Powerpuff: Infinite Destinies By:  Mark J. Hadley

*              *                *

EXCURSION 2 – "A Noteworthy Date"

                As Professor Utonium twisted the dials on the controls to the radio device he had sitting on the desk in his lab, he spoke into the microphone attached to it, "Okay, how was that…better?"  Receiving no reply, he tried adjusting the dial in the other direction and repeated, "How's that?"

            "There!  Perfect!" came a heavily accented voice from the speakers.  There was a fair bit of static, but all things considered, it was coming through a lot better than it was before.  The voice continued, "Do not touch a thing, Professor!  I am picking you up well enough to continue with the experiment.  Allow me to congratulate you again on another fine invention!"

            "Thank you," the professor replied with a smile.  "No fluctuations?"

            After a moment, the voice answered, "None, it appears stable.  What is the power drain from your end?"

            "It's up by point-three percent," the professor said, noting the readout.  "Still within acceptable limits.  I want to thank you again for conducting these experiments with me; it's making the process go a lot faster.  Pretty soon, we can test out the HCSP itself.  Are you ready for a trial run?"

            "Ready when you are," the voice said.  "Just let me know when."

            The door to the lab opened, and both Blossom and Bubbles flew down.  The professor looked up and greeted them with a smile before returning to his equipment to make the necessary adjustments for opening the portal.  Blossom smiled and said, "We're ready for the next trip, Professor!"

            "Not today, Blossom," the professor said without looking up from the controls.  "Today, I'm testing the Hyper Conduit Stabilization Portal, so the trip's been cancelled for now…unless this works, of course."

            The voice resumed talking from the speakers, "All systems are go.  Power levels at maximum output."

            Bubbles looked curiously at the device and asked, "What's that, Professor?"

            "That," he said, waving his hand across it, "is an interdimensional transmitter I set up.  A bit bulky, but it works.  It's making it a lot easier to conduct this trial run, since otherwise I would have to use the HCMD to go back and forth repeatedly between the dimensions."

            "Professor?" the voice spoke again.  "I am still waiting for your signal…"

            Blossom's eyes widened when she heard the voice, and she moved next to the professor, "Hey, is that…?"  Speaking loudly enough to be heard through the microphone, she called out, "Dexter?  Is that you?"

            "Oh," came the voice again, sounding a little less thrilled.  "Hello, Blossom."

            "I knew it!" Blossom said, grinning widely.  Bubbles covered her mouth to stifle a giggle as Blossom leaned closer to the microphone and said, "You're helping the Professor?"

            "Well, obviously," Dexter replied.  "Now, if you don't mind…"

            "Oh, not at all!  Don't let me get in your way!" Blossom nodded, then backed away from the controls again.  The professor smiled and returned to the settings, powering up the HCSP.  As he did, Blossom drifted back to where Bubbles was and whispered with barely-contained glee, "Do you know what this means?!"

            "What?" Bubbles whispered back.

            "If this works, then we're visiting Dexter today!" Blossom exclaimed.  "I'm so excited!"

            With a grin, Bubbles asked, "You just wanna visit your boyfriend, don't you?"

            Composing herself, Blossom lowered her eyes a bit and replied, "He's not my boyfriend…"  After a few seconds, she added, "…yet, I mean…look, just don't go spreading this around, okay?  Especially to Buttercup…"

            "I won't," Bubbles promised.

            The girls both looked back at the professor, who was busy making the final adjustments.  A ring of yellow lights started to switch on, one after another, along the outside edge of the ring that made up the bulk of the device.  Once they were all on, he spoke into the microphone, "Okay, now!"  An instant later, each of the lights projected a beam of bright yellow electricity, converging at the center.  A small, swirling vortex came into being where the beams collided, and slowly grew until it stretched out all the way to the edge of the ring.  It looked a lot like an HCMD portal, except yellow instead of purple…and much larger.

            "Good, good!" the professor said, examining the readouts.  "This end is completely stable…how's yours?"

            The message was a little more garbled than before due to the interference, but Dexter's voice came through nonetheless, "One hundred percent stability.  Success!"

            "Can we go through?" Blossom asked, moving up closer to it.

            "Yes…but we still need to test…" the professor began, but the moment he had said "yes", Blossom dashed towards the vortex before anyone could stop her.  Plunging into it, she disappeared from view.  The professor cringed, and spoke into the microphone, "Uh, Dexter…?"

