Elder Shego's Crossworld Adventures in Possibility Engine
Continuity Note: This story follows the older Shego who worked for the Agency in Possibility Engine. The world she is in is the same one depicted in Sometimes There Isn't A Point. The Ron that shows up later is from The LAST Thing You Wanted To Read. Yeah. You read that correcftly.
*** [ E.S.C.A.P.E. ]
"Once upon a time, there was a young girl named—"
I looked down at the young girl lying in bed beside me and smiled. "So this is a story about you?"
"It can be," she says and then grabs a lock of her bright red hair and twirls it in her fingers.
I chuckled. "All right, the young is named Julie."
"And she has bright red hair!" she says.
"Do you want to tell the story?" I ask.
"No, I just want to make sure you tell it right," says Julie.
"Well, then, I'm glad you're here," I said with a smile. "So, this girl Julie – with bright red hair – lived in a magnificent palace on the moon."
"How did she breathe?" asked Julie.
"There' s no air on the moon," said Julie. "Lady Arabella said so. What did she breathe?"
"This was a time of magic, young one," I said. "The spells to breathe on Luna existed – still exist, really – and everyone was trained on how to use them."
"Luna?" asked Julie.
"That's what the moon was called," I said. "Luna, the Kingdom of Light. It was a magnificent place filled with great dances and parades and ceremonies and celebrations for everything you could think of. And Julie was special because she was the Princess of Luna, and people from far and wide came just to catch a glimpse of her beauty."
"I bet she had lots of friends," said Julie.
I nodded. "Yes, lots of friends, from lots of places. She had great fun, and played games with the other people who lived in the palace. But then, one day, something bad happened."
"Oh no!" said Julie. "What about the parties?"
"They had to be put on hold," I said. "Because a great evil came to Luna, an evil called Athena. She was powerful and smart, and brought with her an army of soldiers that rampaged across their kingdom, turning innocent people and even loyal guards against their friends and allies because she knew that the Princess of Luna would never hurt her friends or her people."
"What did she do?" asked Julie.
I patted her on the head. "She didn't have much choice. She used her greatest weapon, a powerful device that had the ability to split the universe in half, and used it to drive away the evil Athena and her once-loyal subjects, and then seal herself and what remained of Luna into a giant flowering tree for protection. She called this tree: Yggdrasil."
"Yiggy... dracile," said Julie.
"It's hard to pronounce," I admitted.
"Then what happened?"
I tried to smile, but it was hard. "Well, what the Princess didn't realize is that her spell fractured reality causing it break into shards that flew away from Yggdrasil. Those shards eventually formed into universes of their own, similar to the original world but just a little bit different – the influence of Athena was felt hard in some shards. Then those shards sometimes split even smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until the entire multi-verse was a sea of shimmering dust."
"Multiverse?" asked Julie.
I nodded. "Yes. The landscape of all things. A wonderful tapestry of existence, but a fragile one too, especially now that it had been so terribly injured." I swallowed. "The Princess watched the worlds split infinitely onto themselves and wept for the pain she had caused. So sad she was that she closed her eyes so tightly she fell into a deep sleep, from which she could not be awoken."
"Until her prince shows up!" declared Julie.
I shrugged. "Prince. Princess. Either way." I smiled. "The important part is that she is waiting out there now for the right person to save her. To wake her from her nightmare, defeat Athena, and set right the multiverse again. She's waiting for a hero."
"Woah," said Julie. "Do you think I could be the hero? Would I get a big reward?"
"The biggest reward of them all," I said. "A world where choice matters again."
"That doesn't sound all that great," pouted Julie.
I ruffled her hair. "Just wait until you're older. You'll see."
"I'm old now! I'm almost six!" said Julie.
"Yes, that's very old," I said. "Now, why don't you be a good girl and go to sleep so I can talk to your mommy."
"Oh all right," said Julie with a grumble. She pulled her green blankets up to her chin and settled into her pillow. She started to close her eyes but then paused and looked back up at me. "Will you still be here tomorrow?"
My smile faltered just a bit. "We'll see."
"I hope you are," said Julie. "Good night, Auntie Shego."
"Goodnight, pumpkin," I said. I stood up quietly and slipped out through the door.
Downstairs, I found her parents sitting at the kitchen table, looking anxiously at me. I couldn't really blame them.
"Thank you," said Ron Stoppable –the head of Global Justice – as he poured a cup of coffee for me and slid the cup by an empty chair. I took it with a nod and sat down, next to Ron, across from his wife.
"Cessili was raised by her, but Jules never got to meet our Shego," said Kim Stoppable – apparently a Republican senator, of which I refused to ask questions about – with a melancholy look. "She gave her life for me, for all of us. To protect our world." She swallowed and looked up at me with an almost puppy dog stare. "And here you are, to save us again."
I nodded slowly and took a sip of the coffee. It was hazelnut. Delicious.
"I hope I can save this world," I said after putting my cup down. "But it will depend on how quickly I can make it to the core."
"How can we help?" asked Ron.
I reached into the pouch on my leg and pulled out a picture of the book. "Have you seen this before?"
Ron took the picture and his eyebrows rose. He showed it to Kim and she nodded to him. "The Song of Lost Twilight," she said. "It's part of the Sturgeon Collection. It came through on a tour a few months ago."
"A museum has it?" I asked.
Kim shook her head. "University of Denver. I can call the Lieutenant Governor and he can have the piece tracked down on Monday."
I smiled and shook my head slowly. "Sorry, sweetie. No time."
"You're going to go after it?" asked Ron, a little hesitantly.
"You don't need to worry about it," I said. He was the head of GJ in this world. And a good guy. It was obvious he was conflicted over the ethical dilemma of allowing a thief to commit a crime when he represented an enforcement agency. "I'll be good."
