Disclaimer – I don't own Jimmy Neutron or any other referenced media material.
Cindy had forgotten what it felt like to fly at high speed. Thanks to Jimmy, she had handled numerous vessels of various shapes and sizes over the years, but this was her first time riding Goddard. In addition to her rusty skills, she couldn't avoid noticing her vulnerability, with nothing but Goddard's metallic frame separating her from the fast-moving pavement below them. The one thing keeping her motivated was the thought of losing Jimmy.
"I don't see them yet!" she hollered above the wind.
"We are closing in on our target," Goddard replied in his monotonous robotic voice.
"Can't you go any faster?"
"I am currently traveling at the maximum velocity that this form allows. I would fly above traffic but will refrain from doing so out of concern for your safety."
"Screw my safety, I want to catch Jimmy now!"
"I apologize Cindy Vortex, but you yourself are my number one priority. Your wants and desires come second."
In spite of his concern for Cindy's safety, Goddard made a hairpin turn, causing the blonde to almost fly off her seat. She held onto the handlebars for dear life, and then adjusted herself back into the proper position. Since Goddard was the one tracking Jimmy, it was Cindy's job to try and hang on.
This had proven to be a difficult challenge thus far.
"By the way!" Cindy shouted after she had righted herself. "How did your sensors know that I wanted Jimmy to stay?"
"I have been monitoring you closely for some time now, even before Jimmy instructed me to do so." Goddard paused for a bit, as if he were processing something. "I am not quite sure how to say this, but…I am as hot as biscuits for you."
"If Jimmy goes through with leaving the planet, I am the perfect fallback option. You will find me intelligent, witty, and an excellent dancer."
"Goddard, this is no time for – look!"
Cindy shot a finger straight ahead. Way down the road, almost past the point of perception, was the large black car. The one with Jimmy inside it. Cindy gripped Goddard's handlebars tightly.
"You're not getting away from me that easily Jimmy."
Jimmy was getting whiplash from glancing back and forth between the windows so often. Each building they passed seemed to offer some memory, or some sort of significance. Lucky Joe's Cleaners. The House of Pants. McSpanky's (which acquired a new edifice since their previous one turned into a space ship). Jimmy took an especially long look as they passed the Candy Bar. The small restaurant was closed for the morning, since Sam had taken the time off to come to Jimmy's farewell party. Jimmy looked at the empty booths and tables, seeing the ghosts of himself and his friends as they jabbered over a round of sundaes. He wondered how long it would be before he had ice cream again.
Not wanting to succumb to nostalgia, Jimmy forced his mind back to the present. He stared at the gray humanoid sitting in front of him, who offered Jimmy yet another sympathetic smile. The humanoid's name was Altus. A ranking official in the administrative branch of the Intergalactic Missionaries.
"Given what I know of your species' characteristics, I imagine this must be hard for you, Jimmy Neutron," Altus said. He studied the teen carefully, gray eyes dimming. "As I know, it was hard for me."
Jimmy knew Altus's backstory. They had discussed it, as well as many other things, when they first met over four years ago. Altus had come from a planet very similar to Earth, though much more advanced. As such, the alien had many things in common with Jimmy. Altus had been the one to go on a ten-year marathon mission, to help resolve a bloody civil war that was spiraling out of control.
"I didn't realize how difficult it would be," Jimmy said. He stole one last glance at the Candy Bar before it whizzed out of sight. "It wasn't until recently that everything hit me. The places I'd leave behind…the people."
"Those places and people can be a source of great strength. The ones I knew were a powerful motivator for me during those…difficult early years."
For a brief moment, the lines and age stood out on Altus's skin. Although Jimmy could not place Altus's age, whether he was young or old, he could see the experience time had written on his features. Written in permanent ink, which would never wear off. Jimmy wondered, if in time, whether he'd acquire that look as well. He lowered his gaze when Altus caught him staring.
"I had to leave someone behind," Jimmy said, the words coming out before he could even think of stopping them. "Someone special." He willed his voice not to tremor. "Of all the things I have to sacrifice…she will be the hardest."
"You loved this person, didn't you?"
Jimmy started at first, surprised at hearing his thoughts so casually unmasked, but the calm, understanding gaze he saw on Altus's face assuaged his worry. Finding that gaze difficult to meet, he lowered his head once more.
"You know, it is not recommended, nor is it in all honesty very feasible, but there are some missionaries who do take on partners. Who try and start families."
"Less than one percent of the active ones do," Jimmy said with a small smile. He exchanged a meek glance with Altus. "According to the information I requested from Bookkeeping."
"You would be correct," Altus said.
Jimmy was growing weary of this grim subject. "So, where is our launching point exactly?"
The wind was screaming in Cindy's ears as her and Goddard weaved in and out of traffic, consisting of both cars on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalk. They were gaining on Jimmy's black car, slowly but surely.