            There was a few seconds of pause, then Dexter's voice came back on, sounding slightly irritated.  "No need to tell me, she's right here.  You know, if you wanted to test it, you could have just tossed an inanimate object through…"

            "Sorry," the professor apologized.  He noticed the interference was getting stronger and said, "Dexter, are you reading this?  I'm getting some power fluctuations…"

            "Hold on…" Dexter replied, but then he quickly added, "Professor!  It's…"  Without warning, the device simply shut off.  All the lights dimmed on it, and the vortex closed back up in the blink of an eye.  The professor and Bubbles both stared in shock at it for a moment, before Dexter's voice came through and said, "Oh, wonderful…"

*          *            *

            "What happened?" Blossom asked, hovering near Dexter in his laboratory.  Dexter was hard at work at the controls of the machine.  The device had itself been able to generate an unstable dimensional portal in the past, so it only took a few modifications to convert it into a receiving point for the professor's HCSP.  Still, something had gone wrong to shut the portal down, and Blossom was naturally concerned.

            Going over the readings, Dexter grabbed the microphone from the console and spoke into it, "Total power failure, Professor.  What is your status over there?"

            The professor's voice came through, still garbled, "I'm sorry…there was a fluctuation in power, and it caused the stability of the portal to drop until it eventually collapsed altogether.  I can compensate for it next time we try."

            "At least the transmitter is still working…" Dexter said, smacking the side of it to try and get a better signal.  "Just barely."

            "I think it's because of interference from the portal," the professor replied back.

            Nodding, Dexter said, "Yes, that was my hypothesis as well, as I am still reading interference.  It is fading…very gradually, though.  I think it would be dangerous to attempt another dimensional transfer until it is clear."

            "Agreed," the professor replied, then quickly added, "Is Blossom okay?"

            Blossom flew over and scooped the microphone out of Dexter's hands.  He was a little miffed, but decided not to say anything as she spoke into it, "I'm right here, Professor.  Don't worry about me, I'll be fine…um, how long am I going to be stuck here, though?"

            "It looks like around three hours or so…not too bad," the professor replied.  "You just stay out of trouble, okay?"

            "Of course!" Blossom said back.  She set down the microphone and turned to Dexter, "Well, looks like I'm here for a while longer…"

            "I'm thrilled," Dexter lied.  "Look, can you find something to keep yourself occupied until then?  I have much work to do today, and I do not wish to be dist—.."

            Not letting him finish, Blossom instead grabbed his arm and started dragging him towards the lab exit, saying, "C'mon!  I haven't seen too much of your world…why don't you give me a tour?  Show me around to see some of the sights, you know?  And hey, it's almost lunch, too, so maybe you can take me out to eat, too…"

            "What?  Oh no…" Dexter shouted, trying to yank his arm free unsuccessfully.  "There's no way!  This is beginning to sound more like a date than a tour…"

            Scratching her head, Blossom smiled sheepishly and said, "Yeah…heheh, it does kinda sound like that, doesn't it?  Imagine that.  So…will you?'

            Dexter tapped his chin, "Let me think about it…NO!"

            "Aw, c'mon," Blossom pleaded.  "Look, you still want to know more about our powers, right?"

            "Well…yes…" Dexter admitted.  "…why?"

            "Tell you what," Blossom offered.  "If you show me around, then I'll spend the rest of my time here taking whatever tests you want me to, okay?"  There was a pause as Dexter considered the offer, and Blossom asked, "Do we have a deal?"

            Hmm, Dexter thought.  Well, I do want data on their amazing abilities…I still think I might be able to duplicate them somehow if I knew enough about them…oh well, for science then.  He finally looked at her with a smile and said, "Okay, it's a deal!"  He stuck out his hand for her to shake, which she did, vigorously.

            "Great!  I'll meet you back in your room, okay?" Blossom said.  Dexter just nodded, and she quickly flew off to the lab exit.  Watching her disappear through it, Dexter sighed wearily and shook his head, thinking, Sheesh, what is it with me and big-eyed little girls?

*          *            *

            "Umm…and that's my school, down there," Dexter said, pointing at the elementary school below.  Blossom had insisted on flying for this first portion of their 'date', despite some protests from Dexter.  At least this is getting this whole thing over with faster, he reasoned.