"How, exactly?" asked Ron.
I smiled. "Do you want me to lie to you?"
"No," he said.
I tried to straighten my face. "I won't do anything illegal."
He stared at me. "I don't believe you," he said flatly.
I laughed. "Listen, Pixie Scout, I'm trying to save the universe, so keep your ego under control."
Ron rolled his eyes. "You get to leave when this is over, remember, we have to stay and clean up."
"Well," I said. "You don't really have to. I can take people with me. Though it's, uh, probably going to get a little punchy and shoot-y in the future."
"We've had our fill," said Kim quickly. "Just don't hurt anyone, all right?"
"Of course," I said, perhaps a little too quickly since Ron slightly narrowed his eyes at me. He said nothing more on the topic, however.
"So what's so special about the book?" he asked instead.
"It's a key," I said. "Every universe has one, or had one anyway. I can use it to get closer to the Yggdrasil." I pulled out my TDF device, which probably surprised Kimmie since it looks exactly like a black Kimmunicator. With a swipe of my thumb I brought up the tracking heuristics. "See? The last few jumps I haven't made any appreciable progress towards the core. I'm circling. Which probably means I'm close, but it also means something is keeping me back."
"Something?" asked Ron.
"I thought maybe Athena was doing it, but the Yggdrasil has a defense mechanism," I said. "I learned a few dimensions ago that there are magical means of crossing the void and getting between dimensions."
"Magic is real?" asked Kim.
"Of course, don't you have a Monkey Fist in your world?" I asked. "Mystical Monkey Idols? Ring any bells?"
"Those were artifacts," pointed out Ron.
"Same thing, princess," I said. "The problem is that I suck at magic. Never really went down with the whole now-is-zen thing. So I need this to help me." I pointed at the picture on the table. "Hence: the book."
"Is it dangerous?" asked Ron.
"The book? Yeah," I nodded. "In my clumsy hands it'll help me cross dimensions, but if a real mage got a hold of it, they could wreck some real havoc." I shivered, thinking of another Kim Possible, lying in a pool of her own blood. "I've seen some pretty bad things happen because of it."
"So maybe we should destroy it," said Ron.
"There will probably be others who will follow me here," I said. "They might need it."
"We can't just let a dangerous thing like that be," said Kim.
"You're better off just ignoring it. It's been here since time immemorial, nobody has blown up the world with it yet." I shrugged. "If you lock it up or draw attention to it, you're just as likely to catch the attention of the people you want to keep it from. Also, your world might not even have capable mages."
"That's awfully risky," said Kim. "Like leaving a loaded gun around."
I sighed. "Do what you think is right, but if you can keep from destroying it, I'd appreciate it. Another Shego and Kim is probably going to show up here looking for me. They'll want to use the book too."
"Probably?" asked Ron.
"I hope they get my message," I said softly. I already missed Robin, but there was no way we could both go back to get help and keep on Athena's trail. I had to make a choice. I sent her away. All alone. Like Zita was when she...
"If it's important to you, we'll keep it safe," said Kim. I looked up to see her studying my face. I blushed instinctively. I don't like to show other people my worries.
"Thank you," I said simply. I moved to stand. "I have to keep going."
"So soon?" asked Kim.
I smiled. "I'm sorry. I can't stop or more worlds will suffer at the hands of Athena."
"Can you..." Ron started then stopped, abruptly.
"What is it?" I asked, putting my hands on my hips.
Ron looked at Kim with a hint of shame and then frowned. He shook his head. "Nevermind."
"Come on, man, out with it," I said. "I'm going away forever. You'll never get another opportunit—"
"Can you tell us how it went with us," he interrupted me. "On other worlds?" He looked down at his hands. "Better worlds?"
I widened my eyes and looked slowly over at Kim, expecting her to look wounded or angry or perhaps stunned.
But she was looking slightly to the side and slowly – almost imperceptivity – nodded.
What happened in this world? I'm dead and Kim and Ron have two kids but wish things were better? Holy hell.
"Listen, I've got some experience with this," I started, trying the diplomatic route. "So, it's best you trust me. Do you love each other?"
I watched Ron look at his shoes, then glacially turn his head up towards Kim. They looked at each other with incomprehension as if they couldn't imagine where they were standing. Then Kim slowly let a half smile appear on her face. Ron, in return, took a deep breath and nodded back. They turned back towards me.
"Yeah," said Kim. "We always have."
"Then don't worry about it," I said. "Cling to that, and everything else is just flotsam. There are infinite possibilities out there, a million ways it could have gone and a million more ways to interpret it. What matters is you. What you each think. What you think together."
"But, you're alive," said Ron. "We must have done something better there."
"My world discovered dimensional travel so early it's impossible to tell what could have happened," I said. "Maybe things would have gone the same as here, maybe they would have gone wildly different. It's all possible, and thinking about it will just drive you insane. Trust me. I know. I learned it ..." I sighed. I didn't want to get into this. I really, really didn't. "I learned it when I lost Zita."
Ron and Kim looked almost staggered in surprise. I'm not sure over what. Had Zita done something in this world?
"Zita Flores?" asked Ron.
I nodded. "She was my..." I got a little choked up and coughed slightly to cover it. I hate talking about this. Hate. Hate. Hate. "She was mine," I settled with. "But she died when I wasn't there. On a research mission to a world that was supposed to be safe. I couldn't... I lost her in a mission report. It hadn't even reached Will's desk yet and I saw it. Nobody had time to tell me. I had to... read about it. Alone." I 'coughed' again and rubbed my eyes.
