Saturday, October 31, 2015

I failed to make the deadline (Life After)

Not exactly a great surprise; it was never a simple story simply told and I ended up being sick or without computer (mostly sick, but the without computer days shouldn't be discounted) for most of the days during which I planned to write it.

When I thought, incorrectly, that sickness and computer problems had ended there were thirteen days left in the month.  That seemed a good number.  There's no particular reason that thirteen installments would be better than, say, ten or fifteen, but thirteen is kind of a Halloweeny number.

So I set my sights on churning out an installment a day.

As it turned out four of those thirteen days were actually productive and, try as I might, I couldn't cram ten days worth of writing into today.  So at midnight, London time, I failed to pull off the contest thingy.

We will now return to regularly scheduled programming.

Of course, since there is no regular schedule, it's a bit hard to say exactly what that means.

Life After - Ch4: In which I just try to get stuff done

[This part of an entry into Stormchaser90's Heebie Jeebie Hullabaloo Halloween Story Contest for Kim Possible. I'm running way behind so it's rushed but not as rushed as what will come next.]
[As always I shall attempt to make this accessible to people not immersed in Kim Possible.]
[The character of Shin Possible was created by Blackbird as part of his Maternal Instinct universe.]

* - *
* - * - *
* - *

2029 – Earth

A voice was what had woken Jacob up, but he hadn't caught any of the words. So he asked, “What was that?”

“I said, 'Wake up time,'” Shin said.

“My shift already?” Jacob said, his arm still shielding his eyes from light --of the wisps and the fire.

“No shift, it's dawn.”

What Jacob sat up then looked around. “I should have had another shift.”

“I wasn't going to be able to get to sleep, so it would have been pointless,” Shin said, “Anyway, the nothings left when the light came. We're clear for the moment.”

“For the moment,” Jacob echoed.

They lapsed into silence.

It was broken when Shin said, “I figured it out,” with just a hint of pride.

“Figured what out?” Jacob asked.

“The big nothing, how it came to be, why it attacked us, the whole thing.”

“Do tell,” Jacob said. New information always interested him, and after last night Shin could probably use some up emotions.

“Ok, so whatever changed made it much easier for nothings to be born,” Shin said. “As soon as the sun was setting one spawned in every shadow. But ones that stay in those shadows are emphemeral.”

“Ephemeral means that it lasts a day, if it's nocturnal then it should be--”

“Epinuctal isn't a word and I'm well aware of the difference between Nyx and her daughter Hemera,” Shin said.

Jacob shrugged.

“But, the thing is, they don't have to stay in one place. To grow to the size and power of the one we saw means it's been around a long time.”

“You think it circles the world, chasing the night?” Jacob asked. The idea was elegant, but the math didn't work. At this latitude you'd have to average a bit over 800 miles an hour to keep up with the time of day.

They'd never have outrun something that could do that.

“That or it's found a place around here it can hide that the sunlight never reaches,” Shin said.

That made more sense. By day it could be camped out in some abandoned mine.

“The big thing, though, is that if it's been around for a long time then its probably done so, in part, by having a good sense of what can hurt it.”

“Heat, light, life,” Jacob said.

“Exactly. If it was here when there was still a human population to try to keep it at bay then it probably has memories of light and heat being weaponized, and the most obviously way to do that is fire,” Shin said.

“So human beings probably used fire to try to kill it,” Jacob said, “and it's resentful?”

“Something like that,” Shin said. “The draugar aren't alive, they don't generate heat, and --in case you missed it-- they didn't light the city at night to intrude on the nothing's domain.”

“So, basically, it's November dark,” Jacob said. He knew he shouldn't just make up a term because Shin wouldn't immediately understand what he was saying no matter how self evident he thought it was. He'd said it anyway.

“What?” Shin asked.

“Look, just because I think that axial tilt is the reason for the seasons doesn't mean I'm incapable of viewing the world in other ways,” Jacob said. “I can understand the world as a push and pull between animate primal forces every bit as much as you can.”

“Really?” Shin asked in a way that Jacob was pretty sure was amusement, poorly conveyed sarcasm, or disbelief.

“Did you know that in the original story,” Jacob said, “when Demeter was in despair over the abduction of Persephone and letting the world die, it was summer, not winter, that was killing the world?”

“Yes,” Shin said.

“Points for you,” Jacob said. “Did you also know that Pandora had a jar, not a box?”

“Really?” Shin asked. This one was a genuine question.

“Yes, but that's not important,” Jacob said. “Anyway, Demeter and summer. Light and heat aren't good things, they aren't bad things, they're just things. Too much and the world bakes.

“Light is blinding, it's searing,” Jacob said. “Heat is dehydration and heat stroke assuming you're lucky enough to not burst into flames.”

“You have a sunny disposition,” Shin said.

“The sun is the point,” Jacob said, “and it's what ties this back to what we were originally talking about.”

“So there is a connection,” Shin said. Oddly it was more playful than insulting.

“When the story moved into places that knew the kinds of winter we know, people just naturally assumed that it was cold and dark that would kill the world, not heat and light, so the story changed,” Jacob said.

“Naturally,” Shin said.

“Mancer's magic was a mishmash of a lot of things that he didn't really understand, but with a few exceptions the mishmash comes from a single general area: Germania. That incantation that he thought was Latin was Old Norse.”

“As opposed to New Norse,” Shin asked.

“New Norse is Norwegian,” Jacob said, “moving on.

“It comes from a place that knows winter like we do,” Jacob said, “and he preformed it on Halloween. So what happens at this time of year?”

“Trees fall off the leaves,” Shin said.

Jacob said nothing.

Leaves fall off the trees,” Shin said. “I hate it when I do that.”

Jacob shrugged.

“Everybody does it sometimes,” he said. “The answer I was looking for is that the days get shorter and the world gets colder. The sun is dying, the light is dying, the heat is dying, and what it's giving way to is the cold, biting, potentially quite deadly, darkness of November.”

“Hence 'November dark',” Shin said.

“Yeah, the cycle of seasons says that we eventually hit winter solstice and the light starts to return even as things continue to get colder,” Jacob said, “but a November dark ties the dark and cold together. Darkness grows, things get colder and colder, the trees lose their leaves, animals go into hibernation if they can, others simply flee, the world becomes a frozen wasteland and with every day it gets darker and colder.”

“So your theory,” Shin said, “as someone who has no background in magic whatsoever, is that the mean nasty darkness of November is personified in the Nothing that didn't like us?”

“Well it sure as Hell wasn't summer shade,” Jacob said.

“And why would November dark not like us?” Shin asked.

“This time of year is supposed to be darkness's time,” Jacob said, “but what have human beings done for as long as we've had fire? We've pushed back the dark. City light in America, before the timeline changed, was so bad that the only way to see natural night darkness was to sail so far into the ocean that all the light from the US was blocked by the curvature of the earth and then turn out the ship lights. Nowhere in the country, no matter how remote and lacking in people, could escape the light we cast through the darkness.

“If you'd been pushed back every time your hour was supposed to have come round, and had that happen constantly for a hundred thousand years,” Jacob said, “maybe you'd be pissed off too.

“Anyway, it's darkness that doesn't want to give way to light. It's something that's vying for dominance in the eternal push and pull between darkness and light.” Jacob said.

“And does this, vaguely interesting, philosophizing give you any idea what to do?” Shin asked.

“We're out of apple,” Jacob said; “aren't we?”

“That, and we can't count on the fae world regardless,” Shin said. “The border doesn't stay weak for nearly as long as the one between this world and the afterlife.”

“Well unless you've got some bottled July scorching light,” Jacob said, “no, I guess I doesn't help us much.”

“It was an interesting idea, at least,” Shin said.

“Thanks,” Jacob said.

* * *

When they were ready to get moving again Jacob looked around --which Shin thought was pointless because they were again in a mushroom grove-- and then said, “We should get to high ground; get a look at the area.”

“Or,” Shin said, “We could just climb on top of the mushrooms.”

Jacob was a genius when it came to tech, and smart when it came to combat, it's what made him a nemesis who was simultaneously frustrating and satisfying (frustrating because he was good enough to win, satisfying because beating him was an accomplishment), but sometimes he missed the downright obvious.

* * *

When they'd climbed atop the highest mushroom and gotten a good look at the area, Shin's first response was to agree with that Jacob had said yesterday: at least it was colorful. The mushroom groves themselves tended to be in bright colors, but they were hardly the only fungus.

There were fields of lavender sprouts that rose up to the height of cornstalks and looked like some kind of coral as they reached, bent, and branched skyward. There were folded growths of yellow or orange that were the size of shrubs. The entire landscape was full of bright colors.

Her second response was to note that the landscape was marred. What looked somewhat like blast zones vaguely followed a path leading in their direction. The implosions from last night?

“Did we cause all that?” Shin asked.

“That's my guess,” Jacob said. “Any idea on where to go now?”

“Not back the way we came,” Shin said. “That's just a city of the dead. If we want to get through this we need to find something new.”

Jacob took a small scope from his pocket and scanned the horizon. He turned a full circle, but hesitated at one spot and stopped there when he was done.

“What is it?” Shin asked.

“Verify my results?” was Jacob's response and he offered Shin the scope.

At first she wasn't sure what he was seeing. It was just an area of yellow, orange, and red --hardly unusual colors for the mushrooms they'd been seeing. Then it hit her.

“Are those . . . trees?” Shin asked.

“That's what I thought,” Jacob said. “And if they're in their fall colors, if they've got leaves at all, then they must be alive, right?”

Shin thought it over. “If nothing else, it'll be a change of scenery,” she said.

* * *

Shin was scouting ahead to give Jacob space for a well needed bathroom stop. Which meant “hide behind a tree” stop.

When he got to what he considered a good spot he was distracted by the sight of something. A closer look had him taking a few steps back. It was mostly decomposed, whatever it was, and it looked to have once been an animal. Maybe even of the human sort.

Shocking and not what one wanted to see when trying to poop in the woods, but he was confused by his deep seated visceral reaction that had caused him to withdraw. He knew death. He'd seen decomposition. What was it that had overpowered his conscious control of his body and forced him back?

He tried to take a closer look but something within him (disgust perhaps?) forced him to back of yet again.

Half remembered words came to his mind: hideous remains of such terrifying aspect that no living thing will ever voluntarily occupy the same space.

“Nemoroth,” Jacob said to himself and then ran after Shin. “Stay away from the leaf piles!” he shouted.

* * *

Shin heard Jacob shout “Stay away from the leaf piles! They're--” piles of leaves ahead of her and on both sides burst upward and formed into swirling vortexes of leaves. “--alive,” Jacob said in a tone that indicated he was well aware that the information wasn't useful anymore.

“Anything else I should know?” Shin asked, looking at the suddenly menacing autumn leaves.

“They're limited to moving Manhattan style on an orthonormal basis?” Jacob offered.

Classic Jacob speak: it presumably meant something, but Shin had no idea what.

“In English!” Shin shouted as she stepped back a bit to try to get all the animated leaf piles in front of her where she could see them.

“They can only move in certain evenly spaced straight lines,” Jacob said. “If we figure out the lines and run between them they'll have to zigzag to follow us and we might gain ground.”

Shin lit her plasma. “Or I could just burn them to ash,” she said.

“If one engulfs you,” Jacob said, “you'll be dead and what remains of your corpse will be so disconcerting no one will be able to come close enough to it to give you a funeral.”

Shin gave it only a moment's thought before launching plasma into one of the leaf vortexes. “Oh, you do care,” she said at Jacob.

“My odds of survival are better with you not dead.”

“Then help me burn,” Shin said.

“I left my flame thrower at home,” Jacob said. But soon he was at her side and the two of them were setting the forest on fire.

* * *

Jacob watched as Shin started attacking a mushroom for no apparent reason. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“These ones are edible,” Shin said.

Jacob liked the sound of that, the last time he ate was a single bite of his apple the night before. Running for your life, setting a major deciduous forest on fire, putting up with Shin, these things caused one to become downright famished. Still, he had doubts.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Pixie scout,” Shin said, “remember?”

That was good enough for Jacob and he started ripping pieces off of the giant mushrooms to eat as well.

* * *

“The light's dying,” Jacob said.

“Don't assume that we're going to die just yet,” Shin said. “We've got some time.”

