Sunday, March 22, 2015

Kim Possible -- Forgotten Seeds, Chapter 4: Air and Exposition

[Parts OneTwo, and Three.]

“The information will not change if you look at fourteen times instead of thirteen,” Jade said.

“I know, I know,” Kim said, “but it's... it's impossible.”

“None of the data I have collected indicates the laws of physics have been defied.”

“How can humanity be gone!?”

“That conclusion is also not supported by the information I have. It merely indicates that--”

“There are no transmissions of any kind, no functional ground stations or satellites, no direct evidence of continuing human activity at all.”

“And nothing to indicate a total lack of human activity either, Kimberly,” Jade said. “I also have no proof that the mid-Atlantic ridge still exists, yet it is highly probable that it does.”

“Horatio seemed sure,” Kim said.

“But did not reveal how he arrived at his claim,” Jade said. “Until we are able to survey the planet in some detail it would be premature to reach a conclusion.”

“I hate not knowing,” Kim told the AI. The speed at which they were moving didn't help her mood. “Any results on your internal scan?”

“I believe that I have isolated the cause of the failure and that it should be quite simple to fix, if we find appropriate supplies.”

“They're probably wondering if I abandoned them,” Kim said.

“I apologize for the inconvenience, Kimberly,” Jade said. “However, until the containment field is repaired it would be unwise for me too turn the spindle faster than its idle speed. It is already interfering with my sensors and at a higher setting it would begin to affect your health.”

“I know!” Kim snapped. “Sorry.”

“Apology accepted, Kimberly.”

“I just-- I expected to be there and back in a matter of minutes.”

“I understand, Kimberly.”

For a time there was silence, then Kim said, “I thought the stasis mode was meant to halt any decay; how did the the containment field fail?”

“While the stasis field does significantly slow any degradation of my systems, I was not designed to be left in standby for centuries,” Jade said. “The containment field generator is one of the most complex items in my inventory. That it failed is not even statistically unlikely. It is concerning that it failed without warning.”

* * *

It had been more than concerning when it happened. Jade was programmed for safety first and explanations at a distant third. Thus when she had rapidly decelerated it came without any warning to Kim whatsoever.

Not that Kim objected per se; she knew intellectually that if Jade had waited for her approval the containment field would have fully collapsed before the flying car slowed itself and thus the options remaining would be to exert the energy necessary to slow the car without containment, to enter the base at nearly full speed and thus either crash into a building or shoot straight through, or to slow down through a semi-contained crash landing on the lunar surface.

None of those were nearly as desirable as slowing down before the containment field collapsed.

It had, however, been disconcerting and the car was now flying over the surface of the moon at what amounted to an idling speed. Only a small piece of forward momentum had been retained --little enough that breaking wouldn't require dangerous energy levels-- and the only ongoing power expenditure related to locomotion was being used to keep the car off the ground.

The wait made Kim want to scream.

“I've finished my internal diagnostic and can report with 99.375 percent confidence that I have identified and compensated for all malfunctioning sensors,” Jade said.

“Yay,” Kim said with a lack of enthusiasm most would associate with Shego.

“Therefore, it is highly improbable that any other system will fail without warning,” Jade continued. “I apologize for not performing this check before I arrived.”

“There's nothing to apologize for, Jade,” Kim said. “You weren't programmed to run extra diagnostics on the diagnostic equipment without being asked to do so.”

“Regardless, I have updated my protocols to include such diagnostics after any prolonged standby.”

“That's good thinking, Jade,” Kim tried to sound enthusiastic, but knew she failed. The AI was doing well in a situation it had never been programmed to handle, but Kim was too stressed to give it the positive feedback she thought it deserved. There was simply too much on her mind.

The AI didn't comment on her forced praise, Kim wasn't sure if it had failed to detect that it had been forced, or simply concluded that the fact wasn't worth discussing.

There was a silence that seemed to go on for hours, though in reality Kim knew that it was probably minutes at most. Kim's mind slipped into a cycle where it calculated how much time it felt had passed, then how much time it thought had actually passed, then compared the two, then repeated with the values updated to account for the time spent in thinking about it. It was not improving her mood in the least.

“While my sensor capacity is limited by the containment field--”

“Not being operational,” Kim said. “What do you have?”