"Faster Goddard, faster!" Cindy urged, even though she knew Goddard was flying at top speed. Her palms were growing sore from squeezing the handlebars so tightly, but she didn't dare loosen her grip. If they kept this up, they would catch Jimmy in another minute or two.
"C'mon! Just a little further!"
Altus smiled at Jimmy. "The launching point we will be using today is located in a secluded area of the Appalachian Mountains. We made some modifications to it of course, but we believe that launching from there will attract less attention than if we had launched from Retroville."
"Someone should really think of constructing a space vehicle capable of simultaneously launching and cloaking itself," Jimmy said, scratching his chin. He was suddenly struck, however, by something Altus had said. "Wait a minute, did you say the Appalachians?"
"Correct again," Altus said.
"But we're not driving all the way over there, are we?" Jimmy said. The Intergalactic Missionaries were well-known on other planets for their technological prowess, and it seemed odd to him that they'd waste hours reaching a destination by driving.
"In a manner of speaking, we will still be driving, but…" Altus's eyes wandered around the back compartment "…not quite like this." He gave Jimmy another one of his assuring looks. "As you may have already suspected Jimmy, and as you will come to know during your years with us, one of our trademarks is camouflaging our technology in everyday items. Like this car for instance."
Jimmy investigated his surroundings, like he was seeing them for the first time.
"While it appears to be an ordinary car from the outside, and even the inside, it is actually capable of much, much more." Altus flashed Jimmy a cocky grin. Jimmy knew that grin all too well; he had frequently given it to his friends before unveiling a new invention. "Would you care for a demonstration?"
It didn't take Jimmy long to answer.
"We're almost there Goddard!" Cindy shouted.
They were only a few cars back from the black vehicle that bore Jimmy. If Cindy squinted, she could see the tip of Jimmy's tall hairdo sticking out behind the rear window. She smiled, anxious to see what Jimmy's reaction would be when he saw her and Goddard cruising along next to him.
"Just a few more weaves should do it."
Goddard banked left, then right, easily maneuvering around a blue sedan, ignoring the honking horns. With a similar motion, he got around another car. Then another. Only one more separated them from Jimmy's.
"Go wide around this one. We want to get next to Jimmy."
Goddard swung to the far right, getting ready to pass the last car, when suddenly, the black vehicle carrying Jimmy made a hard right-hand turn. Cindy didn't even have time to bark out the order. Goddard spun in a vicious circle and shot after Jimmy, determined not to let his master out of his reach. The sudden movement completely disoriented Cindy, but once she recovered, she saw that they were still tailing the black vehicle, and that the black vehicle, and her and Goddard, were alone on this new street.
And they were merely inches apart.
"We've got 'em!" Cindy exclaimed. "Pull up to the right. We're closing in!"
It happened so fast, it took several seconds before Cindy could comprehend it. One minute they were gaining on Jimmy's car, her head swirling with excitement at finally having caught him. The next minute, Cindy was reaching out to put a hand on the vehicle, but only grasped air.
The car had vanished.
It felt just like being in a rocket, Jimmy thought. He had expected the vehicle to suddenly take off at mind-blowing speed, slamming his heart into his chest, but it was nothing of the sort. All he experienced was a moment of stillness, followed by the simple sensation of weightlessness. As Jimmy inspected his surroundings, he found that the passenger windows were completely gone. In their stead, through the gaping holes in the vehicle, was a tie-dye purplish blur. Like the car was swimming in a gelatinous tunnel of Purple Flurp. Jimmy looked at Altus for an explanation.
"We couldn't think of a name for this form of transportation," Altus said, gazing about like Jimmy, "So we decided to call it warping. Not the most creative term, I admit, but nomenclature was never our strong suit."
"You've found a way to condense the distance between two points," Jimmy said. Every so often, in the purplish soup outside their vehicle, he could make out a house, or a tree, or even part of a landscape.
"Yes," Altus said. "Of course, that sort of thing has already been done before. We wanted to find a way to condense distance, but between points that were relatively close together, like two points on a single planet. Previous techniques condensed the distance too sharply, rendering short-range travel almost impossible."
"Brilliant," Jimmy stated. "It's similar to the technique I developed to remotely extract items from my hypercube using my watch. I never thought of converting it into a form of personal travel."
"Then the life of a missionary may suit you after all Jimmy Neutron," Altus said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."
Goddard landed hard on the street, sparks flying as his feet squealed against the pavement, desperately trying to reduce their velocity. Before they came to a halt, Cindy leapt off the robotic dog. She nearly stumbled over at first, but her excellent coordination prevented this. It was her pent-up adrenaline, however, that came tumbling out.
"WHAT JUST HAPPENED?" she screamed, fists in the air. There was no one walking by on the sidewalk, but even if there had been, she wouldn't have cared.
Goddard jumped out of his skid and landed in front of her. The friction on his feet had been so great, his paws were smoking.
"One minute he was there, the next he wasn't!"
The panel in Goddard's chest lifted, and the mechanical canine began typing out a response.
