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Rollercoaster Ride Down The Roads Not Taken

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LOCATION FOUND; SYSTEM OPERATIONAL

Beep! Beep! Beep!

I know what we’re going to do today!

Beep! Beep-

Candace’s hand clapped down on the button on the alarm clock as she bolted upright in the bed for only about the fiftieth time.

So close last time,” she muttered, throwing aside the bedcovers. “Oh, well. Today’s the day! Well, I guess today’s always been the day, but whatever.”

She slid off bed and carefully danced around the three skates and skateboard scattered across her bedroom floor, stripping off her pajamas and chucking them at a wall before pulling her day-clothes over her head. The sooner she got past the now-monotonous morning routine, the sooner she could get to her ultimate goal: busting her brothers. And with infinite retries, not even the Mysterious Force would be able to keep up with her forever. Today was going to be the day she finally won - and if not today, then tomorrow, when it would be this morning again.

“I am so gonna get it right today!” she exclaimed aloud, sprinting down the stairs and through the living room into the kitchen. “I can feel it in my—”

And just like, she was suddenly stopped short at the sight of her parents. Just like the past fifty-odd loops, they were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast. Of course. Only this time there was... it was different? Blinking, she rubbed her eyes, trying to make sure her brain wasn’t tricking her in some way. They were… face down in their bowls, eating the cereal and milk directly from the dishes, while making a huge mess in the process. What on earth had gotten into them?

Well, this – this was certainly new. And considering she’d lived this day for the past month and a half, the fact that anything was new was… weird. She’d gotten completely used to the same sequence of events every time long ago - within the first two or three weeks. The time loops hadn’t stopped, had they? Not before she’d busted her brothers, they’d better not have. That wouldn’t even be fair.

“Um, ever hear of a spoon?” she asked slowly, still trying to figure out what exactly was going on.

“Spoon?” Lawrence replied, glancing up at her. “Mm, no, can't say I have.”

Candace frowned, but eventually shrugged it off. She still had busting to get to, and needed to hurry her parents through their morning, spoons or... no spoons, apparently. “Hey! I hear there's a new tiger habitat, dahhhling.”

“Tiger?” Her father snorted slightly, almost laughing. Cereal and milk were really getting everywhere. It was a good thing that no one’d have to clean it up, wasn’t it? “That's a funny sounding word.”

“Oh, these teenagers and their slang.” Linda remarked, pushing away from the table and standing up. “I'd better go run my errands. They're not gonna run themselves.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Something was very wrong here.

“Mom?” Candace hesitated, some of her excitement over the fresh busting opportunity fading. “What happened to your capri pants?”

“Capri pants? Now I think you're just messing with us.” Linda picked up her purse and headed out the garage door without another word – acting as if everything was perfectly normal.

And yet, it wasn’t. Not anymore.

Candace frowned again, and wasn’t able to so easily it shrug it off again. “No spoons?” she muttered under her breath. “No tigers? No Capris?” She paused for a second, trying to come up with a reason that all this could be happening. Normally she’d blame her brothers for it, but just like the rest of the universe, Phineas and Ferb had been trapped in an endless time loop, repeating the same actions like a scratched record.

But if the entire universe was trapped in the time loop, then why had – why had things started changing all the sudden? With spoons – with tigers – with capri pants?

“Uh-oh, something's really going wrong.” Even as she said the words, the full weight of their meaning settled on her. Time loops, they wouldn’t do anything bad, would they?

She could still remember her musical number from the very first day of the loops – the first time around. And yes, she wouldn’t have doubted that there might be some kind of consequence to this whole ‘time loop’ thing. And she still was sort of expecting something to happen. But she hadn’t expected… this?

Things being removed from people’s memory?

Ignoring her father, she hastily darted across the kitchen and jerked open the silverware drawer. Ah, there was no reason to panic. Knives, and forks, and the can opener and… that was it.

Her eyes widened as she realized what she was seeing - or rather, what she wasn’t seeing. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, hastily opening up the Internet browser. Maybe this was some sort of – of weird prank? No, even that was impossible. Again, time loops. Nothing changed. Or at least nothing was supposed to change.

‘define spoon’ she punched in, then waited anxiously for the page to load.

No results containing all your search terms were found.

Your search - define spoon - did not match any documents.

Some results have removed due to Safe Mode. If you would like to disable Safe Mode, please click here.

Okay, that was it. Something had gone very, very wrong, and it was kind of freaking her out, too.  She knew she couldn’t fix it - but there were two people who could. And she had to get to them - and fast. She knew from much past experience that they wouldn’t stick around in the backyard much longer before going off with some sort of super-dangerous flying rocket skateboards or whatever they were.

Running through the house, she threw the sliding glass open with such force that it rebounded backwards with a dull thud. Oh, well - time was looping anyway. Twelve loops ago she’d straight-up broken through the glass door in another failed busting attempt.

(But twelve loops ago everything had seemed normal, too.)

“Guys! Guys!” she shouted, relieved that they were still in the yard. “I really need your help! There's this really weird thing that's happening! Days keep repeating because of a machine thingy that Vanessa's dad made, and there was this wagon, and now things are disappearing, like tigers, and spoons, and—”

“Hang on,” Phineas interrupted, an expression of curiosity coming over his face.“What's a... "spoon"?