“Thermal readings are now becoming distinct.”

“Show me.”

The problem with the sensors wasn't that they weren't picking up what they should, but rather that they were picking up things they shouldn't. The signal was fine, but there was too much noise to make it much out.

Kim had already looked over initial results, but they were impossible to interpret. A blob somewhat warmer than the rest of the lunar surface. Now, through the static, Kim was able to begin to make out multiple smaller blobs that had made up the larger blob, or at least she thought she was.

“What do you make of it?” she asked Jade.

“With data this choppy, I'm just as prone to pareidolia as a human being, Kimberly.”

“I understand that; I want a second opinion, not conclusive answers.”

“Have you formulated a first opinion?”

Kim examined the small screen on the dashboard again, then said, “I don't like it.”

“An interesting opinion,” Jade replied. Kim wondered if she detected a hint of snark. The AI was certainly capable of that, and if it were to decide to be snarky the voice synthesizer would have little difficulty in producing the necessary intonation, but Kim wasn't sure if that had happened or she was just imagining it.

“It looks to me like the results we're seeing are entirely a result of the base heating at a different rate than the moon's natural surface in the sunlight.”

“I concur,” Jade said.

“It also looks like the reason that it took, and is still taking, so long to come into focus is because there's some kind of debris with similar thermal properties littering the site,” Kim said. She sighed. “The debris, if it really exists, would give off readings similar to the buildings, thus explaining why it's harder to see the separation between buildings than it should be. It would also indicate that the site had been subject to some form of destruction.”

“That is consistent with the data.”

“But do you think it's true?”

“I am no more confident than you of the the results so far.”

* * *

“Where the hell is she?” Shego asked the universe. The universe didn't respond.

Instead of one the jerks she was surrounded by responded. “Probably not very far from where she was the last time you asked.”

Shego resisted the urge to turn to Hawk and instead snapped, “You saw how fast she flew out of here! She should have been back ages ago.”

“I think we've established that,” Hawk said.

The only thing that prevented Shego from launching plasma at him was the knowledge it would burn straight through her suit if she did.

Before Shego could think of a properly biting response, Surge asked, “You're sure that she didn't abandon us?”

Shego could hear the fear in the young woman's voice and her degree in child psychology kicked in.

* * *

Horatio had given up on trying to get the others to conserve oxygen. It was a losing battle and used up too much air to be worth the effort. He was telling himself that once they got to earth, if they got to earth, he'd leave them all behind and become a hermit.

He knew it wasn't true, but at the moment a life of isolation seemed like a wonderful concept.

A strange name brought him out of his daydream. Shego had said, “Yeah, Sarah, I'm sure.” Who was Sarah? He rewound the conversation a bit and concluded that that was Surge's real name. He filed away the information and returned to ignoring the other surviving humans.

He needed to conserve his power, they were too removed from anything. He wasn't used to having resources so far from hand and kept on doing things with energy that he didn't have to spare. He shouldn't have rewound. It wasn't worth it.

He just thought about making a home in some nice deserted place where no one and nothing had the power of speech. He'd make friends with the birds or something. A small mammal at most. None of this incessant chattering.

* * *

Henry tried to focus on the beauty of the moon, and the fact that he was really walking on it, and ignore the fact that this could be where he died. It wasn't easy. It was easy enough to keep the wonder kindled inside of him, but pushing out the thoughts of possible death was much harder.

The sudden change in Shego's tone caught his attention, and he found it somewhat reassuring to listen to her speaking to Surge. He wondered where this had come from. The usually acerbic villain, a legend in the community as much for her attitude as for her skill, was actually being kind, gentle, and quite calming.

* * *

Hawk was amazed at how fast Shego's attitude had changed. He didn't care that it made no sense and went against everything he'd ever heard about her, he was just glad that she'd stopped complaining. At any other time the almost instant one eighty would have given him whiplash, but right now he was happy that some switch seemed to have flipped in her.

Besides, they all needed a little reassurance right now.

* * *

Drakken and Amy were discussing the reconstruction of civilization. Drakken wanted to make sure whatever they created was named after him. Amy was sure that she could create a hybrid race capable of flourishing in whatever environments they found on earth.