I felt a hand on my arm and I looked up to see Kim there, looking sad. I think she even was crying too. Impossible woman. She flaunts such sympathy to everyone that I've only ever been able to manage for one other person. I'm jealous. And not.
"The power we have," I said. "Is like the Torment of Tantalus. I can see her any time I want. Travel to any of a hundred thousand worlds. But it'll never be her. Can never be her, because if it was, she would have a Shego of her own." I shook my head. "So you have to package it up. Lock away the possibilities because, ultimately, only what happens matters, not what could have happened." I sighed. "You let that sort of passion get in control of you and you become the Grand Commander. And now all of existence is in danger."
I looked Kim in the eyes and tried to smile again. "No, I won't tell you how it could have gone. Live this life. Make it the best you can, and be proud. It's the only life that should matter. What we do – what I do – is a perversion. If dimensional travel could be stopped I'd stop it in a heartbeat. Maybe then certain people will start living with consequences again."
I rubbed my eyes again, and turned away. "I really do need to go."
There was a new, stronger hand on my arm now. Ron stepped to the side of me and offered a tissue. I took it gladly.
"You don't have to be alone," he said.
But he was wrong.
"Until I'm done with this, I must be," I said. "It can't be any other way."
*** [ E.S.C.A.P.E.] ***
The book was not on display as I had hoped. The flight to Denver was easy enough courtesy of a jetpack from an eye-patched Wade a few jumps back, and security at a University was by nature compromised by the student population so I found it easy enough to get close to where I wanted to be. The showroom on campus had been reorganized while the book was on tour and it looked like nobody had gotten around to re-inserting it into the exhibit. That complicated things a bit.
I pulled out the TDF again and looked at the display. The charge indicator was finally green, which mean I could open a portal out of the dimension at any time. Not a lot of use that was going to be for me while I didn't have the book, but at least it was an option if something went badly enough.
I cycled through the functions on the TDF. In theory, anything with a large enough presence in the Dreamscape could be tracked through their Void residue. At least, that's what Zita once said. I monkeyed with the settings on the gateway tracker and turned down the noise filters and turned up the sensitivity. Immediately my location on the map glowed like the sun. Of course I'd be the object with the highest concentration of Void particles, I'd been through the void more times in the last few days than the Argo.
I scrolled around the map, trying to get my bearings against the visible landmarks. Under normal circumstances, there would be nothing else other than me and the book with Void residue, so even if I turned up the sensitivity to max I should be able to find it if it's in range.
Unfortunately things weren't normal.
"What the..." I spoke to myself quietly. On the map was a square-ish shape of concentrated void particles, occupying a space equivalent to one of the academic buildings on campus. I studied the building carefully then quietly crept across the dark campus.
The building was marked as the 'John D. Hopper College of Applied Sciences and Technology.' Red brick towered six stories above me with windows sporadically dotting each side. All the windows were dark. Basement, maybe?
I tried the nearest door and found it unlocked. I didn't know the habits of this school, but if a building full of offices is empty, I would have thought the doors would be locked. That didn't bode well for me. Something was going on, and it involved the Void.
I crept into the lobby and searched around for a staircase. I found a heavy door with a light behind it and discovered that the basement lights were on. Moving down the staircase I found myself in a hall with several doors on either side. Classrooms or labs in all likelihood. I took my time as I walked and peeked in each window.
Six doors down I found an entry into large atrium or auditorium with its lights on. I stepped inside, carefully releasing the latch on the door so it wouldn't snap loudly back into place. I was in a small curtained area so I carefully pulled back the shade just enough to see.
I could hardly believe my eyes. It was indeed an auditorium, with rows of seats in theatre style in front of a large stage. And on that stage was a glowing silver reactor that looked incredibly familiar to me. Hunched over a panel on the side of the reactor was a man wearing red and black body armor with two swords strapped to his back and a bright tuft of short blonde hair. He was playing with a series of cables that snaked down off the stage and into the rows of seats.
What the hell was going on? Who was this and how on earth did he end up with an Infinite Drive Matrix, the same type of power source that ran the Agency's dimensional gateway back in my homeworld?
Scanning the room, I couldn't spot any additional people or any suspicious cameras, so I crawled out behind the last row of seats, then began moving row-by-row to get closer to the strange man who now appeared to be cackling to himself. I made it two thirds of the way to the front of the room when I stopped dead in my tracks.
Lying on the floor in the row in front of me were people. Students by the look of them. And each of them had a cable running from their necks down to the front of the room where they were clutched in the hand of the apparent madman. I covered my mouth at the horror. What possible value could there be connected a bunch of kids to a power reactor?
"I'll be happy to answer that, Shego," came a voice from the front of the room. A very familiar – if strangely accented – voice. I turned my head to see the madman standing with a large gun in his hand and pointed at me. He frowned in my direction. "Oh, it's not just a large gun, it's a high-powered plasma rifle, but that's neither there nor more over there." He gestured upwards with the rifle. "Come on out, we'll chat."
I held up my hands and stepped out from the row of seats. "Ron Stoppable," I said, unable to deny the face I was looking at. "Except I already saw him."
"Like you're unfamiliar with the concept of twins," said the Ron before me. He smirked. "I know I am."
"Drop it, wiseguy. You're from another dimension," I said.
"Way to state the obvious, sweetheart," said Ron with a laugh. "Was the giant dimensional bomb over here too much of a clue?"
"A bomb?" I said, my eyes widening. What was he going to do with an IDM-powered bomb?
"Sure," said Ron. "And stop calling me Ron."
"I..., uh," I started. I hadn't actually been calling him Ron. "What do you want me to call you?"
"Back home I went by Deadpool," said R... Deadpool. "That's better. I know it's not very original, but it's who I was designed after."
"I don't know," I shrugged slowly. "I've never heard of any other 'Deadpool'."