“What's a "tiger"?” Ferb added.

“See?” Candace gestured wildly, trying to get the point through their heads. “That's my point! Stuff's disappearing! and once it goes, nobody remembers it—”

That was when it happened. From directly behind her brothers, a horrid shrieking sound tore through the air. Her eyes felt like they were as wide as saucers by this point, and her brain completely locked up. A strange hole-looking sort of thing materialized behind her brothers, through which she could see only grayness and mist.

“No!” she shouted, lunging at her brothers. “Phineas! Ferb! It’s coming for you! Get out of the way!” She barreled right into them, bowling them safely out of the way of... whatever it was, and coming to abrupt uncomfortable halt as she tripped in the process, crumpling into a face-first pile on the grass.

Right in front of the portal.

The sound was deafening now - as was the suction. It pulled at Candace irresistibly, like a whirlpool in a bathtub drain.

“Phineas!” She yelled, finding herself unable to get back on her feet as it dragged her back into itself – into the gray mist that had filled her entire field of vision. “Phineas!!”

It was too late.

In the blink of an eye, Candace felt the bunches of grass she was clinging to come tearing out of the ground, and she was yanked back into that awful void.

She fell into it - coming to an another painful crash-landing just inside. With a thunderous roar, the hole above her head slammed shut, sealing her away, leaving a ringing in her ears that would probably take many minutes to fully fade.

“Owwwwww,” she moaned ruefully, rubbing her head. “Owwwww.” Wincing at the pain, she pushed herself into a more upright position. “Wh-what? Where am I?”  All around, gray buildings towered up from the ground, and a icy cool breeze whistled through them, penetrating her clothing and inducing an uncomfortable chill in her spine. “Hello?”

She clambered slowly back to her feet, rubbing her arms. “Is… anyone there? Phineas? Ferb? Anyone? Hello?” Her hair was standing on end now, and the blood rushing through her ears was the only thing she could hear. No answer... just her own breathing and bloodflow.

“Ohh,” she scowled. “When Phineas and Ferb get here to rescue me, they are so busted! They are going down, down, do… do…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes drifted up and connected with the horizon of this place.

It was so… far away. And so huge. And so… empty. Flat and gray and quiet. Quiet like a tomb. The sky above was misty, and the ground below was flat and gray, and the buildings were still. And Candace Flynn suddenly felt very, very small.

A  burst of terror seized on her. Phineas and Ferb weren’t coming for her, were they? They - they’d forgotten all about her, hadn’t they? It was just like with spoons and tigers and capris. But if Phineas and Ferb weren’t coming for her, then…

...she was alone.

And so, so screwed.

The terror inside her grew exponentially as realized what that meant. She could feel herself freezing up in its awful face, wrapping her arms around herself in a vain attempt to ease the shivers rattling up and down her limbs.

“Ph-Phineas,” she barely whispered, trying to call out for help - help that would never be able to come.

RRRRRIPPP!!!

She jerked reflexively away to the side as that horrible, horrible sound came again, just a handful of yards away, and a few feet up in the sky.

“What in the he---” A deep, husky voice cut through the sound of the portal of doom. And Candace watched with fearful eyes as, in a flurry of color and movement, someone tumbled backwards through and landed just a few feet away from her, kicking up clouds of gray dust.

The portal rumbled loudly and she clapped her hands over her ears - and just in time. The very ground itself shook this time, as the hole in time shut once more.

“Who - who are y - you?” she asked in a shaky voice, slowly letting her hands down. “What’s happening?”

“Ugh…” the newcomer groaned slightly and coughed. “Stupid wild parsnips,” they rejoined, in a much higher-pitched, much… more familiar? voice. Wait, what?

They pulled themself up to their feet, and Candace’s eyes widened again. It was - it was her. A her that was taller, and older, and… had some sort of stick in her hand? But the resemblance was unmistakable. The woman’s eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses, and her skin was almost entirely covered in a snug black bodysuit of some sort, but her hair spilled down to her shoulders - in a bright shade of that orange that was as familiar to Candace as the back of her hand. Back of her head, even.

“Who - who are you?” she stammered again, trying desperately to make sense of this whole thing.

The new person – the new Candace –  looked around, taking stock of her surroundings. She reached down to pat something jutting out of her wide utility belt, as if to reassure herself it was still there.

“I think that I should be asking the questions around here,” she said coolly. “I can see what you’re doing here. What is this, some sort of induced hallucination to make me divulge some of those sweet Resistance secrets to what’s supposed to be a... six year old version of me? Nice try.”

“Hey!” Candace exclaimed. “I am fifteen!” She wasn’t entirely sure what she was expecting from this woman – but anything had to be better than being alone, didn’t it?

“Shut up!” the woman - the older version of Candace? - snapped. “I can see right through this, Doofenshmirtz. You’ll never break me. Never. So go ahead. Try all you want. But you’re wasting your time.”