'They may have used a form of travel to shorten the distance between their current location and their expected destination. I have seen Jimmy do something similar before.'
This did nothing to curb Cindy's worry. She heaved a sigh. "So we lost him?"
'For the moment, although my sensors indicate that Jimmy is still on earth. If they have gone somewhere, they are not beyond our range.'
"Then that means we have a chance. But…" Cindy's spirits had soared briefly, only to come crashing back down. She pounded her fists against her thighs. "Oh, we'll never catch him Goddard! He could be hundreds or thousands of miles away, and you're just not fast enough."
Goddard barked so suddenly that Cindy nearly took a step back. He furiously entered the words onto his monitor.
'We will see about that Cindy Vortex. Jimmy was not the only one who conducted experiments in the lab. While you two were off catching the train of destiny last night, as I was cleaning up the lab, I made some upgrades to my engine.'
"Upgrades?" Cindy asked. She then frowned. "And what do you mean 'train of destiny'?"
'I have upgraded my language algorithms as well. Now to borrow a quote from my favorite movie actress, hop on board, hang on tight, and fasten your seatbelts: it is going to be a bumpy ride.'
Cindy didn't want to lose a second. She jumped on Goddard's back, curling her fingers around his handlebars, preparing herself for anything. She quickly looked around for a seatbelt, but couldn't find one.
"I was not being literal about the seatbelt," came Goddard's robotic voice.
Cindy gritted her teeth. "If you really want me to like you, then I don't recommend making me angry!"
"Your bosoms have indeed grown in size."
Before Cindy could say another word, Goddard's engine roared, her surroundings blurred, and she got the sensation of being shot out of a cannon.
"We're halfway there," Altus said.
Jimmy gulped. It was really happening. In a few short minutes, he would finally be leaving planet Earth, and who knew for how long. Once he left, there would be no turning back.
Jimmy slowly let out a long sigh, trying to calm his heartbeat, trying to cool his nerves.
Although they were traveling using the same mechanism as the Missionaries' car, Cindy's experience was much rougher than Jimmy's. It was like going on the world's fastest roller coaster times ten, except that the only thing holding you to your seat was the strength of your grip.
As she clung on for dear life, Cindy couldn't help wondering how little she knew about Goddard. In truth, there were several things that she didn't know. Like the fact that Goddard's mental capacity rivaled Jimmy's (unbeknownst to the latter), or that back in sixth grade, it had been Goddard's idea to watch Cindy change through the window. Suddenly, there were many things she wanted to ask her mechanical chauffer.
"What exactly are we doing?" Cindy shouted over the brutal wind resistance.
"Hopefully the same thing that Jimmy is doing."
Cindy struggled to open her eyes. For a second, she thought she saw a house, and another time, she thought she saw a lake. Her heart was beating so rapidly, she could no longer feel it.
"Is this supposed to be so…hazardous?"
"It should not be according to theory, but I am afraid my technique is imperfect. According to my calculations, Jimmy is moving at a much faster rate of speed us. I am sorry Cindy Vortex, but at this point, I am unsure if we will be able to catch him."
"We have to catch him Goddard!" Cindy exclaimed. Tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes. "We just have to!"
Altus's head swiveled leftward. He went still and briefly donned a look of concentration. "I think we have arrived."
As soon as he said this, the purplish goop whirling outside the vehicle vanished, and was replaced by countless identical, objects flying past them. The sudden transition, including the return to gravity, disoriented Jimmy. He was not used to being the passenger on an unexpected voyage.
Once Jimmy had regained his senses, he realized that the stationary objects whipping by them were tree trunks. He stuck his head closer to the window and saw, by the uneven way darkness and light alternated, that they were driving on a dirt path inside of a dense forest. This didn't last very long, however, as the outside world suddenly became very bright and all the tree trunks vanished. He shielded his eyes against the burst of light.
Although he couldn't see it, Jimmy felt the car come to a stop. He heard the sound of Altus unbuckling his seat belt and exiting the vehicle, followed by the sound of a several others, presumably from the front compartment. A few seconds later, Jimmy heard his own door opening. He felt himself being guided out into the open.
By the time Jimmy had placed both feet on the dirt, he was able to take his hand away from his eyes. When he did so, he got his first look at the launching point.
Including the shuttle.
It had been terrifying at first, but Cindy thought she was finally getting used to Goddard's form of warp travel. Once she had assimilated to the sensation, it simply became a matter of focusing, and not letting her guard down. The only doubt she had was how long she could keep this up.
"Jimmy's velocity has greatly reduced," Goddard suddenly said. "It is possible that they have reached the launching point."
"NO!" Cindy cried. "How long until we get there?"
"If my calculations are correct, we will reach the launching point in five minutes."
"We're not going to make it," Cindy moaned.
"Do not lose hope Cindy Vortex. Jimmy has overcome significantly greater odds than this for the ones he cares for. If what goes around truly comes around, then I think that perhaps this time, it will be us who come through for him."