They walked in silence for a while and then Jacob exclaimed, “It's not orthonormal! It's whatever you call it when there are eight directions in a two dimensional plane all evenly spaced.” Jacob was still Jacob. Probably a good sign. “For some reason I forgot that they could move in eight and thought that they could only move in four, at the same pace in each of course.”

“Of course,” Shin said, though she wasn't really listening. Jacob talk was Jacob talk. No need to pay too much attention.

“And four directions of the same magnitude, the unit magnitude, evenly spaced on a standard two dimensional plane gives you an orthonormal basis.”

“Fascinating,” Shin said.

* * *

“I told you we weren't going to die,” Shin said pointing to a shape that had just come into view.

The shape looked like a cabin maybe, but that wasn't Jacob's primary concern. “I don't remember you saying that.”

“Well not in as many words, I guess,” Shin said.

“So you didn't tell me we weren't going to die,” Jacob said.

“The point is we're not going to die,” Shin said.

They'd gotten closer and it was pretty clearly a cabin.

“It's probably all rotted out,” Jacob said.

“It's your theory,” Shin said.

“My theory?”

“What keeps November dark at bay?” Shin asked.

It took Jacob a moment then he looked at Shin with his eyes wide and said, “Hearthfire.”

Shin nodded and they both ran for the cabin.

* * *

The door was unlocked, just inside there was a note on a small table.

I found this place two autumns after the world changed. It wasn't much, half rotted away, but I needed a place to over-winter and I figured it'd be easier to fix this than build something from scratch. I was probably wrong about that.

After all the work I put into the place grew on me. I had just planned on staying until it got warm again. I lived here six years. It's long past time that I should be moving on. Looking for other people.

So I'm going now, but I leave this place to anyone and everyone who might need a place to stay.

I give only three rules, never turn anyone away, never treat a guest here worse than you desire to be treated, and sign the guest book when you leave.

Keep the fire stoked and this place will will keep you safe. Always remember to be someone worth saving.

My name is Andrew, and I wish you well.

* * *

“So, how did you know about the leaf piles?” Shin asked.

Jacob had been reading the guest book. Seventeen years since the original owner –well, the original post-timeline change owner-- had moved out and an almost unbelievably high number of people had used the place.

No one stayed. The longest visit was an over-winter, and it seemed like everyone was looking for something, and none of them were finding their personal something, but it meant that humanity had survived.

Jacob eventually realized Shin had said something and so he asked, “Wha?”

“The leaf piles,” Shin said. “How did you know about them?”

“Nemoroth,” Jacob said. Shin made no indication of understanding. “You've never heard of Nemoroth?”

“Nope,” Shin said.

“You'd love it,” Jacob said. “It completely ignores everything we know about history and astronomy.”

“The point,” Shin said, “get to it please.”

“Nemoroth was a port town, destroyed in a horrible accident when they floated the moon up into the sky,” Jacob said. “In Nemoroth there were various forms of life including--”

“Leaf piles,” Shin said.

“Just so,” Jacob said.

* * *
* - * * - *
* * *

2004 – Earth

“How are you all holding up?” Wade asked over the crackling prototype Kimmunicator.

“About how you'd expect.” Tara said.

“I've been looking at the--” Wade crackled to her.

“Look, if I just duct tape my phone to this thing can you use that for the audio so we'll get a decent signal to noise ratio?” Tara asked. She hadn't meant to be testy, but she had just slept in a fallout shelter no one had dusted since the end of the cold war and the crackling sound of the Kimmunicator was grating on her.

“I can just call your phone,” Wade said, “and I'm sending new gear your way.”

“Call me,” Tara said, “and...” she realized the line was already dead.

Her phone rang, she picked it up on the first ring and said, “Thanks, Wade. We're all a bit stressed.”

“No problem,” Wade said. “I've been watching that data coming out of the High School area and non-human activity has dropped off significantly since sun up.”

“Does that mean it's safe to go outside?” Tara asked.

“It should be,” Wade said, “though the evacuation won't start off until noon, so for most people it's probably better to stay inside just to be on the safe side.”

“Most people,” Tara asked.

“The entire tri-city area has been overrun, Tara,” Wade said. “No one has had any luck stopping the dogs or the darkness.”

Tara thought about that. Police, animal control, the national guard. . . Denver wasn't that far away which meant that neither was Aurora, which meant an Air base. How could no one have any success in stopping the things?

Was it possible she'd heard wrong?

“No one?” she asked.

“The best anyone has managed is surviving,” Wade said, “same as you.”

“I like dogs as much as anyone and I like to think of myself as a pacifist, but they have tried just shooting them, right?” Tara said.

“It only works for a while,” Wade said. “They don't stay dead.”

Tara hadn't been prepared for that. Her brain was sort of on autopilot when she asked, “Shooting them in the head?”

“It's been tried,” Wade said. “The military is hoping that incendiary weapons will be more effective--”

“Burn the bodies,” Tara said.

“Exactly, but the truth is no one knows,” Wade said. “Other than trying to install powerful light sources at population centers before nightfall tonight there's really no organized plan because no one knows what we're actually dealing with.”

“And you want us to find out,” Tara said.

“I don't know,” Wade said. “Maybe.”

There was a long silence.

“Go on,” Tara said.”

“Ok,” Wade said, “three things happened at more or less the same time. Kim disappeared, there was an explosion in the school, and the dogs started showing up in the school. We don't know if they're related, and if they are we don't know how. Maybe the dogs caused the explosion and that stopped Kim from materializing, maybe Kim caused the explosion and that called the dogs.”

“So you want us to look into it?” Tara said.

“Until I get equipment at the explosion site I can't say anything,” Wade said, “but if I can get a detailed scan it might allow us to understand the dogs, locate Kim, or both.”

“Or neither,” Tara said.

“That's possible too,” Wade admitted.

“I'll get the others,” Tara said. “Is there anything--”

“Wait,” Wade said. “Don't volunteer yet. There's still something that you need to know.”

Tara sighed. “Something bad?”

“Yes,” Wade said. “Non-human activity has dropped off except for near the explosion site.”

“Implying there is a connection,” Tara said.

“Something in the area is making it impossible for me to get good readings,” Wade said, “so all I can say is that they're near there, I don't know if they're actually in the same place.”

“I'll get the others,” Tara said.

* * *

Josh had just listened to what Tara said without comment, and now that she was finished he decided to wait to see what the others thought before he said anything.

“So, basically,” Bonnie said, “he wants us to go into the one place where we still might get killed and stand around waiting what that thingy--”

“Kimmunicator,” Ron said.

“Why do you people even call it that?” Bonnie asked. “Did you trademark it or something?”

“Well, actually. . .” Ron said while looking away.

“I'm going,” Tara said, “whether you go is up to you.”

“Obviously Rufus and I are going,” Ron said.

Rufus stuck his head out of Ron's pocket and said, “Uh-huh!”

Josh decided it was time for him to decide, and he found it surprisingly easy. “This is still the best lead we have on what happened to Kim, right?” he asked.

Tara nodded.

Josh's entire body ached. Every part of him was saying that he should just rest and move as little as possible. He said, “I'm in.”

Josh made a point of not looking to Bonnie while waiting for her answer. He didn't want to make her feel pressured.

Bonnie said, “Ok, I'm in.”

Tara nodded then said, “Good.”

“I just want it to be known that the thing I've just joined in is an incredibly stupid endeavor,” Bonnie said.

Honestly, Josh was impressed that Bonnie had made the decision. Bonnie had a good side, but most of the time she kept it locked down under layers of unenlightened self interest, a powerful drive to be at the top of what she saw as the social food chain of the school, and just plain meanness directed at people she thought beneath her.

Maybe recent events had allowed her good side to escape its restraints? Maybe she saw something in this for her that overpowered her desire to stay out of this kind of work and her sense of self preservation?

Josh didn't know.

Tara did seem to know how to manage Bonnie though. Her response was simply, “It's noted, B.”

* * *

“I told you it was a stupid idea!”

Ron was going to tell Bonnie to help rather than … be Bonnie, but when he looked he saw that she was holding the doors shut too.

“Give me the spark notes version, Wade,” Tara said. “We're in a hurry.”

Ron agreed. The four of them were having trouble holding the doors shut and Tara was going to have to stop helping to seal them. The faster they did this the better.

“Ok,” Tara said into the phone. “Give me space,” she said to Ron and the others.

She used a device they'd picked up to weld the doors together and cool them back down immediately after.

“Ok,” Tara said, “let's get out of here before they just knock them off the hinges.

Everyone complied. As they made their way back to the fallout shelter, and Ron realized that they wouldn't have made it without the metal fusing device, he said to Josh, “You were right about stopping by Kim's locker first.”

“Yeah, but we were wrong to even try,” Bonnie said.

“B, we didn't get the scans we wanted,” Tara said, “but at least we got a look at the . . . thingy they're coming through.”

Thingy, inter-dimensional portal, whatever. It wasn't supposed to be in the school and the caverns they'd glimpsed through it definitely didn't look like the high school basement.

* * *

The promised evacuation had commenced, helicopters and hoverjets were taking people to safety, soon this nightmare would be over and they'd be safe. There was only one problem. Her friend wasn't getting on the evacuation craft.

“T, you've done your part,” Bonnie said. “Let the professionals handle it from here on out.”

Was that pleading? Bonnie didn't plead. She'd never allow herself to plead.

Ok, maybe it was pleading.

Tara was a friend worth pleading for.

“B, no one's stopping you from going,” Tara said. “I'm going to help with the evacuation.”

It was simple enough to get the people out of the fallout shelter.

After the dogs had broken through the doors they'd sealed shut and saw no one in the area they went back into the school. Apparently they didn't hunt in daylight.

No, the hard part was that the school was being designated an evacuation center and that meant rounding up everyone in the general vicinity, which meant going door to door, which promised to be dangerous because, since the dogs weren't out in the sun, they must be inside the buildings. Any one of the doors knocked on could burst open and have a killer dog come through.

Bonnie sighed, “I'm coming with you.”

“You don't have--”

“I'm coming with you, Tara,” Bonnie said.

* * *

By now they were a team. Josh didn't know when it had happened exactly, but it had definitely happened.

They each had fresh gear from Wade including communicators, grappling hooks, five different types of very bright lights, rocket skates, knock out gas in lip-gloss containers, and “elastic-constricting agent” in lipstick containers. The last was very useful when pointed at a giant evil dog's mouth.

They knew who did what by now. Tara gave the orders, Ron provided comic relief, Bonnie vented their frustrations, and Josh generally stayed quiet and tried to keep his cool. While Tara laid out plans, and Ron was a master at creating massive distractions, Josh and Bonnie both provided speed or strength as needed. They were both pretty strong, and as for speed. . . Josh just ran, Bonnie tended to do things with a good deal more acrobatic flair. Unless her life really did depend on going as fast as possible. Then she ran.

When they made it to the surface Bonnie said, “That was disgusting.”

“I told you,” Tara said, “it was a storm drain, not a sewer.”

“It was still disgusting,” Bonnie said.

There was no debating that, in Josh's opinion. Who knew so many people would have taken shelter in a storm drain? Of course, when they fled the sun the dogs did too, and that led to a surprisingly complex cat and mouse game. The people were obviously good at it because twenty of them were coming out with them.

“It was pretty icky,” Ron said.

“Sun's setting,” Josh said, looking at the horizon. It was beautiful, but if tonight was anything like the night before nothing good would follow that beauty.

“Wade,” Tara said into her communicator --Bonnie had insisted they just be called communicators-- “we need transport for ourselves and twenty survivors.”

“It's on the way,” Josh heard in his right ear; he'd hooked earbuds up to his communicator, but he liked having at least one ear free to hear whatever was going on around him unhindered. “Dr. Director says that this is your last run,” Wade said.

“Again,” Josh said.

“It really is this time,” Tara said. “We don't know what'll happen when we lose the light.”

* * *

They'd separated to go to stay with their families in the tent city aid workers had set up for them. The good news was that all of their families had survived. The bad news was that that was more exception than rule.

Hope had lost her whole family and was staying with Tara for now. Kim and Ron's friend Monique had lost her brother. Big Mike had lost his father. Crystal had lost her mother. The list went on.

Tara sat on her cot and turned on her communicator. “Sit rep?” she asked. God, she was picking up military jargon. She'd only been around those types since the evacuation started at noon.