“Wait, like Vanessa Doofenshmirtz?” Candace asked. Could that be who this… kind of frightening person could be talking about. “Or her dad?” Vanessa’s dad had been the one with the machine that started the loops. Maybe this woman knew him? Maybe she – maybe she could fix this, could get Candace home again?

The words were already on her lips when the woman’s eyes narrowed. “For an interrogator, you’re pretty terrible at your job. But I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. I don’t know how Doofenshmirtz did this, but I can tell you one thing, if you think you’re getting anything out of me, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Candace stood up a little taller, becoming apprehensive at the harsh tone. “I – I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she protested, taking a single step closer to the woman.

As it turned out, that was a bad idea. The woman twirled her stick around like some kind of baton and the end lashed out, smacking Candace firmly across the chest, knocking the wind straight out her lungs as she flew backwards into the ground, gasping for breath.

“You stay away from me!” the woman snapped. “Bet you thought I was just going to sit there and take it, didn’t you, Doofenshmirtz? No… not hardly. Maybe I should take this opportunity to figure out what you know, hmm?”

Candace cringed back in horror, having seen more than enough action movies to realize where this was going. “No!” she shouted desperately. “I don’t know anything, I swear! I’m Candace Flynn - I’m not even from here! I was - was just pulled here, like, a second before you! I swear it’s the truth! Please - please - don’t hurt me! I don’t want to be here anymore than you do! Please!” Her voice cracked, and combined with her aching head and chest, she felt like was ready to break down into tears.

The woman’s eyes were completely unreadable, hidden behind those dark sunglasses. And though her stick continued whirling around and around menacingly in the air, it ceased moving closer to Candace's face. “Wait a second,” the woman said slowly. “...you know my last name?”

“It’s - it’s my last name!” Candace confessed instantly. “Too - I mean, it’s my name too!”

The woman’s stick gradually began slowing down – and then suddenly stopped, as the woman ground one end of it into the dirt directly in between Candace’s legs, not even an inch away from either one.

Candace let out a squeak of terror, but it went completly unnoticed.

“Doofenshmirtz doesn’t know who I am,” the woman said aloud. “He still calls me ‘banshee-screaming girl’.” She yanked her stick out of the ground and stuck the end of it under Candace’s chin, forcing her face upwards – upwards to directly meet her peircing sunglassed glare. “If you’re really not sent by Doofenshmirtz, then who are you? Don’t leave out anything.”

“I - I - I,” Candace stammered, swallowing. The end of that stick was hard and cold, pressed beneath her lower jaw. “I’m Candace Gertrude Flynn. Like - like I said, I’m fifteen years old. I don’t belong here, really I don’t. I just want to go home - to my parents, and my brothers, and Jeremy and… and…”

“Your brothers?” the woman asked.

“Ph-Phineas and Ferb,” she managed in reply, offering a weak smile. “When I get back, they are so… busted?”

Much to Candace’s relief, the stick suddenly dropped from its uncomfortable position to one of hanging uselessly by the woman’s side. She rubbed her chin, and then her aching breastbone, and then the growing lump on her head.

Today had not been a very good day.

“There’s no way Doofenshmirtz could have that information,” the woman mused aloud, interrupting Candace’s attempts to ease her hurting body parts. Her expression hardened again. “Unless there was a mole in the Resistance.”

Candace wasn’t sure how to respond to that - not at all. What was this ‘Resistance’ the older woman - older her? - kept referring to? She was pretty sure there was nothing she knew of called that.

“I promise that I’m not a - a mole.” Candace swallowed hard, the older Candace’s dangerous-looking weapon still in the corner of her eye. “And Vanessa’s dad didn’t send me. I barely even know the guy. All I know about him is that I was in his laboratory and accidentally pressed a button on the thingies in there - and then time started looping and things started disappearing and then it was going to eat Phineas and Ferb, but I pushed them out of the way and it ate me instead and… now I’m here.”

Well, it was a pretty wild story, if she did say so herself, but there wasn’t really anything else she could do other than tell the truth - no matter how wild it was - and hope to high heaven that the older her believed her.

Thankfully, Older Candace appeared thoughtful - and her stick was still hanging mostly motionless. It moved once, and Candace cringed away, but didn’t stir beyond that.

“I knew this was Doofenshmirtz’s fault,” she finally muttered under her breath, so quietly that Candace had to strain her ears to hear. “It always is. I swear, one of these days I’m gonna get him - and he’s going down, down, down.” Her grip tightened on the stick in her hand, and its end tapped restlessly on gray dusty ground of… wherever they were.

“You… you do believe me, though?” Candace asked, wincing slightly as she did so, almost afraid of what the answer might be. Please don’t hurt me anymore.

Older Candace pushed her sunglasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “Imma be honest here: no. Not hardly. But it takes a lot to earn my trust, so don’t take it personally. Instead, however, I’ll tolerate you. If only because I’m pretty sure I have met… another me, from another dimension, a long time ago. They… were weird - but also helped overthrow Doofenshmirtz when he was still supreme leader. So, I’ll give your ridiculous story the benefit of the doubt.”

Candace heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you – thank you. I swear I’m telling the truth, really I am. I… don’t have any way to prove it, I guess, but it is true.”