            Blossom nodded and said, "That's almost the same place my school is, back in my dimension I mean.  Okay, so which way next?"

            "I guess we can head north," Dexter shrugged.  "There is an observatory that we will be visiting on a field trip soon, and…"

            "Ooh!" Blossom exclaimed, distracted by something and changing directions, descending quickly from the sky.  The sudden drop startled Dexter and he cringed…Blossom wasn't about to drop him or anything, but it was still kind of frightening.  He saw what Blossom was heading towards and rose an eyebrow as she said, "You guys have a Chubby Cheese, too!  That's my favorite pizza place!"

            "Actually, I'd rather not go there," Dexter told her, recalling an earlier incident at that establishment.  "Maybe we can go to…" Blossom simply changed directions before he finished, though, and started heading for another edge of town, down by the coast.  Dexter immediately shook his head, "No no, not the beach…"

            "Too late, we're already there!" Blossom shouted, descending and landing on the boardwalk of the beach before Dexter could protest further.  A few of the people gave them odd glances, and Dexter looked around at them, feeling a bit conspicuous.  Before he could say anything else, Blossom grabbed his hand and started jogging down the boardwalk, pulling him along and saying, "Isn't it a beautiful day today?"

            Dexter did his best to keep up, and grumbled, "I suppose.  Look, must you always be in such a hurry?"

            "I'm sorry," Blossom said, slowing down to a walk.  Dexter gave a sigh of relief, but as he looked up ahead where they were going, his eyes widened at someone he spotted.  He slapped a hand to his face, thinking, Oh please…not here, not now…please, don't let her see me…

            No such luck, though.  DeeDee was rollerblading along on the boardwalk, and when he spotted the two of them, she glided over, shouting, "Hey, Dexter!  Hi again, Blossom!"

            "Hi, DeeDee!" Blossom called back.  Dexter just looked away and tried to act like he wasn't there.

            Dee-Dee stopped near them and noticed they were holding hands.  Her smile became wider, and she said, "Showing around your girlfriend, Dex?  You sly devil…"

            "That's right!" Blossom quickly declared.

            "No!  She is not my girlfriend, she is just a normal friend…who just happens to be a girl…so…" Dexter began, then sighed, covering his face with his hand again.  He said in a lower tone, "Please, do not go spreading this around at school, okay?"

            DeeDee thought about it for a moment, rubbing her chin, "Mmmmmmmm…okay!"

            Dexter was surprised, and said aloud, "That was easier than I thought…" but a flash of light suddenly blinded him.  He blocked his face with his arm, and blinked a few times, trying to clear his vision.  That's when he noticed the camera that was around Dee-Dee's neck…a camera she had just used to snap a photo of the two of them.

            "Psyche!" she said, as the instant photo popped out of the camera.  She held it up to examine it in the light and said, "Wait'll the kids at school see this!"

            "Cool!" Blossom said, letting go of Dexter's hand and flying over next to Dee-Dee to get a better look at the developing photo.  "Can I get a copy of it, too?"

            Dexter frowned and said through clenched teeth, "DeeDee…please, just go away and leave me alone, okay?  You and I are going to have a little talk about this photo later…"

            "Hm?  Oh, okay!" DeeDee said, pocketing the photo and resuming her skating.  She nudged Dexter as she went by him, saying, "Enjoy the rest of your date!"  She sped off down the boardwalk.

            Dexter turned and shook a fist in the air after her, shouting, "This is not a…"  He cut himself off, and shook his head.  Blossom landed next to him and grabbed hold of his hand again, pulling him towards a concession stand that was part of the boardwalk.  He thought to himself, Just remember, it's for science…you're doing this for data on superpowers.  It'll be worth it in the end, really.  At least I hope…

*          *            *

            Both of them had each gotten a hot dog and a slushie at the concession stand, and took a seat together at one of the tables that lined the boardwalk.  Blossom never released Dexter's hand; she ate one-handed and continue to stare at him with a happy smile, while Dexter kept averting his eyes and trying (but failing) to enjoy his own food.  They both continued to talk, completely unaware that they were being watched.  From further down on the beach, hidden amongst some small bushes near the edge of the sand, a pair of binoculars observed their every movement.

