Monday, October 19, 2015

Life After - Ch1: Time Changes (KP Halloween Special)

[This is an old version of this chapter, the current, revised, version is here.]
[This is the first installment 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 as part of the Maternal Instinct universe.]

Times Change
Time Changes

2029 - Earth

Jacob was wiring something together from components he'd ripped out of cellphones. With the boss he never found himself this bored, but with the boss taking time off for personal reasons, and him needing to stay in fighting trim to be able to fulfill his duty when she came back, he'd been hiring himself out to lesser lights of the villainous world.

With them he felt like the great Shego, before she switched sides, if she'd lost her nail file.

So on the way over he'd picked the pockets of some rich kids, stripped their phones down to the bare essentials, and was now making something. He didn't know what, he didn't care. At the moment he was maximizing power and reception, because those made sense when you started with cell phones, after that he'd probably work on transmission strength.

If you just did what came naturally, you could actually make a lot of progress on a project before you knew what the project would be.

It was certainly better than listening to the slob who passed for his current employer drone on.

Mancer was nothing like the boss. He was an nth rate villain who didn't even know that the suffix "-mancer" meant "seer", as in a prophet or oracle, not "mage" or "magic user" in general. The man couldn't even get his own name right, how could he possibly hope to accomplish anything?

If some hero didn't show up to stop Mancer soon, Jacob thought he might scream. But he concentrated on the device he was making as a way to keep hold on his sanity.

Then the door exploded inward, and there was a distinctive green glow amid the dust and debris of the shattered frame. Jacob smiled. This was why he took the job. He could in fact care less about Mancer's money, but not much. There simply wasn't that much space between the amount he cared and absolute apathy for the caring less to take place in. No, he needed practice, and whichever one of them it turned out to be, Jacob was sure he'd get that.

* * *

Shin walked into the room, a very sparse underground lair mostly in brushed concrete, and saw the stolen relics on a central table arranged for some kind of ritual, already in progress from the looks of it. She also saw her arch nemesis, Jacob, quickly shove something into one of his coat pockets.

"Starting to think you're following me, Possible," he said. "How did you even know I was here?"

It was half true. When she'd heard about the artifact theft she'd figured the local authorities could handle it until she found out Jacob was in the area. She wasn't going to throw local cops in the path of her arch nemesis even if this whole thing did seem like it was beneath his pay grade and her notice.

Still, it was only half true, and she wasn't about to feed his ego. "You think too highly of yourself," she said. "I'm here for those," she pointed at the artifacts.

"Those trinkets?" Jacob asked in obviously fake surprise. "Besides, I thought you brought your girlfriend along on occult missions."

"She's taking some children trick-or-treating," Shin snapped.

"That sounds very responsible of her," Jacob said. There was no jab there, just a simple statement, but Shin knew an attempt to throw her off her game was coming.

"I was looking forward to spending tonight doing that--"

"You are aware it's still light out, right?" Jacob asked,

"Some of the kids are really young," Shin said. They'd be dropped off at their respective homes before it got too dark, it was all planned out. "Anyway, I was looking forward to watching the children with her but somebody--"

"Has to be the grown up in your relationship," Jacob said, "so when the call came in she stayed behind to be the responsible one while you came out to play. I get it now."

Shin had been planing to that somebody had to go and break the law on Halloween. He made it sound like she wanted to be here instead of with her girlfriend. She was through with the verbal stage of the fight, she tossed a ball of plasma in his direction.

* * *

A key factor in any fight was maintaining an awareness of your surroundings, otherwise you could dodge right into a wall, deflect a blow into a multiphase tachyon transducer, or step right off a cliff.

It was in the course of doing so that Jacob noticed something.

"Time out," he called to Shin.

Once he was sure there wouldn't be any plasma coming his way, he addressed Mancer.

"The elder Possible looks pretty young there," he said pointing to to a hole in reality itself, hovering in the air, that showed the spot in space and time Mancer intended to affect.

Mancer didn't respond to Jacob and instead continued reciting an incantation that he erroneously thought was in Latin. The fact Mancer didn't know it wasn't Latin set Jacob's mind somewhat at ease. What harm could a fool like Mancer really do?

"I hope my real boss rejoins the game soon," Jacob said to Shin, "freelancing sucks."

"My heart aches for you," Shin said in perfect deadpan.

"You have any idea regarding how long ago that is?" Jacob asked Shin.

"That's the transportulator," Shin said pointing to a device her mother was standing near in image of the past.

