Kim opened the door to the weather machine's cockpit and looked inside. Empty.
"Wade, there's nobody at the wheel here!"
"It must be remote controlled."
The ground dropped farther away outside the weather machine's cockpit window as Kim waited for an answer. She looked at the Kimmunicator's screen with concern; Wade was taking a long time.
"Open up the panel beneath the control board," he finally said, "and I'll figure out what to do from there."
Kim opened up the panel and stared into the tiny compartment. A mass of colored wires were bunched inside, tangled like plastic veins. Strong winds whipped her hair as they rushed in through the cockpit door, coming from the open maintenance hatch on the top of the machine that Kim had used to break into it. Over the sound of the wind whistling in her ears, Kim heard an ominous creaking noise coming from outside on the top of the weather machine, which told her the spraying apparatus was extending and preparing to carry out the unthinkable. She had only seconds left.
"Wade, talk to me!"
Her young friend's familiar face popped up in the Kimmunicator's viewscreen.
"I'm not sure. This is a new weather machine model, not what Drakken used last time – it's automated, for one thing - so it's taking me a minute to pull up the schematics for this one."
Kim waited as Wade typed furiously, pivoting back and forth between several keyboards. She wished she had Ron around to back her up - she could use a bit of the Ron factor about now. Unfortunately, the two of them had been in a hurry to board the weather machine before it lifted off, and by the time she noticed Ron was not close behind her, she saw him being captured by henchmen in the small airfield where they had found the machine. She didn't know where they were going to take him, but she would have to rescue him later - she needed to stop the weather machine first, since allowing it to release its payload into the atmosphere would make rescuing Ron a moot point.
"Hurry up Wade. We're running out of time here!"
Kim stared at Wade in frustration. He had been acting a bit strangely only a couple days after they had begun this mission, from what Kim could remember. As if he wasn't taking it seriously enough. Unfortunately, Wade was her only hope. For a moment Kim considered cutting all the wires randomly, or perhaps just cutting the red one – it was always the red one, wasn't it? - but another sound from outside the weather machine told her that it was already too late. The machine was releasing Drakken's formula into the atmosphere.
Kim felt shocked, almost paralyzed. It wasn't often that Wade failed to come through in time. Before she lost more valuable time, Kim shook herself into action and strapped on a gas mask which she had taken along with her for just such an occasion. Outside the weather machine's cockpit window, Kim had been able to see the night sky only moments ago, but now storm clouds were beginning to collect as they roiled with angry energy. She wondered if she would be able to see Drakken's spray clouding the air. All she could see at the moment was the white orb of the moon, rapidly fading out as the weather machine stirred the atmosphere into a frenzy. A lightning bolt streaked through the air as deafening thunder rushed from outside into the weather machine's cockpit.
"Wade, it's already being dispersed," she said. Maybe she could still stop the weather machine before too much damage was done. She knew it was probably wishful thinking; Wade had told her that within a few minutes, even a small amount would spread through the atmosphere.
"Wade?" she asked. Hearing no answer, she stared at the Kimmunicator. Wade had a strange expression on his face.
"Wade, do we have anything?"
There was no furious typing, no manic muttering. Wade stared back at Kim, serenely apathetic. He leaned back in his chair and smiled.
"It's alright, Kim."
"Everything's alright, Kim. Don't sweat it! Don't take this the wrong way or anything – I want to stay friends with you – but I had to mislead you for a while. There's nothing you can do now though, so you don't have to worry anymore. If you ask me, I think Drakken and Shego will do a good job of running things."
Kim stared at the smiling boy in the screen and felt a wave of fear wash over her body. How had the spray affected Wade already? He was miles away. There was no way it could be so fast-acting. After another second of thought, Kim realized that Wade had already been taken over. He just mentioned misleading her. Wade had been deliberately undermining the mission, or at least stalling her and Ron for as long as possible.
Kim turned the Kimmunicator off with a curse, and Wade's smiling face disappeared with a blip as she returned the device to her pocket. Ron had been captured by already, Wade was gone, and Kim knew that she would be taken over in moments; this mission was turning out to be a spectacular failure. She checked to make sure her gas mask was on tight, although she was beginning to realize that she couldn't be sure it would protect her, seeing as she had taken Wade's word on how the formula worked. He had told her a gas mask would be enough, since it was an airborne formula that spread through the atmosphere to contaminate anyone who breathed it in, but he had been vague about the details. Now Kim understood why his information was so lacking.