"Just hang on Jimmy," Cindy said in a soft voice.
The launching point was a large, flat expanse of land residing near the top of the mountain. Behind this expanse was a thick forest, composed of tall cedars that must have been hundreds of years old. It was in the forest that the black vehicle carrying Jimmy had materialized. Once Jimmy had gone out several hundred feet past the forest and into the flat area, he could see far into a deep valley, covered with even more trees. Way beyond the valley were more mountains.
The shuttle was a large, steel gray vehicle closely resembling something built by NASA, although it was a bit bulkier and boxier. The ship was parked on its tail, well above the ground, so that its rounded nose pointed toward the sky. A flight of stairs led to the ship's open entrance, in which the other missionaries traveling with Altus had just disappeared. What looked like some sort of binders appeared to hold the shuttle in place on the ground. On the shuttle's belly, Jimmy saw the same insignia that was emblazoned on the missionaries' robes.
"Here we are," Altus said. He glanced at the ship, and then at Jimmy, who was still avidly investigating the foreign spacecraft. "We thought this one might do, since it bore similarities to some of the earthen models we've seen."
"Looks pretty powerful," Jimmy said, his eyes draping over the shuttle's curves and corners. Some mechanical intuition suggested that the craft wielded great strength.
"That she is," Altus said. The alien then began fiddling around with something in his robe. Jimmy was about to comment on this when Altus withdrew his hand and opened it. A beam of light shot out of his hand and engulfed the black vehicle that had taken them from Retroville. Almost instantly, the vehicle was sucked out of the air and into Altus's hand, like steam being inhaled by a vacuum. Jimmy caught a quick glance of a small capsule residing in Altus's hand. The alien stored the object in his robe and then looked at Jimmy.
"As I mentioned before, we must leave the planet rather quickly."
Jimmy peered at the ship parked behind Altus.
"But before we can do that, there is one more thing we must take care of," Altus said.
Jimmy frowned. Something about Altus's voice sounded different just now. "One more thing?"
As Jimmy pondered the potential answer, he felt Altus's demeanor begin to change. While he had been serious yet friendly the entire morning thus far, the serious side seemed to take over. This other Altus stood a little taller, and looked a little sharper. An air of authority emanated from him.
"Before you launch, it is my duty as a senior official to formally induct you into the missionaries. I will give you a brief review of what we stand for, what your duties will entail, and what will be expected of you. Please be forewarned though."
Altus gave Jimmy a look as serious as any he had given him thus far.
"Once you accept what I am about to tell you, the second you step foot inside our shuttle, your decision to join the missionaries will be binding. You can back out at any time before then, but once you board, you will only be able to leave the Order under very specific circumstances." Altus paused, letting his words sink in. "Do you understand what I have just told you?"
"Yes," Jimmy said.
"Then lets move closer to the ship."
Altus turned around and started walking. Jimmy followed close behind.
"Is he still there Goddard?"
"Yes, he has not moved from his current location. We have three minutes remaining."
Cindy briefly took her hand off a handlebar, wiping the sweat off her brow. "This is going to be close."
Altus went up the first step of the staircase leading to the shuttle's entrance and turned around. The serious look he had been wearing remained, but under that was the slightest of smiles. Like a father gazing proudly upon a grown son.
"James Isaac Neutron," Altus began. "It is with great pleasure that I, along with the other administrative officials in the Milky Way Division, have accepted your application to join our ranks in the Intergalactic Missionaries. For a hundred lifetimes of a hundred stars, we have been the guardians of peace and the ambassadors of scientific empowerment. You, James Isaac Neutron first caught our attention seven years ago, when you retrieved your city's parents from the Yolkians."
At this, Altus let his smile grow ever so slightly.
"By the time we learned of your dilemma, you had already saved your people and brought them home safe and sound. Although you were not aware of it, we followed you very closely from that point forward, watching you meet and overcome every obstacle, ready to lend a helping hand if you ever became overwhelmed. But, you never needed us. We saw your abilities as well as the motivation for your actions. When the time was right, we revealed ourselves to you."
Altus paused, giving Jimmy time to digest his words.
"For the previous four years, you have worked very hard on your application. We knew that you were an exceptionally gifted human being, but we wanted to see how well you could perform when truly pressed, and while working alone. We demanded near-perfection from your every experiment and invention, and have asked you to solve extraordinarily difficult problems. But not only did we test your scientific ingenuity; we also tested your heart. Over the past four years, you have shown us that you possess strong moral character, a desire to spread your scientific knowledge, and love for other life forms. You have passed…all of our tests."
Altus paused for a long time at this. Jimmy could hear his own pulse vibrating in his ears. It was really happening. He would soon accept his terms of service, and then, the rest would be history.
"As a member of the Intergalactic Missionaries, you will help protect the most defenseless and will spread knowledge to the most ignorant. Credit will not be given to you, and you will not ask for it. You shall put your service and your missions above all else, including yourself, your own needs, and your own desires. The responsibility of each of your missions rests entirely upon your shoulders."
