Chapter 1: Please Don't Gene-Splice the Messenger
"I think you'd better have a look at this, Doctor," said the technician nervously.
Dr. Helen Narbon Prime -- she preferred the designation to "senior" nowadays, as her daughter-clone matured -- cocked an eyebrow at the tech, who flinched. The mad scientist's eyebrows weren't deadly in themselves, but they often foreshadowed messy exits for the individuals who prompted her to raise them. "Oh?"
"It's from the datascan of Worldtrack N+3/TD," the tech said. "Since we stabilized the Cross-Dimensional Induction Tunnel for travel between near-parallel universes, we've been checking potential destinations for information on relevant bio-analogs -- and we got some, ah, exotic hits for this track."
"In other words," Dr. Narbon said dryly, "you Googled me over there, and something came up you don't think I'll approve of. Namely...what?"
"Um," said the tech, "two things, actually. First, you're not -- real in that universe. You're part of a comic strip on the Web."
The scientist's cool expression brightened slightly. "A comic strip? About me?"
The tech swallowed. "Not -- exactly. You're a supporting character; the lead is your, um, daughter."
Dr. Narbon frowned. "Beta gets higher billing than I do? That will never -- no, wait. If the strip makes me seem less important, the element of surprise when I act will be greater. But you said two things; go on."
The tech went from nervous to downright flustered. "Yes, um, well...there's fanfiction based on the strip," he said. "And some of it's, ah, um -- kind of X-rated."
"Slash, you mean," Dr. Narbon said. "About me, I take it?"
"Some of it, yes."
"I see." Helen Prime smiled narrowly. "And this should bother me, why?"
"Well, um, it's the pairing."
Except, noted Dr. Narbon, the tech had said pairing as if there were quotation marks around the word. "Oh? With whom do I engage in conjugal bliss?"
The tech's face blanched. "Ah, well -- I think you'd just better look at it." Which, translated from his body language, meant please don't gene-splice the messenger.
"I see." She didn't, really; based on her acquaintance with fanfic in her own universe, there were three kinds of slash -- the sort that treated its characters with striking respect, the sort that was blisteringly pornographic (and thereby, for the most part, too unlikely to take seriously), and the sort that was too laughably written to bother with. Clearly, however, something had alarmed the technician, and her staff didn't alarm easily. "Very well, I'll have a look," she said, taking the thick file folder from the tech's hand.
Several hours later, she was shaking her head in grim astonishment. Three Girls and a Gerbil was certainly blisteringly pornographic -- which she didn't mind, in itself. It portrayed her as a flaming lesbian, which she also didn't mind in itself. But the writer had had the audacity to make her the simultaneous paramour of her own cloned offspring and Mell, Beta's amusingly sociopathic intern -- along with their mutant gerbil companion, Artie.
She might, Helen Prime reflected, have forgiven the author the incest -- hot sex was hot sex, after all -- but she'd been portrayed in entirely too positive a light, as if she'd actually been motivated to improve her daughter-clone's mental balance. The technician had been right; the slight to her reputation couldn't be tolerated, not even three universes over in a dimension where she was considered a fictional character.
She paged the tech. "I presume," she inquired over the lair comm-link, "that you've traced the author's identity in her native universe?"
"Of course, Doctor. We haven't found a birth name yet, but she's a contract enforcer for N+3/TD's mad scientist community, under the working identity of Shego. Shall I send you the dossier?"
"At once," Dr. Narbon replied. "And put in a call to Mell Kelly. Tell her I may have a job for her."
Chapter 2: If You're Interested, You Know Where to Find Me
Note: This story was written before Season 4 of Kim Possible aired, in which the TV series finally established that Mrs. Dr. Possible's first name was Ann. For the purposes of this series, however, I've chosen to continue calling Kim's mother Kimberly Katherine Possible.
Attached: comments on your Chapter 8 (hot as usual) and draft of my Chapter 5 (still trying to make Lex dark enough!).
Have to ask: what was Drew thinking? At least the fruitcake business made sense; magnetizing worldwide underwear supply just plain silly. OTOH, technique could well be useful for keeping twins in line....
Speaking of twins, no luck so far re: development of plasma-proof keyboard. Better strategy might involve tweaking neurotransmitters, but I'd need full EEG and brain-chem workup to evaluate. If you're interested, you know where to find me.
Shego laughed as she saved the two document files to her private fic directory, and made a mental note to forward the specs on Dr. Drakken's underwear magnetizer to Mrs. Dr. Possible when she emailed her reply. While she'd had very limited contact with the tweebs, as Kim called them, she was well acquainted with their capacity for mayhem, and anything that might curtail it was well worth facilitating.
As for the offer to rewire her brain, Shego smiled bemusedly to herself. While her tendency to leak microflares of plasma-energy when she was...excited was often inconvenient, she wasn't inclined to resort to such drastic tactics to deal with it. Oddly enough, it wasn't a question of not trusting Mrs. Dr. Possible -- Shego was disconcertingly certain that Kim's mother's medical ethics were utterly reliable. She simply liked her brain the way it was, thank you very much.
The relationship was peculiar enough as it was. Shego and Mrs. Dr. Possible had been trading emails and beta chapters for nearly three months now, and Shego still wasn't sure whose mind she'd most thoroughly boggled -- Kim's, with the discovery that her mother and her arch-nemesis shared a long-standing interest in writing extra-spicy slash; Mrs. Dr. P's, with the realization that she had so much in common with her daughter's most dangerous opponent; or herself, with the degree to which what had begun as a simple exchange of beta-reading services was turning into what could almost be considered a (gasp!) genuine friendship.
And then there was the fact that she still owed Dr. Kimberly Katherine Possible a blank-check professional favor as a direct result of her original scheme to warp the younger Kim's mind. Mrs. Dr. P. showed no sign whatsoever of calling in the debt anytime soon -- which was reassuring and dread-inducing in roughly equal measure. While it hadn't exactly prompted Shego to pull her punches in her more recent battles with Kim, she had to admit that since the fruitcake affair, she'd deliberately tuned her combat style away from devil-may-care recklessness in favor of surgical precision. She did not, as Kim had all too accurately observed during the fruitcake episode, want to find out what Mrs. Dr. P would ask for if Kim came home from a mission in too many separate pieces.
The lair's comm system abruptly crackled, derailing Shego's thoughts. "Shego to Lab Three at once. Please," the comm tech added in nervous tones; none of the rank-and-file minions would willingly risk rousing her fiery temper. Sighing, Shego logged herself off the Web, engaged her computer's privacy systems, and went off to see what Drakken wanted.
When she arrived at Lab Three, she found him playing with toy trains. "Christmas was six and a half weeks ago, Dr. D," she pointed out. "Time to put your inner child to bed till next winter."
"Ah, but these," Drakken replied cheerily, "are no ordinary trains. Observe. They go round and round and never stop, and the passengers -- like that man in the old song -- never get off! I need you," he continued, "to get me onboard guidance systems for subway cars from New York, Boston, and London. Once we control the world's public transit systems, we'll control everyone who rides them. Mwahahahaha!"
Shego managed not to roll her eyes -- although the scheme actually sounded fairly promising compared to Drakken's other recent plans. "I'm on it," she said, stepping to the wall intercom. "Hangar Two, roll out my jet and begin preflight. I'll be down in fifteen minutes."
She was on her way to the hangar, overnight gear slung over her shoulder, when the comm system crackled again. "Intruder alert, Hangar Two! Unknown individual has penetrated the facility!" And a dozen uniformed minions came running up the corridor past her practically before the feedback had died away.
"Bunch of chickens," she muttered, shifting into a jog and allowing her bag to slide to the floor. The hangar entrance was open when she reached it a moment later. "Amateurs!" she spat softly, slipping through, tapping the lock-panel to seal it behind her, and ducking into the shadow of a fuel truck. Meanwhile, her mind was processing what she'd heard. Last I checked, Kimmy and her back-pocket geek hadn't found this lair; besides, they said "individual" singular. So who's our uninvited guest?
The answer came a moment later, as a compact, black-haired young woman strolled casually into the middle of the hangar. She wore black jeans, a pale blue men's button-down shirt, a knee-length white lab coat, and round-lensed dark glasses, and gave every impression of being nothing more than an undersized graduate student. Shego was absolutely certain she'd never seen the girl before -- and yet there was something familiar about her....
"Anybody home?" the stranger called out. "I could use some directions; I think I missed a left turn at Albuquerque."
And wound up under a mountain in southern Oregon? Shego grinned. I don't think so. She tucked one hand behind her back, conjured a plasma-ball into it, and then stepped forward, lightly tossing the globe of energy like a beanbag. "Suppose you tell me who you are and what you're really doing here. And if I like the answer, maybe I won't throw this at you."
As Shego expected, the girl's forehead wrinkled slightly as her eyes widened behind the glasses, and she breathed, "Oooh, shiny!"
What she didn't expect was the ratchet-click!-WHOOOSSSHHH!! as the collapsible flamethrower the stranger whipped out from under her lab coat snapped to its full length and spat a three-foot jet of orange death straight at Shego's nose as the girl yelled, "Eat hot napalm, you perverted bimbo!"
The firestream missed by scant inches as Shego's lightning reflexes kicked in. In one instinctive cascade, Shego rolled to one side, flipped the plasma-ball directly at the flamethrower's barrel, sent two more bursts of plasma at her opponent's hands and feet, and sprang back into the hangar's shadows, then swiftly leaped upward and swung herself silently onto a ladder leading to a high catwalk.
She heard rather than saw the modest WHA-KHOOOF! of the flamethrower exploding as she executed the escape maneuver. But as she quickly and quietly scrambled up to the catwalk, she saw that her adversary had somehow evaded the additional plasma-bolts and was standing calmly in the middle of the hangar, turning slowly in a circle and studying her surroundings. The remains of her weapon lay crisped in the middle of a sizeable black smear on the floor a dozen feet away, but the stranger's coat wasn't even singed, and her hair had likewise come through untouched. As Shego watched, the newcomer reached inside her coat, withdrew a dark baseball-sized object, and spoke, tossing her new toy up and down in one hand just as Shego had the plasma-ball a few moments earlier.
"Just so we're clear," she said pleasantly, "there are three ways this can go down. One: we keep playing hide and seek, and I eventually find you and take you out. It'll probably be messy, but at least it'll be quick. Two: you come out and surrender like a pro. In that case I'll take you back to my boss, and she'll spend a month and a half dissecting you one cubic inch at a time. She'll have a lot of fun, but you won't. Three: I can just blow things up till the whole base comes down around your ears. That won't be nearly as much fun for either of us, but if I have to, I have to. Dr. N was really specific. And really ticked."
Then, in one quick motion, the stranger whipped the pin out of the grenade, spun sideways, and threw it halfway across the hangar onto one of Drakken's hover-disc flyers. The grenade -- and its target -- promptly exploded with an ear-hammering KAA-BLAMM!, sending shrapnel flying in all directions. Luckily for Shego, the flyer had been parked clear over near the right-hand wall, but the visitor should have been close enough to the "shred zone" to take at least a few stray shards of flying metal.
Except she didn't. From Shego's angle, it was difficult to see what had happened, but she managed to glimpse a handful of faint, momentary sparkles that might or might not have been some sort of personal force field.
Shego was rapidly becoming alarmed. This wasn't a fight she could win with fancy acrobatics, and it looked as if her enemy had come prepared to counter her plasma powers. As for surrender -- as Kimmy might say, so not an option, especially not with so little information to go on.
She pressed herself flat against the catwalk and scanned the hangar through its steel-mesh surface. On the plus side, the main launch doors were wide open and her jet sat just inside them, aimed outward; its preflight checkup had evidently been nearly complete when the alert went off. Unfortunately, Shego was several hundred feet away from it, not to mention twenty-five feet above its cockpit -- virtually the full length of the vast chamber. And while the catwalk did, in fact, run the entire length of the hangar, there was the small difficulty of crossing that much space without attracting the attention of Little Miss Arsenal and whatever else she was packing inside that lab coat.
Abruptly, she blinked, slid a hand to her waist, and flicked open one of the pouches at her belt. I'm not exactly naked here, either. I have a remote control and I know how to use it. She chewed her tongue thoughtfully for a moment, then grinned to herself and one-handedly keyed in a command sequence. Below and well behind her, the passenger door of the fuel truck she'd passed earlier opened. The metallic click wasn't loud, but it echoed in the huge space.