"Well, you've never had the pleasure of travelling down to my tributary of the ol' river of universes."
I blinked. "Right." I looked past him. "So, what's going on here? Doing a little science?"
"Ha!" he laughed. "Like I said, it's a bomb. I'm gonna set it off. It'll be pretty cool."
"Why are you going to blow up this University?" I asked, perplexed.
"I don't care about this school," scoffed Deadpool. "It's just where the book was and it had a fresh supply of young minds."
I tried to put any of that together but none of the pieces fit. "I really don't understand what's going on."
"Ugh, I can't believe you got this far without figuring anything out," said Deadpool. He pointed at the reactor behind him. "You know what this is right?"
"Yeah, it's an IDM," I said. "We've got one back at the Agency."
"Agency?" said Deadpool, with a weird twisted face. "Whatever. Point is that you know it generates enough power to punch through to the void between worlds. I'm gonna use it like a hand grenade and toss it into the Possibility Engine. Destroy the whole shebang. Boom!"
"Are you insane?" I shouted. "If you destroy the Yggdrasil you'll destroy all of reality! Every dimension!"
"Probably," nodded Deadpool. "And yes, that's the point."
"WHY?" I cried.
He looked at me seriously. "Because it doesn't matter. I was created years ago on a whim and was abandoned immediately afterwards. I haven't moved in ages. Someday you won't either. The whims of God are not so inscrutable that I can't see where things are heading. We will all be abandoned."
"What are you talking about?" I asked. "Were you cloned? You say you were created and designed."
"And you're an expository mouthpiece," said Deadpool. "I was created just like you were created. Simply words on a page and posted on a website, with little consideration of what we might be. Well, so be it. If the heart of the universe lies ahead, I'll cut it out and crush it in my hand as revenge. Maybe that will mean something."
"I wasn't created," I insisted. "I was born, and I lived my life by my choices. Just because you can travel to alternate realties doesn't mean you are in some way diminished by them."
"Yeah, I read the beginning of this story, and I don't buy it," said Deadpool. "If that is true, why did I get seventeen thousand words in oh-seven, and you got forty thousand in oh-eight. Or why does the Apocolo-whatever get over two hundred grand? No, some of us are created and then simply tossed aside when it gets tough to keep going. I don't like it. I'm not going to stand for it."
I shook my head. "This is nonsense, you've lost your mind."
"And what does that say about the types of people our creator likes to write about?" asked Deadpool.
"Let these children go and stand down," I said. "If I can stop Athena and reverse the damage of the Dimensional Drill, I can stop all this travel through the void and we can all go back to living in a single reality again."
"Whose reality? Yours?" Deadpool laughed. "I've got news for you, the author prefers his Shegos with a little more spring in their step, or haven't you noticed he refers to you as 'Elder.'"
I glanced around quickly. I didn't see the book anywhere, and I had no idea what he needed the kids for, so the only way to stop this would be to shut down the IDM. Hopefully this madman wasn't so far along that he could toss his 'grenade' at a moment's notice.
I cleared my throat. "All right, Deadpool, let's see your plan. If this... 'author' exists, then I'd probably be just as pissed at them for taking Zita from me, so maybe it's not such a bad idea to give 'em a black eye or two."
Deadpool smiled widely at me. "You're a terrible actor. And you don't understand anything." He quickly lifted his rifle to his shoulder.
I leapt immediately to the side barely missing Deadpool's initial shot. I tucked and rolled further away using the rows of seats as cover I dashed towards the curtains along the side of the room. The madman made two more close shots in my direction before switching to full auto and began unloading the clip at me.
I screamed briefly as a shot clipped my arm and I jabbed on the button to ignite my jetpack. With a burst of speed I was flung across the room and crashed through the curtains and into the floor where my jetpack automatically disengaged. I rubbed the side of my face and came away with blood on my hands. I had hit it pretty hard and was feeling numb, but at least I could still see. I reached into my bag and pulled out my stun pistol. It felt light and small in my hand and I really wished I had a hefty gun like this idiot.
With a clatter there was the sound of a new clip being loaded and then three shots nearly missed my head as I dove to the side. I crawled on my belly through some of the tattered seats and curtains to try and find a better angle for my own attack.
"Hello?" called out Deadpool. "The narration hasn't stopped so I know you're out there!" I heard the crunch of his boots on the broken concrete that now littered the floor getting slightly closer. "Make this easy on yourself and just stick your little zat-gun in your eye and pull the trigger. I'll wait."
I slid around the corner and peeked down to catch a glimpse of him. He had his gun to his shoulder and was slowly scanning the room for me. He seemed calm and patient, two qualities I would have hoped were not to be possessed by an insane person.
"I'm not insane," he suddenly said. "Okay, I am insane, but not for the reasons you think. I just have a better perspective than you. More other worldly. More... fanfiction-y."
"Don't swear," he said.
Could he read my mind? That was like the fourth time he'd responded to something I'd only thought to myself. Something odd was going on here. I ducked around the left aisle and took three steps down towards the front of the room.
Then scrambled back when a burst of bullets tore through the floor in front of me. I took several shallow breaths as I crouched in a new hiding place. At least it partially confirmed what I thought.
"I can do this all day you know," called out Deadpool. "Okay, technically it's night, but you know what I mean."
With a calming breath I planned out a way to get behind him.
And then I executed it.
With a quick sweep I knocked the madman to the ground and grabbed his rifle, turning it on him and shoving it into his nose.
"Don't move," I said with a smirk.
"Okay, that totally shouldn't have worked," said Deadpool. "I mean, sure, I can see the text but you altered your own internal prose! That's deus ex machina if I've ever seen it!"