Altus paused yet again, but more shortly this time.
"Do you, James Isaac Neutron, accept these terms?"
Jimmy swallowed. "…I do."
"How much time Goddard?"
"We should reach the launching point in one minute."
Cindy's nerves were rattling, and it wasn't from the ride. She was so close to Jimmy. She couldn't bear the thought of losing him now.
"And do you, James Isaac Neutron, accept the fact that once you join the missionaries, you will only be able to willingly resign from the order in-between missions, and that doing so will result in your permanent separation from the order?"
"The time Goddard?"
"Thirty seconds until we reach the launching point."
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon!"
"Then it is our great honor to accept you, James Isaac Neutron, as one of our members. We hope that your years with us will be fruitful." Altus smiled at Jimmy. "You acceptance will be sealed once you climb up the final step."
Altus ambled up the stairs himself, until he reached the top. He turned to face Jimmy once more. When he did so, there was a whoosh of air. A great orange flame burst out of the spacecraft's bottom, accompanied by a rapidly rising high-pitched tone. They were preparing for takeoff.
Jimmy took a deep breath. He lifted a foot.
"FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, WHAT'S TAKING SO LONG?"
"Ten seconds until we reach the launching point."
Jimmy put one foot on the first step. He was about to put his other foot there as well when he stopped. He twisted his ankle a bit, feeling the earth beneath the sole of his shoe. This could be his last step on his home planet.
Filled with emotion, Jimmy's eyes swept the scene surrounding him. The trees, the valley, the distant landscapes. As he stared, his eyes attained a faraway look. Not seeing what was in front of him anymore, he gazed down at his remaining earth-bound foot. The memories played inside his head. He thought about many things from many times, but mostly…he thought about her.
"Nice invention Nerdtron."
"That's why they call it the lost tomb. Not the 'here it is tomb, come inside and grab a milkshake'."
"Why Neutron you silver-tongued, pointy-headed devil…I thought you'd never ask."
"Neutron…I want my pants now, or I'm going to sue you."
"This is your chance! The part where the hero tells the girl what he's been wanting to say to her his whole life!"
"If you turn your back, you'll always regret it. A thousand times more than any regret you have right now."
A lone tear trickled down Jimmy's cheek. He didn't wipe it, but instead let it continue sliding, a fragile, transient reminder of the sacrifice he had made.
"Goodbye Cindy," he whispered, wishing he could say so to her right now.
His second and last foot lifted above the ground. He carried it forward, knowing that this was truly the end.
Jimmy's foot, as well as the rest of his body froze. He had never had an out of body experience before, but in that instant, he experienced a brief taste. It was like his consciousness was floating upward, dissociating from his physical being since it could not process what was currently happening.
A second cry from Cindy brought Jimmy's mind, along with his airborne shoe, back down to Earth. He slowly came out of it, like a diver emerging from water.
"Cindy?" he mumbled, though it didn't feel like he had said the words. Reflexively, his body oriented itself to face the source of the interruption. When he saw that source, rushing toward him at top speed, he awoke completely.
Jimmy leapt off the staircase and hurtled toward Cindy. The two teens ran at each other like freight trains, bound on the same track, destined to collide. When Cindy was a couple of feet away, she threw herself at the teen genius, and he caught her with both arms. They rocked to and fro, cheeks pressed against each other, feeling each other's presence, like there was no one else in the world.
"I'm sorry!" Cindy cried. She apologized with more conviction than any she had ever experienced. Salty streams were running under both eyes. "I'm so sorry Jimmy! I should have been there for you this morning!" Cindy's voice cracked and she broke down. "I should have been there!"
"I can't believe you made it here Cindy," Jimmy said incredulously. Tears had streaked his face as well. "H-How did you find me?"
In spite of her sobbing, a pathetic laugh escaped Cindy. "Man's best friend," she said, shoulders quaking with sorrowful amusement.
Jimmy immediately looked past Cindy. His eyebrows knitted in wonderment. "Goddard?"
The mechanical canine was situated about fifty feet back. He barked at first, happy to see his master, but then whimpered. Jimmy's longtime companion knew that their reunion was bittersweet.
A second, more powerful whoosh of air swept through the area, bringing Jimmy's attention back to his transport. He glanced back at the shuttle and saw that the orange flame flowing from underneath it had intensified, to the point where it generated an increasingly powerful wind and rattled the binders holding down the spacecraft. Jimmy's clothes and hair rippled as he exchanged frenzied expressions with Altus.
"We still have some time while the shuttle powers up," the alien called from on top of the stairs. He spoke in a loud voice with his hands around his mouth, to be heard over the noise. "I can give you some time, but we need to leave soon!"
Jimmy tore his gaze from Altus and bore into Cindy's eyes. Cindy redirected the heat with her twin emeralds. Once more, it was blue against green, and green against blue. They grasped each other's arms.