The stranger chuckled, pulled out a slender junior-sized bazooka and fired; the fuel truck went up in a spectacular FWOOSH before the hangar's fire-retardant systems kicked in and dumped a layer of supercooled foam over it -- by which time Shego had scuttled a third of the way along the catwalk toward her goal.
"That was way too easy," the girl said, slipping the bazooka back where it had come from -- as Shego's next command sequence triggered a second discharge of foam, this time released directly over her head. "Ggllrrph!"
Shego had gotten lucky. Her opponent had been standing directly under a release-nozzle for the foam system, and while there was indeed a force field surrounding the girl, it hadn't been designed with an overhead attack in mind. While most of the floor was only six inches deep in the foam, the girl herself was somewhere in the middle of a transparent cylinder just under two feet in diameter, about seven feet high -- and completely filled with superchilled halon fire retardant, resembling nothing so much as a super-sized column of marshmallow filling.
Shego didn't wait to see how or whether her adversary extricated herself from the predicament. Instead, she raced the rest of the way across the catwalk, keying in the cockpit release as she went, then leaped from the overhead walkway directly into the pilot's seat. Within seconds, she'd resealed the hatch and had the engines roaring, and moments after that she was in the air, fully stealthed, and winging her way eastward.
Only then did she pause to catch her breath and consider the encounter. "Who the Hell was that?" she asked aloud. "And what's a Dr. N...?"
She trailed off, suddenly realizing why the girl had looked familiar. "Mell Kelly? Out of the comic strip?" It was preposterous -- but then, so were a lot of the situations she'd found herself in since the comet had left her with glowing green hands so many years ago. Now she had a sociopathic evil intern on her trail -- it was barely possible that Mell hadn't escaped the foam before it either suffocated or froze her, but Shego doubted it. And that meant the mad scientist who'd sent Mell after her was probably also lurking somewhere, ready to -- how had Mell put it? -- dissect her one cubic inch at a time.
The salient question was Why? What could she have done to offend the Narbonic characters -- "Doy," Shego said, resisting the impulse to whack herself on the forehead. "I suppose this means they read the fanfic."
Shego set the jet's navigation controls, engaged the autopilot, and twisted in her seat to rummage through the supply locker for her spare laptop. Much as she hated the thought, she wasn't sure she could take down Mell Kelly alone. Also, she needed to know where she could lay her hands on a Pan-dimensional Vortex Inducer....
Chapter 3: This Is Going To Take Some Getting Used To
Got your note. Comments on Chapter 5 may be delayed, but not for the reason you'd think -- more of a professional relations prob--
Oh, hell, I'd better say this straight out. MK out of Narbonic's after me with intent to flambé, apparently on behalf of HN (not sure which one yet, but I'm guessing Mom). Yes, it's nuts, but that's mad science for you. Obviously a parallel-universe sitch; could use a line on a PVI to send her home -- if Kimmy or her pet geek knows where I can borrow one, it'd help, but do not, repeat DO NOT let her anywhere near me for the duration. MK packs too much firepower; also, she cheats.
Will send underwear gizmo specs when I get the chance. Best hold off on brain-tweaking, though; I need all the neuro-whatses I've got just now.
More later, assuming I don't get crispy-fried.
Dr. Kimberly Katherine Possible pursed her lips thoughtfully, trying to recall what a PVI was -- a pan-dimensional something-or-other, that was it. The problem, however, was what to do about the message. If the note described matters accurately, it was entirely possible that Shego could indeed wind up crispy-fried; her summation of Mell Kelly's character was all too apt. And notwithstanding the perils Shego had put her daughter through over the years, she didn't deserve to be flambéed by a sociopathic sidekick from another dimension.
As bizarre as the scenario was, Mrs. Dr. Possible didn't have any trouble taking it seriously; it was no stranger than some of the situations Kim and Ron had gotten themselves into over the years. Nonetheless, she decided that her first order of business was to secure some sort of independent confirmation. It was less a question of disbelieving Shego as of needing a second opinion -- basic operating practice in her own field. And given that the diagnosis involved extra-dimensional mad science, there was only one person she could logically call on.
Working quickly, she sealed the message behind five separate encryption layers, copied the result to a flash memory card, and transferred the card from her office computer to her palmtop. Now all she needed to do was reach Wade -- but that would require a Kimmunicator, and getting hold of one without letting Kim know what was going on promised to be tricky. She frowned briefly, considering the problem, then abruptly snapped her fingers, reached for her cell phone, and keyed a speed-dial code.
"Kimberly Katherine!" said the warm voice on the other end of the line. "Good morning! To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Good to talk to you too, Nana," Mrs. Dr. Possible said, "but I'm afraid this is more of an I could use a favor call. You still have a friend or two at Global Justice, don't you?"
Nana Possible's voice sharpened slightly, though with concern rather than anger. "Kimberly Ann's not in danger, is she?"
"No more than she ever is," Mrs. Dr. P replied with a faint, nervous chuckle. "Actually, I'm hoping to keep her out of some. I need to discuss some information with Kim's friend Wade, but I'd rather keep Kimmy out of the loop until we know more. I know Wade's got connections in GJ too...."
"...but what you need is a direct, private link, and that means one of his little Kimmunicators," Nana finished.
"Exactly," said Mrs. Dr. P. "I'd borrow Kimmy's spare, but -- well, you see the difficulty. And this one's really as much my problem as hers."
Nana's pitch shifted, the vocal equivalent of a raised eyebrow. "Oh? This wouldn't have to do with a certain braingirl's work, now would it?"
"Sort of," Kimberly Katherine admitted. Like Kim, Nana Possible didn't write fanfic, but she had been reading it since the days of original-series Star Trek, and she'd been highly amused on discovering that her daughter-in-law was an avid fic-writer. "You might say the jade_firecat situation's heated up. Literally, by the sound of it."
"Ah," Nana said thoughtfully. "Something more than an ordinary 'Net flamewar, then; you wouldn't need Wade for that."
"That's what it looks like, but I won't know for sure till I can get Wade to crosscheck a few things."
Nana's tone mellowed again. "I see. You know you'll have to tell Kimberly Ann eventually, of course."
Mrs. Dr. Possible sighed. "But not until I have better data. And fresh eyes looking over the data I've got."
"I understand completely," Nana said. "Just let me rattle a cage or two. Kimberly Ann isn't the only Possible with a sackful of favors in her closet."
"Please and thank you," Mrs. Dr. P replied gratefully.
"No trouble at all," returned Nana. "But I want to hear the whole story once it's all sorted out."
"Promise," Mrs. Dr. P said. "Meanwhile, I've got charts to read...."
She was still working on the medical charts early that afternoon when she became aware of an odd, soft humming noise. She glanced out her sixth-floor window, where a compact blue object was cheerily hovering.
Mrs. Dr. Possible frowned -- like many modern medical buildings, Middleton General Hospital's windows were flat glass panes that didn't open, so as to better control the interior environment. But as she watched, the device extended a slender silver needle toward the window. The needle's tip began to glow, and after a moment a disc-shaped patch of glass about seven inches across began to flicker oddly -- and the Kimmunicator hummed briskly forward, creating ripples in the distorted section of window as it passed through. The instant the passage was complete, there was a soft snap! as the shimmering area reverted to normal, and the gadget sailed neatly onto the center of Mrs. Dr. P's desk, retracting the needle-antenna and popping out the end of an ordinary-looking electric cord.
Wade Load's image flicked to life on the Kimmunicator screen. "You'll want to plug it in to recharge," he said. "That trick takes insane amounts of power."
"I'm impressed," Mrs. Dr. P said, unreeling enough cord to do as Wade had advised.
"Thanks!" Wade said. "It's still pretty experimental. I can only hold the phase-tunnel open for twenty seconds at a time, and it won't penetrate anything much denser than glass. But that's not what you wanted to talk about, is it?"
Mrs. Dr. Possible nodded at the screen as she transferred the memory card with Shego's message from her palmtop to the Kimmunicator. "Not a word to Kimmy about this till we're sure what's going on," she said, "but take a look at this and tell me what you think."
Wade's hands flew across several different keyboards as he worked his techno-wizardry. "Hmm. The encryption algorithms aren't bad, but -- waitasecond, you're trading email with Shego??"
"Didn't Kimmy tell you? After she found out I did the beta of that Narbonic fic she sent Kim last fall, she looked up my stories. It turned out we write in some of the same fandoms, she offered to trade betas, and it went from there. She's really very good -- as a writer, I mean -- even if she's a trifle preoccupied with the, ah, steam content."
Wade's eyes glazed over for a moment, but he shook himself out of the fuzzed state. "If you say so. But you ought to let me route her mail through my servers after this -- it'll be more secure for both of you."
"Works for me," said Mrs. Dr. P. "Right now, though, we have bigger problems -- assuming Shego's right, and there's a real live Mell Kelly loose in our universe. Is there any way you can track something like that?"
The ten-year-old super-genius frowned. "It's tricky. There'd be an energy event whenever something crossed between the two universes, and that ought to show up on some of the satellite bands." As he spoke, he swung his chair back and forth between various workstations, typing like a demon. "And there might be a low-level quantum distortion that'd cling to someone from another universe running around in this one -- but that would be way too faint to pick up unless you were right there with the right sensor."
He was silent for several long moments, his concentration fully fixed on his computers. Then: "Huh! There was a quantum energy surge recorded near Walla Walla, Washington two days ago. It looks like whoever triggered it was counting on the nuclear activity at the Hanford Reservation to mask the event." He paused, typed some more, then gave another surprised breath. "And I can place Shego's personal jet over western Idaho as of six hours ago -- she must have dropped out of stealth mode long enough to send that message."
"And that means," Mrs. Dr. P said, "that she's not making it up; her opposite number from Narbonic-land really is out to get her."
Wade's expression was skeptical. "Could be. But she might just be taking another shot at a Pan-dimensional Vortex Inducer. By itself, that won't send somebody back to their own universe -- you'd need to combine a PVI with a kinematic continuum disruptor and incorporate a tuning module."
It was Mrs. Dr. Possible's turn to shake herself free of brain-fog. "And translated into English, that means -- what?"
"Call it a PANIC button," Wade said, chuckling. "I'll work out the acronym later. Right now -- assuming Shego really is in trouble, what exactly were you planning to do about it?"
Kimberly Katherine Possible blinked. "I -- ah, hadn't worked out details."
"Not that much to work out," said Wade. "I know where we can borrow -- repeat, borrow -- both a continuum disruptor and a PVI. I can whip up a tuning module in a couple of hours, easy. But somebody would need to pick up the other components and get the PANIC button to Shego -- and you said you didn't want Kim involved. That kind of leaves...."
"...me," Kim's mother finished ruefully, calling up her electronic calendar. "All right, I can clear my schedule for a couple of days. Just one thing, though -- can we leave the parachute-jumping to Kimmy?"
Wade laughed again. "That should be doable. Actually, the continuum disruptor's easy; that's at Middleton Tech. The PVI we'll have to get from a Professor Wilberforce in New York City." He typed in commands on two different terminals, then turned back to the video pickup. "You fly out first thing tomorrow -- I'm sending the details to your Kimmunicator."
"And once we've got all the components?"
"I'll walk you through the assembly; it'll be a snap. Delivering the thing to Shego -- and getting it back afterward -- we'll just have to see."
"I'll send her a note," said Mrs. Dr. Possible, "and then head over to Middleton Tech for the -- continuum disruptor, wasn't it?"
"Right," Wade said. "I'll set up a -- wait, you don't need a ride to get across town. This is going to take some getting used to."
Mrs. Dr. P tucked her new Kimmunicator into a coat pocket. "You're telling me."
Chapter 4: This Was Totally Not My Idea
Wade was used to multitasking, but this particular morning's to-do list was more than usually challenging.
He'd gotten Mrs. Dr. Possible (or Mrs. Kim, as he was beginning to think of her) safely off on her very first mission -- just as a call had come in sending Kim and Ron to Boston to look into the theft of key electronic hardware from an MTA subway car. At the same time, he was trying to trace Shego's movements -- no small challenge given the stealth tech built into her new jet -- as well as attempting to unravel and track the activities of Mell Kelly, the interdimensional assassin supposedly out for Shego's blood. And he was somehow supposed to keep the whole Shego/Mell situation secret from Kim into the bargain. It was enough to give even a super-genius a headache.