“I’m sure,” Older Candace grunted noncommittally. She stopped and surveyed the surroundings. “What… is this place?”

Candace shuddered again, pulling herself back to her feet. “I… don’t know. All I do know is that, well, whatever comes here through one of those rifts gets forgotten all about.”

“What?” Older Candace stopped and removed her sunglasses, wiping the gray dust that had coated them off onto her... it was sort of like a shirt? Except for the fact that it was solid black and hugged the woman’s body more tightly than Candace had seen any swimsuit ever do. “You keep adding random crap to your stories. If you’re going to tell me something, you give it to me straight and all at once. You hear?”

“No - I mean, yes, yes, okay,” Candace stammered, lifting her palms, slick with sweat by this point. “Sorry.”

Older Candace nodded. “Now what was that about being forgotten?”

“I - I don’t know for absolute sure,” Candace clarified. “But it seems awfully like it - when something falls through the rifts, everyone forgets all about it.” She suddenly remembered herself trying to look up spoons on the Internet. “And it, uh, apparently gets erased from existence, too. Even in the past. So… I guess the world acts like it was never there?” That seemed a good explanation, right? What other explanation could there have been for that – for searching something on the Internet... something she knew existed, too – and then find nothing?

“Oh, you have got to lying through your teeth,” Older Candace muttered. “Acts like it - so I guess, without me, Doofenshmirtz never got deposed? He’s back in power? That’s wonderful.”

Candace shook her head, wanting to shrug, but deciding against it since she didn’t know quite what the older version of herself would react like. “I mean, that’s kinda what I saw with… spoons and tigers. And capri pants.” She shuddered. “It’s - it’s really scary, actually.”

“Can’t afford to be scared, girl,” Older Candace said sharply. “Get off your butt and follow me, unless you want to be left alone. There’s got to be a way out of here somewhere. And I’m gonna find it. Doofenshmirtz’ll never get the upper hand on me - at least, not for long.” She paused. “I swear, if we run into any NORMbots, I’m gonna lose it.”

Candace couldn’t say exactly what a ‘NORMbot’ was supposed to be, but they sounded pretty scary too, and so she also hoped they didn’t run into any. She straightened her clothes and set off following along as Older Candace apparently chose a direction at random and struck off.

Older Candace’s stride was long, and her pace was quick. To the point that it wasn’t long before Candace found herself struggling to keep up - but she daren’t say anything about, for fear of the permanent scowl that seemed to reside on the woman’s face at all times for the stick clutched tightly in her other hand. Her eyes were permanently hidden behind those pitch-dark sunglasses, and Candace wondered how she could even see with them on. It wasn’t even that bright here.

“Keep up!” Older Candace remarked, in a sort of off-handed way, after about what had to be at least a half hour – or maybe more – of walking endlessly through the deserted gray city that stretched on in all directions around them. “I will leave you behind if you start slowing me down. I’ve got places to be, and dictators to overthrow. Again.”

“I’m - sorry,” Candace panted. “I - swear - if - I - ever - get,” she stopped for a huge deep breath “-home, Phineas and Ferb are so busted.”

That seemed to give Older Candace pause, if only for a moment, before she resumed her effortless stride. “So, you’re another one of them, hmm? Pathetic.”

Candace had no idea what that was supposed to mean, if anything at all, so she didn’t respond, instead focusing on keeping up with her older self.

The uneasy silence settled back down over them as they walked and walked onwards. Gradually, however, the scenery began to change. The gray ground underfoot morphed into a thick carpet of brown, crunchy grass that had apparently been long dead - and fell apart at the slightest movement. There were more lampposts scattered about - also off, but not gray, which was enough to give Candace the tiniest bit of hope.

Because hope at different colors was so rational. Oh well.

Older Candace’s foot banged into something, and she knelt down and picked up a big piece of rusty metal. She stared at it for a minute, and rubbed at the faded and disfigured surface with her hand, before blowing on it. “The… Coolest… Coaster… Ever. Version three point zero. And something about… hyperspace? Huh. I wonder... nah. Not his style.”

Without a second thought, she chucked it over her shoulder and resumed walking.

“Hey - wait a second!” Candace exclaimed. “That - my brothers built a thing a few months ago. At the beginning of summer. They called it the ‘Coolest Coaster Ever’ too.” And then they’d done it again during the musical, too, except two point oh. And hadn’t Older Candace just read ‘three point zero’? Did that – what did that mean? Phineas and Ferb were at home, not here.

Older Candace glanced down at her and shrugged. “And your brothers are here? Kid, that sign was rusted all to nothing. It hasn’t been touched for a good twenty years, at least.”

“I - I don’t know,” Candace admitted. “Maybe - I mean, there’s already two of us. Maybe there’s three? Or something.”

Older Candace shrugged again. “Could be. Heck if I know - or care. I just want the way back where I belong. My little brothers need my protection and if the world really does think I ‘never existed’, then I’ve got a bone to pick with Doofenshmirtz. Again.”

Candace never could quite understand just why this version of her seemed to hate Vanessa’s dad so much. Apparently he was ‘supreme leader’ or something. It… made little sense. After all, Vanessa’s uncle was also leader of Danville, and Candace really… had no opinion on the matter at all. Maybe when she got older she’d start hating mayors too?