“It doesn't look good,” Wade said. No surprise there. “I'm going to ping the others and see if I can get you all up to date at once.”

In a moment she heard their voices over her communicator.

“What's up, Wade?” Ron said.

“I'm online,” Josh said.

“What is it?” Bonnie said.

“Looks like we're all here, Wade,” Tara said. “What's going on out there?”

“The dogs are moving outward,” Wade said, “and from the look of things they're not just coming from the school anymore.”

“Where else could they be coming from?” Bonnie asked.

“I'm pretty sure inter-dimensional portals aren't that common, Wade,” Ron said.

“Well they're becoming more common,” Wade said.

“How much more common?” Tara asked.

“It's difficult to say for sure,” Wade said.

“Guesstimate,” Bonnie said.

“At least seven, maybe thirteen,” Wade said; “They're all located on the border of the territory the dogs cleared last night.

“So we're looking at exponential growth unless we can stop it?” Josh asked.

“Possibly,” Wade said, “we'd need more data points to be sure and I'd rather not get any more.”

“Amen,” was Tara's response to that. One night of it had been more than enough.

“The cold spots are acting differently,” Wade said. “My best guess is that they only congregate around a portal --the way they did at Middleton High last night-- on the night it's opened.”

“So in Middleton there's no snow tonight,” Tara said, “but the new areas are going to see freezing weather.”

“I think so,” Wade said. “The ones in Middleton are spreading out, not squeezing together.”

Tara set down her communicator and held her head in her hands. It didn't look like the nightmare was going to end. It looked like the nightmare was going to end them.

Finally she asked, “Anything else for us, Wade?”

“That's all I have for now,” Wade said.

“You know how to contact us,” Tara said. She shut down the communicator, flopped back onto the cot, and decided to sleep in her clothes again tonight. She just didn't have the energy to change.

* * *
* - * * - *
* * *

2004 – The After

Kim woke among the ants' mushrooms, and followed their tunnels, largely at random.

Eventually she emerged into a giant cavern that seemed to have been formed around a wide river whose waters ran black. She wasn't surprised when she saw a small ferry.
* * *

“If you don't have the fare, I can't take you,” the ferryman said.

“I don't have any coins,” Kim said.

“Then go away and leave me in peace,” the ferryman said, then muttered something Kim didn't quite catch, but she did make out enough of to know that it involved Americans and thinking the rules didn't apply to them.

“I have skills,” Kim said. “Isn't there anything I can do to earn passage?

* * *

“Thanks again for the ride,” Kim said.

“It was the least I could do after what you did for my brother, Thanatos,” the ferryman said.

“Death always gets a bad wrap,” Kim said. “It was a pleasure to help out.”

* - *
* - * - *
* - *

2029 – Earth

“You dead yet?” Shin asked.

“No, but I'm working on it,” Jacob said. He curled into a tighter ball on what was, all things considered, not a bad bed for something made my hand in a post apocalyptic setting.

“It's November second,” Shin said, “you know what that means?”

“In three days we burn someone in effigy for the hideous crime of failing to blow up parliament?” Jacob asked.

“No,” Shin said, “that's not what I'm talking about. And the hideous crime was trying to blow up parliament, the fact that he failed was a good thing.”

“Defender of imperialism to the last, I see,” Jacob said and tried to catch onto the elusive darkness known as sleep.

“A Catholic England would be just as imperialistic as the Protestant one,” Shin said s part of her incessant project of continuing to exist which Jacob found rather perturbing.

“If you say so,” Jacob said, not in the right frame of mind to argue alternate histories.

“November second, ringing any bells?” Shin asked.

“Saint Jude is no longer looking over us?” Jacob asked, but he knew at this point he'd lost. Sleep had escaped him in spite of his attempts to ignore waking life.

“Thing's are not hopeless!” Shin shouted. Apparently a nerve had been struck. “Now get up and help me summon a dead person already.”

Jacob sighed. “Fine. Up getting.”

“Thank you,” Shin said.

* * *

“Now we set the table for three and make her favorite dish,” Shin said.

“Ok,” Jacob said, clearly more awake now, “One, I have in fact made offerings to dead people before, and two, I hope she liked mushrooms.”

* * *

“We're looking for portobella” Shin said.

Jacob resisted the urge to scream and just said, “You know I've seen all sorts of Mushrooms since this world came into being but boring white ones seem to be in short supply.”

“She likes portobella,” Shin said.

“It's portobello,” Jacob said, “and--”

“There are multiple legitimate spellings and even more pronunciations,” Shin said in her best attempt at stern. Shin could be many things, stern not so much.

“Fine, whatever,” Jacob snapped back, “but who the Hell are we getting these for?”

“Nanna Possible,” Shin said.

“If memory serves, your grandmother was alive before the change, what makes you think she'd be dead n--”

“No,” Shin said. “Nanna is a name, Scandinavian I think, and she's my great grandmother.”

* * *

“The table is set, you've recited something that sounded vaguely Icelandic, we're in a circle of salt,” Jacob said while gesturing to the circle of salt Shin had spread around the table, “at what point do we give up and admit that we're not getting any dead people to show up?”

“Will you stop being so negative?” Shin asked.

“I'm just imagining how the next people here are going to feel about all the salt being wasted on a seance that didn't work,” Jacob said.

“You're just hungry and want to eat before the guest of honor arrives,” Shin said.

“You think that's it?” Jacob asked, carefully eyeing Shin.

“Yes,” she said.

Jacob said, “If that were it then I'd simply,” and then started eating his mushrooms.

“Your table manners are atrocious, young man,” a new voice said.

Jacob looked up to see a somewhat transparent person that he assumed was related to Shin. “I'd say I was raised in a barn,” he said to the ghost, “but the truth is I wasn't raised indoors.” Then he went back to eating.

“Nanna, it's Shin,” Shin said.

“You weren't born in this timeline,” Jacob said, “she doesn't know you.”

“You judge too soon,” the ghost said. Jacob looked up at her. She then said to Shin, “I'd know my granddaughter anywhere and I see her in you. You're Kim's daughter?”

Jacob said, “You're perceptive,” at the same time Shin said, “Yes.”

“What did the young man mean about 'this timeline'?” the ghost asked.

“I am, in fact, right here,” Jacob said, “and can speak to my own meaning if you're truly interested.”

“He does know more about the science side of things,” Shin said.

That surprised Jacob, but he responded with, “Thanks, Possible.”

When he saw the ghost had turned her attention to him, Jacob said, “Assuming that no one else messed up time earlier, this is the secondary time-line created when a villain I thought incompetent managed to change the fate of your granddaughter Kim and with it the world.

“Shin, myself, the villain wherever he's gotten to, and thirteen stone amulets are the only things that survive from the world we knew,” Jacob said. “Shin hoped that you might be able to tell us what happened.”

“The change was at the beginning of mo-- Kim's junior year of high school,” Shin said, “she was using the transportulator to get back to Middleton only Mancer, the villain, changed things so she dialed the wrong number.”

“The transportulator makes use of phone--”

“I know what it is,” the ghost said. “No one knew about the wrong number; people thought it was just dangerous to teleport at all.”

Jacob nodded.

“So do you know what happened?” Shin said.

“Kim disappeared off the face of the earth, quite literally, for two days,” the ghost said. “During those days large black canines terrorized an ever expanding area.”

“Hell hounds,” Shin said at the same time Jacob said, “Death dogs.”

That got Jacob a strange look from Shin so he said, “What, you're the only one who's allowed to know about creatures of the afterlife?”

Shin shrugged, then turned back to the ghost, “Sorry about the interruption.”

“It's quite alright dear,” the ghost said.

“What happened to,” Shin hesitated; Jacob took notice, “Kim while she was gone.”

“She never really went into great detail, and what she did say was hard to believe.”

“Says the ghost who's been summoned by the great granddaughter she never had in a world that's been taken over by mushrooms, darkness, and dead things,” Jacob said.

The ghost didn't respond. Instead she turned to Shin.

“I know; he's rude,” Shin said. “He's also all I have and he's saved my life enough times I've lost count.”

“Just looking out for my own self interest,” Jacob said.

“What did Kim say?” Shin asked.

“She said that she was in the afterlife with my aunt Miriam,” the ghost said.

“Great,” Jacob said, “are we going to have to summon her too? That would be three Possibles too many.”

“Perhaps you should call on some of your own ancestors,” the ghost said in a way that was probably meant to be semi-symptathetic.

“I don't have any,” Jacob said.

“Jacob was raised by his sister,” Shin said.

“I'm so sorry,” the ghost said.

“I'm not,” Jacob said, perhaps a bit too loudly. The last thing he needed was pity from a Possible. “A sister is all I ever needed.” He paused, cleared his head, and then said, “Question stands: do we have to get Miriam on the line?”

Shin shook her head, “If mom made it back then that's what mattered, what we need to know right now,” she turned to the ghost, “is what happened to the world.”

* * *
* - * * - *
* * *

2004 – Earth

Yori entered Master Sensei's chambers and bowed to him. A moment later Hirotaka did the same.

That Hirotaka had been summoned too implied that this was somehow related to the Monkey Master.

The final Monkey Master resided in the United States and they had been planning a ruse to bring him to them. A fabricated exchange program with his school. Hirotaka was to go to to the American school for a week while Yori was to be given the honor of overseeing the Monkey Master at Yamanouchi itself.

“Something has happened in Middleton, something unforeseen,” Master Sensei said. Yori didn't react, but she knew that the situation must be grave. Middleton was where the final Monkey Master, foretold of by prophecy, lived.

For something of import to have evaded the notice of, or more disturbing still changed the events foretold by, the prophecy it would have to be truly powerful indeed.

“Our plans must change,” Master Sensei said. “I am sending you both to America now. It will take time to understand and prepare to fight this new threat, but I do not believe the Monkey Master has that time. You are to protect and assist him until Yamanouchi as a whole is ready to to come to his aid.

“Do you understand?”

Yori and Hirotaka responded as one. They understood.

“Good,” Master Sensei said, “then go now.”

* * *

“Anything new?” Tara asked.

“Global Justice has attempted several incursions into the high school area,” Wade said, “and the dogs have responded by coming out of hiding so they can fight the agents outdoors.”

“So today not even sunlight is safe?” Tara asked.

“It's not safe, but its still safer,” Wade said. “They're not actively hunting, just staying in places where they have long lines of sight and room to maneuver.”

Tara sighed. “Any patterns?”

“They definitely like shade,” Wade said, “and they're concentrated around the high school. Aside from that, not really.”

* * *

Being taken seriously as a teenage world saver was much easier when you had Kim Possible, the one with the name and face everyone recognized, with you. Ron was the one people forgot about the moment he left their sight, sometimes sooner.

No one would listen to him.

* * *

“I've found Kim,” Wade said.

All four of them responded at once. After the cacophony died down Tara asked, “Where?”

“You're not going to like it,” Wade said.

“At the high school,” Josh said.

“Right at the edge of the portal,” Wade said.

“What's she doing there?” Bonnie asked.

“Maybe she came out of it,” Ron said. “Maybe she's been stuck in their world this whole time.”

“Whatever the case, she's at the very center of quarantine,” Wade said. “We need to get her out.”

“Everybody here's been stonewalling us,” Tara said. “They don't think teenagers should be getting involved.”

“We'll have to go over their heads,” Ron said. “Wade, can you get me a meeting with Doctor Director?”

Wade typed a bit. “Done.”

“Everyone get packed if you're coming and be ready to move in fifteen minutes,” Tara said.

* * *

“No,” Doctor director said.

“This is Kim we're talking about,” Ron said. He was trying to be calm. He was trying to be reasonable. He was trying to be serious. Serious face was on.

“I understand that but I can't send a team on a suicide mission just to--”

“I'm not asking for a team,” Ron said. “Just let us into quarantine.

“I'm not sending a bunch of kids on a suicide mission either, Ronald,” Dr. Director said. “Stay out of quarantine, that's an order.”

“Team Possible doesn't take orders from you, Betty,” Ron said letting his anger come out a bit.

“How can you be Team Possible without Possible?” Dr. Director asked.

“You're right, Kim is irreplaceable. That's why we don't have just one person stepping in to fill her shoes,” Ron said. “We have King,” he gestured to Tara, “Mankey,” He gestured to Josh, “and Rockweller,” he gestured to Bonnie, “which makes for some very crowded shoes.”