Her options gone and her frustration rising, Kim reached into the open electrical compartment and grabbed a handful of wires, jerking them out in a shower of sparks. The sound of the gas being released from the top of the weather machine ceased, and the machine itself jerked drunkenly out of its flight path, but Kim knew it was too late. She just wanted to do some damage. The machine dropped through the air like a stone, and Kim felt a sick sensation in her stomach as she fell through the sky.
Out the cockpit, up a ladder, through the maintenance hatch. Jump.
A slick metal surface gave way to empty air as she leaped off of the weather machine's falling bulk and into the night. Both Kim and the weather machine had dropped through the storm clouds it had created, and a landscape of trees and dark fields rose up in the distance beneath them. She pulled a ripcord attached to her backpack as she fell with the rain, and the backpack tore open as two extendable wings unfolded to either side of her. The earth was rushing up more quickly now, but she managed to gain control over her descent.
Kim thought about what to do next as she dropped through the sky. She had failed to stop the weather machine – now she had to find Drakken and Shego. They would have the antidote, as well as Ron. If only she could still ask Wade whether or not he had located their new lair yet.
As Kim sailed towards the ground, she glimpsed a small convoy of vehicles in the distance approaching the field in which she was about to land. They were small and distant, but much like the ground, they were getting closer. She tried to make them out more clearly, but the night and rain obscured them, and moments later she was distracted by the sound of the weather machine hitting the earth. She had slowed down as the wings extended, and the weather machine had reached the ground first.
Kim looked down just in time to see a massive explosion mushroom out from the machine's impact. A malignant mass pushed up into the air as she approached, orange and black in its rippling fire. Reaching out to grab her. She leveled out and slowed her descent as the ground drew near, and a shock wave from the blast pushed her up into the air again temporarily. Kim shifted her wings and narrowly avoided being hit by the rush of flames as she came down to the side of the blast, hitting the ground hard and gritting her teeth as she rolled several times. The wings snapped off and she came to a halt, gasping for breath.
Prickling heat danced over Kim's body as flames rose from the wrecked weather machine. A rain of debris and twisted metal, which had been thrown high into the air from the impact, peppered the ground around her as they fell back down. Kim shielded herself from the black snowfall. She tried to crawl back, farther away from the fiery wreckage, but found herself still woozy from her impact with the ground.
"Ugh," she groaned. "You're going to pay for this, Drakken."
As the fire from the wrecked machine began to die down, Kim took a few moments to lay on the ground and catch her breath. She stared up into the air. A few stars struggled to twinkle through a haze of thick black smoke and rain. What to do next?
Kim's first instinct was to call Wade on the Kimmunicator, but she knew that was a waste of time now. She felt miserable, exhausted. Her body was soaked, as was the ground beneath her. As she looked over her sopping wet mission suit, still lying on the ground, a peculiar sensation began to come over her, a kind of tingling in her mind, and she realized the gas mask had not worked. Maybe there was something wrong with it, maybe Wade had lied. She didn't know, but she knew something was not right.
No, Kim... fight it... don't let them...
Her memories stayed the same. Many of her opinions stayed the same. Her likes and dislikes, her knowledge of the world. Some things, however, were becoming different. Kim thought about why she had gone on the mission, why it was so important to stop Drakken and Shego. Her mind was drawing a blank.
Why was she always fighting against them? They weren't that bad, really. As a matter of fact, the more she thought about it, the more she felt bad for ever doubting them. Drakken was a genius, and Shego was clearly her superior in both fashion and martial arts. Kim couldn't help but laugh as a sense of peace began to come over her. She had the same worries, the same fears as she had in the past, but suddenly they seemed irrelevant. It would be okay if she trusted in Drakken and Shego.
Kim stood up and felt her entire body aching. She had not broken anything, but walking hurt a little. But that didn't matter now – as she limped away from the wreckage of the weather machine, still shooting up flames despite the downpour, she knew that her pain was nothing compared to the joy of knowing Drakken and Shego would take care of everything.
Kim had only limped a few yards away from the wreck when she heard the sound of engines roaring. The convoy, which she had seen earlier just before the explosion, had finally arrived. Headlights slithered back and forth over the fallow field, breaking through the darkness as cars and vans pulled to a stop in a loose circle around her. Kim stopped as uniformed figures poured out of the vehicles.
"Who's that?" she asked.
As the figures approached, the dim glow of the headlights illuminated their uniforms. They were Drakken's men. All of them except for one, that is. Ron Stoppable stepped forward from the tightening ring of henchmen and smiled. She could just make out his eyes, glinting in the darkness like black beads.