She was so deep in thought that she didn’t even notice when her older self stopped walking, and she walked directly into the older woman’s back – which was hard enough that it felt about like she’d just walked full-speed into a wall, sending her stumbling backwards, a little dazed.

“Watch it,” Older Candace warned. She tapped her stick on the ground, scratching meaningless patterns into the dirt with its end.

“Why’d you even stop?” Candace asked. “I thought - oh.”

Directly in front of them, a huge building towered up from the dirt, jutting up, and up, and up, until it disappeared into the mist banks rolling above. Older Candace’s grip on her stick tightened, and she slammed the one end down into the dirt. “Doofenshmirtz.”

But Candace had other ideas. Because the base of the huge building before her looked awfully similar to one her own brothers had built not too many months ago - that had reached all the way to the moon. “Phineas and Ferb,” she whispered. “Ugh - why is Mom never around when I need her? There’s no way the Force could move this. They’d be so toast.”

“Come on,” Older Candace said through grit teeth, abruptly resuming her stride into the building. “If there’s a way out of here, it might be in there."

“Is that what this place is called?” Candace pointed over to the left, where a small decrepit sign, covered heavily by rust, stood not that many yards away.

FA...L...ONE AH...ED

It was a cryptic message, to be sure. Older Candace took one sideways glance and shrugged. “Later. This first. It looks to be a central hub of sorts - we might find something of some use here.”

Candace suddenly remembered she’d skipped breakfast in her rush to get back to busting, and her stomach growled. “Like food,” she pointed out.

“Sure.” Older Candace began walking towards the building’s entrance. The doors’ hinges protested as they were swung open, releasing a long, ear-piercing screech that was painful to hear. Inside the place - was…

Well, it was different. At one time, it might have been very impressive. The roof was high and arching, and grand pillars towered up from the ground in support of it. There was something that resembled a fountain in the middle of the room, though water could neither be seen nor heard flowing through it.

The floor was a dusty, dull black, and their shoes echoed and re-echoed in the vast empty space as they walked through it.

“Dang it,” Older Candace muttered, her voice reverberating weirdly. “There’s nothing here.”

In the far corner of the room, a single door could be seen, next to which stood a small podium with a book lying open on it. Its papers were yellowed with age, but the ink was still legible.

“Tele-vator,” Candace read from the small sign above the door. She reached out and pressed the call button affixed to the wall, but nothing happened. Well, apparently the Televator - whatever that was - was broken. Not surprising given the general shape of things around here.

Older Candace whistled.  “Hey, Little Me,” she said. “C’mere.”

Candace felt like snapping back that she wasn’t little anymore - she was fifteen now, for goodness’ sake, but something about her companion’s demeanor restrained her. “What?”

Older Candace lifted the decaying book from the podium and pointed at the page. “Check it out.” It was a guest book of some sort, covered with names. The names of… her brothers?

Phineas Flynn Sept 23rd 2017

Ferb Fletcher Sept 23rd 2017

Phineas Flynn Sept 23rd 2017

...Okay, that was weird. But that wasn’t all - because right down at the bottom of the page, was a single name that stood out in contrast to all the rest.

Candace G. Flynn Sept 26th 2017

“I swear that wasn’t me,” Candace said slowly. “2017? That was twenty-one years ago - I wasn’t even born then. And Phineas and Ferb definitely weren’t.”

“Well, yeah, I kinda figured,” Older Candace responded dryly, her words thick with sarcasm. “You know what this means, right? There is another us out there - at least one more.”

“That’s… is that a good thing?” Candace wasn’t quite sure.

Other Candace shrugged. “Either they’re out there and they’ve lived here for twenty-one years, meaning they know this place well, or they were out there and they managed to leave. Either way - it’s a good thing. We just to find them - or where they were, it that’s the case.”

“Ah…” Candace said slowly. “Yes, I guess that makes sense. Well - apparently Phineas and Ferb were here too. I mean, who else could have built this building in the first place? And they surely figured a way out.”

“I don’t know,” Older Candace returned. She sat the book down on the podium, and took the pen that was sitting there, sliding it into one the pockets on her utility belt. “This might come in handy if we do find a third person.”

“So… how are we gonna find this other Candace anyway?” Candace asked.

Older Candace waved her outside the building. “Have you noticed how quiet this place is? If we’re really still and hold our breaths, we should be able to hear even the slightest movement - and surely the other Candace - if they’re still here - wouldn’t have gone too far from this spot.”

It seemed like a fair enough plan to Candace. She accordingly took a breath and held it, letting the silence settle over them both like a blanket. She strained her ears for something, anything, but at first it seemed there truly was nothing.

The sheer silence of the place was eerier than she remembered, too. Her lungs started aching a little, and still the silence was-

KRAKOOM!

Meap!” Candace squealed, jumping and almost falling over for about the eighteenth time that morning.

Older Candace let her breath out and pointed in the general direction of the explosion’s sound. “That way! Get a move on, little me!”

