise me that – that you'll keep this whole thing secret. Don't let my blunder be my epitaph."

"No one's writing epitaphs today." There were thirty seconds before the implant turned Suzanne Personich off, permanently. "Wade!"

"Kim, I got nothin'!"

"Wait!" shouted Ron. "Wait! I got it! I got it! "Password." Wade, enter "Password."

Kim wondered if her friend had lost his mind. "Ron, we don't have time for that sort of – "

"Do it! Do it!"

"I'm in! I'm in! Transmitting signal now…"

The clock inexorably ticked on: three seconds. Two. One.

Zero.

Sue Personich drew in a deep breath, the sweetest breath she had ever drawn.

Kim was still astonished. "'Password?' That was it?"

"It's what I use," Ron proudly announced. "The Stoppable Impregnable Fortress of Data Protection."

Wade shrugged his shoulders. "We were trying too hard." He spun around, typed a few lines. "Global Justice's on the way to pick up Drakken and Shego."

"And me," said Sue Personich. "I'm turning myself in. Don't know if we'll ever cross paths again, Kim, but thanks. Thanks for everything."

"I know the head of GJ, Sue," said Kim. "I'll put in a word for you. I'm sure they could use someone with your, uh, unique ability. "

"Everyone's unique, hon. Don't ever forget that."

"KP! Trouble!" Ron was standing at the trunk of the car, his face pale. "Duplicate's gone."

"Wade! We've got problems. Can you patch me through to Bortel?"

"Done." The image blurred, became the rotund scientist's face.

"What is it, Kim? I'm in the middle of something."

When was he ever not in the middle of something? "My duplicate's disappeared!"

"Oh, that is another problem with the matter duplicator. The duplicates eventually dissolve. Poof! Back to quarks and wavicles. That machine needs a lot of work." Bortel scratched his head. "At least I guess it is the duplicate that dissolves. Never really checked. Wouldn't it be something if the duplicates survive and the originals suffer the side effects? Who would ever know?"

Kim stared blankly into the screen, shell-shocked by that revelation. I'll have nightmares the rest of my life about this, she thought.

Oblivious, Bortel rambled on. "Science! She is a hard schoolmaster, Kim!" The screen went black.

"Of course it vanished," Ron said, ignorant of his friend's distress. "There's only one KP. Right?" He grinned, a big dumb Ron Stoppable grin.

Kim tried to smile back. She had never heard the term "existential crisis", but when she did, she would know exactly what it meant: an unexpected side effect to the hero business.