“You can't just replace Possible with random kids from your school,” Dr. Director said.

“Kim got her start with very specific training, Tara and Bonnie,” he gestured to each again because he was using different names, “have identical training. As for Josh . . . Josh went up against a dozen of those dogs in close quarters for an extended period and lived to tell about it,” anger fully out of the cage now. “What's the best your agents have managed?”

Before Dr. Director could respond Ron said, “Forget it, we don't need you, Betty,” and turned and walked out of the room.

* * *

“So,” Tara asked, “do we have a Plan B?”

“Wade is Plan B,” Ron said as he pulled out his communicator.

* * *

“Thanks again for the ride,” Tara said.

“It's the least I can do after Kim saved my software company,” the pilot of the stealth chopper said. Rich people could have some strange hobbies.

“If she were here,” Ron said, “I'm sure that she'd say it was no big because . . .” Ron wasn't sure what came after that.

“Going open source was a no-brainer?” The pilot offered.

“Yeah,” Ron said.

“Let's just get Kim and get out,” Bonnie said as she got out of the chopper.

“Sounds good to me,” Josh said when he got out.

“I'm heading out to refuel,” the pilot said, “as soon as I've got full tanks I'll be waiting in the area for your call. That way we can make a quick extraction once you have Kim.”

Tara waved. The helicopter started up again, and Ron was reminded that stealth against radar was not stealth against ears.

“So that probably called all the nasties in the area to us,” Bonnie said.

“Let's get moving,” Tara said; “I want to be out of here before sundown.”

“We all do,” Josh said.

“I see two possibilities,” Tara said. “One: we blast in on rocket skates as fast as we can and hope that we can get in and out before any of the angry dogs know what's going on. Two: we sneak in unnoticed and save the rocket skates for our escape.”

“I vote two,” Josh said.

“I'm more used to the sneaking thing,” Ron said.

“That's where I lean too,” Tara said. “Bonnie?”

“Whatever gets us moving,” Bonnie said.

* * *

“Is she … dead?” Bonnie asked.

Tara was on her knees beside Kim, checking her pulse. Ron was anxiously waiting for the results.

“No,” Tara said. “But she's not doing well.”

“What happened to her?” Josh asked, even though he knew no one could answer.

* * *
* - * * - *
* * *

2004 – The After

Kim was hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. The fact that her sneaking had finally failed and she'd just had to fight thirty dead people who had remarkable stamina for dead people didn't help in the least.

“Are you lost?” came a voice that sounded a lot like her own. She faced it to see what could have been an older version of herself if not for the century old clothes and the transparency.

“Who are you?” Kim asked the ghost.

“My name is Miriam Possible,” the ghost said. “I was your great grandfather's sister. Call me 'Mim'.”

“I've never heard of you, Mim,” Kim said. She was a bit suspicious, but not overly so since the hostile dead people she'd encountered so far hadn't exactly been subtle.

“I was like you once,” Mim said, “but a picture was taken at just the wrong time and it looked like I was committing a crime I was actually trying to stop.

“I tried to prove my innocence, but nothing ever came of it,” Mim said. “I was called the criminal of the century; I'm not surprised I was edited out of the family history.”

“Why are you here?” Kim asked.

“To help you,” Mim said. “You were right to seek friendly natives --you'd never find the way out on your own, but it calls to us-- but now you have to head back into hostile territory.”

“And why is that?” Kim asked.

“Because that's where the rift is,” Mim said. “Come this way, I'll show you a way to bypass the ferry.”

* - *
* - * - *
* - *

2029 – Earth

“The dogs and darkness spread with frightening speed, but the dogs were just animals and the darkness could be fought back with heat and light. It was what came next that we were totally unprepared for,” Nanna said.

“That wouldn't, by any chance, have been dead people and animals, would it?” Shin asked.

“Actually they came last,” the ghost said. “No. What caught us off guard were bodiless spirits. They'd take any body they could get, and apparently a sufficiently advanced computer would function as a brain, and whatever it was attached to as a body, for their purposes.”

“They started putting computers in cars in the 1980s,” Shin said as the possibilities ran through her mind.

“You think too small,” Jacob said. Which, of course he would. But despite the (more than) occasional condescension, he usually did have a point. “GJ never made a hover-jet without advanced computers in control of everything. VTOL is just too fiddly for most people to handle on manual.”

“The young man is right,” Nanna said. “Our military forces all ground to a halt and then, as we were trying to rip the circuitry out of everything, that's when the dead rose.

“Some people thought they were zombies at first, and tried to fight them like they'd seen in all those movies,” Nanna said. “The truth was that they were just as smart as the living, some had military training, and many of those that hadn't had it in their life studied and drilled in death.

“They were organized, their tactics were good, and their strategy completely overwhelmed us,” Nanna said. “By the time they were in an area the dogs had already dealt serious blows to the local population, any military that moved in was either without the support they'd been trained to work with or would see spirits make that support turn on them.

“And finally there was a factor that we were never able to quantify. Everywhere they went things simply . . . came apart,” Nanna said. “At one point I was involved in using an old pickup truck --old enough not to have much electronics in it-- to get people to the front lines. Before we started using it, it was pristine: fully restored, looked after by an aficionado, protective coatings, the works.

“It was rusted out within a week of the first time it visited the lines,” Nanna said.

Jacob nodded, “All the buildings in the first city we were in had been reduced to mounds; it should have taken half a millennium or more for nature to take those things down.”

“So without high technology and with a little bit of decay the entire world folded?” Shin asked. She couldn't believe this. She completely trusted the source and knew Nanna would never lie to her, and she still couldn't believe this.

“I went down fighting,” Nanna said. “I never stopped watching the world though. Eventually people realized that they couldn't win, the war had already been lost, and that's when the first real successes started.”

“Enclaves?” Jacob asked.

“Your rude friend is smart dear,” Nanna said to Shin. “Once people realized that they weren't going to save the world they concentrated on saving the people. They stopped trying to take things back and started figuring out how to defend what they still had.

“The results were smaller self sufficient communities,” Nanna said. “It's not the civilization you knew, but humanity does survive. Once the battle changed from trying to win to trying to draw out loosing long enough to set up safe pockets, things went rather better.”

Shin just lay her head on the table.

She vaguely heard Jacob say, “I think your descendant needs some time, but if you're willing I have a few more questions.”

* * *

The ghost looked back at Shin, before going through a door that Jacob then closed. “She'll bounce back; she always does.”

“You know her well?” The ghost asked.

“We're enemies,” Jacob said. “Arch foes even.”

“And that's a yes?”

“Pretty much,” Jacob said. “I seem to remember something about it not being safe for you to be out of the salt circle for long, so I'll try to be quick.”

The ghost nodded.

“You said that everyone thought things going wrong was a result of normal teleportation,” Jacob said. “Does that mean no one studied teleportation in depth for fear of repeating the incident?”

“Yes,” The ghost said.

“Did any of the attempts to oppose the deadites involve use of the mineral malachite, old Norse magic, or the two in combination?”

“Not that I know of,” the ghost said. Good. Hedging implied honesty. Or an attempt to fake honesty by adding a hint of verisimilitude, but Jacob would take what he could get.

“Was Dementor brought in to help solve the problem?” Jacob asked.

“No,” the ghost said, “once the finger was pointed at him he went to ground. The people who did seek him out were looking for revenge, not help.”

“Just one more question,” Jacob said, “was the Middleton population used as a resource?”

“How so?” the ghost asked.

“Justine Flanner on inter-dimensional physics, Drs. Porter and Freeman on trying to make computers less easy to possess, that sort of thing,” Jacob said.

“Not that I'm aware of,” the ghost said. “After the population of Middleton was evacuated it was mostly ignored. Even Kim was barely able to get the authorities to listen to concerns about them not getting their basic needs met.”

“Thanks for all your help,” Jacob said. “And don't worry about the great granddaughter you never actually had, she'll be safe.”

“It's not the first time you've worked together, is it?” the ghost asked.

“No,” Jacob said. “And I still owe her for one of the previous times.”

“Good luck,” the ghost said and then faded away.

* * *
* - * * - *
* * *

2004 – Earth

Tara checked the time on her communicator. They were running out of daylight.

Kim was completely non-responsive. They'd tried everything to wake her, nothing worked. Wade scanned her and said she was healthy, somewhat malnourished and dehydrated though, and appeared to be suffering from exhaustion.

“We've got to her get out of here,” Tara said.

“Yeah,” Ron said, “but how?”

Josh lifted Kim a bit, probably testing her weight.

“It'll go faster if more than one of us is carrying her,” he said.

“Are the rocket skates rated for two?” Tara asked Ron.

An image flashed through Ron's mind of Kim rescuing him from a giant robot made out of a re-purposed toy factory.

“Yeah,” he said, “They're rated for two.”

“Josh, Bonnie, you carry Kim until we're out of the school,” Tara said. “Ron and I will run interference. Once we're out we all use the rocket skates and don't stop until we've reached a safe landing site.”

“And which one of us carries Kim on the rocket skates?” Bonnie asked.

“I really don't care,” Tara said, “just so long as we all get out.”

“I'll do it,” Bonnie said.

* * *

Rocket skates used very small rockets. Ones that could fit into an ordinary looking shoe and still leave space for the concealed wheels that made them skates. They were definitely faster than running, but they were no match for a car.

Bonnie, her hands full with Kim, barely managed to dodge one such car.

“Who the hell is driving that thing?” Bonnie shouted.

“It's empty!” Josh shouted back.

Tara took another look at the car that seemed to be trying to kill them, noted that it did appear to be empty, gave thanks to the gods of rocket skates, and called Wade on her communicator.

“Wade, we have new weird,” Tara said, “and it's bad-weird.”

The car swerved toward her, so she vaulted over it. Except the maneuver was made ridiculously complicated by the rocket skates.

“I know,” Wade said, “something's interfering with electronics in the entire area.”

“A car is after us,” Tara said once she was sure she was back on balanced footing. “No driver, and it doesn't look like it should be able to drive itself.”

“Which is why you'll need to get farther out before the helicopter can extract you,” Wade said. “Anything bigger than a breadbox and with a computer more advanced than graphing calculator can't be trusted.”

Ron took a different approach when the car went after him, since the car had to be matching their speed to avoid overshooting them, it was fairly easy for him to just hop onto it.

Well, the hop was more of a roll, and his rocket skates nearly shot him right back off of it before he shut them down, but for the most part it looked reasonably easy all things considered.

Tara tried to get her mind back where it should be, dealing with the overall situation not the minutia. What was compromised was based on physical size and computing power?

“You realize those qualifications make no sense,” Tara said, “right?”

“I'm just telling you what's going on,” Wade said. “We can try to understand it when you're all safe.”

Tara nodded. It didn't matter that Wade couldn't see her, she was nodding to herself.

“How far?” Tara asked.

“Another mile,” Wade said. “It really isn't happening far beyond the portal.”

The car shook Ron off, fortunately Josh was able to catch him and soon Ron was back on his feet with his rocket skates turned on again

“Rufus, do you think you can cut the engine in that thing?” Tara asked.

* * *

“Why don't they have more fuel!?” Bonnie asked. Well, asked was putting it nicely. Accused. Spat. Rudely spewed the words from her mouth in the general direction of Ron.

“There's only so much you can fit in a shoe!” Ron shouted back.

Josh wanted to step away but he and Ron were carrying Kim together.

“Guys!” Tara shouted. “Fight later, right now we need to survive.”

Ron and Bonnie didn't look like they wanted to listen so Josh said, “We've lost the sun, we smell like blood, BO, and rocket fuel, and the dogs will be coming out to hunt.” He gave them a moment, just one single solitary moment to absorb that, and then he added, “Listen to Tara.”

* * *

“We can't thank you enough,” Dr. Anne Possible said to Tara and the others.

“It was no--” Ron said.

Tara wasn't going to let that stand. “Don't try to be Kim. It was big. Very big.”

“Ferociously big,” Bonnie said, though Tara would have appreciated it more if it hadn't been said in deadpan.

“Things like this might come easy to Kim,” Tara said, “but for the rest of us, her sidekick included, that was big.”

“I thought it was big,” Josh said.

Ron just looked confused, then he asked, “So what do you want me to say?”