* * *

“Something's coming into view,” Blok said the instant he was sure the shape on the horizon wasn't his imagination.

There was a spurt of excited chattering, coupled with lots of relief, until Surge asked, “How far does that mean we've gone?” Blok had no idea, but he did notice that Drakken, Henry, and Shego suddenly stopped talking.

Maybe it wasn't as good news as he had thought.

* * *

The silence spread to everyone and Surge felt a sinking feeling. “What?” Surge asked, now sure she didn't want to know the answer. It felt as if her stomach were turning into lead.

“You... might not want to know,” Henry said.

She spun and looked back, knowing that it would cause her to tumble across the ground. They'd made real, noticeable progress. They were still a lot closer to the prison than the installation on the horizon. A lot.

“Oh God,” she said. “Oh God.” she repeated. No one else said anything. “We really are going to die out here, aren't we?”

* * *

Kim was vaguely aware of her name being called. Once. Twice. A third time. She couldn't seem really process it though.

It was the fourth, “Kimberley,” that snapped her into a full alertness.

“What happened?” She asked Jade.

“You drifted into a sleep-like state,” Jade said. “As we were making little progress I didn't wake you.”

Kim wasn't sure how she felt about Jade making that decision for her, but another matter seemed more important, “Why did you wake me now.”

“I have prepared a report,” Jade said as the screen in the dashboard lit up. “Also, it will be time for you to get out soon.”

Kim looked around, “We're here,” she said with a mixture of surprise and annoyance.

“Almost,” Jade said. “I will run my final breaking cycle soon.”

“We're already at the base, and you didn't tell me,” Kim said as she looked out of the car.

“I began waking you when we arrived at the outer edge,” Jade said. “It required some persistence to rouse you.”

The car was moving slowly enough that Kim could get out without much difficulty, though it would still be bad if it hit something. The moon base had once been a sprawling complex, it was currently in ruins.

“What happened here?”

“I have prepared a report,” Jade said. The screen on the dashboard flashed.

Kim read through it quickly, then repeated what she thought was the key point, “Most of the damage due to being smashed with large metal objects.”

“With some indications of energy weapons, yes,” Jade said in confirmation.

Kim looked at the damage in more detail. “So Lorwardians,” Kim said.

“That is my assessment,” Jade said.

“They defeated humanity once,” Kim said with a sinking feeling. “Why not a second time?”

The aliens had only been defeated through the combined efforts of herself, Ron, Shego, and Drakken. She, Shego, and Drakken had been incarcerated, leaving only Ron. Ron was prophesied to be the ultimate Monkey Master. Kim was well aware that “ultimate” meant “last”. Certainly it would be difficult for there to be another one now that the magical jade statues used to give Ron that power had been destroyed. Depending on when the Lowardians returned they could have found the earth entirely undefended.

If that were the case, then Lowardians, who had previously conquered the earth in “less time than it takes to order a pizza”, probably could have done it again.

But that still left Kim with questions. The Lorwardians had come as conquerors, not exterminators. Why was there no evidence of a civilization if they'd returned?

* * *

Surge was the youngest member of the group. Based on that alone it was understandable that she'd be having trouble adapting. And it wasn't as if Horatio couldn't tell that she was simply giving voice to things that the others were thinking and feeling. He could recognize the sound of utter despair as well as the next person, or so he liked to think, but he was still having trouble dealing with the way she repeatedly needed to be reassured.

Yes, there was a decent chance they were all going to die horrible deaths, but dwelling on it wouldn't help and talking about it made things more difficult.

He tried to keep his mind anywhere but on the present. “Just imagine a nice little equatorial hermitage,” he told himself. But it wasn't easy.

The others were all stretched thin. Shego had been on the verge of a breakdown before she took it upon herself to keep Surge vaguely close to stable, he was sure of that. Henry and Block had retreated entirely into themselves. He'd like to think that it was because they were trying to conserve oxygen, but he knew that they'd shown no evidence of doing so.

Drakken seemed to have lost the will to even complain. Amy's perennial cheerfulness seemed forced. Hawk's terse comments had taken on increasingly negative tones.

They were all falling apart, he was too, and as much as he hated to admit it even in the privacy of his own mind, he had no illusions that he might be able to make it out of this on his own. Once he got to earth, maybe. Before then, not a chance.