            "What's this?" the hidden figure said aloud, zooming in on the two of them.  Power readouts from the built-in scanner on the binoculars confirmed what he was guessing.  "What an unusual little girl…such a huge source of power there.  That would explain how she flew in before."

            He focused on their hands, still being held, and nearly burst out laughing.  "So," he said, "The Dorkster's got a girlfriend, does he?  Excellent…then I know just what to do.  And this way, I can finally gain access to all of Dexter's secrets!"  He lowered the binoculars and pulled out a small blaster with a claw-like extension on the front of it.  He quickly keyed in the frequency of the energy he had just read, and the lights on the device started glowing a faint green.

            Glancing up, he saw his opportunity.  Dexter had just gotten up from the table to toss away his empty slushie cup in a garbage bin that was a ways away from their table.  He hid the blaster behind his back and came out from his hiding place, moving quickly towards the table but also staying as quiet as possible.  Blossom had her back to him, so she didn't notice his approach.  Once he was near enough to the table, he waited for a moment when no one was looking, and put his plan into effect.  He fired a green blast of energy from the end of the weapon, which struck her in the back, causing her to tense up and become surrounded with a glowing green light.

            Blossom slumped forward unconscious, and he quickly scooped her up, tossing her over his shoulder.  Dexter started to return to the table at that moment, and spotted him.  With a gasp, Dexter recognized the figure instantly as his greatest rival, and exclaimed, "Mandark!"

            "That's right, Dexter!" Mandark said, grinning as he pulled a little remote control device out of his pocket.  "I'm returning to my lab right now, and if you ever want to see your precious girlfriend again, you will surrender your lab to me!  You have one hour to decide…Ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha ha!"

            Without wasting another moment, Mandark clicked the button on the remote, and disappeared in a quick shimmering blue light.  Dexter just stared in shock at the spot where they once stood.  He didn't know what to say…but finally, a smile crept over his face, and he thrust his fists into the air, shouting, "I'm free!!"  He turned and headed happily out of the boardwalk, heading for home

*          *            *

            Blossom slowly opened her eyes, blinking them a few times as they adjusted to the light, and groaned…she felt weak, and disoriented.  It took a moment to get her bearings, and she realized that she was no longer by the beach.  She was in some kind of laboratory, surrounded by walls of metal and all kinds of machinery.  It didn't look all that much different from Dexter's lab, but it was different, somehow…eviler, more angular…

            That's also when she realized that her arms and legs were secured in restraints, in the center of a large, ring-like device.  The restraints glowed a faint green.  She gave them a tug to try and break free, but couldn't so much as budge.

            "Greetings," a voice spoke, and she looked up to see a boy standing in front of him.  He quickly identified himself with a flourish, "I am Mandark, the greatest genius the world has ever known.  Welcome to my laboratory!"

            Blossom still couldn't break free…she wondered why it was so difficult.  The restraints didn't look like Duranium; it should have been a snap to break free from them.  "Let me go!" she shouted.

            "Don't bother," Mandark told her.  "I've nullified whatever powers you might possess.  It was a piece of cake, actually, simply a matter of creating a damping field tuned to your exact power frequency.  Quite a simple task for someone as brilliant as myself."

            Frowning at him, Blossom stopped struggling and said, "So what do you want?"

            "It's easy," Mandark said.  "I saw the two of you at the beach.  If you're his girlfriend, then he'll no doubt want you returned safely.  And he'll have to turn over his own laboratory to me if he wants you back!"  Glancing at the clock, he added, "Only a half-hour left.  You'd better hope he comes through with this…or else…"

            "Or else what?" Blossom asked, worried.

            "Or else…" Mandark replied.  He rubbed his chin, "…or else…or else…well, I haven't thought of it yet, but I will!  Anyway, it doesn't matter; I'm sure Dexter's about ready to surrender his lab right about now…"

*          *            *

            Dexter whistled a tune as he worked on some modifications to his dimensional portal…as he worked, DeeDee came into the lab, examining the photo she took earlier.  She smiled and said, "Hey, this came out great!  I'll be able to make a lot of copies of these!"

            Sighing, Dexter didn't even look in her direction as he set his wrench down and said, "All right, DeeDee, let's hear them."

            "Hear what?" DeeDee asked.

            "Your demands," Dexter said.  "I know you want something in exchange for the photograph.  What is it?  More free lab access?"