One of his monitors beeped, and he swiveled his chair to respond. ""I'm on the ground at LaGuardia," reported Mrs. Kim.
"Great!" Wade told her. "Mr. Callaway's limo is waiting outside baggage claim. The sign will read KKP."
"Got it," Mrs. Kim said, as a second monitor went beep.
Wade silently blessed his foresight in assigning Mrs. Kim's Kimmunicator its own dedicated frequency. "Hold on," he said, "I've got another feed coming in."
"Talk to me, Wade," came Kim's voice over the primary band. "I'm sending a scan of the sabotaged circuitry -- or what's left of it. Whoever did this was really careful, but there's something familiar about it all the same. I'm hoping you can tell me what."
"I have it," Wade said, channeling the datafeed to a secure directory on the relevant server. "This may take a few minutes." He keyed a series of pattern recognition tests and slid his chair back to Mrs. Kim's monitor, reactivating her audio channel. "Need anything else?"
"Not just now," Mrs. Kim replied. "I'll check in once I've picked up the last item." The video link clicked off, leaving only the Kimmunicator's passive carrier signal online.
As the Boston data crunched, Wade turned his attention to his other systems. News on Shego's whereabouts was practically nonexistent, even though Wade had both GJ's satellite net and his own police-band and security-cam sweepers watching for her to pop up. He wasn't precisely worried as yet; it had, after all, been barely more than a day since the Idaho sighting, and it wasn't unusual for one or another supervillain to go underground for weeks at a time.
He had scooted across his room to the quantum-event monitor (equally silent just now) when a symphony of chaos erupted across the audio-link from Kim's subway car. There was a brief, deep motorized rumble followed within a few seconds by the high SKREEE! of brakes kicking in, both overlaid by a frantic "Yahhhh!" from Ron and the inevitable clatter of objects that hadn't been bolted down (Kim and Ron included, by the sound) being thrown in various directions by the sudden motion.
"You guys all right?" Wade asked, quickly spinning his chair back to the main video pickup.
"No serious harm done," Kim said, although her hair looked a bit off-kilter.
"Just a little shaken u--hey, what's this?" came Ron's voice behind her. His hand pushed its way into range of the Kimmunicator's camera, a small flat square of blue plastic held between two fingers.
"Flash memory card," Wade and Kim said simultaneously. "Looks like an SD," Wade added, as Kim plucked it from Ron's grip and slid it into the Kimmunicator's reader.
"It slid out from under something when I -- uh, the car jagged," Ron said as the card's data loaded.
"Huh! Not even encrypted," Wade commented. "Maps, schedules, a couple of basic schematics, more maps, for...let's see, the MTA, the London Underground, and the New York subway system."
"The thief must've lost it while he was opening up the electronics," Kim said. "Bet you a chimirito combo -- grandé-sized -- that he's headed for Manhattan next. How quick can you get us a ride?"
Wade grinned, typing fingers flying. "No bet, and ten minutes tops. There's a Nakasumi helicopter practically in shouting distance already. You should be in the Big Apple by lunchtime."
"Please and thank you!" said Kim, grinning back and closing the link -- as a four-toned beep from two monitors over announced Mrs. Dr. Possible's reappearance on the other line.
"I've got the vortex inducer!" Mrs. Kim reported, holding the device up to her Kimmunicator's video sensor. Wade regarded the compact brushed-metal cylinder silently for a moment. This latest version of the device was smaller and leaner than its predecessors, more closely resembling an elegant map case than an oversized can of tomatoes.
"All right," he finally said. "Let's put the pieces together. Better find someplace private first, though."
"Already there," Mrs. Kim responded. "A med-school classmate of mine practices two blocks from the Empire State Building; I dropped in and told her I needed to borrow an office for a little while."
Wade keyed a GPS macro and bookmarked the location, which was closer to the subway station Kim and Ron were heading for than he liked. To Mrs. Kim, however, he said, "Perfect. Here's how we'll do this...."
Something less than half an hour later, he sat back in his chair, took a satisfied breath, and contemplated the PANIC projector; the acronym, he'd told Mrs. Kim, stood for Pan-dimensional Artificial Nexus Induction Containment. "Basically," he said, "anybody who jumps from one universe to another has to exist in two quantum states at the same time -- the one associated with their home reality, and the one they're visiting. What the PANIC projector is designed to do is to turn off a target's 'visiting' quantum state, thereby kicking it back to its home universe."
"Designed to do?" asked Mrs. Kim, eyeing the device critically. In its completed form, it looked rather like an oversized hand-held vacuum -- not surprising, since that was what Wade had used as the gadget's housing.
"It's not like we've had a chance to test it," Wade pointed out. "That'll be Shego's department. Assuming we can find--"
He was interrupted by a sharp, high-pitched hum from the speakers connected to his locator systems. Spinning his chair toward the relevant terminal, he blinked and exhaled sharply. "Okay, scratch that. Shego just left the Newark airport via rent-a-car, headed for Manhattan. The biometrics match is only 90 -- she was out of uniform, the name she used isn't any of her normal aliases, and I can't enhance the security-cam images enough to get more than a partial retina-scan -- but what I've got looks solid."
"Understood," Kim's mother said crisply. "The email I sent suggested we rendezvous in Battery Park -- that's probably where she's going. I'd better get moving, I think."
"Be careful," Wade told her, trying not to sound nervous. That would put Shego and Mrs. Dr. Possible within a few blocks of the Rector Street subway station, which had been highlighted on the map from the memory-card Ron had found -- and was therefore where Kim and Ron were due to arrive via helicopter in...Wade glanced at his atomic-synchronized alarm clock...something like twenty minutes.
He was just opening his mouth to mention that fact to Mrs. Kim when the second locator alert sounded. He glanced sideways at the monitor devoted to the quantum-signature search -- and gulped. "Uh-oh," he said. "There's just been another quantum event."
"Deep breaths, Wade," said Mrs. Dr. Possible, though she was clearly making an effort to stay calm herself. "Don't stress out on me. So: what happened and where?"
Wade did his best to follow Mrs. Kim's advice, but he couldn't entirely quell his alarm. "Assuming you and Shego are right," he said, "Mell Kelly just arrived in New York, too."
"Where exactly?" Kim's mother asked.
"That's just it; I don't know," Wade admitted. "The kind of energy we're talking about isn't something the satellite systems were designed to pick up, so they don't localize the output that precisely. I can refine the data and try to triangulate, but it'll take time."
Mrs. Dr. Possible sighed. "I'll be extra careful, I promise," she said, "but obviously the rendezvous won't wait."
"No," agreed Wade, "but I can give you a little help. I'm transmitting a new protocol to your Kimmunicator's sensor suite that should pick up Mell's personal quantum signature if she gets too close to you -- too close being about three hundred yards. That's not a lot of warning, but it's better than none."
"Agreed. Let me know the instant you have anything more specific -- please and thank you!" And on that note, Kim's mother shut off the video link.
Well, Wade told himself, maybe Kim and Ron will sort out the subway tech thefts and be on their way before the fireworks start going off. But he'd scarcely finished the thought before another electronic alert sounded -- and when he shifted his gaze to the terminal where the forensic scans of the Boston subway car had been running, he almost fell out of his chair.
"Damn," he said aloud, the word echoing off his bedroom walls hard enough to rattle the window. He took a breath, then pinged Kim's Kimmunicator.
"What's the sitch?" Kim asked a moment later.
"Way complicated," Wade replied. "First the good news: I know who your thief is. The cover panels weren't lasered open. They were sliced; there were traces of monofilament ceramic along some of the cut edges -- and I've got a match for the exact type of ceramic blade used to make the cuts."
Kim was nodding. "Way ahead of you," she said. "Let me guess -- Shego's claws. She must be shopping for Drakken's latest project."
"Could be," Wade agreed. "But it gets lots messier. I can't talk you into calling it a day and coming home right now, can I?"
The look Kim gave him had you've got to be kidding written all over it. "I was afraid of that," Wade told her. "Okay, then, but don't say I didn't warn you -- and when you see your mom, tell her this was totally not my idea."
"When I see my--? All right, way confused here. What's Mom got to do with any of this?"
Wade shrugged eloquently. "You may not believe this, but she's trying to save Shego's life." Rapidly, he summarized what he'd learned from Kim's mother, the assembly of the PANIC projector, and the quantum surges that seemed to indicate incursions from a parallel reality.
"I know it sounds weird even by our standards," Wade said as he finished the story. "I admit I've been skeptical, but I don't see what else could make Shego this nervous. This subway sitch is way more subtle than she usually goes in for, and she went through security at Newark dressed in -- get this -- beige and brown, no Spandex in sight. And neither she nor your mom wanted you within a hundred miles of whatever's going down. You know Narbonic better than I do -- is Mell Kelly really that dangerous?"
Kim frowned into the Kimmunicator link, her nose wrinkling thoughtfully. "She could be," she said at last. "But assuming we all come out of this without getting flambéed, remind me to have a heart-to-heart with Mom about which one of us is better qualified for getting chased by bad guys. What was she thinking?"
"Can't answer that," Wade said, "but I can tell you -- uh-oh."
"That doesn't sound good," said Kim. "Now what's the sitch?"
Wade's fingers flew over his keyboard, and he nodded suddenly. "I've lost the carrier tracking signal from your Mom's Kimmunicator, but I think I know why. Part of the bandwidth I use is way off the usual frequency charts -- far enough off that the signal must pass through a quantum layer that's being blocked by background noise from the PANIC projector. I should be able to compensate for it, but not till she calls in again."
"Let's see if I have this right," Kim said dryly. "In between stealing subway car hardware, Shego's expecting to meet Mom and pick up a shiny new untested superweapon -- only Mell Kelly may show up before the exchange goes off. Mom's walking into a firefight between Shego and Mell -- and Mell doesn't play by anything like the usual rules. And Ron and I may not get there till things are already way out of control. Oh, by the way -- what happens if Mell manages to accidentally blow up that PANIC projector?"
Wade blinked, and his face went pale. "Good question. Maybe nothing, if it isn't activated at the time. But if it was powered up -- you might get a black hole big enough to suck in a whole bunch of neighboring universes like a vacuum-powered bathtub drain."
The last sound Wade heard before Kim cut the Kimmunicator link was Rufus, making bathtub drain noises. He hoped it wasn't an omen.
Chapter 5: You'll Still Be Your Normal Diabolical Self
Dave Davenport plugged the printer’s USB cable into the hub before looking up. “Don’t know,” he told his attractive blonde employer. “She said something last week about a vacation, and I don’t think she’s been in since. Except last night,” he added. “She was raiding the weapons locker.”
“What’d she take?” Helen Narbon, head of Narbonic Labs and self-proclaimed mad scientist, wasn’t particularly upset. One of Mell Kelly’s primary jobs as the lab’s officially designated Evil Intern was keeping the weapons locker inventoried and stocked, and the lab being an evil enterprise, a certain amount of pilfering was actually encouraged. On the other hand, if Mell was appropriating lab resources for personal gain, Helen reserved the right to demand a cut of any profits.
Dave frowned, thinking. “Harpoon gun, pocket Gatling laser, superminiaturized rocket launcher – oh, and I think she picked up a handful of those single-shot Gerbilizer™ penlights you were working on a few months back.”
“But I never got those to work right!” Helen said. “The mass reduction shunt only worked about half the time, and when it did, the gerbilizing matrix almost always aborted right after the ear and tail grafting sequence. And none of the morphs ever lasted more than two hours.”
“Except for that one subject that morphed into a three-foot gerbil with piranha teeth and then ate the penlight,” Dave pointed out. “We held onto him for at least a week before he escaped into the sewers.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Artie, whose normal-sized gerbil body was presently perched on Dave’s shoulder. “I still have nightmares about that thing. Besides, we’re getting sidetracked. If Mell’s just off on vacation, why does she need a rocket launcher, a Gatling laser, et cetera?”
“This is Mell we’re talking about,” Dave said. “Since when does she need a reason to tote an arsenal around?”
Despite having no shoulders of his own to speak of, Artie shrugged. “There is that – but she doesn’t usually pack quite that much firepower at once, and she usually has something, well, bigger in hand when she does. Something’s fishy.”
“Agreed,” Helen said. “This wants looking into. Dave?”
“On it,” said her assistant. “Um, do you still have Mell chipped?”