“Where the Hell is Possible?” was the question that was repeating in his mind. Unlike Surge, he didn't doubt that she'd be back if it were in her power to get back, but he was increasingly of the opinion that something had happened to her. What if the wonder car had simply exploded?

* * *

It took Shego a few moments to register that Blok had asked, “What the hell is that?”

When she looked up she saw a strange shape forming between them and the base. She didn't know what it was either, but she was sure of who it was immediately. “I swear I'm going to kick her ass the minute after she saves us.”

* * *

Henry had fallen to the ground and screamed in joy. Several of the others were offering prayers of thanks. There were also sighs of relief and, Surge thought, one soft chuckle of muted joy from Horatio. For herself, she didn't know what she was feeling. It was as if she were floating. It wasn't the lighter lunar gravity, she'd gotten used to that, it was as if her entire mass had been erased.

The shape formed into the floating car dragging something behind it, a trail of dust rising and falling in it's wake.

“Sorry it took so long,” she heard Kim say over her suit's radio. “First I had some car trouble, then I had some radio trouble.”

The car slowed down and veered to one side, the thing it was towing didn't slow nearly as fast and soon the two had switched positions, and with the car facing away from them both slowed to a stop.

“And I stuck the landing!” the AI said. Surge smiled. Maybe they would live.

“Why would you program a computer to be arrogant?” Shego asked. Surge thought that a lot of life had returned to her voice.

“Let it be arrogant,” Henry said. “Just get us out of here.”

“What is this contraption?” Hawk asked as he examined the thing being towed by the car. Surge couldn't tell either. It looked to her like a smaller version of a Volkswagen Micro-bus, except it lacked an engine and only had wheels on one end.

“I'm not sure,” Kim said, jumping out of the floating car. “A transport? Surveyor? The important thing is that it should seat at least six people, and Jade seats five, so we've got more than enough room to get everyone back to the base.”

Kim opened the door and motioned for people to get in. As Surge did she heard Shego say, “Shotgun.”

* * *

Hawk found he actually liked the bickering. It wasn't something he'd like to hear all the time, probably never again after today, but right now it was a reminder they were alive. He drifted from listening to pure thoughtless elation and back again.

“I really am sorry about leaving you waiting,” Kim said.

“You should be,” Shego said.

“Now, Shego,” Drakken started, “there's no need--”

“My contract expired centuries ago and I didn't listen to you when you were my boss.”

“I never really understood how the two of you managed to work together in the first place,” Amy said.

“Badly,” Surge laughed. “They worked together badly.”

“I don't remember asking for your--” And then Shego stopped. Hawk's light mood ended when he saw what she had seen.

* * *

Surge was suddenly worried again. She, Horatio, Henry, and Blok were all in the 'bus' that was being towed. The seats faced away from the sides, and thus away from the windows. It seemed like a very bad design. What purpose did the windows serve if you couldn't look out of them? At the moment she wasn't interested in that, she was interested in what had stopped Shego mid-sentence.

“What the Hell?” Shego asked.

“I wanted to tell you but I couldn't get a word in edgewise,” Kim said.

“We can't really see out of here that well,” Blok said, and Surge mentally thanked him for giving voice to their concerns, but didn't say anything out loud for fear it would delay getting an answer about what was going on.

“You should be able to see momentarily,” the AI said.

The bumpy ride in the 'bus' got worse for a few moments as they all shifted to get a look outside. All but Horatio, Surge noted.

Henry said, “Thank you, car.”

“My name is Jade, human,” Jade responded.

Surge looked out at the buildings of the lunar base as they came into view and noted that many of them appeared to have been smashed from above.

“Are those … people?” Drakken asked, and Surge tried to locate whatever he was talking about even though she didn't really want to see.

She saw them.

“Not anymore,” she said as she tried not to vomit.

* * *

Shego had been trying to play nice, which was hardly a usual thing for her, and she'd had a growing headache for a while.  Despite her best efforts, she was starting to lose her temper even before she asked, “Tight-lipped grumpy pants, is this what you were talking about when you said humanity had been wiped out?” She hoped that she's successfully suppressed the shudder that had tried to enter her voice.