"Cindy," Jimmy said. There were so many things to be said. So many things, but so little time. He felt the panic bloom within his chest. "I…I don't know what to do."
"I don't want you to go!" Cindy cried. Her fingers brushed Jimmy's skin. "Not when you just came back to me." She pounded her forehead against Jimmy's breast. "Not when we just found each other again."
"Oh Cindy," Jimmy breathed. His hand found her hair. "I don't want to lose you either." He closed his eyes. "I wanted to see you again so badly."
Jimmy held Cindy, absorbing her closeness. "On the island…I saw your carving." Fresh tears sprung from Jimmy's lids. "I suppressed my feelings for so long."
"We both did."
Jimmy slipped his hands down Cindy's arms, so that his palms met hers. Their fingers interlocked with both tenderness and strength. "I did change during these past four years," he told her. "I made room in my life for only one thing. I lost you Cindy. I did."
Cindy squeezed Jimmy's fingers in-between her own.
"And it would be a lie to tell you that I didn't feel something for you too. Only I was just too afraid to face it until last night." Jimmy squeezed Cindy right back. "I," he uttered in a shaky voice, "love you…so much. I don't know if I can bear being apart from you." Jimmy had gritted his teeth when he said 'bear.' His lips were no longer functioning properly.
"Is there any other way?" Cindy said. She probed Jimmy's eyes. "Is there any way you can fulfill your dream and we can still be together?"
The pain Jimmy saw in Cindy's eyes reflected his own. He wanted to end it. He wanted to defeat it. He wanted to crush it and let it die, bleeding until it burned no more. His mighty brain hammered at a solution.
"Of course there is!" he said fiercely. The increasing wind from the shuttle blew against his back, reminding him of its presence, but he ignored it. "There's always more than one solution Cindy. I can…I can raise the funds here on earth." A drop of hope infiltrated Jimmy's tone. "I have influence now; I can find the donors. I can even start a business. Of course it will take time, and preparation, but I can really do it Cindy!"
A determined smile broke out on Jimmy's features. He ran his thumbs along her knuckles. "We can do it together in fact! We'll start out slow, but eventually we could build up. We could get other people to help, and we could travel together, you and me across the stars." He gazed imploringly at her. "We can protect the weak and teach the ignorant. We could do it Cindy, we really could do it!"
Jimmy clutched Cindy's hands even tighter. "Is that what you want Cindy?" he asked. He spoke so encouragingly, so kindly, it lifted Cindy off her feet. "Do you want to do that? Do you want to do that with me? I'll do anything you want."
Cindy had never seen Jimmy so vulnerable. She knew her answer to his question, deep inside her heart. Her answer was 'yes'. She wanted to Jimmy to stay. She wanted help him raise the funds. She wanted to travel the stars together and protect the weak, teach the ignorant, and never leave Jimmy's side. She wanted to say 'yes' to his plan so much, her bones ached with fervor. She had never wanted anything so badly in all her life.
"Yes Jimmy!" she cried, pressing herself against the genius. "Yes, I want that! More than you could ever know!" The tears gushed out of her eyes as she held the boy she loved in her arms. The joy was so great, it had become painful. She closed her eyes, bracing herself for the blow. "But I can't."
A spasm of wind blasted the couple, followed by roaring from the shuttle's afterburner. The flame had thickened even further, and the binders were wobbling horribly.
"We're running out of time Jimmy!" called Altus. He was standing inside the shuttle now, clutching to the entrance doorframe for support. "If you are coming with us, then you must make your decision now!"
The force of the last gust of wind had blown Cindy's hair clip right off. Her golden locks blew freely in the air, writhing around her eyes, face and neck. Her jasmine scent flew out to meet Jimmy. The fragrance overpowered his nostrils. It was omnipresent.
"I won't let you give this up for me!" Cindy shouted above the wind.
"Why not?" Jimmy yelled back. "We could do it together! I want to do it together!"
"For all the wrong reasons!"
"I could still fulfill my dream!" Jimmy felt himself cracking. "Cindy, I don't know what I'm gonna do without you!"
"You're just settling!" Cindy cried. "You know your resources can never match the ones the Missionaries will give you! You know that's why you worked so hard to get accepted! Because if you don't, your dream will only be a shell of what it could have been!"
"You don't know that!"
"Jimmy Neutron, you've never settled for anything less than perfect in your life, and you're not starting now!"
"You can't ask me to sacrifice this!" Jimmy spat. "You can't ask me to sacrifice you!"
"You're not the one making the sacrifice this time!" Cindy took Jimmy's hand in hers and slammed it over her heart. "I am!"
The wind had been taken right out of Jimmy's insides. He had lost. He had been defeated. He had had his last fight with Cindy Vortex, and she had won. And to prove it, he felt the beat of her victorious broken heart beneath his palm.