Artie gave both of them an annoyed look. “We discussed the ethics of that . . . .”
“Hello,” said Helen, “evil business model? It’s in her internship contract!”
“It’s still an invasion of privacy,” Artie grumbled, subsiding.
Meanwhile, Dave had seated himself, flexed his fingers, and logged back into the lab’s computer network. “Hmm,” he said, after a few minutes’ typing. “She’s not showing up on any of the GPS systems – even the illegal covert nets.”
Helen frowned. “Which means she’s either removed the chip – in which case she’s toast when she gets back – or . . . .” She trailed off.
“Universe-hopping?” Artie suggested.
“Possible, I suppose,” said Helen. “Dave, get into her personal files and see if there’s anything that explains this.”
Another few minutes of typing followed. “Nothing on the lab systems,” Dave reported. “I could hack into her home setup, I guess . . . .”
“You have to ask?” said Helen. “Do it.”
There was more typing, followed by a brief silence. Then Dave whistled softly. “Good Lord. I didn’t think . . . .”
“I may faint,” Artie commented from Dave’s shoulder. “That’s just – wrong. Also horrendously unsanitary.”
“What?” Helen demanded. Instead of speaking, Dave merely swiveled the monitor so that Helen could study the screen. She looked, frowned, stared – then reached for the trackball and began scrolling, her rectangular-framed glasses slipping farther and farther down her nose as she read, and her already fair complexion growing paler by the paragraph.
“Eeeuuuuwwwww!!” she said a few minutes later, pushing the monitor back to its original position. “Me and Mom? That’s disgusting! Where’d that come from, anyway?”
Dave was typing again. “If I read these notes right, about three universes over from ours; in that reality, we’re a comic strip, and this stuff is – what’s the word? – fanfiction based on that. Loosely based,” he added, noting the expression on Helen’s face.
Artie’s whiskers twitched. “We still need a clear connection between these – disturbing literary efforts and Mell’s absence.”
“Working on it.” Dave kept typing as he spoke. “Okay, here’s a file that IDs the jade_firecat byline as someone called Shego.” He fell briefly silent as he scrolled through the dossier, then whistled again. “Yikes. Mercenary, enforcer, cat burglar, evil sidekick . . . shoots plasma bolts from her hands . . . she could almost be that universe’s Mell, only sane and with mad kung fu skills.”
“So.” Artie jumped from Dave’s shoulder to the desk and began counting off points on his tiny claws. “Mell comes across this fanfiction – ”
“Slash,” put in Helen. Both Dave and Artie shot her startled looks. “I was a Star Trek fan,” she said defensively. “They invented slash, more or less.”
“—this, ah, slash about Helen from a neighboring reality. She announces a vacation, raids the weapons locker, and disappears from our universe. The logical conclusion is . . .”
“. . . that she’s gone three universes over to reduce Shego to her component atoms,” Helen said. “Good for her. The sooner that – that creature is erased from existence, the easier I’ll sleep. I may have to wash my brain out with soap just to get those – images out of my mind.”
Dave and Artie exchanged glances. “Um,” Artie said. “You’re sure you want to leave it at that?”
“And why wouldn’t I?” Helen demanded. “Some things are just – too nauseating to contemplate.”
“Two reasons,” said Artie promptly. “One: in a professional sense, this Shego is a colleague. If you let Mell do her in, you’re doing that universe’s forces of good a significant favor.”
Helen frowned. “O-kay,” she said, stretching the word into two syllables. “And two?”
Artie came as close to grinning as was possible for a gerbil. “If those stories squicked you out, just think how much they’d aggravate your mother. Killing Shego is the emotional quick fix – but keeping her alive has the potential to annoy Helen Senior for years to come.”
Helen gave Artie a penetrating glare. “You’re sure you’re not just trying to maneuver me into doing something good against my better evil judgment?”
“Of course I am,” Artie said promptly. “But most of the good will manifest in Shego’s universe; in this one, you’ll still be your normal diabolical self. And even if preventing the assassination is good in the absolute sense, it will raise your stock with the evil mad-science community over there.”
“Which I can use later to call in favors,” said Helen, her scowl softening into a thoughtful expression. “And you’re right, Mom would just hate this stuff; in some ways, it makes her look almost nice.”
Dave eyed Helen quizzically. “Practical question – how do we get to Shego’s universe in the first place? I’m not finding anything here that looks like a road-map in the files.”
“That,” Helen said, much more cheerfully, “is why I’m the mad scientist and you’re the loyal assistant. Let me have a look.” She took Dave’s place at the computer, scrolled back and forth in the files for a few minutes, and grinned suddenly.
“Aha!” she said. “There’s a quantum-spectral resonance code buried in the headers of Shego’s dossier. That should let us locate her native reality, and if I cross-index the quantum signature into the evil satellite surveillance grids and wire a relay into the teleporter, we should be good to go. If we’re lucky, we’ll even be able to home in on Mell’s locator chip through the interdimensional nexus once I’ve got the interface running.”
“We?” Artie said. “I’m not sure I—”
“Of course, we,” said Helen. “It’ll take all three of us to rein Mell in. Dave, you put together a field kit. We’ll need the dehydrated capture nets, a couple of gas-pellet guns – the full suite of clips for both – and the inflatable solid-rubber Pierce Brosnan. Artie, you’re with me; you can check me on the resonance sequencing. We’ll meet in the teleport lab in,” she paused, glancing at her watch, “two and a half hours.”
At exactly the appointed time, Dave walked into the lab where Helen kept the teleporter, one canvas attaché case slung over his shoulder and another dangling from his left hand. He handed the latter bag to Helen, who swung it carefully onto her own shoulder so as not to dislodge Artie.
“One question,” Dave said before stepping into the teleport sphere. “How do we get back here once we’re finished?”
Helen held up a device that looked rather like a cell phone grafted to a small brushed metal flashlight. “Quantum tether,” she said. “It should maintain a link to the main teleporter here in the lab, and reel us in on my command.”
“Should?” Artie asked.
“Haven’t had a chance to field-test it yet,” Helen replied cheerily, “but the theory’s perfectly sound. Now come on.” And she strode merrily into the teleport sphere, Dave on her heels, before Artie could leap away.
Immediately, lights flashed, Jacob’s ladders crackled, and the whirring of various electronic systems was quickly overshadowed by a deep thrummm from nowhere and everywhere at once as the teleport sphere flickered through at least half a dozen degrees of tangibility in as many seconds. This was followed by an abrupt SNAP! as the chamber reattached itself to its native plane of reality.
Its passengers, however, had gone elsewhere.
Chapter 6: I Can Handle the Maiming and Killing
Mell Kelly took her first breath of New York City air, and for one giddy moment allowed herself to take in the atmosphere like an enraptured tourist.
Then she took a second breath, gathered her thoughts, and took stock of her surroundings. After all, she had a job to do.
Dr. Narbon’s portal had landed her in an alley just off Times Square. She lingered there silently, taking mental inventory of the numerous weapons tucked into her unique array of inside coat pockets (Helen had once said they were “dimensionally transcendent”, which Dave had promptly translated as “bigger inside than outside”). Mell resisted the impulse to fondle her toys as she ran through the list; no sense drawing the attention of New York’s finest just yet. Not that she was concerned about being arrested, not with Dr. Narbon’s recall ring on her right hand – but her first priority was locating Shego.
To that end, she withdrew an oversized PDA from an outer pocket of her coat and called up one of the programs Dr. Narbon had loaded. A New York street map lit up the display, and a couple of taps with the unit’s stylus produced a series of blinks and pings as the map scrolled, zoomed, and eventually settled on a small section of the city’s financial district, where a bright green dot slid along a side street. “Gotcha,” Mell said softly. The tracking utility, Dr. Narbon had explained, was designed to identify and track Shego’s plasma aura.
After a moment’s consideration, Mell zoomed the map display out to a wider setting and tapped an icon, bringing up a subway-system map. “R train,” she decided after a few moments’ study. The decision made, she dropped the PDA back into her pocket, ran her finger lightly across the Velcro closure, and stepped briskly out of the alley.
She couldn’t resist pausing briefly in Times Square as she went, especially not when she noted a spectacular explosion being broadcast over the giant ABC network screen, followed by a shot of two pre-teen youngsters high-fiving each other: “Hicka-bicka-boo! – Hoo-SHA!”. Tune in Sunday, read the text scrolling past under the image, for a special Extreme Makeover: Home Edition! And she bought a hot pretzel from a street vendor, munching cheerily as she walked. She had just crossed 43rd St. when she felt a hand attempting to slide into the pocket holding her PDA. Without breaking stride, she slipped a penlight from an inner pocket, angled it to point backward past her right arm, and clicked. There was a quick, high SQUEEK! from behind her, and the questing fingers dropped abruptly away. Mell didn’t bother looking back; whatever the beam had done, there was one less pickpocket working the streets.
She found the stairs leading to the subway platform she wanted within another block and descended. Her timing was near-perfect; scarcely a minute after she’d paid her token and passed through the turnstile, an R train rolled into the station. To her mild surprise, she had no trouble finding a place to sit; while the train was far from empty, the morning commute was long since ended and the midday lunch/shopping crunch was only just beginning to make itself felt. As the subway car rumbled on its way, she made a point of unobtrusively studying her fellow passengers as well as surveying possible cover and mentally marking all possible exits.
Most of the riders were unremarkable – young people with backpacks, skateboards, or other personal gear . . . businessfolk carrying briefcases and cell phones . . . a scruffily bearded street musician with a battered guitar case. But as the train paused at Herald Square to trade one knot of travelers for another, one of the new arrivals caught Mell’s eye. A slim woman of above-average height, she wore a crisp ensemble of aquamarine edged with silver trim and carried an oversize designer sports bag – but her most noticeable feature was the fire-bright red hair that fell almost to her shoulders in a downswept wave. Mell had seen that hair somewhere before, she was sure – oh, yes, there had been an entry and photo in Shego’s file. Making a quick decision, Mell rose from her place toward the rear of the car and moved forward to where the newcomer had seated herself, sitting down again just to the other woman’s left.
“Kim Possible?” she inquired softly.
Her seatmate turned toward her sharply, wearing a startled expression, and thrust what looked like an oversized PDA into her jacket pocket. “That’s – right,” she said, the words carrying a question of their own. “And you are?”
“Knott,” Mell said, improvising madly. “Emily Knott. I’m with . . . .” she paused, glancing around at the car’s other passengers.
“Global Justice?” supplied her seatmate.
“Exactly,” said Mell. “You’re in New York tracking Shego, am I right?”
The red-haired woman’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I gather you’ve had a tip?”
“You might say that,” Mell replied, her mind racing. Dr. Narbon’s report had described Kim Possible as a freelance do-gooder, a major thorn in the side of her universe’s criminal geniuses, and the one individual who could consistently force Shego to work up a sweat in one-on-one combat. In normal circumstances, Mell’s immediate response would be to whip out a mini-cannon and blast the heroine to smithereens – but in her current undercover mode, it might just be possible (she thought, then groaned mentally at the pun) to enlist Possible as an ally in taking down Shego. The main difficulty – the briefing had also warned that Possible was fiercely opposed to killing or severely maiming her opponents.
Not a problem, she decided quickly; I can handle the maiming and killing parts. “Something like that,” she told Possible quietly. “Word’s come down that Shego needs to be taken out of the game. We’re both after the same thing – suppose we work together on this?”
Her companion pursed her lips. “Together – as equals?”
“Of course.” Mell grinned. “All I’m after is to put Shego in custody.”
“All GJ is after, you mean,” Possible said. “So, do you have any specific intelligence, or are we just waiting for the plasma to hit the fan?”
“We can do better than that,” Mell said, chuckling. She pulled out her PDA and brought up the tracking map, but the system merely blinked and displayed a message: cannot acquire target.
Possible eyed the gadget. “Too much concrete overhead. I’m sure you’ll get a reading once we’re back on the surface.”
“Right,” said Mell, trying not to sound annoyed. “I got a preliminary fix before I boarded. We’ll get off at . . . let’s see, Rector Street, okay?”
The other woman looked slightly startled, but nodded. “Good enough – we’re almost there, in fact.” And so they were; a few moments later, the train rumbled to a stop at the Rector Street station. The two women rose almost simultaneously and stepped out onto the platform, where they both paused.