"Dr. Dementor's hardline transporter?" Jacob asked.


"Which Drakken tricked your mom into stealing it because she's so very easy--"


"Caused no less than sixteen people to become convinced we were living in the Matrix?"

"Yes already!"

"When did your mom deal with it?" Jacob asked.

"High school," Shin said. Jacob's eyes went wide. "Near the start of junior year."

"Mancer," Jacob shouted, "You can't mess with 2004! I won't even be born if you screw up that part of the timeline!"

Mancer did finally look at Jacob. "That's of no concern to me, I was already around."

"You think you'd be the same person with more than twenty years of your life swapped out for those in the new timeline!?" Jacob shouted, "You'll annihilate yourself and turn your life and body over to someone else!"

"I'm protected," Mancer said.

When a ball of plasma exploded against an invisible sphere that, Jacob estimated, was centered on Mancer. Jacob did the only sensible thing. He flinched back and raised his arms to cover his face for protection.

"Warn me before you do something like that," Jacob shouted back toward Shin, then he turned to Mancer again, "You think a magical shield is going to save you from changing the entire damned timeline?"

"No," Mancer said in a condescending way. That was good, condescension could lead to explanation.  "Whosoever takes one of the thirteen malachite amulets from the sacred urn," Mancer said gesturing at a skyphos, which was nothing like an urn, "is immune to timeline changes."

The skyphos was inside of the invisible bubble, Jacob couldn't reach it. Besides, he had a different question, "Why thirteen? There's just one of you."

"Feeble minds such as yours cannot hope to understand the complexities--"

"The spell called for a full tribunal, didn't it?" Shin asked.

Jacob turned to Shin and didn't hide the confusion he was feeling.

"A tribunal is composed so that it has one and only one member who was born in each of the lunar months," Shin explained.

Jacob nodded. Thirteen months in a lunar year.

"If it's intended for a tribunal it means that they thought anyone attempting to do it on their own was dangerously stupid," Shin said.

Mancer snorted like any half-rate villain who'd had incompetence exposed, and then said, "You clearly don't understand the--"

"You weren't smart enough to modify the spell into a single practitioner affair," Jacob said, "so you took the much easier shortcut of tricking the spell into thinking there were twelve other people and then preformed it as originally written, right?"

"You served your purpose," Mancer said. "You distracted her until the ritual itself protected me and now nothing can stop it. See!" He pointed at the hole in reality that was a window through time. The image of Kim Possible dialing the telephone number of her school in preparation for using the transportulator flickered, then she was shown to have dialed a five where in the original timeline she'd put in a six.

Jacob was confused.

"That's it?" Jacob asked. "You've summoned power so great it threatens to tear the universe asunder and all you did was change a six to a five?"

"Don't underestimate the little things, my former employee," Mancer said.

"For want of a nail?' Jacob asked.

"Nothing so subtle," Mancer said. There was cruelty in the laugh that followed.

Shin turned to Jacob, "What if the changed number was a cellphone number?"

A look of horror passed over Jacob's face. There was a reason that the transportulator was hard line only.

"Nothing so provincial," Mancer said.

Mancer grabbed one of the malachite amulets from the skyphos, then disappeared in a puff of something Jacob was pretty sure wasn't logic. The world around them started to warp and twist.

"Grab the malachite!" Shin shouted. Jacob lunged, taking on faith that the magic shield had disappeared with Mancer, and got a piece just as the last remnants of the spell collapsed into nothingness.

The room went dark.

* * *

Jacob coughed somewhere to her right. "That is foul," he said.

Shin agreed. The air, which had been fine before, now made her want to retch and her stomach churned with every breath she took.

Shin lit her right hand. The green glow showed a largely unchanged lair, the walls were where they left them, the ten remaining malachite amulets were where they'd fallen when she and Jacob had knocked over their container in their rush to get one each.

"Show off," Jacob grumbled, looking at Shin's lit hand. Then he reached into one of his pockets, rummaged a bit, and finally removed one of his improvised inventions. When he put it on, a small illuminated disk was held in the palm of his hand. When he activated it, which he did in spite of it having no obvious controls, it became a flashlight, shining out in electric blue.

"Now who's the show off?" Shin asked, but Jacob seemed more concerned with what he was seeing.

Shin looked around again, with the added light from Jacob she could see massive changes that had been invisible before.

Every surface seemed to be covered in mold, explaining the foul air, and mushrooms had grown through cracks in the floor and walls that hadn't been there before. What little wood there had been was rotted. Metal rusted.