"How do I shut the machine down?" I demanded. His babbling was never going to make sense, I just needed to end the threat and get the book.
"Okay, okay," said Deadpool, raising his hands slowly. "I have a remote that will do it. It's in my left thigh pouch." He pointed stiffly at his leg.
Keeping my gun and eyes trained on his face, I reached down and felt the leather bag strapped to his leg. He started to giggle in response and I shoved the rifle harder into his nose. With a little bit of fumbling I unzipped the pouch and pulled out a small silver box that had two buttons on it and an antenna. Both buttons were green. They were labeled: Kim and Yori.
I stared at him.
"The sexier one starts the machine, the less sexy one turns it off," said Deadpool.
"Which one is which?" I asked, already knowing what was coming.
"Uh... I forget. One of them definitely is it, but which one... I just don't remember."
"I bet you didn't realize you were in a comedy," said Deadpool.
"How about I just shoot the reactor," I said.
"You could, but you might blow up this whole planet," he replied. "I imagine you don't want to do that."
I looked at the remote and considered that it might not even control anything. This guy was insane, so why would he have to follow logic? I pocketed the device and then steadied the gun on his face.
"Turn over," I said.
"Oooh, kinky," he said as he rolled over with a smirk. I kneeled on his back and then began searching his other pouches, pressing the butt of the rifle into his ribs when he started giggling again. I turned up a couple zip-ties and used them to bind his hands behind his back and then used a few more to get his legs.
"Stay," I instructed. I expected he wouldn't stay tied up for long but I needed to disable the machine and get the book. I stood up, kicked him in the sides, and walked over to the machine. It whirred with a low hum and almost throbbed in my presence. I looked at the controls and searched for the book. Nothing was obviously an off switch so I followed the cables coming from the students to the back of one of the reactor. They were all bundled together and connected through a massive series of headphone jacks.
I swallowed. I still didn't understand what the kids had to do with all this, but if they were necessary, maybe disconnecting them would defeat the machine. I really wished I had a Wade available to help right then.
With a firm grip I started pulling out the cables connecting the students to the machine. They popped out with a 'plink' and fell to the ground silently. Once they were all disconnected I looked around cautiously but saw no explosion and heard no rapidly charging sounds that might mean something was about to go haywire. The gentle humming of the machine continued but otherwise everything seemed calm.
I sighed and turned triumphantly towards the madman.
But he wasn't there.
A hand suddenly gripped my neck and lifted me off the ground.
"Now that was a really stupid thing to do," he said as I reached up to grab his arm. My hands glowed green as I turned on my power but it didn't seem to have an effect on his clothes, let alone his skin. I felt the heat more than he appeared to.
"Go ahead, work it out," he growled at me.
Something in his clothes must have been repelling my power. I needed to get to his face.
"Aaand, that's enough," he suddenly said. He grabbed me by my jacket and flung me over his head. I had nearly a second air time, enough to twist my legs to try and blunt the impact. Despite getting my feet beneath me, I landed partially on the dais and partially off and toppled the rest of the way onto the floor in front of the first row of seats. My legs ached from the impact and my ankle felt sore.
"You want exposition? Fine," he said, walking behind the machine and pulling out some of the dangling ends of cords that used to be connected to the students. "You must know that dreaming is the easiest way to access the void. Everyone can do that stupid trick. Breaking through with machines is harder, but if you want to actually take something with you, it's the only way short of finding a really talented dreamweaver."
Deadpool held up a TDF device and began connecting the remaining cables to it. I stared at it and then padded my pockets. My TDF was gone. He must have taken it from me when he grabbed me.
"But there's a barrier up between ol' Yggs and the rest of the void, it's what Athena has been spending so much time trying to breech," said Deadpool. He finished connecting wires to my TDF and then placed it on the console of the IDM-powered bomb. "She's taking the long way around because she doesn't really get it. It's not her fault. She's never had a dream in her life – unless you count her corrupted drone - so it's like someone who is colorblind trying to figure out the color red."
I shifted my position and tested out my foot. A sharp pain travelled up my leg and hit my spine. Either a sprain or a break in my ankle. A sprain I might still be able to rush him with. A break would be less convenient.
"Using a nice shared dream like these kids here are having, that's the more efficient path to getting in," continued Deadpool. "I was going to use them to target the bomb and then break the barrier down, but I don't have time to sync them all up again now that you've disconnected them. So, option two: your TDF." He pressed a button on the bomb and it began to glow brighter.
"I can't cross the barrier on my own," I said. "That's why I was here looking for the book."
"Why?" said Deadpool, pausing. "It's a key, yes, but there isn't enough inherent power in… oh, magic." He shook his head. "Damn magic. Doesn't follow any rules." He put his hand to his chin, thoughtfully. "All right, I admit to being stupid here. I should have actually opened the book and taken a look. I just didn't expect it to be a grimoire. Author, that could have saved me a lot of time."
He shrugged. "Oh well, my plan will work too. See, your TDF connects to another IDM somewhere, and if I can open a gate with yours and then open another gate inside of it with my bomb here, well, that should weaken the walls enough that I could just as easily just step into the Possibility Engine itself and wreck it up. Not elegant, but… well, one must improvise occasionally." He tapped on a few buttons on the machine. "I'll probably have to clear out of here first, though, not much of this reality going to be left afterwards."
"Don't do this," I warned.
"Or what? Really? Appealing to my better nature? Trust me, not going to help you."
I pushed past the pain and got to my feet. The aching in my ankle was intense but manageable, I could probably still make a move.
"Yeah, I'm not going to let you do that," Deadpool said. He ran his finger over the surface of my TDF and a gateway opened a few paces behind him. "You enjoy the end of this world! The bomb will automatically detonate shortly after I leave. It's been real. Ta ta!"