“Tell you what,” Possible said, “I’ll follow you up. That way I can stay out of sight while you get a reading on that gadget of yours; if Shego spots me before you close in, we’ll lose the element of surprise.”
The strategy made sense – but there was a note in Possible’s voice that Mell didn’t like, and she also disapproved on principle of letting a known white hat, particularly one as competent as Kim was supposed to be, out of her line of sight. “Actually,” said Mell, improvising even more madly, “I was thinking you ought to go up ahead of me. The last thing we need is for Shego to start toasting innocent bystanders; once she sees you, that’s where she’ll concentrate her attention. She won’t be expecting me, though, so I’ll be able to move in and deal with her.” And you won’t be expecting me to take you both out in one lovely explosion, she added to herself.
Possible gave her a peculiar look. “I don’t know – I’m not used to being the distraction. The tip I got said Shego was keeping a pretty low profile just now. If you can zero in on her location before she knows either of us is here, we might be able to take her down without any toasting.”
Mell frowned. She was almost certain she was being played – but there was no way Possible could know Mell’s true identity, was there? She reflected on what she could recall of the heroine’s dossier; ah, that was it. Possible was freelance, and her relationship with Global Justice was decidedly prickly. Normal professional rivalry, then – though the way she’s handling that sports bag, you’d think it had the Crown Jewels in it or something . . . .
“Let’s do this,” she said aloud. “We’re a little conspicuous just standing here.”
Possible took a breath, clearly restless. “As equals, then – side by side.”
“As equals,” Mell agreed, reaching into one of her weapons pockets and crossing her fingers as soon as her hand was out of view. They had delayed long enough on the platform that they had the stairs to themselves as they climbed to street level – Possible hugging the right edge of the steps, Mell the left.
Mell blinked at the late morning sunlight as they reached the surface, not having bothered with sunglasses. Then she blinked again. Two human-shaped forms were diving out of the sky almost directly toward her, and one of them was very nearly a twin to the red-haired woman at her side . . . or rather, who’d been at her side a moment earlier. Her companion had leaped forward, and was tossing the sports bag at a startled-looking woman in a brown leather trenchcoat not quite half a block away. Two voices shouted at once:
“Sh- Jade firecat! Catch!”
Shego! The fanfic byline only fazed Mell for an instant. Her eyes flicked over the other three figures. Damn, I’m an idiot. Kim Possible’s a teenager; that has to be her and her sidekick with the jetpacks. And my subway lady is – her mother??
Mell didn’t try to sort out the obvious contradictions. Instead, her mind clicked over into action mode; she plunged both hands into her jacket. Her airborne opponents swooped to avoid a barrage of pulsed energy from the pocket Gatling laser . . .
. . . but the elder Possible’s attention was focused entirely on Shego, and not on the beam streaking toward her unguarded back.
Chapter 7: "Gluglugluglugluglugshhhllloooooopp!"
Four voices shouted the word simultaneously – three from the sky over Rector Street, one from the sidewalk. But there simply wasn’t time for Mrs. Dr. Possible to react before the narrow penlight-beam struck its target. For perhaps two and a half seconds, she glowed with shimmering cinnamon-colored light . . .
. . . and then there was only a series of clinks and rustles as her aquamarine business suit settled to the pavement in a heap, its wearer vanished.
“You’re so going down!” Kim Possible yelled from above and behind Ron, and she swooped past her sidekick at full jet-propelled speed, drawing her hair dryer as she went by.
Ron, as usual, wasn’t nearly as smooth a flyer; he was barely managing to stay clear of Mell Kelly’s laser fire. He was also a little higher up than Rufus liked, but there wasn’t time to wait, so the naked mole rat tripped a release catch, and the tiny open-cockpit toy jet in which he was sitting fell away from Ron’s waist.
Rufus promptly kicked in the power and zipped away from Mell’s line of fire. As he’d expected, none of the combatants were paying any attention to him – they almost never did – and as soon as he was clear of the firefight he looped downward toward the sidewalk. The little jet was one of Nakasumi’s prototypes, and Rufus had spent most of the helicopter ride from Boston modifying its onboard wiring so he could pilot the craft himself.
Evading the crossfire wasn’t as difficult as Rufus had expected; Mell was concentrating almost entirely on Kim, forcing her to circle higher and farther from the section of sidewalk now occupied solely by Mell, Shego, and Mrs. Dr. Possible’s clothing. New York’s pedestrians might be jaded, but they were wise enough to stay clear of a supervillainous battle, and this one was proving more than usually pyrotechnic. Shego, her disguise discarded, was pelting Mell with a barrage of plasma bolts, but the onslaught was being deflected by an invisible force field, and Mell had produced a small bazooka from somewhere and was firing it at Shego – not at all accurately – with her off hand.
“This isn’t your fight, Princess!” Shego was yelling between plasma bursts. “Get away while you can!”
Kim was above Rufus’s line of sight, but her return shout echoed off skyscraper windows up and down the block. “She zaps Mom, she gets stomped, end of story. Then it’s your turn!”
Mell was laughing – not a mad-scientific mwahahaha, but a laugh of pure exuberant glee. Rufus had heard a lot of villainous laughs during his adventures with Kim and Ron; this one was easily the scariest. It sounded as if Mell hadn’t had this much fun in years, and she was enjoying it to the hilt.
“Ready to come down now?” the black-haired intern taunted, as the sound of a sputtering jetpack drifted down from overhead. “Looks like you’re running out of gas; let me help you with that!” Mell stuffed her laser pistol into a pocket, reached into her coat, and pulled out a tubular weapon almost as long as her arm – all while still absent-mindedly firing the bazooka in her other hand in Shego’s general direction. Rufus glanced upward and saw Kim spiral into view, gliding a bit erratically as her backpack used up the last of its jet fuel. Then she suddenly twisted sideways, dodging the bright orange streak that had erupted from Mell’s flamethrower. The shot didn’t entirely miss, though – about half the left wing of Kim’s jetpack was now a melted ruin.
Rufus banked his little jet, again steering away from potential crossfire. Kim, meanwhile, had fired her grapple gun, snagging a fire escape and using her cheerleading ability to bounce herself off a series of walls as she dropped toward the street. As he curved back toward his target, the mole rat caught a glimpse of Ron. Luckily, he was out of Mell’s line of sight. Unluckily, he’d managed to get himself stuck on a flagpole. Rufus shook his head, bemused; for the moment, his human was safe. Relatively safe, anyway.
The craft bucked suddenly, as a nearby KA-WHOOFF! sent shockwaves rippling through Rufus’s airspace. A glance toward Mell revealed the source; her flamethrower’s remains were scattered around her in melted fragments. Mell herself was only slightly scorched, but she looked extremely annoyed.
“You need better toys, inkspot!” Shego taunted. She was still subjecting Mell to a steady plasma barrage, but instead of battering at the force field, she was lobbing small globes of green energy over it.
“Working on it, slime-brain!” retorted Mell, who had retrieved her laser pistol and was shooting the plasma balls out of the air like skeet targets. The bazooka was nowhere in evidence, but Mell’s free hand was thrust deep into a coat pocket. “Damn, I thought I had one more penlight!”
Concentrating on his flying again, Rufus executed one final turn before extending the toy plane’s landing gear. Its engine made very little noise, but he cut it completely once the turn was complete – no sense attracting unwanted attention. A few moments later, the jet skidded to a stop behind the subway entrance, just a few feet from Mrs. Dr. Possible’s now-forgotten sports bag and her crumpled clothing.
As he jumped out of the plane, the heap of pale linen fabric rustled. Rufus frowned, eyeing the rippling coat sleeve sharply as a pointed, black-tipped nose poked out from under it. “Who?” he squeaked softly.
The rest of the body followed the nose. It was eight inches long to Rufus’s five, not counting a slender tail. The ears and nose were jet black, but its eyes were an almost disturbingly bright green, and its fur was a warm candy-apple red that looked extremely odd on a gerbil.
“Rufus?” the gerbil said, sounding slightly dazed. “You’ve – grown.”
Rufus shook his head quickly. “No,” he replied. “You, smaller. Much.”
The gerbil’s nose wrinkled, it looked down at itself – and almost fell over. “Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Dr. Possible. “This is not good.”
Rufus shrugged. “Happens.” He pointed a few yards down the sidewalk. “Bag, important?”
“Very,” Kim’s mother said wryly. “We need what’s in it to send Mell back where she belongs – but it has to be aimed, and I’m not sure we’re big enough to move it.”
“Try,” Rufus replied. “Have to. Save – ” He threw up his paws. “Everybody!”
Mrs. Dr. Possible’s nose twitched, and she peered at it as well as she could. “Dear me, this will take getting used to. The process must have mapped human neurological impulses onto the gerbil physiological . . . sorry,” she said, breaking off. “It’s utterly fascinating, but you’re right, there’s no time; we’d better try to use the PANIC device before someone else gets hold of it.”
Rufus cocked his head quickly in several different directions, taking stock of the battle, then nodded at Kim’s mother. “Clear. Go!”
The mole rat and the gerbilized brain surgeon scampered rapidly from behind the stairway kiosk to where the sports bag had landed, right side up near the inner edge of the sidewalk. After another glance to confirm that Mell and Shego were still preoccupied, Rufus jumped atop the bag, grabbed the zipper tag in his teeth, and tugged. The zipper slid easily, and once he’d created an opening a few inches wide, he stopped, looking expectantly at his companion – who looked back at him with a blank expression.
Rufus jerked his head at the opening. “In!”
“Oh,” Mrs. Dr. Possible said, whacking her red-furred forehead with a tiny paw. “Right.” She thrust her nose tentatively into the dark slit, then clambered inside the bag rather less clumsily than Rufus had feared. After a moment’s thought, Rufus followed.
Not surprisingly, it was almost pitch dark inside the case, and the two rodents spent a few awkward moments bumping into and scrambling over each other as their eyes adjusted. “Remind me not to mention this to James,” Kim’s mother said absently. A moment later, she added, “Aha!” There was a click, and the small round glow of a pocket flashlight shone into the shadows.
“Much better,” she said. “Ah, here we are – oh, good, I think it’s oriented in the right direction already. We just need to push the induction tube far enough out of the bag so it’s pointing at Mell.” She waved a paw at one end of the device.
“Push!” agreed Rufus, and the two set to work. The PANIC projector wasn’t especially heavy, but it was still big enough that both he and Mrs. Dr. Possible were panting by the time they’d shoved it the five or so inches toward the open end of the bag, then maneuvered the “induction tube” – less formally, the business end of the dust-buster vacuum Wade had cannibalized for the gadget’s housing – upward just far enough to get the end of the tube through the opened zipper slot.
That task accomplished, Mrs. Dr. Possible retreated to the other end of the device where its controls were mounted, while Rufus scampered atop the induction tube, where he’d be able to peer out through the bag’s opening to make sure their aim was good enough.
“Mell, force field,” he squeaked over his shoulder at Kim’s mother. “Problem?”
“Hmm,” came Mrs. Dr. P’s voice. “I don’t think so. If I understood Wade right, what this thing projects is more like a radio signal than an energy beam. Ready?”
“Ready!” said Rufus. Outside the bag, Mell was still skeet-shooting at Shego’s plasma balls with the laser pistol; in her other hand was something that looked like a speargun.
“Powering up,” Mrs. Dr. P said, switches going click as she spoke. “Quantum resonator on line in ten, nine, eight . . . .”
Rufus missed the rest of the countdown. On eight, there was a tremendous SNAP! as the flagpole from which Ron had been hanging finally gave way – whereupon Ron dropped some twenty-five feet straight down and landed squarely on Mell Kelly’s head. It was hard to tell which of the two made more noise; the combined “Yaaaaahhhhh!!!” nearly burst Rufus’s eardrums.
Several other voices weighed in almost simultaneously, adding to the confusion. Fortunately for Rufus’s ears, they were muffled somewhat by Ron’s pants – predictably, he’d lost them in the fall, and they’d draped themselves partially over the sports bag.
“Ron!” That was Kim.
“Boo-yah! The Ron-man scores!”
“Amazing,” came Shego’s dry comment. “I guess that’s one way to break a stalemate.”
“Owwww, my head.” Obviously, that was Mell. “You’re gonna – huh?”
As Rufus pushed aside the stray pant leg, he found himself staring straight into the evil intern’s eyes. She had apparently landed face-forward on the sidewalk and had just started to get up when their gazes intersected.