"KP, what's up? Are you feeling okay?"
"Of course, Ron."
Ron gently took her by the arm and led her towards one of the vans. The back door was open, and a couple of Drakken's henchmen were positioned to either side of it. He removed her gas mask, tossing it aside in the soggy grass and mud.
"You don't need that. Do you want to go see Drakken and Shego?"
Kim smiled in anticipation.
"I'd love to."
The two of them got inside the van. The doors closed behind them, and the orange glow of the still-flaming weather machine receded in the van's back window. Kim watched it as they drove away. As the van snaked down a dirt road on its way to Drakken's lair, she felt bruised and battered, but better than she ever had before.
The van came to a stop. Bright lights poured in through its back windows, through the metal grating that covered them, making a latticed pattern over the dark interior where Kim sat with her captors. The throbbing hum of people talking to each other could be heard outside. Ron stood up and crouched under the van's low ceiling, his smile still pasted across his face, and opened the doors.
There were people all around her – not just henchmen, but all kinds of people, even a few faces that Kim recognized from Middleton. Most of them seemed to be digging and carrying supplies over a massive construction site.. A cacaphony of sounds reached her from the site: buzzing, hammering, welding. It was too early to tell what they were going to build, but based on the sheer size of the site, whatever was being built would be gigantic when it was finished. Floodlights illuminated the area, and beyond piles of construction supplies and parked vehicles, Kim could see chain-linked fences topped by barbed wire in the distance.
It was still raining outside, and although some tarps and tents were set up in various places, most of the workers around the construction site seemed to be soaking wet and indifferent to the weather. Kim could understand why; making Drakken and Shego happy must have been a strong motivation for them. She knew she'd be willing to work in the rain all day for her two former foes.
"Hello, Mrs. Kowalski," Kim said to an old woman who was digging away into muddy ground with a shovel. The mud seeped back into the hole she was making almost as fast as she shoveled it out, but she soldiered on with a smile.
"Nice to see you, Kim Possible! Going to visit Drakken and Shego?"
"Enjoy yourself, missy!"
Kim greeted several more familiar faces as she passed. Marcella was there, and Kim told her to be sure to practice their new routine for school before she joined Ron again on their way to the center of the construction site. They reached a mechanical lift, and Ron stood aside to let Kim step on first. He joined her, along with several henchmen, and pressed the down button. The night sky disappeared as the lift descended into the earth.
Kim thought about the construction site they had just passed through and the underground lair they were entering. They weren't far from Middleton, and the whole site was like a big bullseye to someone with Wade's technical genius. Her young friend, of course, had been lying when he said he couldn't locate their new lair. What a kidder, she thought with a chuckle.
Ron looked pleasantly at Kim in the darkness of the shaft. She could no longer see his eyes, but she could just barely discern the outline of his upturned mouth, a glint of teeth in blackness.
"This isn't as sick and wrong as we thought it would be, don't you think?"
Kim had to agree. Their sitch was most definitely healthy and right.
White circles of light floated over Kim's head. She was still tired and sore from the rest of the evening, but she felt a multitude of bodies behind her, pressing gently into her, keeping her going as they went farther into the lair. Kim was not alone anymore. It was not just Ron who had her back, but everyone who shared her love of their green and blue leaders.
They were in some kind of hallway. Going into the earth, she thought. Sloping down, down. Globe-shaped lights hung from the ceiling at intervals; to some, they might look like malignant eyes, but to Kim they were benevolent. Silent fireflies, guiding her way to the two most amazing people in the world.
Minutes passed, and finally the surge of people behind her came to a stop. Kim was standing on the floor of a larger, brighter room. Ron and the henchmen behind her surrounded Kim in a circle, but also stepped back, clearing out an open space into which two figures stepped closer to her. One in blue, one in green.
"Nice of you to drop in, Kim Possible!"
Doctor Drakken wrung his hands joyfully as Shego looked over their captor with a smirk.
"Ready, Doctor D?"
Drakken shrugged apathetically.
"It was your idea, Shego. Do it if you wish."
Shego snapped her fingers, and Ron stepped forward towards Kim, still smiling. She smiled back at him and watched in interest as Ron pulled a hypodermic needle and syringe from his pants pocket. She wanted to know what Ron was doing, but she trusted him implicitly – because whatever he was doing was Shego's desire – and stood patiently as Ron injected a clear fluid into her arm. After finishing, Ron gave her a sympathetic look and put a bandaid on the spot. He stepped back into the crowd of henchmen surrounding them.