For a moment there was no response and then she heard Surge say, “They can't see you shaking your head over a radio connection.”

“No,” Horatio said. His tone was somber. “These ones fled earth like rats from a sinking ship, but once they got here they found themselves ill prepared. They were going to die out on their own.

“They weren't Global Justice,” he said; “don't let the uniforms fool you. They scavenged those the way they--”

Shego had had enough of him. “How the hell do you know any of this?” she shouted as much as asked.

“--scavenged everything else. Didn't even know we existed. If they did maybe they would have let us out and we could have helped them.”

Shego did not like being ignored, “Stop telling us what you think happened and tell us where you're getting your information.”

“When the Lowardians arrived and--”

At this point Shego couldn't take it any more. She screamed.

“--dealt this colony its killing blow they were already on the way to a lingering extinction anyway.”

* * *

Surge had turned away from the window and was watching Horatio. The way he talked made her feel like he'd been there when it happened. That wasn't what interested her most though.

“What makes you think it was Lowardians?” Kim asked.

“Kimberly, the damage is consistent with a Lowardian attack,” Drakken said.

“I know that,” Kim said. “I want to why he thinks he knows that.”

That wasn't what interested Surge either, before she could speak, Shego said, “I want to know why we're all listening to someone who won't tell us where he gets his information. I'm sick of his enigmatic prophet act!” Shego shouted.

Surge wished that she could offer comfort to Shego the way Shego had helped her, but she didn't know how. Instead she took the opportunity to say what she was wondering, “I want to know how he knew they were in Global Justice uniforms when no one said anything and he hasn't looked outside.”

“Global Justice built the prison, it's not a stretch to assume they were the ones using the base,” Shego said. “He's guessing.”

“But he's right,” Surge said. “Isn't he? They're not GJ.”

She heard Kim sigh. “We think he's right.”

* * *

“Why, Pumkin?” Shego asked. “What makes you think he's right? I've been around him a hell of a lot longer than you have at this point and the only thing I've heard him say that seemed like it came from knowledge rather than BS was something about ducks.”

“The Laysan duck,” Hawk offered in a way that Shego knew was probably supposed to be helpful. She didn't care what his intent was. She growled.

“I don't care!” she shouted. “It doesn't matter what kind of duck it was; what matters is that knowing about ducks doesn't make one clairvoyant.”

* * *

“We're here,” the AI said as they came to a halt. Horiatio was up almost immediately, but Surge noticed that he seemed unsteady on his feet. He made his way to the door constantly supporting himself on the wall.

She followed him without comment.

Several times she thought he might fall over, not from the difficulty of walking on the moon, but from what she thought looked like either exhaustion or intoxication. She was sure he hadn't had anything to drink, but it didn't seem like he should be that exhausted.

* * *

“Shego, this isn't like you,” Kim said. Shego was not one to lose her cool like this and Kim was starting to get worried.

“You don't get to tell me what is and isn't like me!” Shego shouted. “I've got a monster headache and I'm sick of people acting like they know things they don't.”

“Jade, are your medical scanners online?” Kim asked quickly.

“No, Kim,” Jade said. “But they can be.”

“Turn them on, and scan Shego.” Kim said.

“Now wait a minute,” Shego said, “I don't--”

“Her O2 supply is dangerously low, Kim.  She's likely already feeling the effects," Jade said. “Get her inside.”

“No machine is telling me--” Shego started.

“Fine,” Kim said. “I'll just keep all the air and food for myself.”

Kim was fairly confident that she knew how to manipulate a disoriented Shego. Sure enough, a moment later Shego said, “Food? You're not stealing my food, princess.”

* * *

“Are you sure you want to eat that?” Surge asked Horatio.

He'd gone for the bowl of fruit immediately, but had collapsed onto the ground taking the fruit bowl with him. Now he was tearing apart an orange.

“Why wouldn't I?” he asked her.

“Maybe because it's been left out for five hundred years.”

“Five hundred and two years,” Horatio said as if that somehow made things better. “But this room was in a vacuum since the first time this base was abandoned until Kim gave it air.”

“Uh, huh,” Surge said.

“It's perfectly preserved,” Horatio said.

“That would be why it looks freakishly odd,” Surge said. She wasn't touching the food until she was convinced it was safe.