He turned with a smirk.
And got punched in the nose so hard I heard it crack.
"Son of a…" Deadpool squawked as he gripped his face and staggered back. He looked slowly up to see what hit him, but the assailant just grabbed his collar and slammed him into the side of the machine. His head hit it hard and the whole device rocked in place from the impact. He groaned again in pain and tried to turn to run away.
But the attacker was quicker. Deadpool's wrist was grabbed and twisted backwards, then the backs of his knees were kicked out causing him to crash to the ground. Finally his face was shoved into the tiled floor and the attacker's knees were being pressed into the back of his neck.
I stared at the serious looking woman kneeling on him. She was in a black tactical vest and olive pants, her red hair tied up in a ponytail, and green eyes locked on him. Her expression was fiercely intense. Gods, she looked sexy.
"Can you please tone down your lusting?" Deadpool said in a nasal voice from the floor.
"Are you okay?" asked Kim Stoppable, venturing just a single glance in my direction.
"Yeah, just a sprain," I said. "The bomb is the more important thing."
"Bomb?" Kim said, loudly. Now she was looking up at me. "That's a bomb? Should I have slammed him into it like that?"
"Probably not," moaned Deadpool.
I ignored him and limped towards the machine. As I passed Kim I put a hand on her shoulder. "But don't trust he's secure. He seems to teleport when I'm not looking."
"Teleport? Nothing so mundane," said Deadpool.
"I'll keep an eye on him," said Kim.
I nodded, and hesitated. "I told you I had to do this alone."
Kim was rigid for a second then shook her head. "I watched my Shego die once already. I'm not letting you out of my sight until you're gone. It's the least I can do for her."
I sighed, but quietly I said, "Thank you."
She smiled, but kept her eyes on Deadpool.
I moved to the machine. It was an… unlabeled device with a single screen surrounded by probably a hundred buttons. I couldn't even fathom why a bomb would have so many.
"I had to repurpose some things," said Deadpool. "Not every button works. Careful, careful!"
I really hated how he was answering my silent thoughts, but I couldn't worry about it now. I studied the screen and tried to figure out what was going on. There was a column of status text, a picture of a red cylinder and a star-shaped dial that was filled in with green and yellow.
"Filled in?" Deadpool suddenly said. "That's not good. Better run."
"What does it mean?" I asked, since he was being so forthcoming.
"It means it's on countdown to detonation," said Deadpool. "It was empty, but the green filling in the yellow means it's already got less than a minute left. Better pray to your gods."
"What?" Kim said loudly.
I swallowed and looked around quickly, taking stock of what was in the immediate vicinity. I was standing with a bomb that could tear apart the fabric of realities. There were dozens of innocent students here. I was injured. There was a gateway behind me and the machine looked to weigh about five hundred pounds, not counting the glowing IDF.
It did appear to be on wheels though.
"Where does this go?" I asked, pointing at the open portal.
"Away," said Deadpool with a half-smile. "And that's a full smile, you just can't see it since I'm face-first into the floor."
"Where?" Kim shouted as she drove her knee deeper into Deadpool's back.
"Hey hey! Calm down now," said Deadpool. "It's not like the world is ending."
"It IS!" I snapped.
"Oh, right," said Deadpool.
I picked up my TDF – still connected to the machine - and pulled down the status bar. It displayed the coordinates of the destination world. It wasn't one I was familiar with. I had no idea if there were any sentient people on the other side that I would be dooming with this bomb of unknown impact.
"And I'm not telling," sung Deadpool, proudly.
I assumed that he was answering my thoughts again and looked at the TDF. I had precious little time left. I had to make a decision.
"Kimmie," I said as I pressed my finger on the screen to close the open gate. It snapped shut with a sound like a gunshot.
"Yeah?" she said.
"Lock 'em up somewhere secure," I said. I scrolled through the history of gates I'd opened. If this IDM was as powerful as the one back at the agency, the world I was looking for should be within reach. A second later I found the coordinates and displayed them. "Don't let him out of your sight until then."
"Where are you going?" asked Kim.
I held down the button to open the gate. The TDF flashed red once, complaining of a lack of power. A moment later it began drawing a charge off the cables connected to the machine.
I looked up at Kim. "I have to get this as far away from this reality as possible before it goes off."
"I don't really recommend pushing that through an active gateway!" called out Deadpool. Kim kneed him in the back again and he grunted.
"Are you going to be okay?" asked Kim.
I sighed. "I… I'll get away before it goes off." I looked down at the TDF as it reached full charge and started the routine to open the gateway. "I'll jump right away to a new world."
"Hah!" laughed Deadpool.
"You're lying," Kim said softly. She didn't look up from Deadpool, but I could see her sag.
The gateway exploded into life behind me. The bright blue-green light swirled around me. I grabbed onto the edge of the machine and yanked it towards myself. It rolled reluctantly towards me. I quickly stepped around and got ready to shove.
I paused just long enough to look over my shoulder at her. "I'm a Shego," I said. Then I smiled. "That's our prerogative."
I threw my weight into the machine and then pushed it as hard as I could until I felt the sensation of the portal taking hold. It yanked me the rest of the way through.
The feeling of both weightlessness and falling was familiar. The loud throbbing of the machine was not. As I flew through the colorful void I could feel the thumping near to my ear as it toppled end over end, wires and small bits of machinery flying in small orbits around it. I reached out and grabbed my TDF as it swung past. The next time it turned towards me I glanced at the display. The star was completely full.
I wondered if we'd even make it all the way to –
Then it exploded.
*** [ E.S.C.A.P.E.] ***
I awoke feeling numb, lying on a cold, hard surface under a bright light. I lifted my arm to try and block the light and discovered I was surrounded by little more than darkness. It was more than a little unnerving.