"Let me take the fall for this one," Cindy pleaded, pressing Jimmy's hand against her chest. "Let me take the hit. Let me take the hurt, for both of us, so that when you leave, you carry nothing with you but your heart and drive."
"Cindy you can't do this!" Jimmy protested in vain.
"Yes I can!" the blonde screamed. "This is my decision and I'm taking the responsibility!"
"I won't let you!"
"I'm giving you no choice!" The iron-willed girl mustered up her courage. She wanted to fall, splinter, and break. But no force of nature, even her own separate desires, would allow her to do this. "Jimmy, our paths couldn't be any clearer." She shook her head, as if to emphasize this. "It's like what they say. That the best only comes with great pain. And people like us, we have to give it our best. Because anything less is unacceptable. Because anything less is a waste."
Cindy leveled her gaze at Jimmy.
"You are going on that shuttle and you are going to give this opportunity everything you got. And if you don't…" Cindy's lip trembled. "Then I will leave you." She sucked in a shaky breath. "I will desert you. I will not allow us to be together if you stay!"
Jimmy felt his heart shatter. Cindy had truly given him no choice. There was no adequate response to what she had said. All he could manage to say was:
The question floated out in the air, on the most delicate of wings. When Jimmy had said it, Cindy's fury cooled. Her watery gaze fixed on Jimmy, not with rage, but with compassion.
"Because I love you!" she said and wrapped her arms around him as tightly as possible. "I know it's hard, and I know you feel guilty, and I know you want to be with me and make it up to me, but your place is with the universe, and if you're too…broken up to accept that, then I'll do it for you. I'll make the sacrifice and I'll take the knife. And if that's not enough and you're up there in the stars and you have nothing else to go on…if your engine runs out of fuel..." She closed her eyes. "Use me! Use me if the distance goes too far! Use me if your missions seem too hard! Use me as your motivation. Hate me if you have to. And with every war you stop, every life you save, and every mind you teach, you can say there!" Cindy hit her palm with her fist. "That one's for Cindy!"
Slowly, ever so slowly, they released their hold on each other, so that only their hands were connected. They gazed into each other's eyes.
"I will give you…only one allowance," Cindy said. "Only one." Her voice had almost left her. "If it ever gets too hard…if you truly can't make it…if you've given it a try and it doesn't work out…or if you finish your career and are too old to carry on… … …then come back to me."
For the first time in minutes, Cindy showed a glimmer of weakness. "Come back to me."
"You don't know what you're saying!" Jimmy protested. "You can't wait for me!"
"I will wait for you. You have to complete one mission or a lifetime of missions, but either way, when it's finally over and if you're still able to…come back to me."
Jimmy shook his head in sorrow and awe. "I'll never forget you."
Cindy smiled sadly in return. "Neither will I."
"My watch," Jimmy said. He removed the device and handed it over to Cindy. "I meant to give it to you. It has the video of me and Paul."
Only their fingertips remained in contact. "Goodbye…Cindy Vortex."
"Goodbye…Jimmy Neutron." They finally parted. "I will wait for you...no matter how many nights it takes."
Jimmy turned. With a final glance at the planet he called home and at the woman that he loved, he went up the stairs and into the shuttle.
They soared through the earth's atmosphere and into the confines of space, in what would be the first step in a very long journey. The shuttle had been every bit as powerful as Jimmy suspected. In contrast to his many handmade vessels, he felt no pull or drag as they cut through the solar system. Their transport was built for strength and endurance, and it seemed to have both in abundance. In addition, the shuttle had somehow created an artificial sense of gravity, since he experienced none of the weightlessness he had always experienced in space.
As they flew further away from his blue planet, Jimmy's heart rate gradually returned to a normal rhythm. He felt nauseous, slightly sad, and strangely empty. So much had happened in the past twelve hours, let alone the past twelve minutes. It was like he had crammed the lost years of his high-school social life into the past half-day.
"Will you be alright Jimmy?"
Altus had placed a hand on Jimmy's shoulder and gazed with concern upon the young earthling. Jimmy returned the concerned gaze with a hollow look.
"I can't believe she just did that," Jimmy muttered. He felt numb.
"That was some girl you left behind," Altus said. "Life-forms like that one are so rare…and so precious."
"It was killing her to do it," Jimmy said. "Those decisions she made." He threw his hands at his sides. "For the both of us." He shook his head. "Cindy Vortex is…the bravest, most heroic person I've ever known."
"You can give something back to her by honoring her sacrifice." Altus's hand had almost slipped off Jimmy's shoulder when Altus, seeming to remember something, held it in place. "In time, this pain shall ease."
Altus began walking away from Jimmy. "There's a rest chamber down the hallway on your left, straight ahead. You may take thirty minutes to collect yourself. I will come find you when it is time to make our first report."
Hands behind his back, Altus strode down the hallway to Jimmy's right, until he was gone.
