DISCLAIMER: nothing belongs to me if you've seen it on TV. Soundtrack for this chapter: Departure from the Northern Wasteland by Michael Hoenig; Emissaries by Radio Massacre International; To Shatter All Accord by Discipline.


She blinked and they were somewhere else, a place where galaxies reeled and crumbled on the horizon, where incomprehensible objects floated by, making bizarre sounds as they passed, where a road like a grey ribbon stretched itself without support through the alien space, twisting and turning, coiling back on itself. Far, far ahead it ended at a strangely carven gate; through that gate she could see, dimly, the sane and familiar landscape of the Earth they had departed.

Countless Septenant, of every conceivable hue, hovered nearby, watching. The army of the realm of Kromengel, awaiting the order to invade Kim's world.

On that eerie road the Sloth waited for her; she opened the door, got in, fastened the seatbelt as if in a dream. Returned the little switch in the steering column to its 'on' position. Was surprised to find Ron in the backseat, already fastened in. "You'll need someone to operate the back-seat controls," he said, quietly.

"I'll make the Tweebs move all that up front when they get back from camp." They wanted to say something more, but neither of them could frame the words. Not here. Not now. The expression passed unspoken between them.

She looked to one side; her violet opponent stood within a hovering, semi-transparent crystal that was concave one second, convex the next. The much-vaunted arlamox, no doubt. She wasn't impressed.

It was impossible to read the Septenant's expression or body language, but somehow she knew it was gloating, secure in its skill.

Yellow suddenly unfolded itself from nowhere, stood between the dueling vehicles. "…First …to …return …to …the …third …dimension …is …the …victor. …Any …maneuver …is …acceptable; …only …nuclear …weapons …are …forbidden …from …the …course. …Too …much …cleanup …afterward. …Any …other …armament …is …honored."

The teens exchanged a fearful glance. "Armament?" Kim shouted at the yellow alien.

Without response, Yellow folded itself back into nothingness, leaving a floating traffic light in its stead.

Red.

The purple pilot of the arlamox stretched into a new form, merging in part with its vehicle.

Kim turned the key; the Sloth's engine began to rumble. She tensed behind the wheel.

Yellow.

The arlamox emitted a weird whistling sound that climbed into inaudibility as a new, audible layer came in beneath it, beginning the cycle anew. At the same time, spirals of light whirled from beneath it.

The Sloth roared as Kim fed it more fuel, black exhaust spewing from its pipes.

The traffic light exploded in a cascading flare of green.

Instantly the arlamox shot forward; as it did, a weirdly bent antenna sprouted from its top, sprayed a beam of white-hot energy directly at the Sloth. Kim screeched to one side, barely evading the blast, almost driving off the road. Ron stared out the side window into the starless abyss, too horrified to scream a warning.

The arlamox hurtled into the lead.

A sound arose from the Septenant spectators; the teens instinctively knew it was a cheer.

With a snarl, Kim shifted gears; Ron threw a switch and the Sloth's air scoop popped out of the hood. The little coupe surged toward the alien vehicle. The beam flared out again, blasting holes in the road; Kim dodged them like an expert. Her experience avoiding the potholes in the Middleton-Upperton Boulevard finally came in handy.

The arlamox increased its lead, flinging itself up a ramp.

"KP," said Ron, "just up ahead, drive off the left edge of the road. It'll drop us to the next level, but he'll have to finish that loop to get there."

She didn't have time to question the advice; everything was happening too fast. The Sloth shot off the edge into the void, plummeted down, struck the lower level of the road and bounced, almost flying out of control. But now the arlamox was coming out of the loop, heading toward them. The ray reached out; Kim spun the Sloth in a controlled skid, taking it behind a floating rock formation that was pulverized by the blast.

An instant later, she shifted gears again, floored it, squalled out just ahead of the falling rubble. "Weapons," snapped Kim. "No one said anything about weapons. We got nothin'."

"Yeah, we do. We've got a plan, KP."

"What?"

"Let him catch up with us."

"Are you crazy? It's all I can do to stay in the lead!" Racing was terrifying. Only a maniac like Motor Ed could get any enjoyment out of it.

"No, really, let him get in closer."

The arlamox howled toward them.

"Don't make it too easy. Reel him in."

"The ray –"

"Let him think he's got us."

She screeched into a curve; the car went up on two wheels, came down with a slam. The ray seared the air where the Sloth had been.

"Closer!"

The arlamox loomed gigantic in the side mirror; the antenna sprang out, homing in for the kill. She could see the inscrutable face of her alien opponent. "Ron –"

Ron slammed his fist down on the rocket button.

The engines burst from the trunk, belching flame, engulfing the arlamox. Cracks appeared in its flawless crystalline form. The purple thing within changed form once more, throwing its vehicle into a wild, top-like spinning, extinguishing the flames that clung to it. But that maneuver cost it precious time; the Sloth blazed even further ahead, shooting up a ramp into a wild corkscrew that put any roller coaster to shame.