Moments passed, and Kim began to feel the same tingling sensation in her mind as she had when she was lying in the field, staring up at the rain-drenched sky. Her sense of simple serenity washed away as fear and disgust took its place. Fear at her situation, disgust at what she had just been feeling moments ago. She felt betrayed; her best friend, her boyfriend, had just stabbed her with a needle. And why? What was going on? She blinked and looked at her two captors, Drakken and Shego, and felt her love for them melting away, replaced by white-hot rage.
Kim was about to leap at them when she felt her muscles begin to slacken, her vision blur. Maybe her landing in the field had been harder than she had thought. She tried to fight against the languid sensation that was enfolding her, but her muscles seemed to be weakening. She sunk to the ground as she felt her body begin to stop responding.
Drakken smiled as Kim stared up at him in a daze. "So, Kim Possible, how does it feel to be thwarted so completely? Even your sidekick has turned against you!" Drakken looked around for Ron. "Where did that boy just go, anyway? Oh yes, there you are – come here, Kim's sidekick!"
Ron stepped forward from the crowd and stood beside Drakken and Shego, still smiling.
"I gotta hand it to you, Doctor D," said Shego, "this did work out pretty well. And after we almost pulled it off with that crazy Lil Diablo scheme, too! You've been on a roll."
Drakken blushed at the rare compliment from his partner in evil. "You're too kind, Shego. I suppose I have to thank Kim's sidekick and her little computer genius friend for their help. Even if we had to persuade them a little."
Kim was still lying prone on the floor. She shifted feebly and groaned as she listened to Drakken's gloating; even through her drug-induced haze, she understood Drakken's rant well enough to know she had been fooled.
"What's that?" Drakken asked, but he had made out the name of Kim's tech genius already. "Oh yes, Wade. We had him brainwashed days ago. Not that difficult, really – we just brainwashed his mother, who was far less careful than her son, and then had her slip him some of the formula in a cup of water."
"F – formula..." she muttered.
"Yes, that's right, the brainwashing formula. MC Ultra, I've chosen to name it. I had all of that brainwashing shampoo just laying around, and I thought, why put it to waste? At first I was considering brainwashing some soldiers, maybe find a train load of their rations to contaminate, but I realized I wasn't thinking big enough! And what's bigger than the earth? After all, world domination is my goal, is it not?
"The shampoo was inferior because I had to rely on others for its success. People had to buy it, use it on themselves, or at least I would have to forcefully shampoo their heads, and let's face it - some people have serious hygiene problems."
Shego found herself shrugging and nodding in agreement. Her boss had a point.
"Anyway, I used the shampoo as the basis for MC Ultra, a formula that could spread quickly over the earth when released into the atmosphere. All I needed was a delivery mechanism, and I already had experience with weather machines, so Shego and I stole another one from that stupid Wacky Wally's sales yard which we could use as a blueprint to make more! In retrospect, perhaps we shouldn't have chosen the same place to steal it from, and perhaps I shouldn't have been chatting about my brainwashing plans with the salesman."
"Yeah, I really shoulda been watching you closer," agreed Shego.
"He was just so friendly! And the donuts – oh, let me tell you, Shego..."
Drakken licked his lips, a sight which caused Shego to shudder a little.
"As I was saying, Kim Possible – when we caught wind of the fact that you and your computer genius friend were on to us, at first I thought my plans were ruined as usual, but then I realized it could be a hidden blessing. We brainwashed Wade and used his misdirection to stall you and the buffoon for as long as we could while we assembled more weather machines to launch around the world. You rely too much on that boy, you know. And it's a good thing someone will stop looking for more details once they think they've got their enemy's plans figured out."
Drakken began to pace around, gesticulating madly as his brainwashed followers watched him with rapt attention. "We launched this weather machine in Middleton first as a distraction, knowing you would spend your time trying to stop it, and voila! Mission accomplished! And guess what's going on right now, Kim Possible?"
He waved theatrically to numerous computer monitors behind him, and while Kim's vision was a little blurry, she didn't need to see much to know what Drakken was talking about. The other weather machines were all doing their job of spreading more of his formula.
"And that," he said as he pointed triumphantly to Kim, "that is why you had no chance. While you and the buffoon were focused on trying to stop a single weather machine, others had been secretly launched all over the world! You made the foolish mistake of assuming I would carry out the same plan twice!"
"Well," said Shego, "to be honest, it's not exactly a new plan. I mean, you already used both the-"
"Shego! Zip it!"