“Admittedly sucking all of the air out of the room isn't the prettiest way to preserve something,” Horatio said, “but I need food.”

Surge flinched as a voice from behind startled her, “It's not safe to--”

Surge turned to see Kim's eyes going wide. “You found fruit?”

“Is it safe?” Surge asked.

“Uh...” Kim seemed lost for a moment. “Yeah, it should be safe,” she said, visibly regrouping her thoughts. “How did you find fruit?”

Surge just looked to Horatio, who continued devouring oranges.

* * *

Surge and Kim helped a clearly spent Horatio into the room where the others were waiting.

“What happened to the clairvoyant?” Shego asked.

“To much fact finding, not enough rest,” he said.

Shego growled at him a bit. She did actually feel a bit sorry for how she'd acted before, and it proved that he'd been right about needing to conserve oxygen, but she didn't feel that sorry and, while her volume might have been louder than she thought appropriate, her sentiment remained.

“You said you'd explain once you got air,” Shego said. “We have air. Explain.”

“Do you know why Global Justice locked me up?” he asked.

“Espionage,” Shego said. “So what?

He'd settled in front of a computer terminal, with Surge's help.

He typed something in and Surge said, “How the hell did you do that?”

Shego wasn't in the mood to cross the room and see what it was he did. “Do what?”

Kim leaned over and looked at the computer, “This is Dr. Director's account.”

Sounds of shock spread around the room and Shego was getting annoyed at what she saw as undue fawning.

“So the spy knows another spy's login info,” She said. “This is surprising why?”

“I didn't know it,” Horatio said. “She's used this terminal. I just looked back and saw what she typed in.”

“Looked back?” Kim asked.

* * *

“I can see the past,” Horatio said. “Mind you without my equipment it takes a lot out of me and...” Surge tuned out. Something wasn't right.

Something he'd said before didn't quite fit with that. She tried to remember what it was. Some power he'd shown that couldn't be explained by knowing about what had already happened.

“How did you know Kim's car was coming?”

“I looked ahead; that's not nearly as useful as you'd think.”

“You can see the future?” Surge asked. It would explain it, and if part of his power was time seeing in one direction she didn't think it was too much of a stretch that he might be able to see in the other direction.

“I can't believe we're just trusting him on this,” Shego said.

“No,” Horatio said. Surge noticed a small shiver pass through him. “I can see what the future would be if I were to go into a catatonic state for the duration. Like I said, it's not that useful.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“I wanted to see if you'd shut up,” he said. It was almost playful

Surge allowed herself a faint smile.

* * *

“Look,” Shego said, there was enough anger that Kim was worried about her. “I know that I was a little off before, but other than a lingering headache I'm better now, and I'm telling you all that we shouldn't just trust a claim like that without some kind of evidence.”

“No parlor tricks,” Horatio said. “I'm pretty well spent.”

Shego looked like she was ready to hurl plasma at Horatio and his dismissive attitude would not help.

Kim hoped that if she confronted Horatio Shego wouldn't feel the need.

Air had been restored to sections of the base.  They had time to talk, time to think, time to rest, and time to form a plan.  They did not have time for a fight that involved plasma.  They couldn't risk such a thing.

"You implied that taking the time to explain how you knew what you claimed to know would make us run out of air.  Now you're saying that it's five words: 'I can see the past,' that wouldn't have used up all our oxygen."

* * *

Possible's tone was possibly angry and somewhat accusatory; it wasn't what Horatio expected from her.  Still, he'd promised an explanation, so he'd give one.  "I didn't want to get bogged down with explanations about the three types of time travel, or the difference in what I can do with and without my equipment, or the inability to exploit loopholes, or any of the usual crap that comes with talking about time travel."

"Three kinds?" Surge asked.

"See what I mean?" Horatio asked.  "Mundane, magical, and inter-temporal.  I'm not magic and inter-temporal gives me a headache so you get the weakest form of time travel with me.  No warnings to your past selves to prevent your unfortunate incarceration."  Horatio thought a moment, decided he wasn't done, and added, "And blah."

"Isn't all time travel inter-temporal?" Hawk asked.