“You're welcome,” Tara said. “Speaking of,” she turned to Dr. Possible, “you're welcome; I wish we could have done more.” Then she turned back to Ron, “But you need to give yourself credit sometimes. This isn't easy, what you did was impressive, and you should own that.”

“You should be proud of what you do, Ron,” Dr. Possible said. “And what you just did, saving Kim, is a big deal.” She looked at each of them. “Thank you all, again.”

There was a general milling out, and Dr. Possible sat on a chair she'd set up next to Kim's cot.

Tara waited until she was sure the others were gone and said, “Doctor Possible,” to get her attention.

“Yes, Tara?”

“Do you know how to contact Wade?” Tara asked.

“Yes I do,” Dr. Possible said.

It was clear to Tara that Dr. Possible just wanted to be with her daughter, not talking to Tara, so Tara tried to use as few words as she could.

“If you need anything, for Kim or anyone else, call Wade, he'll pass the message to us, and we'll be there to help.” Ok, that was a fail on 'as few words as possible'.

“Thank you, Tara,” Dr. Possible said.

“Kim would do the same for any of us,” Tara said. “But you know that. You're welcome, and I'll see you around.”

Tara left the Possible tent, and made her way “home”.

* * *

“Am I a horrible person?” Hope asked Tara the moment she got in the tent.

“Uh,” Tara said, her brain trying to stall for time until it could process the question, “what?”

“I don't feel sad,” Hope said. “They're gone and I don't feel anything.”

Her whole family. Maybe it was a psychological defense mechanism because the blow would have been too hard?

Tara didn't know.

Tara hugged Hope and asked, “Do you feel this?”

Hope didn't respond.

* * *

“Wade, you up?” Tara asked.

“I'm up, what's going on?” Wade said.

“I need a therapist for a friend,” Tara said. “With all of the trauma that's been going on around here, I have a feeling that's going to be hard.”

Typing. One could always count on Wade to respond with typing.

“You're right that local help is pretty much impossible to book,” Wade said. More typing. “How does your friend feel about Paris?”

“I'll ask her in the morning,” Tara said. “Thanks, Wade.”

“No problem,” Wade said.

“Any change with Kim?” Tara asked.

“No,” Wade said. “She's still asleep, it reads as normal sleep. She's just in deep.”

“Any luck on finding out what happened to her?” Tara asked.

“Nothing new,” Wade said.

“Thanks,” Tara said. “Good night, Wade.”

* * *

Hirotaka and Yori surveyed the sprawling complex of tents.

“There's been no earthquake, no flood, no landslide,” Hirotaka said. It went without saying that there had been no tsunami, they were far inland. “What could have displaced so many?”

“Perhaps,” Yori said, “we should not have ignored news sources in our haste to arrive.”

“Perhaps,” Hirotaka agreed.

Surveying done, they climbed back on Hirotaka's motorcycle, and sped toward the camp.

* * *
* - * * - *
* * *

2004 – The After

“You're going to fight all of us Possible?” a man with part of his face falling off asked.

“Or you could surrender,” Mim said.

“Same as last time?” Kim asked.

Mim nodded, “Stick with what works.”

Kim launched herself at the nearest opponents while Mim performed a martial art that Kim could never hope to describe. Mim somehow fought the spirits animating the corpses opposing them right out of their bodies. Without a spirit to guide it, the body would just drop.

* * *

“This is as far as I can go,” Mim said, “but if you don't close the rift soon, more things, spirits like me, dead like the ones we've fought, they'll all be able to flood through it.”

“Thank you, Mim,” Kim said. “If I survive I'll try to clear your name.”

“I'd like that,” Mim said.

* * *

The climb up seemed to take forever. There was an easier route, but the black dogs were on it.

* * *

With three dogs unconscious at her feet, Kim went made the final accent.

* * *

Kim pulled herself out of the rift and into Middleton High School. She looked around at the damaged room and realized she had done it. She was finally back on earth in the land of the living. With that she passed out.


[Previous][Kim Possible Index]

* - *
* - * - *
* - *

The biggest cut was to Kim's adventures in the afterlife which, as you might note, are almost entirely absent.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Life After - Ch3: If We Can Make It Through The Night (KP Halloween Special)

[This part three of an entry into Stormchaser90's Heebie Jeebie Hullabaloo Halloween Story Contest for Kim Possible.]
[As always I shall attempt to make this accessible to people not immersed in Kim Possible.]
[The character of Shin Possible was created by Blackbird (along with her girlfriend Kieran) as part of his Maternal Instinct universe.]

If We Can Make It Through The Night
2029 – Earth

The two had long since stopped running and were now walking down their chosen road, the remains of an interstate highway.

They were three moving beacons, the twin green lights of Shin's hands, the blue beam of Jacob's palm-light. Anything with functional eyes --photo-receptive cells of any kind really-- would spot them, but at the moment they were more concerned with something that had no body parts at all.

With dusk passed, darkness ruled. Shapes seemed to flit in and out of existence, and the shadows moved in ways that didn't quite match the lights that ought to be casting them.

Shadows weren't erased by the three lights, they were frightened off by them.

* * *

“It's got to be an hour and a half since we stopped running and started walking,” Jacob said. “That's a lot of time to think; got any idea what they are?”

“Yeah,” Shin said, “I know what they are.”

Then why the Hell didn't you tell me? Jacob thought but didn't say.

“I can't figure out how there could be so many, or why they're here though,” Shin said.

“Well that's the same as everything else,” Jacob said. “What are they?”

“They're nothings,” Shin said.

Jacob sighed. “For people who don't know. . .” he couldn't think of the word, or words, for what he wanted to convey, “whatever the hell the term is.”

“No idea what you're talking about.” Shin said as Jacob tried to chase through his memory to find the words.

“Inside baseball!” Jacob said triumphantly. “For people who don't speak inside baseball.”

“What difference does it make whether the baseball is inside or outside,” Shin asked.

“I didn't make the language, I just speak it,” Jacob said.

“Well what does it mean?” Shin asked.

“I don't speak spook --unless by spook you mean spy because I totally speak spy, not well mind you, but I speak it enough to have some understanding of what CIA types are saying,” Jacob said. “But this magic crap is something I don't know the terminology for, so for the benefit of the lay person over here walking next to you surrounded by things that appear to be living shadows, what do you mean when you say that they're nothings because I've got a feeling that they're not sweet things you whisper in your girlfriend's ear.”

“See, that made sense,” Shin said. “Is it so hard to say things that make sense?”

“What are they?” Jacob said in a near growl. He didn't like being kept in the dark. He didn't like it literally, and he really didn't like it figuratively.

“They're absences, lacks.” Shin said. “They're the lack of light, the lack of heat, the lack of life.”

“That's very enlightening,” Jacob said, and it was only half sarcastic.

“Most of them are barely sentient, they can be kept at bay by heat, light, and life in large enough amounts.”

“Like sunshine?” Jacob asked.

“Yeah, like sunshine,” Shin said.

It explained why they only came out when the sun was setting.

“What do they want?” Jacob asked.

“What anything wants,” Shin said, “to thrive. They don't really think, they don't have a concept of good or evil, they just want to expand, to spread, to fill up any available space with themselves.”

“Like human beings,” Jacob said. “What happens if they fill our space with themselves?”

“No heat, no light, no life,” Shin said. “Do the math.”

“It's a race to see whether they snuff out our life force directly or kill us with hypothermia?” Jacob asked.

“The hypothermia is more likely,” Shin said. “A lot more likely. They really are just . . . nothing.”

“Anyone who's ever built a laser cannon on a space station knows that nothing can be really hard on a person.”

“Well, the good news is they aren't an absence of air,” Shin said.

“Mixed blessing at best,” was Jacob's response. “Vacuum might be cold, but because there's nothing there it takes a long damn time to freeze anything. With a full air supply we'll freeze a lot faster.”

“You're always a ray of sunshine,” Shin said.

“I try to be,” Jacob said. There was no need for a sarcastic tone, some things had it built right into the words and the context. “So we can't up our life, but we can totally increase light and heat by making a fire.”

“Yeah,” Shin said, “but most mushrooms have too much water in them to make good bonfire fodder.”

“I'll keep an eye out for anything different,” Jacob said.

“Good,” Shin said.

“I could have been doing it already if you'd told me what we were up against when you figured out yourself.”


And with that they lapsed into silence.

* * *

The surface of the highway was cracked, warped, eroded, missing in places, and so forth, but there was still enough of it to make it easy for Jacob to pick up on the sound of footsteps.

Footsteps behind them that seemed to be following them.

It took Jacob a few moments to be sure he wasn't hearing some kind of echo, then he said, “Someone's following us.” A moment later he added, “Or, you know, something.”

“I hear it too,” Shin said. “Don't look back.”

That didn't seem to make any sense, but this was a day for not making sense, so Jacob just asked, “Are you sure?”

“I'm sure,” Shin said.

* * *

“So,” Jacob said, “About the not looking back thing--”

“Don't look back,” Shin repeated.

“Whoever or whatever it is has almost caught up to us,” Jacob said.

“You're talking to a witch's girlfriend on Halloween night after being attacked by an army of dead people.”

“And animals,” Jacob said. “Don't forget the bear.”

Shin shivered. “I can't forget the bear. I want to, but I can't. The point is, don't look back.”

“Ok, Orpheus, I won't look back,” Jacob said.

“Did you have to use that reference?”

“Could be worse,” Jacob said; “I could have called you Eurydice.”

* * *

Shin was sure something was different. They'd been through groves in the darkness before, but this was different. She tried to look more closely at her surroundings. The dark pillars around them this time were definitely different. Not like stalks of mushrooms but . . .

“This was a birch grove once,” Shin said.

“Thank you pixie scout,” Jacob said. “Will it burn?”

Shin took a closer look at the husks of trees around them. “Dry rot,” she concluded. “It'll burn.”

“Bonfire?” Jacob asked her.

Shin nodded, not even sure if he was looking in her direction and said, “Bonfire.”

* * *

“Well, light it already,” Jacob said. Shin hesitated.

“What?” Jacob asked.

“There's a thing about fires today. . .”

“More Halloween stuff?” Jacob said not bothering to hide the fact that his annoyance bordered on anger. “Like me not being allowed to eat my damned apple?”

“I haven't eaten since lunch either,” Shin snapped back at him. “It's just that if we start this fire we need to keep it alive.”

“That's the plan,” Jacob said impatiently.

“Bad things could happen if we let the fire die,” Shin warned.

“Bad things like being pursued by living darkness?” Jacob said. “Or maybe living corpses? Or maybe--” having our entire world erased by changes to the timeline, he'd been going to say. Shin interrupted him.

“Bad things like it's possible our lives will be linked directly to the fate of the fire and the flames dying will mean death for us too,” Shin said.

Ok, maybe that was worth worrying about, but, “We agreed that the keeping the darkness back was worth the risk before we even left the city,” Jacob said.

“Yeah,” Shin said.

“Before you came to your disturbing death-by-hypothermia related conclusion as to what the darkness was,” Jacob added.

“Yeah,” Shin said. She lit the bonfire they'd set up with a burst of plasma. “I just don't like the idea that my life might be tied to something as ephemeral as fire.”

“My nemesis isn't the type to die just because a flame went out,” Jacob said.

* * *

Watching the fire made Jacob philosophical. Not that it took too much to do that.

Still, the fire. It destroyed, but in the process it created a brilliant work of shifting art that was one of a kind. The flames consumed, but they caressed rather than devoured.

Air, spark, and wood all came together to create light, heat, and ash. It was the changing of forms.

He turned his attention to Shin. She was sleeping while he took this watch. They'd flipped, he'd lost.

Sleep could make anyone seem likable. Without the power of speech or posture one would never know that she was an irritating moralizing hero who had been constantly ruining his working days since they first met.

She seemed almost . . . innocent. Like she might have been one to run with his friends when they were kids. Looting dumpsters for food, pulling up grates on the road in search of warm places to sleep, maybe picking the occasional pocket.

While she slept it was easy to look at her and pretend she was a decent human being not the self righteous child of the world's greatest moralizer and the biggest defector in the history of those who worked outside the established lines of the system.

Not that Jacob blamed Shego. He certainly had little respect for what she'd become, but receiving a full pardon in the wake of an alien invasion and having her cherished princess within reach obviously put more pressure to change on her than anyone could be expected to resist. So she'd been swayed.

He didn't blame her for that.