Sweating bullets, Kim grimly held the car on the road, her heart hammering, her jaw clenched so tight it hurt. Even the US Cheerleading Finals last year hadn't been this grueling. But it was almost over.

They were approaching the gate to Earth and victory.

"We're gonna win this thing, " Ron shouted. "First four-dimensional boooo-yah!"

Then the left rear tire blew.

The Sloth spun sideways, sparks flying from the wheel rim. Their opponent blazed forward, shot past them, flying toward the finish gate. With it went the hope of the world.

"NO! I won't let it happen!" Kim cried, and triggered the grappling beam. The Tweebs had once used it to dismantle Bonnie's car piecemeal; she didn't care what it did to the arlamox. Any weapon was acceptable. It was all they had.

The beam shot out, not at their opponent, but almost straight up, attaching itself to a monstrous rock formation floating overhead, dragging the Sloth off the road, leaving the little car dangling by the beam over the black void of Kromengel.

"Kim! What th – What're you doing?"

Too late she remembered the mechanic at Auto Doctors warning her to get the beam calibrated: "If you'd set it off now, who knows what might happen." Now she knew. But she was Kim Possible. She could do anything . She could still salvage this.

"Ron, rockets are go!"

A moment of sanity broke through Ron's panic. Unnecessarily. "Did you just quote Captain Constellation?"

"The rockets, Ron! Give 'em everything they've got! Now!"

She turned off the grappling beam and The Sloth launched itself on a tail of flame, describing a perfect arc, soaring like a meteor toward the finish gate and their opponent. She smiled, a fierce victorious grin, seeing the arlamox just ahead, certain now that she could overtake it, win this race by a nose, just like she'd brought the team to victory in the Cheerleading Finals, just like she'd kept her 4.0 average for twelve years, just like she'd saved the world a hundred times before.

Because she was Kim Possible, and she could do anything.

Almost.

The Sloth bounced out of the gate, losing another tire in the process . The rocket engines coughed, spluttered, shut down, out of fuel.

The violet Septenant disembarked from the cracked crystal of its arlamox, watching the car screech to a halt on the Middleton roadway, under the blue skies of Earth.

Skies that would soon belong to Kromengel.

Kim sat behind the wheel, seemingly shell-shocked. "We – we lost."

"Come on, KP," came Ron's voice, right beside her, a million miles away. "The car might blow up or something. Who knows." His strong hands steadied her as she stepped from the car, still unable to accept what had happened.

The violet creature jeered. "…Inferior …species. …Inferior …technology. …You …will …probably …be …inferior …slaves …as …well."

"Come on, then!" Kim assumed a battle stance; Ron tried to hold her back, but she shook him off, stepped forward, furious. "Come on! No races. No rays. Let's fight."

Yellow rose up from the earth, standing before her. "…The …challenge ….is …complete. …You …are …defeated."

"No! No, I'm not. We're not. Fight me!" she screamed, and suddenly broke into tears.

Ron held her, spoke to her quietly. "It doesn't matter, Kim. No one can win all the time." Their eyes met; she was unable to speak. "Sometimes things don't go like we planned. It's all right. We still have each other."

She knew he was right, but she could not admit it.

The alien swarm had surrounded them. He stroked her hair, said words he wasn't sure he believed. "There'll be another chance. This isn't the end. We won't submit. Someday we'll get another chance."

"Together?" asked the young woman.

"Together," replied the young man, watching the aliens close in.

A creature broke through the swarm, conveyed a message to their yellow leader, an urgent tone in its alien buzzing. The swarm stopped its advance.

Yellow spoke to the teenagers, annoyance in its strange voice: "…This …has …never …happened …in …the …history …of …the …Septenant. …There …will …be …no …invasion."

Kim looked up at it, uncomprehending. "W – what? But we lost. I lost."

"…Superior …species …are …to …be …avoided. …Superior …races …always …subjugate …the …inferior."

"But we lost."

It drew itself up to its full height. "…Earth …is …not …the …only …planet …we …have …challenged," it droned, and suddenly the aliens were gone.

"They – they changed their minds," Ron said.

"I wonder …why?" Kim said, in barely a whisper, looking up at the sky, wondering what was coming next. She wouldn't have long to wait for an answer.

Unseen and undetected by Earth defenses, the mighty ship orbited the tiny blue planet, a planet so unlike its homeworld. Warmonga, barbarian queen of the Lorwardians, had come across the lightyears on a single quest: to pledge her strength and technology to the service of the Great Blue, the one destined to lead her people in battle.

Inhuman strength. Superior technology.

Her people had once been put to the test, and had not been found wanting.