"Why," Kim slurred, "why'm I not... not like them?" Her head nodded faintly at the brainwashed crowd surrounding herself and her two captors.
Drakken smiled and gave a faint nod in Ron's direction, who was still holding the needle. He smiled at Kim and held it up for her to see. She could still feel a faint sting where the sharp metal had pierced her skin.
"Well, you were like them for a moment there, as I'm sure you noticed," laughed Drakken. "That shot your sidekick – er, is the sidekick her boyfriend now, Shego?"
From what Shego had seen of the two of them in the weeks since their failed Lil Diablo plot, they did seem to be a pair now. She nodded her head in confirmation.
"Anyways, sidekick, boyfriend, whatever – the shot he just gave you contains a tranquilizer to render you temporarily incapable of fighting, but it has something else in it as well. A little dose of immunity against MC Ultra!" Drakken grinned at his captive, who stared back vacantly. "You're very welcome."
Kim tried to process Drakken's explanation, but it made no sense. Why would they give her an immunity to the brainwashing formula? She was their greatest threat. She knew there was more they weren't telling her.
"What're gonna do with me," she managed to slur.
Drakken gave Shego a sidelong glance after hearing Kim's question.
"Funny you should ask," he said. "Shego and I were discussing that ourselves, and we seemed to have a strange reversal of positions. I do like to toy with you and the buffoon, but this time I felt that we should dispose of you quickly. Shego, however, had other ideas. Usually she's the one who likes the quick and dirty approach, but this time, she had a different plan. She's the one you should really be thanking for making you immune to my brainwashing formula, as a matter of fact."
Drakken snapped his fingers at the crowd standing around them and pointed at Kim. The crowd surged in again to pick her up, Ron in the lead. Kim felt her Ron grab her arms, and Shego herself grabbed Kim's feet as she helped lift her foe with an ominous grin.
"Don't you worry, Princess. We're actually gonna let you go!"
Kim was taking a van ride for the second time that evening. This time, however, she knew where she was going. Her vision was becoming less blurry as the drug began to wear off, and as she stared out the window, she began to recognize the road stretching out behind them.
She was going home.
Before long, the van reached Kim's neighborhood and slowed down. Several familiar houses passed by outside the window, and finally the van made a turn and reversed into a driveway. Her driveway. Ron and the other henchmen riding with her got up from their seats and opened the doors, like last time, and pulled Kim out to deposit her on the wet ground. The rain had slackened, but it was still drizzling steadily. Kim looked back as the henchmen – except Ron – got back inside the van and closed the door as it drove out into the road and left the neighborhood.
"Here you go, KP," said Ron as he extended a hand. Kim looked up at him in confusion and took his hand as he helped her to her feet and led her closer to her door, ringing the doorbell for her. The way he propped her up and led her to her front door was almost gentle. Kim was surprised that he still seemed to care about her. Just an illusion, she thought.
"I gotta go home, my parents are expecting me," he said. "Soon you'll see how great everything will be, don't worry! Things will be totally badical from now on!"
Ron wore a smile that was somehow both pleasant and unsettling. Kim looked at him, trying to read his face. Was he still her best friend? Was he still Ron? Or was he someone else? Ron walked away towards his own house as Kim watched. His friendly demeanor, his helping hand; Kim was tempted to think it was Ron. The real Ron. But those last couple of sentences had dispelled the notion. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought of what Ron had become.
As she looked around the neighborhood, she felt more confused than ever. Drakken and Shego had pulled off their evil scheme, Kim had been in their grasp, and yet they had dropped her off back at her own house. It was almost courteous of them. What was their angle?
Kim felt some of her strength returning – it had been seeping back by degrees during the van ride home – but she still felt like she could barely stay on her feet. She almost fell over when she was startled by the sound of the front door opening.
"Kim! You're home!"
James and Anne Possible rushed out of the door, followed closely by the tweebs, and they gathered around Kim as they hugged her in a warm embrace. She looked at her family, and again - just for a moment - she was almost fooled. She wanted to believe everything was the same, but something in their expressions felt wrong. They were almost her family.
Her mother led her by the hand as they passed into the house.
"Come inside, Kim! We have so much to talk about!"
Notes - Hope everybody liked the first chapter. I wanted to try something a little different than anything I've written so far, so I'm interested in seeing what people think. It is sci-fi / action but there will be humor as well - however, it will be a little darker than my stories usually are, although not as depressing as Beyond the Stone. Thanks!