And Candace, grumbling again to herself about that, ran as fast as she could after her other self in that direction, past the cryptic sign from earlier. What would they find? She didn’t know.

But  she wasn’t about to get left alone again. And maybe, just maybe, it would even be something that could get them home.


 

Candace Flynn was happy in life.

It sounded a bit simple, perhaps, and it was certainly not a way she’d have described her life when she was a teenager. Back then, she would have been… content, at most. Occasionally happy, yes, but frazzled and distressed most of the time. However, adulthood had changed all that – well, adulthood and her brother – and by now Candace could say she was happy and well and truly mean it.

Over the past years, her existence, though still energizing enough to feel like a rollercoaster ride sometimes, had no longer been shaken up in any major way. Her kids had grown into their early teens, which presented its own challenges, and Phineas and Ferb’s company had continued to grow. What was more, her own stock had grown along with it. Where she’d occasionally tried to keep her activities separate from her brothers at first she was now fully embracing the fact that she was part of Flynn-Fletcher Incorporated – not as an inventor, of course, because she could never do that on her brothers’ scale, but as a lawyer and the one who was primarily responsible for that legal angle of the business – and it was good to see the company prosper. The only thing that had really shaken up her life had been the incident with the mind transmitter, and even that was over a year ago now.

Getting swapped with another version of herself had been… disturbing, to say the least. Discovering a parallel universe in which she was married to Jeremy Johnson and her own relationship was met with revulsion was a large part of that, but the fact that she had been trapped away from home had presented enough challenges in itself. Phineas wasn’t there to comfort her and help her through it (well, Other Phineas had been there, but he obviously wasn’t the same person) and it had allowed her insecurities, old and new, to rear their ugly heads once more.

But she’d overcome even that – not all by herself, mind you, but she’d still pulled it off in a way that left her satisfied with the way she had handled things. She was secure and comforted in her relationship, and even if she had managed to diagnose some flaws in it, she had managed to go out there and get them fixed. Phineas and Ferb were back in touch with their old friends, Buford and Baljeet, even if they still only interacted on rare occasions for the simple fact that they lead such different lives now. She’d loosened up on her fear that outsiders would find out about their relationship, leading to the first all-family vacation in years later that very summer.

They had taken two over the past season, partly in order to make it up to the kids and partly because Phineas believed so strongly in making the most of summer anyway, and it had been an amazing experience. She’d never forget that evening at the beach when they’d gone to that tropical island. Xavier and Amanda had been shoved off to play a game of cards in their rented beach house and it had thus been just her and Phineas, out in the open in a way that would ordinarily make her terrified of discovery, but while being in an area where no one knew who they were. Seriously, her brother might be oblivious and occasionally as blind to romance as their mother used to be to inventions, but when she gave him time to prepare he was capable of surprising her.

But it was the last day of summer today, and that meant that barring the use of time machines or other inventions capable of warping space-time, all that fun had to come to an end. Her life would return to normal – or as normal as it could ever be – and that was signified in her plans for the day, which had been extraordinarily limited. She wanted to go to the company to finish up some contracts, and maybe later help Amanda order a new school diary. (Seriously, the fact that her daughter insisted on an old-fashioned diary rather than just using her cell phone for school work was one thing. That she took hours to decide on which one to pick, on the other hand…)

Even their family’s conversation at breakfast had been entirely boring. They’d tried to make Ferb’s British ham and egg sandwiches for the kids, who had been feeling a bit down at the approaching return to the school benches. Phineas had fetched the subs and put butter on them, while she had manned the omelet station. But although she had managed to put a smile on her children’s faces, Candace couldn’t recall anything about the actual conversation even as little as ten minutes later. She thought she’d discussed business with Phineas, and maybe something about making another inspection visit to the Flynn-Fletcher holding over in the Quad-State Area which was having trouble manufacturing some items. It was always fun to go on such visits outside of their home town. After that, she’d gone for a walk outside, looking at the browning leaves on the trees… and then it had happened.

There had been no warning beforehand. One moment, she’d been staring at a tree – the next, a sound as from a pair of scissors had ripped through the morning sky. She’d just had enough time to wonder what it was about before being sucked upwards and landing flat on the ground again a moment later. (That hurt.) And when she got up, intending to run back inside as soon as possible and tell Phineas about what had happened…

…everything looked different.

She had been in her backyard, walking on relatively soft grass and surrounded by calls from birds, the soft breezing of the wind and the kind of chilly – though not outright cold – air of a late summer sky. Now, she was sitting on a hard underground – it felt more like a road than a grass field – and she was surrounded by towering buildings. There was no wind, and there was no cold either – the temperature was very… bland, if it could be called that. Everything around her was silent as a tomb, which was another creepy detail.

But above all, the whole place was incredibly grey.

Candace looked around, trying to reorient herself because she didn’t feel ready to stand up just yet. Everything around her was grey. It was like she’d been dropped into one of those old black and white movies. And she couldn’t see anyone. It was just… quiet, empty. Desolate, that might be the best word.

How in the world had she gotten here? Was this some kind of dream? No, the aching pain in her back and the all too real feeling of the ground under her debunked that theory pretty quickly. But that didn’t help her surroundings make any more sense. If it wasn’t a dream, then where was she? And how could she have gone from her own backyard to… well, this?