“What’s going on?” Mrs. Dr. Possible called from farther inside the bag. “We’re armed and ready . . .”
Shego’s voice drowned out the rest of the sentence. “One microscopically false move, Kelly,” she was growling from somewhere above and behind Rufus, “and there won’t be enough of you left to feed a single-celled organism for breakfast.”
There was a click so soft that Rufus barely heard it, and abruptly, a small black tube was pointing at his nose from inside one of Mell’s sleeves. He froze.
“Better think twice about that,” Mell told Shego calmly. “This is only a three-hundred watt pulse laser – but that’s good enough to fry your little pink friend here. Not to mention whatever’s in that bag. Which is humming, by the way.”
“He – it – isn’t my—”
Before Shego could finish the sentence, Kim’s voice cut in, sounding desperate. “Nobody fries Rufus, okay? And especially, nobody blows up the . . . .” She trailed off.
Without so much as twitching her wrist-mounted laser, Mell tilted her head upward. “Blows up the what? Do tell.”
“I . . . can’t,” said Kim, not at all convincingly. “I don’t have the faintest idea what Mom had in that bag.”
“Yes, you do,” Mell said cheerily. “Now tell me – unless you like your mole rats extra crispy, that is.”
Shego spoke next. “Better answer, princess. Kaboom Girl here doesn’t mess around.”
Kim sighed audibly. “Wade called it a PANIC projector – something to do with parallel universes and dual quantum states. I – didn’t get all the specifics.”
“PANIC,” Mell said thoughtfully. “Dual quantum states. Probably – amp down the plasma there, night-light girl – for booting unappreciated guests out of neighboring universes. Am I right?”
There were several awkward moments of silence. “I’ll take that as a yes,” said Mell, looking amused. “So what happens if I blow it up? Something spectacular, I bet.”
One of Rufus’s few weaknesses – aside from cheese – was the irresistable impulse to cap a sufficiently apt straight line, and Mell had inadvertently given him one. “Gluglugluglugluglugshhhllloooooopp!” he said, simulating a bathtub drain for the second time that day.
Mell eyed him, impressed. “Black hole, huh? Maybe total collapse of the immediate multiverse?” Reluctantly, Rufus nodded.
“Well, then,” said Mell Kelly, very carefully levering herself to her feet one-handed, her wrist laser wavering not so much as a millimeter from its focus on Rufus’s nose as she did so, “everyone had better do exactly as I say, hadn’t they? Unless you really want to find out what black holes look like from the inside.”
“You can’t let her –”
“We have to, Ron,” came Kim’s voice, sounding resigned. “It’s too dangerous not to.”
“She’s right, Stoppable,” Shego put in, “and you have to know how much I hate saying that. Can’t have world domination without a world to dominate, you know?”
“Perfect,” Mell said, reaching into yet another pocket with her free hand and producing two pairs of black and silver shackles. “So, Kimmy, if you’ll just cuff Shego’s wrists behind her for me? No – that set’s to hobble her ankles; give me some credit.”
Kim sighed. “This is so wrong – in a very wrong way, if that makes any sense.”
“I hear you, princess,” said Shego as the restraints clicked shut. “It’s – embarrassing.”
Mell gave Shego a disgusted look. “No less embarrassing than reading incredibly kinky porn about goinking your boss, your boss’s mom, and a gerbil all at practically the same time,” she said dryly.
“Eeeeuuuwwww!!” said Kim and Ron simultaneously, followed in the next breath by “Too much information!”, and in the breath after that by “Jinx, you owe me a soda!”
Shego simply glared. “I refuse to be guilt-tripped by a comic strip character with wimpy taste in fanfic. Now if Princess here wants to pile it on, fine – she’s got the right. It is my fault her mother got evaporated. But it’s not my fault that my made-up Mell turns out to have a way twistier imagination than yours.” The expression on Shego’s face looked oddly . . . drained, Rufus decided.
“So not the right moment,” Kim said in a dry, tightly wound voice. “If we somehow come out of this in the same universe – we’ll talk. Unless I decide to pound you into Silly Putty.”
“We come out of this in the same universe . . . Kim,” replied Shego, “I may just let you.”
“Oh, spare me,” Mell cut in. “Enough with the tea and sympathy already. Besides, it’s not like—”
Two voices interrupted at once; one was Ron’s. “Weird. It’s not—”
The other came from behind Rufus, as a certain red-furred gerbil poked its head out of the sports bag. “What’s going on out--?”
For a split second, reality seemed to freeze-frame, as six faces registered six different flavors of shock.
Then Mell’s wrist laser went off.
Chapter 8: I May Look Like a Gerbil, But I'm Still a Brain Surgeon
It was one of those moments when too much was happening at once. Even as Ron heard the blip-sizzle of Mell’s laser, he saw Kim cock her wrist and send the mirror from her compact spinning outward like a Frisbee, all while whirling her body in another direction and aiming a series of kicks at Mell. At the same time, Shego was dropping sideways into the space between Mell and the sports bag, twisting out of the mirror’s way as she went.
There was a flash as Kim’s mirror intercepted the laser burst, causing it to ricochet over the evil intern’s shoulder and straight toward Ron. He ducked, the energy bolt shot past him – and straight onto the wing mirror of a parked car, which bounced it out over Rector Street . . .
. . . just as Shego, who had somehow got hold of Kim’s lipstick laser and was slicing at the side of Mell’s lab coat, caught the flying mirror in her free hand (free hand? Wasn’t she cuffed a second ago?) and flipped it upward in a high, curving arc . . .
. . . so that it blocked the straying laser fire with another flash, causing the bolt to carom back toward the battle – or, more specifically, on a direct course for the sports bag holding the PANIC projector (it was humming, I know it was humming – how come it stopped?) . . .
. . . except that the eight-inch-tall red-furred gerbil that was apparently Mrs. Dr. Possible (sick and wrong, incredibly sick and wrong, but at least she didn’t get evaporated) had come up with a pair of human-sized mirrored sunglasses from somewhere, and – though she staggered backward at the force of the ricochet – used the lenses to bounce the energy burst back toward Mell . . .
. . . who was busy enough with Shego – who had actually managed to bisect the evil intern’s lab jacket from collar to coattail, and was in the process of tugging the left half of the coat off of its owner’s body – that she didn’t notice the incoming laser discharge until it hit her jacket’s right sleeve with a crackling phhht-PHUT!
Mell yelped and jumped slightly, flinging her right arm outward as the end of the sleeve turned to ash and disintegrated, while the stubby little laser emitter that had been clipped inside it – and from which the shot had been fired in the first place – half fell and half dripped to the sidewalk, the less melted parts clinking and scattering messily as they landed.
Ron stared at the scene, eyes wide. “Wait a second. Didn’t she have a . . . ?”
“Force field!” said a familiar squeaky voice, as Rufus tugged on his pants leg (he had, just barely, had time to put the pants back on before chaos had erupted). The naked mole rat was beaming and holding a small square device with several tiny buttons on its front, which seemed to be designed to clip onto one’s belt. Ron grinned, scooped up Rufus and his prize, and slipped both into his pocket. “Score! Nachos with extra cheese for the little guy.”
“Call it a team effort,” Shego said dryly, one hand glowing and aimed in Mell’s direction while her other arm was nearly elbow-deep in a pocket that didn’t look anywhere near large enough to hold it. “Full marks to the Princess, the mole rat, the merc, and – is that really you down there?” she finished, eyeing the red gerbil presently perched atop the sports bag.
“I’m afraid so,” the gerbil said, its voice clearly that of Mrs. Dr. Possible, and much less squeaky than Ron had expected. “It’s – disconcerting, to say the least.”
“Enough with the gloating already,” Mell Kelly said, sounding more annoyed than cowed even though Kim was covering her with her own pocket Gatling laser – and looking much more comfortable with it than she usually did when it came to guns. “You might as well send me back now, anyway.”
“Ohh, no,” retorted Kim, whose finger was caressing the laser pistol’s trigger with exaggerated care. “You’re not going anywhere until you change Mom back.”
Mell blinked. “Who, me? Do I look like a mad scientific genius?”
“You look,” Shego retorted, “like someone who’s liable to have extra crispy feet real soon now if she isn’t careful.”
“Maybe,” Mell said, sounding remarkably unconcerned at the prospect. “But that won’t help you. Those Gerbilizer™ penlights were one-shots, and even if there’s one left someplace, there’s no reverse setting – Helen didn’t build one in.”
Kim’s eyes darkened. “No? Reverse? Setting?”
Mell started to grin, then scaled back the amusement level in her expression as she studied Kim’s face. “Reverse settings are for wimps. Real mad scientists don’t want their mutations undone at the drop of a hat. And you know, it does say ‘evil’ on our business cards.”
“She’s got a point there, Princess,” Shego observed.
“So not helping,” Kim shot back.
“It’s not the end of the world, Kim,” Mrs. Dr. Possible said, jumping down from the sports bag and poking her gerbil-sized nose into the pocket of the jacket she’d morphed out of. “Wade may have some ideas about this.” With some effort, she tugged her Kimmunicator out of the pocket and tapped the call button.
“What’s the—sitch?” Wade’s voice rose sharply in pitch as his image stared out of the tiny screen at Mrs. Dr. P’s button nose and whiskers.
“Mostly under control, believe it or not,” Kim’s mother replied. “That is, aside from the, um, extreme makeover.”
“No kidding. Let me guess – DNA and brain-wave scans?”
“Please and thank you. And let me have a look at the results,” she added. “I may look like a gerbil, but I’m still a brain surgeon.”
“On it,” said Wade, “but I’ll need to load some extra software to process the EEG; it’ll be a few minutes.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Mrs. Dr. Possible told him, then looked up at Kim and added, “I do hope we don’t end up having to explain this to your father.”
Kim started to respond, but abruptly paused, a frown crossing her face as her gaze shifted. Ron turned his head, following her glance, as a cloud of gray smoke erupted out of the subway access stairwell. Out of the smoke rose a tall, tuxedo-clad figure . . .
“James Bond!” Mell said, her expression turning predatory – though even Ron could tell that it was her hormones, not her assassin’s instincts, driving the reaction.
“But isn’t he a . . . ” Ron trailed off.
“Fictional character?” Shego finished, her voice dry. “Doy! That looks like – Brosnan, isn’t it, the guy who plays him? But what would he be doing here? And why isn’t he . . . “ As the smoke began to clear, the new arrival’s profile began to take on a peculiar, stiff quality – and a whirl of small objects flew from over its shoulder toward the group.
“Hey, Chex mix!” Ron said, reaching up and scooping a square out of the air. Before he could pop it into his mouth, however, the rain of cereal-shaped missiles was followed by a soft phut-phut, and the whole group was abruptly enveloped in a shroud of damp gray mist. “Huh—mmph?!”
As quickly as it had erupted, the mist vanished again with a sharp sucking noise – and in the same few seconds, what had looked like a single square of Wheat Chex expanded into a tightly woven mesh that wrapped itself neatly around Ron’s body, pinning his arms snugly against his sides and binding his legs so he couldn’t move easily. A rapid glance revealed that Kim, Mell, and Shego had all been snared by more of the peculiar nets, which seemed to be impervious to Shego’s plasma. Rufus squeaked unhappily from Ron’s pocket, apparently unable to wiggle himself into a position where he could try his formidable teeth on the netting. And Ron couldn’t see what had happened to Mrs. Dr. Possible – one of the nets had landed on and partially enfolded the sports bag containing the PANIC projector, but Kim’s gerbilized mother was nowhere in sight.
Ron turned his attention back to the subway stairwell just in time to see Pierce Brosnan fall over like a bowling pin, so that his elegant nose whacked itself firmly against the sidewalk . . . and bounced. “Ohhh!” Ron said. “Rubber! Like those kiddie-clown punching bags.”
The tall blonde woman who emerged from behind the fallen dummy grinned. “Exactly. He’s very convincing, though. Right, Mell?”
“Mmmrpphhht!” Mell Kelly had been caught off balance by the net that had snared her, with the result that she now looked like a sleeping cat that had gotten itself tangled in a basketball hoop.
As she squirmed, an even taller man stepped past the blonde and approached the netted intern. “She looks kind of ticked,” he observed. “You think it’s safe to—?”
The blonde eyed Mell thoughtfully. “Good grief, what did you do to that coat?”