            DeeDee thought about it and said, "And promise you won't get angry when I'm playing?"

            "Fine," Dexter said, reasoning that he could rebuild his lab a lot easier than he could recover from the embarrassment at school due to that photo.  "It's a deal, now hand it over."

            "Okay!" DeeDee said, dropping the photo, which fluttered to the ground in front of him.  She happily skipped off to another section of the lab.  Dexter gave a sigh of relief as he realize that she was heading for a section that had very few of his vital experiments, and certainly nothing that could destroy the whole lab if handled improperly.

            Well, anyway, back to blissful productivity, he thought.  Just think, if it weren't for Mandark, I'd still be on that stupid date… He hesitated as he thought about Blossom.  No, she'll be okay…don't worry about her, she's a Powerpuff Girl…but…she might still be in trouble…I mean, if she's not back by now, then…

            Dexter glanced down at the photo DeeDee had taken.  Blossom was smiling at the camera, and he was just staring in surprise.  He looked down at Blossom's hand, holding onto his, and that look in her eyes.  She was quite taken with him…she was probably waiting for Dexter to do something about this whole situation right now.  That little girl had so much faith in him, and here he was, letting her down…

            Narrowing his eyes, Dexter walked over to one of his tables and set down his wrench and the photograph, then started off towards his arsenal, while at the same time working mentally on his attack strategy.  An explosion came from deeper in the lab, no doubt something DeeDee had been fiddling with, but he had no time to deal with that now.  He had a rescue to perform.

*          *            *

            "Ten minutes," Mandark said, staring at the clock with growing frustration.  "What's taking the Dorkster so long?"  He continued to pace, waiting for his surrender to come in, but it wasn't showing.  Blossom, still secured in the restraints, was getting worried now, too…was he not coming?  Was he just going to leave her here?

            Both of their concerns were put aside as an alarm suddenly beeped in warning.  Mandark glanced in surprise over at the computer console and said, "Wha?  What's going on?"

            The robot manning the console turned towards him and buzzed, "Sensors have picked up a combat vessel on a rendezvous course with the laboratory."

            "Onscreen!" Mandark shouted.  The large viewing screen of the computer flickered on to show the image of a small winged fighter, in the familiar white, purple and black coloring that he has come to associate with Dexter's inventions.  Also, the massive gold D on the side erased any doubt as to the identity of the attacker.

            Blossom smiled, then said to Mandark, "You're in for it now!"

            "That's what you think!" Mandark replied, running up to the console and pounding a button, opening up a voice channel to the rest of his lab.  "Attention all robots!  Assume battle positions…we have an intruder en-route!  Stop him at all costs!"  Across the lab, the robots scurried around to get ready for Dexter's approach, and Mandark quickly added, "All anti-air weapons, lock onto the target and fire!"

            Outside of Mandark's house, hatches slid open, and multiple gun barrels slid out into position.  They immediately took aim at the approaching craft and unleashed a hail of blaster fire in its direction.  The ship weaved a few times, but then the blasts started impacting against the surface.  The ship started trailing smoke, and a final few blasts struck into it, obliterating it completely.

            As Blossom stared in shock at that image, Mandark grinned triumphantly, "There goes your rescuer.  What a fool to think he could just attack head on like that…"

            "Sir," the robot at the console interrupted.  "Detecting a perimeter breach in sector four."

            "What?!" Mandark exclaimed.  "But that's a subterranean sector!  That would mean…"

*          *            *

            Dexter blasted his way through the side of one of the lower levels of Mandark's lab.  There being no further use for it at the moment, he disembarked from the tunneling vehicle and pulled out a laser rifle from the side of the backpack he wore.  He smiled at the lack of security in this sector…the robot-controlled ship he had sent provided just enough distraction for him to slip past his early warning sensors.  Of course, he had no doubt that Mandark knew of his arrival by now

            These thoughts were confirmed when he saw a group of four robots emerging from a doorway on the other end of the chamber.  Their built-in weapons were already armed, so Dexter wasted no time in firing a blast from his rifle at them as they approached.  It struck one in the chest, blasting it to pieces, while the other three scattered and returned fire.