It got worse from there.

"This whole place is drowning in decay," Shin said.

"Let's get out of here," Jacob said, "before we inhale something we'll regret."

"I already regret it," Shin said.

They were nemeses, but they'd worked together more than once and, as long as neither of them acknowledged camaraderie, it shouldn't complicate their relationship too much to do it again now.

Shin collected the ten other amulets into a pouch, and followed Jacob out of the room.

* * *

Jacob heard Shin emerge from the remnants of the building, walk over the same rubble he'd come over, and finally stop beside him. He barely registered any of it.

"This was a city when we went underground, right?" Shin said.

Jacob surveyed the wreckage again. Buildings reduced to mounds, roads and sidewalks cracked by what passed for vegetation, where they weren't completely obscured, no sign of human habitation. Also not enough rubble. It was as if the fallen tops of the buldings had been reduced to dust and blown away.

Then he said, "We'll want to look for new construction--"

"Less than 25 years old," Shin said, "or thereabouts."

"Exactly," Jacob said, "What changed after he changed time."

"How could one digit change all this?" Shin asked.

"Your mother was teleporting," Jacob said. "Where she went, we don't know. What she found there, we don't know. How, if at all, she made it back, we don't know."

"You think she brought something back with her?" Shin asked.

Jacob nodded.

"Something from elsewhere."

Jacob nodded.

"Then the question becomes, 'What could have done all this?'" Shin gestured to the remains of the city.

"I don't know," Jacob said as he looked around again, "but I haven't seen chipmunk or squirrel or heard a single bird chirp, since we got outside."

* * *

"You think everything's dead?" Shin asked. Fungus seemed to rule the city, so something lived. A tree in the distance looked alive.

"At least it's colorful," Jacob said.

Bright orange fungus, white fungus, red fungus, bright yellow fungus, a bit of pale purple fungus. A fair range. It was colorful. But that was hardly the point.

"Forget the scenery," Shin said, "Just do your mad science thing and--"

"Angry science is seldom good science," Jacob said.

"You know what I mean," Shin said, "just--"

Something moved in her peripheral vision.

"What?" Jacob asked.

"Did you see--"

Something else moved.

"Saw it," Jacob said. "Back to back?"

"Yeah," Shin said. Jacob pulled his hand-flashlight off and pulled out "gloves" Shin had grown to hate. They didn't look like much: wires connecting various small panels, mostly disk shaped, which seemed to be Jacob's preferred format. The disks at the palms didn't look all that different from his flashlight.

The gloves had two main functions. One wouldn't matter as Jacob didn't have his hover board. The other was that it allowed him to catch and redirect her plasma. It was like the xistera hand mods on her mother's battle-suit, but worse.

Soon he was out of her field of view, one of the down sides of standing back to back, but by the time Jacob's shoulder blades touched her own she heard the soft hum that meant the gloves were active.

"Pass me ammo?" Jacob asked.

In each hand Shin formed a plasma ball the size of a softball, then shot them straight back.

"Thanks," Jacob said.

"I don't like that they're not letting us see them," Shin said.

"That's what worries you?" Jacob asked.

"If we don't know what we're facing, we can't form a plan," Shin said.

"Which is why it's an unremarkable tactic to keep an enemy off balance," Jacob said.

"So what's got you worried O' great and smart evil one?" Shin said with what she figured was just enough contempt that it would let Jacob know how she felt without damaging their ability to fight as a unit.

"That they're swarming," Jacob said.

Shin hadn't been paying attention to that. She'd been so focused on trying to get a clear look at one of them that she hadn't noticed how much movement she was picking up in the unclear looks. Bodies mostly hidden by what used to be buildings, or behind tree sized mushrooms and assorted other fungus. Non-stop motion the periphery --the one place neither she nor Jacob would be able to get a clear look.

"Unless you're planning on repeatedly stopping during combat to give me fresh plasma," Jacob said, "I've got two shots before I'm close combat only." Shin nodded even though she knew Jacob couldn't see it. "I don't like the idea of letting that many opponents get close."

"Getting soft?" Shin asked.

"You wish," Jacob said.

Then the charge started.

They came from all sides and rushed the hero and the villain.

When Shin saw how they looked, she said, "If they wanted me off balance they should have let me see see how they looked from the start."

Jacob responded with, "Given that they look like that."

Four shots of plasma were fired, and the battle was joined.

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

2004 - Earth

"It really does work like a phone," Kim said. She dialed the number for Middleton high school back in the US. There was a ring, then a high tone, then a trilling tone, and was gone.