“Give me a minute to get out of this and I’ll show you,” growled Shego from several feet away. She didn’t seem to be making much progress with the promised escape, but she had managed to maneuver herself so that she was leaning against a lamp-post rather than merely lying on the sidewalk, and her fingers flared with green energy as she spoke. “Dr. Narbon, I presume?”
“Helen B. Narbon, mad genius, at your ser—“ The blonde paused. “Waitasecond. You’re Shego! A-k-a jade_firecat! You – you pervert!! Dave! Please tell me you packed the portable brain juicer!”
Her tall companion blinked, looking disconcerted. “I didn’t even know we had one of those.”
“It was right next to the DNA tenderizer,” Helen said. “Darnit, how am I supposed to maintain my evil image without at least one implement of diabolical torture at my disposal? Did we at least bring a portable death ray?”
“Now, Helen,” came a small voice whose source Ron couldn’t immediately identify. “Remember why we came. This isn’t about—”
“Oh, come on, Artie,” Helen said, tilting her head slightly sideways. “You were as squicked out by that story as I was. Can’t I at least traumatize her a little?”
“Hah.” Shego couldn’t quite restrain a burst of laughter, nearly causing her tightly wrapped body to lose its balance. “You couldn’t traumatize your way out of a melted popsicle.”
“Please!” The small voice’s owner – a fuzzy, long-eared brown gerbil not quite twice Rufus’s size – scampered from Helen’s shoulder to the top of her head. “We’re not here to discuss torture – or pornography,” he added, with a measured glance at Shego. “Let’s do what we came to do and go home.”
“And just what did you come here to do?” That was Kim, also still securely netted and sounding none too pleased about it. “Don’t you have enough havoc to wreak back in your own universe?”
Helen Narbon grinned, eyes sparkling behind her glasses. “Oh, probably. But there’s nothing like a quick vacation to recharge the evil batteries. Kim Possible, is it? You don’t look as heroic in person as you do in the press kit.”
Kim glared. “Yes, well, your dialogue’s not nearly as funny as it is in the comic strip. And you didn’t answer my question.”
“Oh, please,” Helen retorted. “Enough with the stalling-for-time shtick. I have read the Evil Overlord Rules, you know.” She turned toward Dave, looking wistful. “No death ray?”
“No death ray,” Dave said, shrugging. “We do have the nerve-gas clips for the pellet guns, though.”
Helen looked intrigued, but Artie’s expression was one of alarm. “We don’t have masks, and that stuff is incredibly fast-acting.”
“Hmmm,” said Helen, fingers twitching as if tapping imaginary calculator keys. “You’re right – in cross-universe mode, the teleport takes three seconds too long to cycle. We’d make it back, but we’d drop dead in the lab once we got there.”
“There you are, then,” Artie said. “Dave, grab Mell and we’ll – wait, what’s that?” And he pointed a tiny gerbil forepaw at the sports bag containing the PANIC projector . . . where a small candy-apple red shape was trying to wriggle its way inside past the netting. Helen stepped quickly around Mell, reached down, and plucked the crimson gerbil from its target by the tail.
She eyed her prisoner curiously for a moment. “You must be – Rufus? Funny, the dossier said you were a naked mole rat.”
“I should think not!” came the reply. “Dr. Kimberly Katherine Possible, M.D., if you please.”
Atop Helen’s head, Artie’s eyes had gone very wide. “Good heavens. That color – it’s . . . stunning. How did you do it?”
Mrs. Dr. Possible tilted her own head upward as best she could. “Oh – hello, Artie,” she said, sounding slightly flustered. “Good genes, I suppose; red hair runs in the family.”
“Hold on,” Helen said, interrupting Artie. “You did say Dr. Possible?” She gestured sharply toward Kim, who had propped herself against a fire hydrant.
“Chief of neurosurgery, Middleton General Hospital.”
“A brain surgeon?” Helen looked fascinated. “But how – good Lord, don’t tell me the pocket Gerbilizer™ beam actually worked?”
“Amazing,” Artie said, sounding faintly awed.
Shego’s tone was dry enough to compete with the Sahara. “You sound surprised. What was it supposed to do, turn her into a hippopotamus?”
“You never know with prototypes,” Helen told her cheerfully, then glanced down at Mell. “I don’t suppose you managed to hold onto the penlight?”
“Mmmrphllffcrsntt!” It was hard to tell whether Mell’s head-shaking was meant as a response; the netting had snagged part of her mangled lab coat collar and pressed it over her mouth. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to be having trouble breathing.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Helen said. “Which means . . . Dave, do we at least have a specimen jar with us?”
Four voices echoed as one – Kim’s, her mother’s, Shego’s, and Ron’s. “Specimen jar?” Three of them promptly followed with “Jinx, you owe me a soda!”
Shego merely rolled her eyes. “What is it with you people and sodas, anyway?”
Dave rummaged in the black bag he was carrying, ignoring the byplay. “How about this?” He held out a nearly empty jar labeled AllMart Dry Roasted Peanuts, unscrewing the lid.
“It’ll have to do,” said Helen. “So many tests, so little time.” Mrs. Dr. Possible wriggled desperately, but Helen wrapped her free hand firmly around the gerbilized brain surgeon and thrust her nose-first into the peanut jar, then held her palm firmly over the top while Dave punched several holes in the lid.
“You so won’t get away with this,” Kim told the mad genius as Helen twirled the jar lid into place. “We’ll come after you, Mom!”
“This from the girl who can’t get out of a simple dehydrated capture net,” Helen shot back.
Artie regarded Kim sympathetically from the top of his creator’s head. “I promise I won’t let Helen hurt her.”
“See? You don’t have a thing to worry about,” Helen said, grinning. “I’m sure Artie will take really good care of your mother. I think we’re done here,” she went on. “Dave, get Mell, and we’ll be on our way.”
Dave gave his employer a you’ve got to be kidding look, but shrugged, and with a certain amount of huffing and grunting, managed to sling Mell’s netted body over his shoulders. Meanwhile, Helen held her prize lightly in one hand, plunging the other into her own shoulder bag. Mrs. Dr. Possible scrabbled unhappily against the inside of the peanut jar – then abruptly stopped, clapping her forepaws together.
A moment later, Helen pulled a compact but odd-looking gadget from her bag. “Quantum tether,” she said cheerfully. “Say goodbye, Kim Possible. Oh, and Shego? You owe me one.”
“And you figure that how?” the mercenary inquired archly.
For the first time, Helen’s smile acquired a truly evil dimension. “That’s easy; I just saved your life.”
And so saying, she pressed a button on the quantum tether . . . .
Chapter 9: That's What You Get For Underestimating the Gerbil
Beep beep be-beep! Kim blinked; that was definitely a Kimmunicator signal, but it wasn't coming from her Kimmunicator. Her eyes -- about all she could move easily from within the Narbonic Labs no-longer-dehydrated capture net -- tracked the source of the sound to the unit Wade had given her mother, still lying on the sidewalk.
"I've got those EEG-wha-?" Wade stopped in mid-syllable, apparently taking in the change in scenery: Kim, Ron, and Shego squirming in their nets, while Helen and Dave stood a few feet away. Dave had Mell Kelly -- also netted -- slung over one broad shoulder; Helen, Artie perched atop her head, held her quantum tether -- which was humming faintly -- in one hand and the peanut jar containing Kim's mother in the opposite one.
Almost at once, the Kimmunicator rose into the air like a tiny hovercraft, and Wade's voice spoke urgently. "I need seventeen seconds! Do something, guys!"
Helen grinned. "We'll be gone in elev--OWW!"
The quantum tether didn't explode when the finger-sized flash of green plasma hit it, but it crackled, glowed momentarily, and stopped humming as the pulse knocked it out of Helen's hand. She made a grab for it, but with the jar in her other hand she couldn't quite keep her balance, the device landed on the sidewalk with a thunk, and Helen herself dropped to her knees and just managed to avoid losing her glasses. She did lose Artie, who had made a desperate but successful leap to Dave's arm as Helen teetered.
"One for the locals," Shego said with a sardonic chuckle. As she spoke, the flying Kimmunicator skimmed quickly forward and extended a glowing silver needle toward the peanut jar. The shatterproof plastic shimmered...
...and without waiting for a cue, Kimberly Katherine Possible sprang forward straight through the temporarily phased material to land awkwardly atop the Kimmunicator, which promptly retracted the needle and flew back to hover next to Kim.
Helen tossed the now-empty peanut jar aside with a muttered curse, picking up the quantum tether, but she spared the airborne Kimmunicator a glance first. "Not fair! Impressive, sure, but that was totally a deus ex machina."
"Not true," Kim's mother replied. "Wade demonstrated that function for me about six chap--" she paused, "er, a couple of days ago."
Helen didn't acknowledge the remark; she was busy examining the quantum tether. "Damn," she said, "it looks like it's shorted out. I'll have to--"
Air whooshed inward, filling the space where Mell Kelly had been in the previous instant. Dave stumbled but kept his balance, and Artie grabbed for Dave's ear to keep from losing his perch.
Helen eyed the quantum tether suspiciously. "That shouldn't have happened. You'd better not have fried it," she told Shego.
"Or you'll what, shoot me with the death ray you forgot to pack?" the mercenary retorted. "Gee, I'm scared."
"You're also kind of tied up just now," Helen retorted.
"You mean I was tied up," Shego said, smiling wickedly as her entire body began glowing faintly green. The capture net's strands visibly thinned; after a few seconds Shego flexed her arms and legs, and the netting crackled and shattered. She picked up a fragment and studied it. "Uh-huh, all nice and dehydrated again. Clever."
Helen regarded Shego with a surprised expression. "Darnit, those nets were supposed to be plasma-proof!"
Shego responded with a feline smile. "But not heatproof. It's all about the temperature control, Doc."
Kim took as deep a breath as she could considering the snugness of her own net, and tried not to grit her teeth as she spoke. "Um, a little help over here, please?"
Shego glanced in her direction. "First things first, Pumpkin," she said, wreathing her left hand in green fire as she reached down and lightly scooped up a certain candy-apple-red gerbil in her right.
"If you don't mind," she said, turning toward Helen again, "I'd kind of appreciate it if you could un-gerbilize Kimmy's mother here." As she spoke, she conjured a ping-pong-sized plasma ball, allowing it to roll around in her left hand.
The mad scientist stood up, eyed the fireball bemusedly, and shrugged. "What part of you never know with prototypes did you not get? If I understood Mell back there, your friend got hit with the very last Gerbilizer™ penlight there was -- and lucky for you, it's the only one in the whole production run that actually worked the way it was supposed to. More or less," she added, regarding the gerbil in Shego's hand critically. "I didn't think hair color would translate quite that vividly."
"I take it coloration was hard-coded into the shapechange algorithm?" It was unnerving, Kim reflected, hearing her mother's voice coming out of something that small and furry.
"It was supposed to be, at any rate," Helen replied matter-of-factly.
"Hmm. Most likely a simple microsecond's disruption in power transmission, then -- just enough to skip over that one bit of code in the sequence."
Helen was nodding. "It's so hard to maintain proper quality control when you're working with nanocircuitry."
"Focus, you two!" Shego cut in, sounding annoyed. "I don't care how the damned ray was supposed to work. One more time: either you put her back the way she was, or we'll see how you like being dehydrated into nice little crackly pieces."
Plasma flared from the mercenary's left hand, and Kim's mother squeaked as Shego's right hand also started glowing. "Oops," Shego said, frowning as she concentrated on controlling the two power levels separately. "Sorry about that."
"No harm done -- mostly. However," the elder Possible added as she scrambled out of Shego's hand, "much as I hate to say it, I don't think Helen can fix this, at least not here."
Helen bobbed her head in agreement. "We just don't have the hardware with us," she said. "Now if you'd just let me take you back to the lab...."
"Don't you dare!" Kim called out. "We'd never see you again!"
"Not to worry," Shego told her. "I'm still working on your mom's latest Smallville chapter, and I refuse to try and email the comments into a whole different universe."
Kim did the best she could to glare through the netting. "Yes, well," she said, "if you two hadn't started critiquing each other's wrongsick fanfics, we wouldn't be in this mess."
Shego chuckled. "And I'd still be looking for a really good beta reader. Good thing you introduced us, isn't it?"
"That depends on who you ask," Helen interjected. She'd been probing the innards of her quantum tether, but now she looked up at Shego again. "Cross-universe email is easy. Getting home in the first place -- that may be a problem. The frequency alignment chip's cracked, and it's all your fault!"