"In this context 'temporal' refers to time lines not time periods," Horatio said. "The trouble is that if you go down that rabbit hole you might never find your way back home.  It's a complete mess, best avoided."  He paused a moment and then turned to Kim, "This is why I didn't want to get in it while we were still outside."

"Fine," Kim said.  "Maybe waiting was wise, but you promised us you'd explain and you still haven't.  What happened to the rest of humanity?"

“They killed each other,” Horatio said. “What more do you want?”

“An explanation!” Possible shouted. Horatio hadn't seen that coming. From Shego, maybe, but he wasn't expecting that kind of response from Possible.

He looked around the room. Eight people staring at him intently. Possible was now fuming, Shego seemed to be calming down slightly. He didn't like being the center of attention. This was why he worked alone.

“Ok, I expect this from you four,” he said quickly pointing at Possible, Shego, Amy, and Drakken, “but the rest of you saw what was going on. You saw what was happening in the world; did you really think it was going to last?”

“What's he talking about?” Possible asked.

Shego said, “He's deflecting.”

“Things may have gone downhill a bit,” Surge said, “but the world wasn't ending.”

“What's he talking about?” Possible asked again.

Horatio just breathed an inward sigh of relief that the attention wasn't on him anymore.

* * *

Kim looked at the last ones taken. Blok, Hawk, and Henry. They hadn't talked about the state of the world, and she hadn't asked. They'd been too busy trying to get to safety. For the moment they were in a safe place. It was time to find out what happened.

Blok was the first to speak, “Things got pretty bad at times,” he said. “I didn't expect to live through the Grass Famine of 2019.”

“The what?” Kim asked. She looked around. Shego and Amy had no idea what he was talking about, that made sense. Drakken and Surge didn't seem to either.

“It was barely over when they caught me,” Hawk said.

“It was more or less the midpoint of a string of copycat schemes,” Henry added. “By far the most devastating.”

Blok nodded.

“You three still haven't told us what it was,” Shego said, an edge in her voice indicating she was losing her patience with them now. Shego had been right, Horatio was deflecting. Doing a competent job of it too.

Kim stole a glance at him, saw that he seemed to be zoning out, and then returned her attention to the three people who didn't mind sharing with the rest of the class.

* * *

Amy hadn't spoken since they'd gotten out of Kim's flying car. No one else seemed to have noticed, but it didn't bother her. She had a lot on her mind and was fine being alone with her thoughts.

This was the first time it seemed like they might get a decent explanation of anything since Surge had defrosted, so she started paying attention.

“Someone, called himself 'The Third Horseman', decided--” Hawk said.

“Herself,” Blok said. “They eventually caught the Horseman and she was definitely female.”

“After my time,” Hawk said. “In any event, she realized that Killigan's plan with the super-grass stuff was a credible threat to the world.”

“How?” Amy asked, genuinely perplexed.

* * *

“She threatened to use it on croplands,” Henry said. “Food crops.”

“In retrospect it would have been vastly more intelligent to just pay her off,” Blok said, “she was only asking for money anyway.”

“The powers that be decided to call her 'bluff'” Hawk said.

“She wasn't bluffing,” Blok said.

“The super-grass took over farmland on four continents,” Hawk said.

“And it barked,” Blok added. “Which is just disconcerting.”

“Everyone in power was scrambling to find some way to overcome it so we could start growing food again,” Hawk said.

“Credit where it's due,” Henry said, “they did eventually find a way to feed the world again.”

“Eventually,” Hawk echoed darkly.

“Two hundred and seventy three days into the food crisis,” Henry said. “Food reserves lasted maybe half of that.”

“It was like watching civilization collapse around you,” Blok said.

“Countless species of plants and animals went extinct when the modified grass overtook their habitats,” Horatio said.

* * *

Kim had always been smart enough to fear someone using her villains' schemes with intelligence.  The inter-continental-electro-magnetisizer, for example, was something a reasonable villain would use to hold the whole world hostage by threatening its infrastructure. Drakkengaea was a child's ploy. Still, for such schemes to work one would have to actually carry out the threats. “Didn't anyone try to stop the Horseman?” she asked.

“Global Justice did,” Hawk said, anger creeping into his voice “but they've always been much better at countering civilians, especially harmless ones, than they have been at stopping villains.”