* * *

By the time Mr. Barkin said, "Last call for Kim Possible," Tara was pretty sure everyone in the auditorium knew why Ron's act had gone on for so long. He'd always been there for her and he'd been doing it again. Stalling so that she'd have time to make it from wherever she was.

Sometimes Tara thought Ron was a bit too loyal. This time he'd given himself a head injury, in the stunt that finally ended his act, just so Kim could make it to a largely meaningless competition. Sure, Bonnie had pushed Tara into showing up for what she saw as her inevitable victory, but apart from the people in the room, who really cared about the talent show?

At the resounding silence, the utter lack of any sign of Kim, Mr. Barkin said, "Ok, then--"

There was an explosion. Tara felt the shockwave as much as heard the blast.

Mr. Barkin said, "Nobody," and that was when the lights went out, and everyone panicked.

Then came the sounds of screaming from backstage.

Tara didn't actually decide to get out of her seat, she didn't decide to rush through the darkness, she didn't decide to move toward the screaming. She just thought, Ron, and found herself on her way. She said, "Sorry" and, "Excuse me," to the people she bumped on the way.

She was up on stage, almost at the curtains, by the time a few of the parents in the crowd thought to use their blackberries to provide some light.

By the time she made it backstage the screaming had stopped. She followed the lead of the parents with blackberries, though the only light her phone cast was from a pitiful green diode merely meant to show it was on. Still, with her eyes adjusting to the dark, a pitiful little led was all she needed.

She found Ron unconscious, his head bandaged, Rufus standing guard over Ron, and no one else.

The emergency lights came on, and when her eyes adjusted to the new light she saw blood and a few scraps of clothing. Someone had been hurt, a lot, and then their bleeding body had been dragged from the room. She cautiously looked through the door the blood trail led out of.

What greeted her was a regular hall, except for the blood. Since it wasn't a controlled environment like the auditorium, light came not just from the emergency lights, but also from outside. It had to pass through a window, a classroom, and a door window, but Tara was willing to take what she could get.

No sign of whoever had been hurt, or whatever had hurt them. Tara knew better than to go off alone; she was about to close the door and tell everyone what she'd found when the emergency lights started to flicker and die.

It caught her attention and interest.

She knew that Middleton High wasn't exactly a paragon of safety, but there was no way the emergency lights had batteries that would fail this quickly. Something was wrong. The failures had started at the far end of the hall, but they were steadily making their way toward her, and thus the darkness approached. Tara had an deep, disturbing feeling that something was coming for her.

She felt a chill that she thought she was probably just imaging, slammed the door, and ran to join the others.

* * *

"Someone is missing and hurt!" shouted a blonde girl Josh didn't know that well. A cheerleader maybe?

Josh generally tried to help out where he could, but he had another reason for going to help this time. Kim was the only person he knew of who was missing.

He reached the backstage area at more or less at the same time as everyone else who had answered the call.

He heard Barkin ask, "What's going on here, Ms.--"

It wasn't like Barkin to stop in the middle of a sentence. Josh pushed a bit so he could see what had made Barkin--

And then he wanted to vomit.

Josh was pretty unshakable about a lot of things, but he wasn't good with blood. Barkin gave orders to some willing volunteers and they left to follow the trail of blood. Josh stayed behind.

Almost everyone else went back into the auditorium where the debate over whether it was better to stay in one place or bravely run away was still ongoing. That left him in the room with the blonde girl and Stoppable, who was unconscious. Maybe he could do something to help Stoppable. That would be something, at least.

"Is he ok?" Josh asked the blonde girl.

"I don't know," she said, "There was no one else here."

Josh nodded. Whoever had been treating Stoppable must have been the one whose blood...

Josh pushed the thought from his head.

Someone was going to have to assess Stoppable's head wound. It wasn't bleeding, he wasn't even sure why it had been bandaged, there shouldn't be more than a large lump under the bandages. Josh was pretty sure he could handle a large lump.

Josh said, "Maybe we should take a--" and the phone rang.

Of course the phone rang. By now there must be have been a dozen calls from frightened parents about an explosion at the school, and that was assuming that calls hadn't been made about the blood yet.

Hard line phones still worked when the power was out --something about drawing power from their own line or ... something-- so of course the phone rang. Josh didn't actually want to be the one who answered but the blonde girl seemed intent on staying at Stoppable's side, so he picked up on the third ring.

"Ron!" the voice on the other end said.