Oh well. Maybe where she was didn’t even matter very much. What mattered was getting home. The silence was getting eerie, and the grey skies and buildings were getting really annoying. She supposed that it might be for the best to hang around and see who might be here and who could explain to her how she could have come here. She knew that was what Phineas would probably have done, and Xavier would undoubtedly have done so. Even Amanda might have stuck around for a while longer.

But for the moment, Candace didn’t really care about where she was (even though there was something familiar about the whole place) and who could have brought her here. What she cared about was getting back home. She’d been just about to walk back inside the house and see Phineas again, and that was what she wanted to do more than anything right now. It was silly, of course, as she’d spent the night with him and seen him at their breakfast table, but the fact that she couldn’t be with him somehow made her want to be with him, much more than if she’d been home and able to walk over any time she wanted. (That was kind of random, to be honest, but also very much an unchangeable part of being Candace Flynn. After the past forty-three years of living with a personality she’d tried and failed to correct so many times, it was something she had learned to no longer get riled up about.)

Candace stood up, feeling a little light-headed for a moment, and glanced around once again. Nope, there was still no one there, and no sound to be heard. (For a moment she did think she heard footsteps, but they stopped before she could decide whether they were part of her imagination.) Which was perfectly fine to her, as she was getting out of here right now. Fortunately, she had developed the habit of carrying her cell phone with her all the time, and after a brief moment of panic she felt a wave of relief come over her as she felt it in her pocket. It was there. It was there and she was going to be able to use it to teleport home.

Phineas and Ferb’s teleportation device had been a pain the first time they’d programmed it into her cell phone (which had, in retrospect, mostly been because she just hadn’t been paying any attention to what her brother was saying). But over the years, she’d managed to get used to the fact that one word into her phone could change her location. It was dangerous technology – she didn’t want to end up inside someone else, after all, as that could end up being… unhealthy – but it was incredibly useful in emergencies. Emergencies such as this one.

Before her cell phone, situations like this would have left her running around like a headless chicken. Right now, all she needed to do was activate the insta-transporter, say “take me home” into her phone, and she would…

Oh-oh.

She’d used the required phrase – softly, of course, as her voice was a little on edge right now – but there was no reply. The insta-transporter she’d just turned on was only displaying its standard settings, and the reasons for that were obvious as she glanced at the corner of the display. Her phone wasn’t connected to any signal.

“Take me home!” she tried again, slightly louder this time even though she knew the microphones would pick up her voice even when she whispered. But it was no use. The phone didn’t function, and as she looked around Candace could see she hadn’t moved an inch.

How was this possible? She didn’t know much about the technology that had gone into making her phone work – she’d asked Phineas one time and she’d subsequently dozed off about ten minutes into his explanation – but she knew that it was capable of taking her home from another planet, another galaxy, if needed. Something about the receiver being strong enough to pick up a signal even light years apart, and the battery being built to last thousands of years. But she wasn’t getting a signal now. Her internet connection, her ability to call her friends – it had all gone dead. Almost as if the signals weren’t there.

Was that it, then? Had she somehow been transported to a place in which the signals weren’t there anymore… or yet? Another time period? Still, that didn’t explain the empty buildings (unless she’d been transported into a post-nuclear world, but everything around her looked far too intact for that). And she was reasonably sure that even if that had been what had happened, she would still have been able to teleport home or to some other unchanging landmark (even if she might not recognize its present state when she arrived), thanks to the accumulative memory of the phone’s database. So another time period was not a very likely conclusion. But if even that explanation was not radical enough to explain her abrupt appearance, the greyness around her, the lack of contact she could make with anyone…

How about another dimension, then? Candace knew they existed, having been to one twice before. Still, neither the universe in which her other self was a resistance fighter against Perry’s nemesis, nor the universe of her obnoxious Canderemy counterpart had been this grey. It was entirely possible that there was a grey dimension out there – infinite possibilities, infinite outcomes, after all, but that didn’t explain why this place looked so… so familiar.

A grey world. Filled with grey buildings. Utterly empty of sound or color. And she’d gotten there through that strange ripping sound – almost as if something was cutting a hole into the sky, into the texture of time and space itse…

Oh no.

An old recollection of an adventure she’d undertaken almost thirty years ago crept up on her. That day when she’d tried to bust her brothers using Perry’s nemesis’ Do-Over machine, only to nearly end up breaking time itself. Almost immediately, the memories came back to her. They were vague, given all the years that had passed and all the other times she’d nearly destroyed everything, but the things that mattered were clear enough. She could recall with crystal clarity how close they’d come to almost ceasing to exist. Heck, as far as their parents had known (and now no longer knew) they hadn’t existed, at least for a while.

And… if that was how it worked, then Phineas and Ferb weren’t going to come and get her, right? She was stuck here. That thought was one that Candace tried very hard to suppress, because it was far too terrifying and too random, because darn it, at least last time she’d been bending space and time to bust her brothers, she hadn’t done anything this time (unless somehow this was a punishment for being in a romantic relationship with her younger brother, but if that was the case Candace felt she really had to berate the universe for its sense of timing considering that Amanda was already fourteen by now).