            With a quick leap to one side, Dexter took cover behind a stack of equipment and looked around for anything that might give him an advantage in this fight.  His eyes settled on a metal pillar near where the remaining robots were gathered.  Taking careful aim, he shot the base of the pillar, and as he expected, the entire structure toppled, landing on the robots and crushing them.  Dexter grinned and said, "No problem.  Now to find Blossom before reinforcements arrive."

            He made a break for the door the robots had come through, undoubtedly leading to the upper levels.  It led upwards, all right, but it was a vertical passageway, with no stairs or ladders.  He thought he heard the sound of more robots approaching from the room he had just left, so thinking quickly, he raised his arm and fired a grappling line from an arm-mounted device.  It attached to the top of the passageway, and he reeled himself up.

            As he expected, this lead him into the heart of Mandark's lab.  Off in the distance, he spotted what he had come for; Blossom was secured by a machine, no doubt sapping her power so that she couldn't break free.  The coast seemed clear, so he ran in her direction.  Blossom spotted him and shouted, "Dexter, wait!  It's a…"

            Too late, a circle of robots suddenly appeared from nowhere, disengaging their cloaking devices which had previously rendered them invisible.  Now trapped in the middle of them, with no escape route, Dexter froze as the robots all aimed their weapons at him.  "This is not good," Dexter said aloud.

            "Understatement of the year, Dexter!" Mandark's voice came.  His face appeared on a monitor nearby overlooking the room, and he said, "I took the liberty of retreating to a safer location, and leaving a little welcome for you.  I guess this means you're not about to turn over your lab…"

            "Of course not," Dexter frowned, glancing around and taking note of his surroundings, making some quick mental calculations.

            Mandark shrugged, "No harm in asking, I suppose.  Well, do you have any last requests before I give the order to open fire?"

            "Just one," Dexter said.  "Have your cameras tape this, because it is going to be one doozy of a shot!"  He suddenly fired his laser rifle up at an angle towards the ceiling.  The shot rebounded off the smooth walls of the lab, bouncing from wall to wall and off the side of a bank of machines before finally striking the nearby computer console dead center.  It shorted out in a flash of sparks and electricity.

            The green glow surrounding Blossom faded, as power ceased to be fed to her restraints.  Realizing that she had her strength back, she yanked hard, breaking her bonds and pulling her legs and arms free instantly.  As Mandark stared in awe from the screen, Blossom flew out from the device and landed next to Dexter, back-to-back with him and facing the robots.  "Thanks for the rescue, Dex!  You really do care…"

            Dexter nodded, "Yeah…well…the Professor would have killed me if you didn't get back safely.  Ready to finish these bots?"

            "Ready!" Blossom exclaimed.  Dexter flipped a switch on his rifle, switching over to continuous-fire mode, and unleashed a solid beam of light from the end, which he moved an arc, slicing several robots in half.  Blossom fired her eyebeams similarly, cutting down the nearest robots with ease.  As the remaining robots started to open fire, Blossom grabbed hold of Dexter's hand and went airborne, the shots missing them entirely.  Once in the air, Dexter took shots at the robots, destroying them with ease.

            "Noo!" Mandark cried out from the monitor.  "That's it, Dexter!  You leave me no choice now!  HK-111, destroy them!"  The two of them turned as they heard a tremor come from deeper inside the lab, and they saw a massive armor-plated robot charging in their direction.  The robot's right arm was nothing more than a tremendous cannon, and a pair of missile launchers sat on its shoulders.  It looked like something that could take an army down easily.

            Blossom narrowed her eyes and said, "I've got this one."  She fired a blast of her eyebeams at it, but HK-111 raised its left hand.  A strange pulse of energy built up on the palm, creating a forcefield that rebounded the attack away harmlessly.  While Blossom stared in shock, the robot raised its gun arm and fired a strong blast of purple energy that slammed her back against the far wall.

            "Blossom!" Dexter shouted.  He gritted his teeth and decided this was a good time to use his secret weapon.  Pressing a button on his watch, his Exo-Jock 4000 mechanical augmentation suit folded out from his backpack.  Grabbing hold of the arm controls, he immediately launched towards HK-111, swinging the large arms of the suit at its chest.  The punch connected, and the robot staggered back, trying to regain its balance.

            Dexter didn't give it the time.  Stretching out the palms of the suit, he started shooting a rapid-fire series of energy blasts at it.  The blasts impacted against the chest, each one exploding and kicking up a cloud of debris, until the entire robot was obscured by it.  Even so, Dexter didn't stop firing for a moment, and kept attacking the center of the cloud, until he was certain it had to have been destroyed.  Finally, he stopped and waited for the dust to settle.