But, still, here was her spawn. One part Shego, the poster child for reform, one part Kim Possible, poster child for never wavering hero. And yet she looked almost . . . normal maybe?

Redeemable? Like someone who had potential?

Jacob threw some more dead wood on the fire and stoked the forming embers. When you just looked at the flame, but knew nothing of the purpose, good and evil disappeared and you just saw the thing, you saw all of the potential but none of the hang-ups.

In her sleep Shin looked like a potential friend.

When he was younger there had been times when a group was in a place where Shin would say they didn't belong just because it was all illegal or some such, and he'd had his turn at watch. He'd seen sleeping friends then.

When he couldn't sleep, but he pretended to so his sister wouldn't stay up to worry, he'd seen sis sleep.

Those were the only people he'd ever seen sleep before. The other kids he'd run with once; his sister.

Allies. Family.

Shin slept like them.

No way to tell that she was the fire that burned down your home, rather than the fire that kept you warm. Not when she was asleep.

* * *

A voice seemed to come from a great distance, “Get up!”

“Five more minutes,” Shin said. She didn't even need to give thought to it. It was her standard response.

“Now!” the voice said, closer now. I need your random-- to Hell with it.” The voice was very close now. “They're getting away with the pan-dimensional vortex inducer!”

Shin was on her feet in a moment, shaking the sleep from her eyes and ready to fight or chase. Then she remembered what was going on and was trying to think of something truly nasty to say to Jacob when she noticed that he was bathed in blue light.

“Any of your random lore talk about that,” Jacob asked, pointing at the bonfire burning in shades from cerulean to cyan with perhaps just a hint of teal sprinkled in.

Yes, yes it did. “Run,” she said.

“What about keeping the fire--” Jacob tried to ask.

She grabbed his wrist and pulled him, “Forget it; just run!”

She lit the hand that wasn't holding his and as soon as she was sure that he was running with her let go of him and lit the other. Soon after he had his palm-light on again. A moment later there was a a sound like very, very close thunder and air rushed back toward the birch grove threatening to knock them over.

“What the Hell?” Shin asked as she and Jacob helped each other up.

They were barely running again when the same thing happened back and to their right, then their left.

She didn't even understand the damage, and didn't try to look at it. She didn't dare slow herself by looking anywhere but forward.

If she looked she'd turn, if she turned she'd slow down, if she slowed down. . .

She forced herself not to think about that and just ran.

Blue flame on any other night meant little to nothing. Flame color depended on temperature, what was being burned, trace elements, and various other things. But tonight blue flame meant a supernatural entity had entered the room.

The outdoors was a big room, and Shin doubted that even Logi himself could turn a the flames that blue by mere presence.

Something had come, something powerful, and whatever it was was so interested in them as to knock the fire test off the scale.

Based on what little they'd seen of this changed world, she'd known it probably wasn't friendly before things went boom.

By her own light she saw an obstruction ahead. “Left!” she called out and received a helpful shove from Jacob. At any other time, in any other circumstance, a shove wouldn't be a helpful thing, but at the moment she appreciated the ability to make a tighter turn and showed that appreciation by shaking the plasma from her right hand and giving Jacob a yank to allow him to do the same.

* * *

It felt like fleeing a tornado they couldn't see, not that Jacob had a lot of experience with tornadoes.

Sounds of destruction behind them, beside them, around them. They were being targeted, with the only plus side being that whatever was doing it didn't seem to have very precise aim. Not terribly accurate either.

But what the hell was going on? If things were exploding then the shock should--

Jacob shouted over the destruction, “It's super cooling --colloquial not technical sense--”

“Don't talk,” Shin shouted back, “run!”

“--the air,” Jacob said. “Air shrinks to zero point one five percent of its normal size when liquefied.”

Jacob stumbled and Shin helped to steady him.

“Shut up and run!” she shouted at him.

“That's a lot of space to fill,” Jacob said, “so near vacuum equals implosion and that's what's going on.”

“No talkie,” Shin shouted, definitely angry now. “Run!”

“Of course to do that,” this time Shin stumbled over something, gods only knew where they were or what they were getting tripped up by, regardless Jacob helped her up while running, then said, “It has to drop the temperature to below negative 320 degrees.”

“Fascinating I'm sure,” Shin snapped. “Shut up and run.”

“And it's doing it with obvious intention and targeting,” Jacob said.

“Would you just--” Shin shouted.

Jacob finally made it to his point, “I thought you said they were barely sentient.”

“I said most were,” was Shin's reply. “Will you shut up now?”

“Yes,” Jacob said. “Up shutting.”

And he did.

* * *

They'd both fallen so many times, they were doubtless scraped and bruised all over, each had helped the other too many times to keep track of, but it wasn't doing them any good.

They were running out of energy, and it was gaining on them. The air was colder than it had any right to be, and soon it wouldn't be throwing poorly aimed attacks at them to kill them, it would just engulf them and they'd become what it was: nothing.

Shin had never heard of a nothing this powerful before, nor one this smart. Certainly not one this large.

Hunting was entirely out of the question. Nothings tried to grow, spread, and even reproduce, and that meant pushing beyond the bounds of afforded them by the heat, light, and life, but to hunt living things? It was unheard of.

They were forces of nature, no more malevolent than night time, and as impersonal as a sunburn.

So why was this happening?

Was this one territorial? The life nothings were most hostile to, by nature not intent, was animal life. The life that threatened them most was warm blooded life and bioluminescent life. The draugar did not offer warmth, life, or even light.

That last was maybe--

The ground came up and hit Shin in the face. Jacob yanked her to her feet and she could feel the weakness in his arms. His legs must be doing just as badly. Just like her own.

“Keep up, Possible,” he said, but there was no fire in it.

He obviously knew what she knew: it was just a matter of time.

Jacob had gotten to figure out how the implosions worked, Shin was going to figure this out. Even if it was, very literally, the last thing she did. She would figure this out.

Like she told Jacob, draugar weren't zombies. They might not be people, or animals, anymore, but they weren't stupid. They could have had the ruined city lit up just as easily as a human population. They didn't. Maybe they were afraid of what was chasing Shin and Jacob now.

Maybe by being the only living animals, and having a fire, a source of light and heat, an anathema to nothings, they'd marked themselves as enemies. But that only made sense if it had a reason to oppose those things rather than flee them.

Could this one be territorial?

She'd never heard of such a thing, but she'd never heard of this.

Could be that being out in the open with a bonfire was all it took to make this one come after them. Could be that that was equivalent of charging someone weapons out. Could be--

Both of them stumbled as the terrain changed drastically. It was a steep slope. It might have been an embankment, it might have been a natural feature, but whatever it was, they couldn't let it slow them down much. Shim scrambled up it, and then heard Jacob fall and slide down.

She went back for him, pulled him up, and then had her plan of berating him die when she realized how much he was shivering.

“We're not going to make it, are we?” she said, right arm around him, left hand burning as bright and hot as she could manage.

“Stupid hero can't do math,” Jacob said through chattering teeth. Of course he'd go out with insults. It was, after all, their relationship.

She didn't say anything. The world had gone quiet. There were no more implosions. The nothing knew that it had won and was simply going to engulf them, the air grew colder.

“Jacob and Shin, subtract a Jacob, what's left?” Jacob said.

“I'm not leaving you,” Shin said.

“Stupid hero bullshit,” Jacob said.

She let go of Jacob, stood up straight, turned back the way they'd come, lit both her hands, and took a few steps toward what she assumed was the general direction of the center of the nothing, and tried to pick her last words.

Jacob's palm-light flickered and died.

She considered stealing from one of her mothers: I'm not going to let you kill Jacob; that's my job. Didn't fit, for one thing, it wasn't her job to kill Jacob. For another it could send the wrong message since one mother had said that about her other mother.

She could feel her plasma cooling and see it dim.

She considered some sort of over the top thing about how she was the light holding back the darkness, or saying that she'd claimed this ground and the nothing shall not pass.

The darkness was becoming so great it was hard to see.

Her consideration was broken when Jacob asked, “So, we're definitely going to die, right?”

That simplified things. She certainly considered telling him a comforting lie, but she wasn't going to have her last words be lies. So she just said, “Looks that way.”

There was a sound that, though familiar, Shin couldn't quite place, and then a sudden flurry of light.

Small lights with no apparent source danced around her

“Fireflies?” Jacob asked.

Shin turned to Jacob and got a better view of the situation. While the lights were flying in both directions and didn't seem to have any fixed course, they were all vaguely tracing the same shape: a large circle around herself and Jacob both.

“Will-o'-wisps,” Shin said, “Don't follow them.”

“Not Jack's lanterns?” Jacob asked in an amused tone.

“It's not funny,” Shin snapped, “they lead people to their deaths for fun.”

“I'm not actually laughing,” Jacob said. True, but he wasn't taking the situation nearly seriously enough. “And I'm not going anywhere.” That was a more pertinent point. He was still shivering. Still chattering teeth. “Aren't they supposed to be off in the distance?” he asked.

“They usually are,” Shin said, “I've never seen them this close and I don't--” Shin remembered the sound that she didn't recognize but knew was familiar. She took a closer look at Jacob, specifically his hands. There it was. “You bit the apple.”

He shrugged, “I'm not dying on an empty stomach.”

“I told you not to,” Shin said.

“Hey,” Jacob said, “notice how we're not facing immigrant death from encroaching darkness any more?”

He was right, and that was why she wasn't exactly complaining. They hadn't just pushed it back with their initial appearance, the wisps did seem to be keeping the darkness at bay still. They didn't seem to be losing any ground to it at all.

The most powerful nothing in history, and it was being held in check by a few dancing lights.

She thought about the situation for a bit, considering various possibilities.

“If we sleep the wisps will take the apple, then they'll leave, and we'll die,” she finally said. “We'll have to sleep in shifts. Again“

Jacob nodded, “The one who's awake guards the apple but also feeds out just enough to keep them interested.”

Finally he was taking the situation seriously.

* * *

Jacob accepted Shin's help as they walked, surrounded by the living lights, looking for a good place. He was simply too tired and far too cold to maintain professional animosity. Beyond the fact that his aching legs could use all the help they could get, the hands Shin held him with stayed lit at a low level, providing much needed warmth that circulated through the rest of his body.

Eventually they found a place that Shin pronounced, “Good enough,” and, with her help, Jacob lay down on the ground.

* * *

Shin got first watch, she'd said that it was because she'd slept most recently, but the truth was that she was worried that Jacob was nearly dead.

Her plasma was both more and less versatile than most people imagined, but one thing the wild mass guessing public did get right was that she didn't have to worry about hypothermia under most conditions found on earth. She had internal heating the likes of which no earth creature --save those in her immediate family-- could compare to, much less match.

Jacob, on the other hand, was an ordinary human being who was simply at the high end of the scales when it came to athleticism and invention.

It was a decent camp, there wasn't wood, but there were enough dry-ish growths that she got a small fire going. Of course, they'd come this way with not much light besides that which the wisps had provided them. That was disturbing. She told herself that they hadn't followed the wisps, strictly speaking, they were just utilizing the wisps' light while the wisps followed them. She was able to accept that rationalization, even if she wasn't sure she believed it.

She made sure to throw out tiny bits of apple on occasion, she didn't want the wisps to lose interest. They circled at a steady distance, and right outside of that dark on dark danced in a malevolent fashion. The nothing that had chased them seemed to have attracted other nothings.

They wouldn't have the same power, intelligence, or malicious drive, but they were still dangerous.

She turned her attention to Jacob. Shin could tell by his breathing he was nearly asleep.

“Finally,” Jacob said, his voice so groggy Shin thought he might be talking in his sleep, “something else in the animal kingdom that's not dead.”

Shin didn't pay attention until Jacob said, “See?” and held up his hand. There was a large wolf spider on it.

Shin smiled.

“Normally a spider is just a spider,” she said, “but tonight that means that you've got the spirit of a loved one watching over you.”

Jacob sighed as he put his hand back down and let the spider crawl away, “Must be for you then. Sis is like us,” he closed his eyes and was almost asleep, but after a long moment he said, “too young to have been born here,” and then he was really gone.

While Jacob slept, Shin thought about that. It wasn't just Jacob's family. Her older sisters, her friends, her rivals, Kieran . . . if Jacob was right about the effect of changing the timeline, and it made sense that he was, none of them would exist.