I looked around but the only thing of any definition that I could see was the stone slab I was on. It looked like granite given the texture, and seemed to be sitting on a white surface of some sort. Or at least it was reflecting white light.
With some effort, I swung my legs over the edge of the slab and sat up. There was still thing more than darkness around me, but I jumped down and planned on exploring anyway. When I landed I realized my ankle didn't hurt anymore.
How long had I been out?
I tried to create a green fireball with the intent of throwing it into the darkness to see further, but my power didn't come to me. I stared at my hands.
I looked up to see someone emerging from the black. It was a mousy looking woman with long brown hair, a dark green blouse over a long dark skirt and boots. She walked casually into the slight and smiled kindly.
"Safety first," she said. "Your powers will work again once you leave here, but I can't have you do something silly like try to attack me."
I frowned. "I don't need my power to attack you."
The woman held up her hands. "I don't mean you any harm, please hear me out."
I leaned against the granite slab behind me and crossed my arms. "Since I don't even know where here is or who you are, I'm willing to be patient until you actually attack me."
"Thank you," she said politely. She had a soft voice and was overly deliberate with her words. "This won't take long, but to answer your questions: you are at a crossroads of sorts that we've named The Gas Lamp. My name is Aurora Sayer. I'm... well, let's just call me a muse."
"A muse?" I said, skeptically. "The 'Gas Lamp'? I don't think you've actually answered my questions."
"I'm afraid there is a limit to what I'm willing to say," said Aurora with a shrug.
I sighed. "Why am I here?"
"I had to bring you somewhere after your tunnel collapsed." Aurora reached into the folds of her skirt and then pulled out a blacked and charred TDF. "I'm afraid technology has its limits."
"Ugh," I groaned as she handed it to me. It looked like it had partially melted and was covered with black score marks. "Travelling is going to be difficult from here on out."
"Actually, that's what we need to talk about," said Aurora. She turned and lifted her arm. Like a curtain, the darkness vanished beneath her hand and showed a vast landscape filled with billions of threads of blue light, dimly glowing in the blackness.
"Is that…" I started.
"A representation," replied Aurora. "Of the many worlds universes. You can't actually see it with your eyes, but this is a metaphor that helps explain it."
"They're not banded at all," I mused. One of Will's favorite explanations was how the universes were woven together like thread. This didn't show that.
"No," said Aurora. "But that's not exactly wrong. This is just one representation, there are other, equally valid ones." She gestured with her hand and it felt like we were moving through the threads, travelling alongside a large grouping until it reached a point. The point was surrounded by a ring of silver but it was fractured and pieces were missing. Where the band was fractured, blue light like ink was seeping out and bleeding into the blackness around it.
"What happened?" I asked.
"This is the work of Athena and Deadpool," said Aurora. "Their devices have fractured the seal we placed around the Source and the barriers between worlds are weakened."
"The bomb did that?" I asked.
"The bomb accelerated something that was already in progress," said Aurora. "Now, though, it has reached a point where action must be taken."
I nodded. "What do I need to do?"
Aurora looked at me and made a small smile. "Nothing."
I blinked. "What?"
"There's nothing more you need to do," said Aurora. "Your job now is to stand by and let those best equipped to handle this."
"No way," I said. "There has to be something. I won't just sit idle."
"Your strength is vast, Shego," said Aurora. "But you have to appreciate when it is not needed. Your role in this was to stop Deadpool from shattering the barrier completely. It is now weak enough that your counterpart will be able to get through when she arrives."
"And Athena?" I asked.
"She will also get through," nodded Aurora. "Slightly ahead of your counterpart."
"Then let me stop her at least!" I shouted.
"It is not your role," insisted Aurora. "I know this is frustrating, but this will work out in only one of two ways: the savior of the Yggdrasil, or its destruction. And you cannot influence it in either way."
"Why not?" I asked, exasperated. I hated these god-like, or self-designated god-like beings. They were always so full of themselves.
"Because the Yggdrasil is broken," said Aurora. "Has been for some time. It needs to be healed. You aren't right to heal it. But your counterpart's companions can."
"How do you know that?" I asked. "Why can't you show me what needs to be done? If you're so omniscient, how has this situation even come to pass? You would have me believe you know exactly what to do but you haven't done it yourself? How crazy is that?"
Aurora eyed me patiently. "An architect may know exactly how a building is to be constructed, but may know nothing about the mixing of concrete. That same architect may accept some substitution in materials, but knows that it diminishes the final product. Neither of these situations are unfamiliar to you."
"You are not the right material for this plan," said Aurora. "It is not because you are deficient in any way, you just will not be able to perform this role in the way it must be played."
"Assuming I trust you and you aren't some spawn of Athena," I said.
"Assuming as such," she said, neither confirming or denying my accusation. "That is for you to decide."
I sighed. "What am I supposed to do then? Wait out the end of the universe here? Go idle for years like Deadpool said in his insane ramblings?"
"Deadpool has a unique perspective on reality," said Aurora. "And while there is a grain of truth to his statements, it is not the only perspective of value."
"Then what?" I asked.
"There are other roles of value that you can fill suitably," said Aurora.
"Oh, yeah? Like what?"
*** [ E.S.C.A.P.E.] ***
I sat down gently on the bed and smiled at the occupant. She was quite possibly the most adorable girl I've ever known.
"Another story?" asked Julie, tucked under the covers and looking up at her with glimmering eyes.
"A short one tonight," I said. "I need to check in on Cessili as well."
"Once upon a time, there was a powerful knight named—"
I looked at Julie sideways. "I'm starting to sense a theme here with your naming, Jules."
"I like Julie," said the girl simply.