But that thought of being stuck here was one that she couldn’t let go. Because even if her brothers had been able to fix the situation last time, she was alone now, and with barely any memory of what they had done to repair the Do-Over machine. That, to be honest, left no way out for her. Well, she supposed that it was possible that Phineas and Ferb had landed somewhere else in this place. That would be fair, wouldn’t it? Candace Flynn had been in many horrible experiences before, but there had always been some way out. Of course there was a way out here too. She just had to stay positive. Last time she was here had been an interesting adventure, and this time was going to be the same thing. Heck, most likely all she had to do was get up on some building and wait for a rift to reopen so that she could jump through it. That was more or less what she’d done last time, wasn’t it? Surely the universe wouldn’t be so cruel to only dump her here. From what she remembered, time rifts didn’t even work that way. They just kept ripping and throwing more stuff and people in here. Sooner or later someone would come around, or something would come around, and it would enable her to get home. She just had to have faith in that, and she did.

Really, she did. The fact that the thing she was holding onto was shaking all over? That was because of the structural base of that thing being flawed, not her shivering. Don’t be silly. It was just the… was that a traffic sign? It looked awfully like a stop sign, but it was grey like everything else here. Candace supposed that it would be too much to ask for this dimension to run on logic.

As she was holding onto the stop sign, because… because it was an easy landmark to stick to, of course… the thought of those footsteps she’d heard earlier occurred to her again. She hadn’t paid much attention to them earlier as she had still hoped she was about to get out of here, but if she was stranded anyway, someone else being here might make a huge difference.

“Is someone there?” she called out, surprised at how weird her voice sounded when it was the only thing she could hear. She didn’t think she would get any reply, but it didn’t hurt to try. That was probably better than just standing here while the other person would also stand there, unable to decide on doing anything because they were both feeling uncomfortable about this non-dimensional place. That wasn’t what Candace Gertrude Flynn did. She faced her insecurities, and she faced them head-on.

And miraculously, calling out actually worked. “I’m over here” a voice came back. “Where – where are you?”

For a moment, Candace almost couldn’t breathe. That voice… that had been her own voice. Was it possible that she’d made a mistake in theorizing and that she had ended up in some other universe after all, or another time period? She knew she wasn’t good at this kind of stuff. Scenarios and possibilities ran through her head as she contemplated whether to reply. She didn’t want to risk this other Candace being like the last other version of herself she’d met… but even if she was, it was probably worth it if they wanted to get out of this place.

After pinching herself again to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, she replied. “I’m over here” she repeated. “By the…” She stopped for a moment, being unsure how to describe her current location. It was really too bad that the one locator she had was absolutely nondescript. “Well, it’s shaped like a stop sign, but it’s pretty much all grey.” Really? Was that the most sensible thing she could say, considering the surroundings she’d been in for a couple of minutes now? “Just like everything else, come to think of it.”

She waited, wondering whether she’d made the right choice, until a voice piped up again. “I see you!” Other Candace exclaimed. “Hang on, here I come.”

Well, it wasn’t like she’d been planning to do anything else. Candace looked in the direction the voice had come from and squinted (maybe one of these days she had to think about getting her eyes fixed, too. At least when that time came, she wouldn’t make a fuss about it like Phineas had.) Sure enough – jogging towards her was a person who was undoubtedly another version of the person she’d seen in the mirror just over half an hour ago. Other Candace’s hair was slightly more disheveled and she was holding a weirder looking cell phone than Candace was, but it was definitely her.

Most importantly, Other Candace looked like she was the same age that Candace was – possibly a little younger. Apart from the smile on her face, she looked almost exactly like the version of herself that she’d met last year. Candace sure hoped that she wasn’t meeting her again. Even if she didn’t want to be picky when she was stranded in the middle of nowhere, she had no desire to see that other Candace ever again. She’d ended up with Jeremy, of all people, and she had never stopped berating Candace about her own life choices.

At least this Candace looked like she was less insufferable – not that she could tell after having exchanged only a couple of sentences with her up until now. Candace wondered whether her other self was with Phineas too? It might be an interesting topic of conversation.

Conversation, yes. Because, as Candace realized with a chill in her stomach, that was really all they’d be able to do. Phineas wasn’t here, not yet at least. Ferb wasn’t here. And unless walking around would allow them to meet all sorts of people who knew how to create and operate a device that could break open the space-time continuum – or unless some other rift would tear open and suck them right back in – they would only be able to talk to each other and wait.

Maybe that was a good strategy in itself. Waiting, biding their time rather than panicking and getting lost somewhere, and then going home when the opportunity availed itself. In that regard, she was glad to meet another version of herself here. Because even though Other Candace was just as doomed to hang out here and wait as she was, at least they’d be able to talk to each other about it. At least they would be able to exchange life stories. And by doing that, they would be able to pass the time and make their stay in here a little less unpleasant.

It might not have been the original meaning of the phrase ‘misery loves company’, but Candace Flynn was ready to take it with both hands.

It wasn’t like she had any other choice.