She and Jacob didn't belong in this world, and so many of the people she cared about had been erased from existence entirely.

On the up side, Jacob didn't snore. On the down side, Shin had never felt more alone.

* * *
* * * * * *
* * *

2004 - Earth

Tara was too cold to use her cellphone properly. Her fingers didn't do precisely what she told them to do, she was shivering so much she was at risk of hitting the wrong buttons, so forth. Bonnie dialed Wade. Tara had asked Ron to, but Bonnie had insisted.

Holding he phone was an easier thing that didn't require fine motor skills, so she was able to talk to Wade on her own.

“Wade?” she asked when the ringing stopped.

“I'm here,” Wade said.

“The other things,” Tara said,” the ones that aren't the dogs, “they're dark and cold.”

“Can you be more specific?” Wade asked.

“No, you don't understand,” Tara said. “That's all they are.”

“Dark and cold?” Wade asked. A charitable conclusion was that he was perplexed. Less charitable conclusions would be that he incredulous or possibly even trying to humor her the way one might humor a small child in the middle of a schizoid break.

“They don't have any solid parts,” Tara said, making an effort not to get angry at Wade for failing to understand the concept. “They're just empty air where the inside is darker and colder than the surrounding area.”

“Ok,” Wade said, his tone now a neutral acceptance.

“And if the amount I'm shivering right now is any indication,” Tara said, “They can be really cold when they're in a swarm.”

“There was a heat spike and then they seemed to scatter,” Wade said.

“Fire breathing,” Tara said. “I figured dark and cold wouldn't like fire.”

“Since it's light and hot?” Wade said.

“Pretty much,” Tara said. Then she paid some attention to her surroundings again. They were in the fallout shelter, which was quite spacious. It had obviously been designed to hold everyone who would normally be at the school --a thousand students with associated faculty and staff-- plus area people who didn't have a closer shelter.

It more than fit their needs. People were having wounds treated, other than that nothing much was being done by anyone. Most people seemed stunned or afraid, everyone seemed run down.

* * *

Josh hoped everyone else was having a better time getting clear than he was, which had been the plan. The relay had to end somewhere, and the last person wouldn't have anyone distracting the dogs. He'd chosen to be the last person because he happened to be in charge of his group, and he didn't want to order anyone else to do the most risky part. If he'd known how hard it would be, maybe he'd have done something intelligent like let one of the track stars, who had volunteered and probably would have been more likely to survive, take the job.

As it was he was staying alive mostly by means of having arms. The dogs were big, the dogs were scary, the dogs were fast, but they were incapable of changing direction as quickly as a human being who could reach out, grab onto something, and pivot around it as if they hated their shoulder with a fiery passion and were just begging it to become dislocated.

He'd tried doubling back to the auditorium because the stage rigging there was the only place in the school accessible solely by ladder, but so far it was all he could do to keep one step, sometimes less, ahead of the dogs. Actually making directed progress proved entirely impossible.

Josh pulled another tight corner and, as his shoulder cried out to him in pain, saw what he considered to be the least appealing sight he'd ever seen in his life: three more dogs at the end of the hall he'd just turned into.

At the earliest opportunity he smashed himself into a classroom door --he didn't have time to see if it happened to be locked or not-- ran across the the room, and jumped for the window at full speed.

On the other side he didn't appear to be impaled by any large pieces of glass, and didn't feel liked he'd severed any major blood vessels, so he assumed he'd live at least a bit longer and started running to what he thought was the nearest way back into the school --another window they'd broken, that one with something less fragile than a human body and as part of a coherent plan.

He needed to get back inside because the only thing that had kept him alive so far was being more maneuverable in the tighter indoor spaces.

Once he was moving at a decent pace in what he thought was the right direction, he hit “the hole that looks like a button belongs over it” on the Kimmunicator and said, “Wade, we have a problem,” the moment he heard it crackle.

“I see them,” Wade said, “but they weren't there a moment ago.”

“I don't really care where they were a moment ago right now,” Josh said. It was harder to speak than he thought it should have been. He was running out of steam.

“I'll tell you the moment I've found a way to help,” Wade said, “Until then I don't think you want me distracting you.”

“Find it fast,” Josh said.

* * *

When Tara's phone rang she answered it with, “I was about to call you.”

“We need to help Josh,” Wade said. “Wait, why were you going to call me?”

“Josh,” Tara said. “He's the only one from the distraction that hasn't made it in. What's going on out there.”

“He can't shake the dogs,” Wade said, “and it looks like they're materializing inside the school, so now there are more of them and they've joined the hunt.”

“Materializing. . .” the truth was that Tara didn't really care about how things fit together right now. However, some part of her brain was still looking for patterns and trying to put puzzle pieces together. That part had an idea. “At the explosion site?” Tara asked.

“I don't know,” Wade said, “maybe.”

“Not important right now,” Tara said. “What do we do to get Josh in here safe?”

* * *

Ron's head still hurt horribly, but he was steady on his feet and he was, he felt, ready for action. When Tara picked up the phone he listened, all that he could really make out from Tara's side of the conversation was that Josh needed help.

He thought he vaguely remembered Tara talking to Wade over one of the school's phones around the time she stopped carrying him and he started walking. Maybe she was talking to Wade now.

“Is that Wade?” he asked Tara.

Tara nodded.

“May I?” he asked. Tara just handed him the phone. “Wade, what's the sitch?”

“Kim tried to use the transportulator to get to you, but instead she just disappeared,” Wade said. “There was a possibly related explosion in an unoccupied area of the school, but no one's been able to check it out because giant black dogs have been attacking people. I can't tell if they're related to Kim or the explosion.

“It would be an extraordinary coincidence if they weren't, but we've seen bigger ones on a monthly basis so--”

“What about Josh?” Ron asked.

“The dogs seem to be coming from inside --I don't know how-- almost of them have left the area and are terrorizing the rest of Middleton, but about a dozen are still there, and they're chasing Josh” Wade said. “They're too fast to outrun, too close behind him to hide from, and all of the work he's doing to evade them has got to be wearing him out.”

Ron thought about it for a moment. “Is the roof safe?”

“How would he get to it?” Tara asked.

“I'm with Tara on this one,” Wade said. “Even if he could manage to get the keys to unlock the maintenance access to the roof, which is doubtful when he's on the run, he'd end up showing the dogs the way.”

“My grappler is still in my locker,” Ron said.

“Are you sure?” Wade asked. “I don't even remember the last time you used it.”

“Trust the Ron man,” Ron said.

“The Ron man has a head injury,” Tara said. “Maybe you should sit this out.”

“Ok, so you'll need to get to your locker, have time to go through your mess, get the grappler, and then get to Josh,” Wade said. “All with a dozen death dogs of doom on the loose.”

Wade sighed, “Can I talk to Tara?”

Ron was confused. Where did Tara come into this. “Uh, sure,” he said, and handed Tara her phone.

* * *

“Josh is running out of time, and Ron's plan is the best idea --the only idea-- so far,” Wade said. “I can't exactly scan Ron through your phone, I need you and Rufus to decide if Ron is really up for this.”

“Ok,” Tara said into the phone, then she looked at the naked mole rat whose head was peeking out of Ron's pocket. “Rufus, do you think we can keep Ron safe?”

Rufus said, “Sure thing,” or at least Tara was pretty sure that was what he said, and gave a salute.

Tara said, “We're doing Ron's plan,” to Wade.

“Wait, we?” Ron asked.

“You're not going alone,” Tara said. Then she realized her mistake and said, “Sorry,” to Rufus. “You're not going as the sole human,” she amended to Ron.

“I'm coming too,” Bonnie said.

“What!?” Ron and Tara said in unison.

“T, I'm not letting you go out there with only . . . him to keep you safe,” Bonnie said.

It might be legitimate concern, it might be that she was hoping that saving Josh Mankey would win her a date with Josh Mankey. Probably both, actually. It didn't matter.

“Josh doesn't have time for us to argue,” Tara said as she headed for the exit. Bonnie and Ron fell in beside her. “Bonnie, give me your phone.”

Tara called Wade on Bonnie's phone, “Wade, I need you on this phone and my phone directing two of us while we make distractions to give Josh and Ron the time they need,” she said and then handed the phone back to Bonnie.

* * *

Every part of Josh ached and he was so exhausted that simply collapsing to the floor seemed like the most inviting of all possible options. The fact that that would get him mauled and possibly eaten was seeming less and less important the more time went on. He just wanted to stop.

For the love of all that was holy, all he wanted to do was rest.

He'd been going in erratic vaguely circle like things forever, counting on the tight corners he was making to keep on buying back the seconds he was constantly losing to his pursuers.

The Kimmunicator crackled to life.

“Thought you forgot about me,” he said. It felt like hours since they'd spoken.

“Sorry,” Wade said. “There's not a lot to work with so--”

“Just tell me there's a plan,” Josh said.

“How do you feel about rooftops?” Wade asked.

“Please make sense,” Josh said. It was more pleading though. Would this damned night ever be over?

“Grappling gun to the school roof, unless the dogs can fly or climb vertical walls they won't be able to follow,” Wade said.

“I can't go back to Kim's locker,” Josh said. Too much straight line, not enough tight corner, the dogs would run him down before he made it.

“Ron's getting the grappler,” Wade said, “Tara and someone else are running interference.”
Tight corner, shoulder pain, but at least the sound of a multi-dog pile up, though even that was losing its appeal. The only thing that mattered was somehow being able to stop going.

So, talking to Wade, difficult though it was, might be worth it.

“Someone else?” Josh asked.

“I didn't ask her name,” Wade said, “but she should be working to get you some breathing room.”

“God I hope so,” Josh said.

* * *

Tara and Ron had an easy time getting to the school, with all the dogs in the area tripping over themselves to try to get to Josh, the only thing they had to avoid were newly appeared dogs leaving the area.

It wasn't that hard. Bonnie had stayed behind in the gym. Unlike the school building itself the gym had a simple --easy to locate and use-- back up generator. Once the gym had power it could be put to good use, which is what Bonnie was supposed to do as soon as Ron and Tara were clear.

Part one of the plan was to try to break up the dog pack chasing Josh. It carried with it some risk. A dozen giant dogs in a school hallway probably were slowing each other down, and certainly if two tried to fit through a doorway at once they'd go slower than one, so fewer dogs after Josh probably would mean that they were going faster. But fewer was the first step on the way to none.

Bonnie's voice came over the gym's PA, “Attention to all of the angry dogs in the area, you seem to have made a mistake. The Middleton Mad dog is singular, not-black, a bulldog, and played by a sidekick in a mascot mask he made himself.”

There was a reason Bonnie's talent show performance had been ballet and not comedy.

“Now that I've cleared this up for you, I expect you all to leave. You have interrupted the talent show that I was about to win and I want you gone.”

After that things just got more generic, but Tara had to admit that Bonnie was doing her job. It would be impossible for the dogs to miss that something had changed and there was something happening at the gym.

In addition to turning on the PA system, they'd powered up everything they could find power switches, knobs or dials for. With the entrance to the fallout shelter firmly locked behind them, the only person at risk at the gym should be Bonnie herself, and she had Wade to tell her when the dogs were actually on their way in.

They'd figure out how to get the dogs back away from the gym later. Right now they needed to get them away from Josh.

Her phone rang. She answered, “Go, Wade.”

“It looks like several of the dogs are breaking off their pursuit of Josh and heading for the gym,” Wade said. “Also I have some sort of good news.”

“Sort of good?” Tara asked.

“The other things,” Wade said, “the cold dark things, it doesn't look like they're staying in the area, and after you drove them off the first time I guess they didn't want to stick around. Plus, analysis of their movements earlier suggests that they weren't hunting so much as they happened on the people making the crossing from the school to the shelter.”

“Sort of good,” Tara said. She didn't feel good about it. She didn't feel bad about. She didn't feel about it period. She just mentally filed it away.

“Well, it means you don't have to worry about them right now,” Wade said.

“Thanks for the update,” Tara said. “What about dealing with the rest of the dogs? There's no power in here so we can't just distract them with the PA.”

“Yeah, and the explosion seems to have been in the main office so there might not be anything there to use anyway,” Wade said. “I'm trying put together an inventory of what's in the school to see if there's anything useful, but the record keeping is atrocious.”

Yeah, Tara thought, almost as bad as the safety standards. Then the proverbial carcinogenic chemical light lit.