Dave, who had been literally twiddling his thumbs, traded worried glances with Artie. "Does that mean we're staying here? Without Mell?"
"Looks that way, at least until I can replicate the chip," Helen said. Suddenly, her eyes lit up behind her glasses. "Which means I can be as evil as I like over here after all. Dave, what have you got loaded right now?"
Her tall lab assistant tugged a compact, odd-looking gun out of his waistband and glanced at it. "Kelvin-Z clip," he said matter-of-factly.
"Cover the girl," Helen told him, waving vaguely toward Kim. "You don't want to do that," she added to Shego, who was on the verge of lobbing a plasma-burst at the weapon. "Superheated plasma, supercompressed liquid nitrogen compound -- the concussion effect would level this whole block. Not to mention turning all our brains into so much jelly."
"Jelly, yuck!" That was Rufus; he hadn't quite worked himself free of the netting, but he'd managed to extract himself from the pocket of Ron's cargo pants.
Dave, meanwhile, had obeyed his employer, though he was eyeing her doubtfully even as he trained the peculiar gun on Kim. Gas pellets, Kim decided as she studied the weapon. Hard to dodge even if I weren't wrapped up like a Thanksgiving turkey.
"Much better," Helen said cheerfully. She thrust the quantum tether into one pocket of her lab coat while drawing a pistol identical to Dave's from another. "If I'm going to be living in this universe, the last thing I need is someone writing squicky stories about me and passing them around the 'Net."
Then a frown crossed her face, and she eyed Shego sternly. "What's that humming noise?"
The mercenary shrugged. "No idea. Princess?"
"You've got me," Kim said, then groaned as the double meaning registered. "Ron?"
"A strolling harmonica player?" Ron guessed, making everyone else groan.
Rufus, however, made a thumbs-up sign. "Byebye!"
Helen stared down at the mole rat. "Byebye?"
"Poof!" Rufus told her, pointing toward the sports bag lying nearby on the sidewalk -- now partially unzipped, with what looked like the business end of a dustbuster poking out of it. Oh, right, Kim remembered, Wade's projector thing.
"Have a nice trip!" Kim's mother said, poking her tiny furred head out of the opening alongside the vacuum nozzle.
As she spoke, the space surrounding Helen, Dave, and Artie seemed to flicker slightly. Helen scowled and fired her pellet gun at Shego, but the missile vanished into the flicker-effect, there was a series of rapid multi-dimensional blinks from within its radius, and then the three visitors simply disappeared, leaving behind only the echo of Artie's voice saying, "Now see? That's what you get for underestimating the gerbil."
"Whew!" Shego said. "Am I glad that's over."
"That depends on how you define over," said Kim's mother tartly. She burrowed back into the sports bag for a moment; when she emerged again, the device's humming had stopped, and she scampered briskly across the sidewalk to perch on Kim's head.
Shego tilted her head heavenward, muttered a fervent "Oy!", and crossed her arms over her chest. Kim couldn't see what her mother was doing, but she could feel the tap-tap-tap of a gerbil-sized foot against her forehead. "All right, stop giving me that look," Shego said at last as she walked over to stand at Kim's side.
"This may get a little warm, Princess," she warned, as her hands lit with a green glow more muted than Kim was used to seeing. Shego held her palms a hair's breadth from Kim's bonds, starting at shoulder level, and slowly ran them across the netting. Kim felt the web-like strands turn brittle as the heat leeched moisture out of them, and in only a few minutes the net had been weakened enough so that she could free herself.
"Now Ron," Kim told Shego, who tried to look offended.
"What, I have to do everything?" the mercenary complained. "If you bothered to carry a real hair dryer instead of that grapple gun -- oh, please, not you too," she said as Kim hit her with the Puppy Dog Pout. "All right, but I'm not responsible if his pants catch fire."
Meanwhile, Kim's mother had scooted back to her Kimmunicator. "Wade, I think you said you had those test results?"
"Right here," Wade said, his voice sounding a bit frazzled over the video link.
"And?" Kim asked, leaning in as close as she could.
The boy genius shrugged from behind his desk. "The readings look totally stable to me -- except the brain waves are human and the DNA is gerbil. Mostly, anyway. I've never seen anything like it."
Mrs. Dr. Possible was nodding. "It's brilliant work, but I have no idea how she did it."
Kim gave her gerbilized mother an alarmed look. "You're saying you really are stuck this way?"
"It's possible," her mother said ruefully. "I'll have to take a longer look at the test results to be sure. There's just one anomaly...."
Wade made an ahem noise over the Kimmunicator. "If the fireworks are over," he observed, "you might want to pick up and move out. Professor Wilberforce is going to want his vortex inducer back."
Shego grinned. "You're sure I can't gift-wrap it for Dr. D?" At the four-way glare from Ron, Rufus, and both Possibles, she backpedaled. "All right, you win; it's not like Drakken could use the thing without blowing up Nevada. I guess I'm out of here," she said, then paused, casting a hopeful-looking glance at the crimson-furred gerbil. "I don't suppose this means we're even?"
The gerbilized brain surgeon snorted. "When I want to cash in that blank-check favor," she told Shego, "you'll know it. Let's just say you're not any farther behind."
"Have it your way," Shego said, looking amused. "I bet your patients are going to be surprised."
"Very likely," Kim's mother said wryly. "But Wade's right, we're done here."
The group spent a few minutes gathering up the equipment that had been scattered along the sidewalk. Bystanders were still giving the block a fairly wide berth, but as Kim and Ron packed Mrs. Dr. Possible's personal effects into the sports bag along with the PANIC projector and Shego scavenged bits of Helen's abandoned gadgetry -- notably the James Bond figure, which she figured out how to deflate into a tidy four-inch sphere -- the Lower Manhattan pedestrian traffic began narrowing the gap.
"Till next time, Princess," Shego finally said, giving Kim a mock salute. "It's been -- weird."
"No kidding," Kim retorted, only to be interrupted by a familiar four-beat beep tone. She reached for her Kimmunicator -- and her mother simultaneously tapped at hers, which she was riding like a hover-board.
Wade's voice spilled from both sets of speakers. "I'm reading some kind of energy release," he said in an urgent tone...
...as a candy-apple-colored gerbil body shimmered, first gently and then with a bright flash that erupted into a silent but explosive FWOOSH!...
...which damped almost as quickly as it had flared, leaving behind the fully human, fully restored form of Dr. Kimberly Katherine Possible...
...standing, slightly dazed, on a New York City street corner, wearing exactly as much clothing as she'd had on as a gerbil. Which was to say, none.
Everyone started talking at once. Kim folded her mother into a fervent hug. Ron murmured something about total awkweirdness. Wade's voice, over the Kimmunicators, was saying, "I don't know how I missed the bio-stasis signature," but no one else seemed to be listening.
Shego merely shook her head bemusedly, shrugged out of the brown trench coat she'd been using as a disguise earlier, draped it over Kim's mother's shoulders, and headed briskly north along Rector Street. By the time Kim realized she was gone, it was much too late to go after her.
Chapter 10: Epilogue: I Think I Can Live With Being Squicked
Dr. James Timothy Possible eyed the roast chicken suspiciously, then looked up at his wife. "I thought it was brain loaf night."
She shrugged. "I had a busier day than I expected," she said, "so we stopped at Food Tiger on the way home."
"Mrs. Dr. P. totally rocked," Ron Stoppable said, from two places farther down the table. "Even during the part where she was a gerbil."
James gave Ron a sharp look -- as, he noticed, did both his wife and daughter. "Gerbil?" he asked. "Kimmie-cat, have you been going on missions with our daughter again?"
She shrugged. "Not exactly. I was doing a favor for -- one of Kim's professional acquaintances -- and things got just a little out of hand."
"Professional acquaintances," James echoed. "We wouldn't be talking about one of those circus folk, now would we?"
"I'm quite sure she doesn't work for the circus," his wife said, just as Rufus finished the scoop of mashed potatoes he'd been eating.
"Shego!" said the naked mole rat.
Ron glared down at his pet. "You weren't supposed to tell!" he said sternly.
James Possible's eyebrows went up. "Shego...that's the woman who works for Drew, isn't it? You were doing a favor for her?"
Kim spoke up. "It's -- complicated," his daughter said. "And she was right to be worried; Shego could've gotten killed. Or gerbilized. Or maybe even zapped into another universe."
"I see," James said, his tone deliberately ironic. "And that's supposed to make me less concerned? Kimmie-cat, you're a brain surgeon, not a super-heroine."
"I was just trying to protect Kim," his wife protested. "I didn't want her to get caught in the crossfire."
"Crossfire? There was crossfire?"
The Possible women looked at each other across the table. "Oh, all right," Kimberly Katherine said, sighing. "It was like this...."
By the time she finished the story -- with contributions from Kim, Ron, and Rufus -- James had found a legal pad and was scrawling notes. "Quantum tether...vortex inducer...parallel universes...hmmm. There's just one thing I don't understand," he said, looking up from the notepad. "From what you've told me, I don't see how this Mell person disappeared when she did. The device your Dr. Narbon was using obviously didn't complete its charging cycle, or they'd all have vanished -- but if it wasn't fully charged, it shouldn't have been able to send anyone back."
Kimberly Ann frowned. "Hmm. You know, somebody had to send Mell across in the first place -- and it obviously wasn't Helen. So she could've had her own recall gadget all the time." She traded another glance with her mother. "You think they'll try again?"
Kimberly Katherine pursed her lips thoughtfully, then shook her head. "It's possible, but I doubt it; most likely they'll just go on to something else." She chuckled. "As long as Shego doesn't write any more stories about them, anyway."
# # #
"So where's Mell?" Artie demanded as soon as the momentary wooziness from inter-universal transit had worn off. The three of them had rematerialized safely at Narbonic Labs -- but they'd appeared across the room from the teleporter, rather than inside it.
A brief but thorough search of the premises failed to locate the evil intern. "No idea," Helen said at last, peering at the innards of the quantum tether. "Maybe across the street, maybe somewhere in one of the universes between there and here. This thing was definitely not fully charged when she poofed out."
"Not fully charged? Then it shouldn't have worked at all, should it?" Dave asked.
"You wouldn't think so," Helen said. "On the other hand, those Gerbilizers™ Mell borrowed worked way better than I'd have thought, so who knows? Back to work, people!" she added.
Several hours later, the lab's main entrance flew open with a bang. "Did you miss me?" came Mell's cheerful voice.
Artie, Dave, and Helen all converged on the intern. "Group hug!" Helen announced.
"Oof! Need to breathe here!" Mell said after several moments.
"Where were you?" Dave asked. "We were worried."
Mell pirouetted, mini-skirt flaring. "Had to shower and change," she replied. "In case you hadn't noticed, the locals over there did a real number on my outfit."
Helen cocked an eyebrow at her. "You didn't have any trouble with the transit?"
"It was a little rough," Mell said, "but nothing serious. What took you guys so long?"
"It got -- complicated," said Helen. "The white hats over there are entirely too well equipped. I don't suppose any of the weapons you 'borrowed' actually made it home intact?"
Mell shrugged. "Just a couple of the concussion grenades. I haven't been in a firefight that messy in ages!" she added happily. "When can we do it again?"
Helen eyed her severely. "They phase-shifted a specimen jar, re-dehydrated a capture net, threatened me with high-energy plasma, fried my quantum tether, and zapped us back here with their own tech. Unlike some of us, I'm not suicidal; one trip was more than enough. However," she added, seeing Mell's disappointed expression, "you get an A for effort. Give me a list, and we'll see about restocking the weapons locker."
"But I didn't get to flambé Shego!" Mell protested. "And those stories!"
"Under the circumstances, I think I can live with being squicked once in awhile," Helen said, then added, "Still, it is too bad we didn't manage to bring that red gerbil back."
Artie glared at his creator from Dave's shoulder. "She was a human being! That would have been kidnapping." Then he sighed. "On the other hand, it would've been nice to have someone my own size to talk to."
Helen's eyes acquired a faraway look. "Someone your own size," she muttered softly. And she wandered off in the direction of the genetics lab.
Artie exchanged a worried look with Dave. "She's got an idea."
"Yup," Dave agreed. "Business as usual. Coffee?"
"Root beer," Artie said, as they headed for the break room.