“Heroes?” Shego asked.

“Towards the end there weren't any left,” Henry said. “GJ was always suspicious of freelancers. The more talented, the more they distrusted you.”

“And God help you if you had actual preternatural abilities,” Surge spat. The event in question may have happened after she was captured, but she knew about who got rounded up quite well.

“There were a few free areas, but they were always hard to get to,” Blok said.

“And the people in them tended to stay in them,” Hawk added. “Villains might have global consequences, but heroes were forced to stay in their own areas if they didn't want to...” Hawk trailed off.

“Be disappeared,” Blok said.

Shego said, “Damn.”

“Shouldn't the Grass Famine have caused people to realize that there was more need for heroes?” Drakken asked.

“You'd think,” Hawk said.

“But in actuality it just cast suspicion on anyone involved in science,” Henry said. “The people with the knowledge and skill to, if not necessarily be heroes, support heroes weren't viewed as solutions to future problems, they were seen as sources of them.”

Kim was having trouble processing all of this, but there was one point she had a firm handle on, “None of this explains the claim that humanity is completely extinct.”

“No,” Hawk said, turning to Horatio, “it doesn't.”

* * *

Horatio took a moment to try to figure out a good way to explain things. When that failed he just started talking. “Kim and Amy are the exceptions here,” he said. “It's freaks like the rest of us that really scared Betty.”

“Makes sense,” Drakken nodded. “Science takes study and training, so do most forms of magic, as do skills like the ones Kimberly used before turning to science. With enough surveillance Global Justice could know who to counter in any of those areas before the person developed enough to put up a serious resistance.”

There was a pause, Horatio guessed that everyone expected Drakken to continue into one of his famed rants.

When he didn't Shego eventually asked, “And?”

“I would have thought that would be obvious,” Drakken said. “You make a perfect example.”

“If I don't like where this goes...” Shego warned.

“Shego,” Kim said in a calming way while placing her hand on Shego's shoulder.

“Imagine that you'd come of age in the world after we left it behind,” Drakken said. “You started off as a hero, so you'd have no cause to hide your training from the authorities, and your training is something that they could monitor. They could gauge your technique and decide whether or not you were a threat with ease.

“But your comet power is something else entirely. Like Surge's ability to connect with electronics it may have become better with training and practice, but it manifested as something that was already a force to be reckoned with. There was no lead up, no warning, no point at which an outsider could have stepped in to stop your power before it became too powerful to control.”

“Not the perfect example, though,” Horatio said. “The comet was hard to miss, and thus its effect upon Shego and her brothers was equally hard to miss.”

“And this relates to your claim that humanity is extinct how?” Shego asked.

Horatio reminded himself that Shego could kill him and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “What is hard to miss is when someone is born with a power,” he said. “No light show. No origin story. No sign for Global Justice to beware. Hence their last weapon.”

“Enough with the damn suspense!” Shego shouted. “What?”

“They made the world infertile.”

Three people asked, “What?” Two swore. Three more simply stood with their mouths agape.

* * *

Kim's mind seemed to have broken. She struggled to process this new claim.

“They didn't intend to do it to the entire world, of course,” Horatio said in a tone that sounded like he was giving a practiced lecture on a subject he found boring. “The idea was targeted bombings of meta-human --their term not mine-- population centers. Unfortunately their creation proved a little too resilient, their dispersal methods far too effective, and as soon as it joined the rest of the fallout in the upper atmosphere, the human race was pretty well doomed.”

Horatio looked at Kim and the seven others. Kim knew that the others likely had the same look of shocked disbelief on their faces as she doubtless haws on hers. Horatio then added, “It's perfectly safe now, of course. It took maybe eight or nine years for the chemical compounds to break down. It's just that, by then, everyone on earth had already been affected. So, even though humanity survived the war, the human race died out in a generation.”

Kim was the first one to regain her composure enough to speak. “Can you prove any of this?” she asked.

“I don't need to prove it,” Horatio said. “It's true whether you believe it or not.” Then he started examining his fingernails, as if cleaning them were incredibly fascinating.



  1. Oh yes. That works.

  2. Well, that's one way to end the world: with "it seemed like a good idea on paper."


    Good writing, chris the cynic.