“Wade,” Tara asked, “could you get us to the science labs?”

Ron, who had been uncharacteristically quiet so far, said, “Please tell me you're not going to open an inter-dimensional portal with Justine's . . . thingy.”

“No,” Tara said. “Creative idea, but no. I was thinking more of recreating some of the more mundane mishaps, just on purpose and directed at the dogs this time.”

* * *

Wade had said that some of the dogs had been drawn away, but Josh hadn't noticed a difference.

Then there had been a prolonged lack of communication. Josh liked to think that he was generally a positive person, but he was beginning to suspect that maybe he should just accept that he was going to die soon and try to make peace with it. However one did that.

At the very least it had to be better than all this running.

Then something went boom behind him, with a flash of light, and he couldn't help turning, just a bit, to look.

He fell over and ended up sliding a bit and rolling a bit on the floor. He didn't bother trying to get back up. It was over.

Then he felt himself being lifted up.

“Come on,” someone said, “before they find another way around or realize that it was all flash and no substance.”

“Wade, Tara's plan worked,” someone else said, “where's the nearest exit?”

* * *

“How many windows do you think we've smashed tonight?” Tara asked Ron and Josh. Ron was looking a lot better; Josh was looking a lot worse.

“No idea,” Ron said just before smashing one more. “I do know you set part of the school on fire.”

“I didn't notice a fire,” Josh said.

Given that the first thing he'd said to Ron and her, at least a full minute after they'd started carrying him, was, “Am I dead?” Tara didn't think Josh had been noticing much at that point. Still, he was right, there had been no fire that time. Just a strange bubbling pink gooey mass that had a tendency to explode with bright light, loud noise, and very little actual effect upon anything.

“He's taking about earlier,” Tara said, “Before we got to you.” She and Ron carried Josh out of the window. When they set Josh down and Ron fired off his grappling hook launcher, which was, for some reason, shaped like a hair dryer, Tara asked Ron, “Do you think it's still burning?”

* * *

“Booyah!” Ron said once Tara and Josh were safely on the roof. He'd have preferred to have the others go first, but he couldn't help lift if he were on the ground, and Tara was lighter, so it made sense to have her be the one getting Josh up and him to be the one to go first.

Josh, for his part, barely seemed able to stand, much less climb the side of a building.

Now they just had to get Bonnie and themselves to safety.

* * *

Josh woke up in a room that he'd never seen before. He didn't remember falling asleep.

He woke up to a speech, already in progress, “word that the high school will be one of the primary evacuation centers tomorrow, so all we need to do is stay the night here, then we'll be flown to safety tomorrow and professionals can handle this.”

“Who put you two in charge?” someone asked.

“Uh, we three,” Bonnie said. Bonnie was impossible to miss. Bonnie made sure it was always that way.

“Sure, whatever,” the same someone said. “Why are you people in charge?”

“Because no one else is,” the blonde girl from the backstage room said. Josh thought he remembered her saying she was Tara. If she was, that meant she was one of the people who saved him. “As for who put us in charge, Wade did.”

“Who?” someone else asked.

“Team Possible's tech guru,” Ron said

“The one who got us to this shelter alive,” person he thought was Tara said. “Or did you fail to notice that the whole thing was coordinated over the phone.”

Josh didn't know Tara, obviously. He didn't even know her name for sure. But he'd seen her around and he knew that she usually wasn't confrontational.

“If Team Possible is running things,” the first someone said, “then where is Kim?”

“Missing,” Ron said in a way that made Josh fully expect it to be followed by, “you . . .” wait, did Ron even swear? “You something very bad.” But Ron just left it at the one word.

Then Tara and Ron's phones rang at the same time.

* * *

“Wade, I can't tell you how much I don't want to hear bad news,” Tara said.

“Sorry,” Wade said.

“Just sitch us,” Ron said and Tara heard it in weird double because it she could hear him directly and over the phone.

“Remember how you said the cold dark things could make it really cold when they swarmed, Tara?” Wade said.

And Tara felt a sinking feeling.

“They're swarming,” she said; it wasn't a question.

They're appearing much faster now,” Wade said, “much, much faster, and they don't appear to have any intention of leaving the area. If the temperature keeps dropping at the present rate--”

“We'll be dead before morning?” Tara asked.

“Uh, yeah,” Wade said. “Pretty much.”

Tara looked at the crowd of people, who were all reacting to what they'd heard her say. She looked directly at the senior who had been asking about why she and Ron were in charge before, and said, “If anyone else wants to be in charge, now would be a great time to step up.”

Barkin was off inspecting the something or other, or else he'd have claimed command, but of the people who were in this part of the shelter, no one said anything.

“Ok, now that that's settled,” Tara said, then she returned her attention to the phone, “Wade, do we have a plan?”
* * *

Ron, Tara, and Bonnie had gone to a corner of the shelter to plan. It happened to be the corner that Josh was in because he was a part of this too by now and, more importantly, he'd gone trick-or-treating with Ron last year as one half of a two person unicorn costume and as far as Ron was concerned anyone who would do that was totally cool in his eyes.

They put Bonnie's phone on speaker because the prototype Kimmunicator had an annoying crackling sound and of the phones Bonnie's had the best speaker mode. Then they started to brainstorm.

It went, Ron thought, fairly badly.

“It's not that I can't make something that produces enough light or heat to drive them off, given what it took last time and extrapolating for--”

“Wade, I think you're losing the second half of your bifurcated thought,” Tara said.

Ron wasn't sure what bifurcated meant, though it presumably had something to do with the number two and fur.

Wade, obviously, did know. For one thing, he was Wade. For another, he responded, “It's just that I can't do it in time.”

“Could you help Ron and Rufus build something?” Tara asked.

Ron said, “What!?” at the same time Bonnie did. Then he said, “Jinx, you owe me a--” and stopped when he caught Bonnie's glare.

So it was straight on to the complete confusion, “What makes you think I can--”

Bonnie, being Bonnie, cut him off, “T, he can't build some super science device.”

“Are you sure?” Tara asked.

“Yes!” Bonnie said.

“Tara, I'm--” Ron said.

Tara, being most un-Tara-like, cut him off. “Rufus can program a VCR, you once built a doomsday device, and Wade is a certified genius. I think the three of you can come up with something.”

Ron tried to think of when he would have built a-- right, when Rufus briefly became a super genius and everyone thought it was Ron. Drakken had kidnapped him and forced him to build a doomsday device which, while not leading to doomsday, did in fact, surprisingly, work. It had given him the confidence he'd needed to stop failing algebra last school year.

* * *

Bonnie tried to stop herself from shaking. Her hands in particular since she was assembling something that was supposed to save their lives, but really if she could get any part of her to be still she'd count it as a win. Her mouth was clamped firmly shut to stop her teeth from chattering so she couldn't even complain. The rest of her was not so easily stilled. The shivers ran deep.

She plugged in a wire with numb fingers, and looked for the next part.

They'd talked through it all inside, of course, but that wasn't the same as assembling it. Not out here.

It was snowing.

The roof of the gym made sense. It was a high place so the light would have good range, it was a roof so they could be safe from the dogs.

Her fingers were numb. It was snowing.

“Everything's hooked up,” she heard Tara say. “Now we see if you're as good as I think you are.”

Under normal circumstances Bonnie might roll her eyes or think, “No innuendo there, nope, none at all,” but these weren't normal circumstances.

We're all gonna die, Bonnie thought.

“Cover your eyes B,” Tara said. Bonnie did, not that she thought it would matter, not that she thought this cobbled together thing would even work. She did because Tara was a friend, and she saw little harm in humoring a friend who, like her, wouldn't live to see tomorrow.

Then, at the edges of her vision, where the arm she was covering her eyes with met her face, she saw red light. As if she were shining a flashlight though her fingers.

“I told you it would work!” Tara said.

Bonnie couldn't be sure, but she thought she felt less cold.

“So, how do we get off the roof without blinding ourselves?” Ron asked.

* * *
* * * * * *
* * *

2004 - The After

Kim was avoiding the places that showed signs of civilization since she had the distinct impression that the people, for lack of a better term, living here didn't like her kind. Her kind being anyone who wasn't dead. The problem is that as she got further away from signs of human-like activity, she ended up further into the wilds of this strange world.

No dogs, fortunately, but nothing terribly inviting either. Especially since she had a problem with giant bugs. It was a millipede bigger than a person, or at least longer than a person was tall, that had sent her into a near catatonic state of paralysis by fear.

At least when Ron was frightened, by ordinary non-mutated earth bugs, it didn't cause him to freeze up. Well, usually at least. Certainly when there were ones on his head and such he could freeze, but most of the time they sent him into a frenzy instead, granting him speed at the cost of his wits.

Kim just froze.

And that was why she was considering the possibility that avoiding the openly hostile but easier to psychologically deal with dead people might not have been the best choice.

On the other hand, despite her hopes to the contrary, no one had conveniently laid out the exact information she needed and so “away from the bad dead people” seemed as likely a direction to get her to the good dead people as any other. Better than some.

“Aren't you an odd one,” a female voice said.

Kim looked around and didn't see anything but rock, dirt, decaying plant matter, and a lot of ferociously big spider webs.

“Said isn't the word, dear little friend,” the voice “said”. “My species doesn't have a larynx so I'm afraid English isn't something I could vocalize well.”

Kim processed that somewhat disturbing information and decided that, if she graded on a scale, it was only at a weird factor of two today on a scale from one to ten.

“English,” the voice said, in musing tones. “I haven't seen one like you down here since Vergil was giving guided tours. Back then what you know as English didn't exist. It was almost a century before your English bard Chaucer was writing, and I doubt you'd recognize his language dear little friend.”

Kim had heard an excerpt of The Canterbury Tales recited in properly pronounced Middle English once. It was beautiful and captivating, but the voice was right, she wouldn't have recognized the language as English if she hadn't known ahead of time that that's what she was hearing.

“If you aren't speaking, then how can I hear you?” Kim asked.

“Why, I'm thinking at you, dear little friend,” the voice said.

“Why won't you show yourself to me?” Kim asked.

“Why, because you didn't ask,” the voice said.

“Would you show yourself?” Kim asked.

“I suppose,” the voice said.

“Please and thank you,” Kim said.

“Turn around,” the voice said.

Kim did and at first she saw nothing. Then movement above her. Then she made out a shape descending. Two ball like sections, like a figure eight or a peanut and . . . oh God, eight legs.

Kim again found herself paralyzed with fear. She could barely breathe, much less move.

As the giant spider drew closer to the ground she realized that something was strange about the abdomen. The cephalothorax was about how she expected a cephalothorax to be, aside from the fact that it was bigger than her thorax, but the abdomen seemed odd. Irregular. As if it had some sort of bumpy growth covering it. It was only when she noticed that the bumps were moving that Kim realized the spider was carrying its,very much live, young on it's abdomen that things started to make sense again.

Somehow that realization freed her and she ran.

“You'll never make it out,” the spider's voice said. The growing distance didn't seem to make it any quieter. “But I think you'll go down with a fight, and that interests me. Do fight, dear little friend. That way whatever catches you will be injured and easy for me to paralyze, and I'll cocoon them right next to you.”

Kim kept running.

* * *

Time was impossible to track in this place, so she had no idea how long she'd been running --minutes, hours, days?-- when carelessness caused her to crash into a brownish sphere the size of a beachball.

As she was picking herself off the ground she saw the sphere begin to uncurl into some kind of insect with segmented armor.

“S-sorry, I didn't see you there,” Kim said. “It-- it was a mistake so. . . no hard feelings, right?”

The bug didn't respond and simply walked away.

* * *

By the time she reached the giant ants, she was entirely out of shock and surprise to give.

She initially planned to try to go around them. It was impossible. She couldn't avoid their colony without going back the way she came.

Fortunately the ants ignored her, and didn't seem to mind her using their tunnels.

* * *

When exhaustion finally took over, Kim was near one of the ants mushroom groves. She found a nice spot, and laid down among the mushrooms.


[Previous][Kim Possible Index][Next]

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The Kim parts are killing me. What they really call for is wonderful description of a strange and different world filled with dead things, giant bugs, and all sorts of fungus. I give you clavarioid fungi as one example. But landscape and culture and such is so very much not what I have a talent for. I can imagine it, but I can't write it. It's much easier for me to write Jacob and Shin bantering.