"It's a very nice name," I said with a nod. "So, Julie was a powerful Knight, devoted to her Queen. Every day she woke up and watched the sun rise. Then after that she donned her armor and knelt before the Queen to learn what her mission was for that day. Sometimes she had to find missing people, sometimes she had to protect people in danger. Sometimes, she was asked to fight dragons."
"Oooh, what kind of dragons?" asked Julie.
"Lots of different kinds," I said. "Some were very strong, sitting on piles of gold and attacking everyone who came near. Some were fast and needed to be chased across the many realms just to find them. The worst, though, were the dragons that plagued the Knight, and chewed away at her insecurities."
"Insecurities?" asked Julie.
"Yeah, those little voices in your head that say you're not doing enough," I said. "Or you could have tried harder. Or that the people you share your life with… don't really care about you. But the worst one is the voice that says the people who you've lost over the years could have been saved."
"I… um…" said Julie.
"It's alright," I said. "It's a grown-up thing. You'll understand someday."
"So, the Knight carried out her duty every day, but each day she got a little weaker. It was harder to keep the fight going, and it was harder each morning to face her Queen. Then, one day, the Queen wasn't there."
"Where did she go?" asked Julie.
"She left in the night," I said. "Without any notice at all. The Knight was crushed. Her whole life was centered on the Queen and now there was no one to ground her. The Queen's kingdom still needed the Knight, though, so she continued to serve. But no new Queen came to replace the one she lost.
"So over time, the Knight became reckless. She fought like she expected to lose, over and over again, leaving barely any time for sleep. She didn't know why she was even fighting anymore, just that it was something she used to do and felt like she had continue doing."
"What happened, then?" asked Julie.
"Well, she took on a fight against a dragon she couldn't possibly defeat," I said. "She did get close, though, time and time again, only to see it slip through her fingers. The people she met were worried and they begged her to stop before she forgot everything she used to be. The Knight, however, was still in pain from the loss of her Queen, and she ignored what everyone said. It was easier to just do her duty without thinking."
"What did she do?" asked Julie.
"Well, she would have continued, possibly forever, if she hadn't run into another girl who helped her."
"Did she have special powers?"
I smiled. "In a way. She didn't have super strength, or hearing, or laser vision. She was determined, just like the Knight, and she had a question."
"A question?" repeated Julie to make sure she heard me right.
"That's right," I nodded. "The question was: How do I move past the loss of someone I loved?"
"The Knight was startled by the question, because she had been struggling with it herself for a very long time. She didn't know what help she could possibly offer when she hadn't solved the issue herself. But she knew her duty, this was her mission of the day, so she tried to think of an answer."
Movement caught my eye and I looked up from Julie and saw the door out of her room open a crack. A bundle of red hair was moving slightly just on the other side.
"And while she thought, she realized why she had never been able to deal with the absence of her Queen," I said. I turned my eyes back to the young girl in the bed. "So she told the girl she met: Alone, you will never be able to feel better. But, perhaps, together we can find a way to mend each other's broken hearts."
I smiled. "So the Knight chose to stop running. She had been hiding her pain for so long she wanted to try something new. To see if maybe the solution to losing someone who held a place in your heart is to give that place to someone new. It won't be the same. It'll never be the same. But it can help you keep from feeling empty inside. And maybe that's just as god."
Julie stared at me as if I had just told her elephant grown on trees.
"I don't understand this story," she said quite definitively.
I laughed quietly. "Yeah, I'm sorry. It was really a grown-up tale. Tomorrow I'll read from one of your books instead."
Julie's eyebrows raised. "You'll be back tomorrow?"
I glanced back at the door where the silent but not stealthy listener stood.
"Yeah, I think I will," I said.
Author's Notes: This was actually written back in March 2013 when I realized I was 10k words away from having published 1 Million words to Fanfiction do net. The intent was to arrange for this story to be exactly enough to crest that milestone. Instead, I got hung up in the farcical elements and didn't finish. Liara's Reprieve ended up quietly being the milestone story.
Obviously, this story is full of in jokes and is largely poking fun at myself. When you're writing Deadpool, you really can't have a thin skin.
I really wanted there to be some sort of pseudo-resolution to Sometimes There Isn't A Point. I really did like that universe at the time I was writing it, but my outlines for 'Full of Grace' – the intended sequel – were so complicated that I could never get the momentum going to be confident I would finish. So I held back and it languished. Other, more popular worlds took my attention instead.
The Last Thing You Wanted To Read was funny, but I hadn't really planned anything out for it and I left the first chapter in a place that was difficult to carry on from without a plan. At the time I was writing a number of other stories that I cared about more, so I let it go. When it came time to do something silly for my milestone, though, I dug it up and happily wrote a few thousand words for the Merc with a Mouth. This will truly be the end of that universe. I'm sure nobody is shedding a tear.
Aurora Sayer describes herself as a muse. That's because she's my muse. Aurora exists in the periphery of many of my stories, if not all of them. I don't always make a deal out of it, but she's there. Someday I'll write an original novel starring her and she will probably depart at that time. I created her back in… oh,2003 I believe, as part of an original book I was writing called 'The Blends.' The idea was that was a place where all the fictional universes touched together and 'blended', and there was a high school there where various side characters attended together. It was a premise but I never came up with enough stories to carry it into a story arc, and so it is in my abandoned pile. The more annoying thing was that later that year a manga was published called 'Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle', which was about all of CLAMP's stories merging together in a multi-universe, and it featured a powerful female dimensional witch named Yuuko. I guess there are no original ideas out there.
As always I welcome feedback, both good and bad. Just watch out for Deadpool. He creeps up when you least expect it and suddenly your prose is working against you. Kumquat.