            As it did, he became aware of a large shape still in the center, and said, "No way, it couldn't possibly have…"  Before he could finish, a spread of missiles launched out of the cloud.  Cringing, Dexter took a quick leap to the side to avoid them, and then realized he goofed…his defenses were lowered, and HK-111, looking more or less unscathed, came charging out of the dust, ramming into him shoulder-first.

            He was knocked to the ground and tumbled for a dozen feet before coming to a stop.  The suit was battered from the impact, and as he tried to get back up, the controls wouldn't respond.  HK-111 took a few steps in his direction, towering over him, and raised a huge foot, preparing to slam it down on him.  Dexter clenched his eyes shut.

            The foot only made it halfway down, though, before it came to a stop.  Dexter opened one eye and saw Blossom…she had recovered, and had caught the foot before it could crush him.  Holding it at bay, she suddenly shoved hard, pushing HK-111 back.  It tottered on its other leg for a moment, and that's when Blossom quickly rammed that leg, breaking it into pieces.  With nothing left to stand on, HK-111 collapsed onto its back, and started to short out, looking like it was ready to explode.

            Taking the cue, Blossom grabbed hold of Dexter, battered exo-suit and all, and flew right out the side of the lab with him.  The robot exploded behind them, barely covering up Mandark's shouts of, "You won't get away with this, Dexter!  I'll defeat you yet, mark my words!"  They emerged out into the sunlight, and Blossom looked around to get her bearings, finally heading off in the direction of Dexter's home.

            As they flew back, Dexter said, "Hey, Blossom…thanks for saving my life in there."

            "It's the least I could do," Blossom told him with a smile.  "Especially after that daring rescue."

            Dexter grinned back, "Yeah…that was pretty good, wasn't it?"  He glanced at his watch and said, "Well, it's almost time for you to get back home…"

            "What about the tests you wanted to run?" Blossom reminded him.  "Remember, our agreement?"

            "Look, just forget about it," Dexter said, shaking his head.  "I've had quite enough for one day, thank you.  I just want to get back to work."

            Blossom lowered her eyes, "Okay…" then brightened and said, "I'll come back to visit you again, once the Professor gets that portal working!"  Dexter just sighed and decided not to protest this time, letting her fly them the rest of the way home.

*          *            *

            Right on schedule, the professor activated the HCSP from his dimension, and Dexter activated his own dimensional portal to stabilize it.  This time, with the boost in power from the Professor's end, the portal remained open and showed no signs of decay.  "Success, Professor!" Dexter said into the transmitter.  "We have achieved one hundred percent stability!"

            "Great!" the professor's voice came back.  "We'll soon be ready for a field test, then.  I can't thank you enough for your help, Dexter…this is a tremendous achievement, and I couldn't have done it without you."

            "Thank you," Dexter said, smiling.  "So, do you want your daughter back?"

            "If you don't mind," the professor said with a chuckle.  "She wasn't any trouble, was she?"

            "Of course not," Dexter replied.  "She's on her way, then you can disconnect the portal.  Good luck with future experiments, Professor!"

            He switched off the transmitter and walked over to the portal, where Blossom was waiting.  She smiled and said, "That was fun, Dexter…I mean, aside from being held hostage and having to battle robots and stuff…we'll have to do it again some time."

            "I guess," Dexter said.  "Well, you need to get back now.  They're waiting for you."

            Blossom nodded.  She bit her lip for a moment like she was trying to make a decision, then suddenly leaned forward and planted a small kiss on Dexter's cheek.  Dexter blinked a few times in shock, and Blossom blushed, floating back towards the portal and waving, saying, "Goodbye!"  She disappeared through it an instant later.

            Dexter rubbed his cheek where she had kissed him, and walked over to the controls, closing the portal down.  Once it was closed, he started heading for one of his worktables, grumbling, "Glad that's over with…now I can get back to work…"  He picked up a wrench from the table, but hesitated, looking over at the photograph DeeDee had taken, which was now resting in a frame and sitting off to one side on the table.  He smiled slightly, then got to work, the familiar ratcheting noise now the only sound echoing through the lab.