Jimmy stood in the same spot for a while. He didn't exactly feel frozen in place, but for some reason, he neglected movement. He contemplated this for a time before something or another jarred him from his position and encouraged him to head toward the left hallway. He had almost reached the threshold when he heard something hit the floor. He paused, wondering what it was when he noticed a crumpled up piece of paper lying near his feet.
Jimmy frowned. If he hadn't known any better, he would have said that the paper had fallen out of his pocket. This was impossible however, because he had made sure his pockets were completely empty before leaving his house.
Bending over, Jimmy retrieved the piece of paper. He carefully opened it, and did his best to smooth it out between both hands. He quickly scanned it. His blood ran cold. From the paper, there was faint wave of jasmine. His hands began to tremble and he almost dropped the paper, but managed to retain his grip.
"She forgot to sign her name," he whispered.
As he struggled to hold back the tears, Jimmy straightened and read through the message written on the paper, word by word.
I'm not sure where you'll be or what you'll be doing when you read this letter. You could be reading it right now as I stand before you, as I tremble while awaiting your reaction, knowing that we are spending our last minutes together. You could have waited to read this letter until you got into your shuttle. Maybe, as you see these words, you are even passing by Mars. I hope, if this should happen, that you remember the adventure we had there together, and that it brings a smile to your face. Finally, I suppose you could be reading this letter when you are at Headquarters, preparing or perhaps partaking in your initial training period. I hope the training is not too difficult, although I know that if it is, you'll find someway to overcome it, no matter how challenging the situation.
As I write this, I'm sitting in my room, sneaking glances out my window at your house. You are about to leave at any minute. How funny it is, that our positions have reversed and now I am the one reduced to spying. I'm not sure if you will have seen me again by the time you read this, but if you haven't, please forgive me. I wish I were brave and heroic like you. I guess for normal people like me, it's not so easy.
The reason I wanted to write you, the thing I wanted to tell you, before your alarm went off when we were together on the island, is that I am proud of you. You have a gift, a gift I have been envious of for so long, but one that I am glad was given to someone on our planet. Although it hurts me to watch you go, I know that you are doing the right thing. This is the only way I know that you can use your gift to its fullest extent. In spite of everything, at the end of the day, you should be proud of this. Because I know that everyone else in Retroville is, including me.
Jimmy turned the paper over.
I wish we had more time together. I wish we could have come together years ago. But I know that you belong on your path, and I belong on mine. And although I don't know how long you'll be gone, somehow, someway, I hope that we will meet again. It is this hope that gives me what little strength I have. That someday, you'll come back to me. And so, on that hope, I will wait for you.
I know you may not agree with this. I know you may think I should forget about you and move on. But I can't. And there's nothing you can do to stop me. I will wait for you Jimmy Neutron, no matter how long that may be. It is irrational. It is perhaps even stupid. But it is my decision. Even if it takes years. Even if it takes decades. I will wait. Because you have someone who loves you. Because you will always have a home to go to. Because you will always have arms to accept you. Because you will never be alone, no matter how difficult your path may become. I have nothing else to give, but I pray that these words will be strength to you as you traverse the stars, as I lay awake in my bed later tonight, and all the other nights to come, waiting for the moment when and if you come back to me.
But oh Jimmy, sometimes, the night is so long.
AN 1: Well, that's a wrap. Hope you guys liked the ending, even though it was sad. When I was writing this fic, I was thinking about Casablanca, which also had a sad ending. I wanted to write a story where even though things didn't work out for our heroes, there really couldn't have been any other ending that worked well. That's the thing I loved about Casablanca, and that's the thing I tried to recreate here.
Anyway, please tell me what you think. It can be what you liked, what you disliked, anything. Any feedback, including rave reviews, constructive criticism, and even flames are acceptable, haha. This last chapter was really difficult to write for some reason, and looking back on it, there are a ton of things I would have done differently with this story as a whole. In example, I personally wasn't too fond of the first couple of chapters, and I think that the beginning, middle and end chapters are disproportionate in length. But I'd like to hear what you guys think.
AN 2: Hello you crazy cats and dogs. I apologize for my general lack of fanfic activity for the past couple of months or so. Like so many of us all know, life is a fluid business, and it can be difficult to predict when things can come up. I don't know how long it will be until I return to updating, but rest assured - I have not departed the JN fandom just yet.
I am uploading this Author's Note to make an announcement. In three weeks, on Saturday, September 22nd, myself, quietthinker, and EL CHUPACABRA (a writer once active within the fandom who has since deleted his stories) will be making a video. As it turns out, we've all stalked each other and found out where each other lives, and whaddya know - we're within driving distance. You won't see our video in theaters, but you should find it sometime afterward on youtube via your friendly neighborhood internet connection (maybe Sunday, September 23rd). Basically, we plan to discuss our stories, Jimmy Neutron, writing in general, and any other questions you might have.
Please, we encourage you to message us with any questions (appropriate ones that is, lol) you might have. We'd really love to interact with you.
I've also repeated this message in my profile page and at the end of Make a Move - just wanted to increase our exposure for this event :)