"No, this is Josh Mankey," Josh said. "Ron's hurt."

"Not Ron too," the voice said. Then it asked, "What happened?"

"Who is this?" Josh asked.

"My name is Wade, I work with Kim and Ron."

Josh nodded to himself. Everyone who knew about Kim and Ron knew about Wade.

"Ron hurt himself doing a stunt for the talent show," Josh said. There was nothing Wade could do to help with that. What really interested Josh was something Wade had said. "What did you mean when you said 'Ron too'?"

"Kim's missing," Wade said. "She tried to use the transportulator to get to the show but--"

"What's a transportulator?" Josh asked. In spite of the situation, he couldn't help but be amused by the name.

"It's a teleportation device that piggybacks its signal over the phone lines," Wade said, "but when she tried to get to you guys Kim just disappeared."

A connection was made in Josh's mind. "There was an explosion--"

"An explosion?"

"Yes," Josh said, "pay attention. There was an explosion, could that have been," Josh suddenly found it very hard to speak, "Kim?"

"I'm looking into-- no. If it were Kim I'd be getting at least some kind of signal from-- that's not important," Wade said. "Based on the timing it probably was somehow related to what happened to Kim. I need Ron to--"

"Ron's unconscious!" Josh shouted. He hadn't meant to. It just came out. He felt bad about shouting because Wade had no way of knowing about the state Ron was in. "Tell me what to do."

"Ok," Wade said. Then the line went silent. It stayed silent. Josh was about to assume the connection had been lost and hang up when Wade spoke again. "You'll need to pick up equipment from Kim's locker. I'll contact you when you get there."

"Ok," Josh said, "I'm going but we've got more problems than just Ron and Kim, can you contact emergency services?"

"What happened?" Wade asked.

Josh looked at the blonde girl, "It's Kim and Ron's friend Wade, can you tell him what happened?" he asked. "Something happened to Kim and I need to go."

She nodded and took the phone.

Josh heard her say, "Wade, it's Tara," as he left the backstage area.

The auditorium was about half empty. Apparently there had been a more or less fifty-fifty split on the stay or go debate. Josh ran through it, and out of it, in the direction of Kim's locker.

* * *

"Wade, it's Tara. I'm friends with Kim and Ron," Tara said.

"Can you tell me what's going on?" Wade asked. "I think Josh left some things out."

Tara told Wade everything that had happened. When she finished, she heard a flurry of typing and then Wade said, "Fire, police and medical services are already on the way because of the explosion, I'll make sure they know that there's a wild animal or something--"

"Or something," Tara said.

"--on the loose." Tara heard typing. "That's odd." More typing.

"What's odd?" Tara asked.

"There's more help headed your way than there should be."

There was an unexplained explosion, someone had been mauled and was missing, possibly dead, Ron was unconscious, Kim was missing --though apparently Josh was working on that-- what could possibly be more help than they needed right now? So she asked, "What does that mean?"

"It looks like all of Middleton's emergency--" typing. "It's not just the high school." Wade said. More typing.

"What's not just the high school?" Tara asked, though she had a feeling she didn't really want to know the answer.

"Local 911 has been inundated by calls in your area," Wade said. "Animal attacks, strange sounds, unexplained blackouts" typing "Everything is centered on the high school."

"Great," Tara said. She didn't have any emotion left to give.

"Police are advising people to shelter in place," Wade said. "Tara, get yourself and Ron to a safe place and then barricade yourselves in."

"Wade," Tara said.

"I have to go." The line went dead.

"Damn it," Tara said.

Then she went to Ron again. "Wake up sleepyhead," she said in a way that she hoped hid her fear. The last thing she needed was for Ron to wake up in a panic.

* * *

It was strange being told the combination to a locker by a voice from inside of it, but all things considered it was one of the most normal things since the talent show went wrong.

As soon as Josh opened the locker, Wade said, "Josh, change of plans," over the video link on the computer Kim kept crammed in her locker. "Fact-finding and Kim-finding is on hold."

It took Josh a moment to process that.

"What do you mean finding Kim is on hold?" Josh asked.

"Something very bad is happening in your area right now," Wade said, "and everyone who left the talent show after the power outage --including you-- is in danger."

"Go on," Josh said, trying to absorb the new information.

"The animal attack, which you didn't mention, isn't an isolated incident," Wade said. Josh felt a moment's guilt about not mentioning that, but only a moment. There was a lot going on and he didn't think it was wrong to be concerned that Kim might have been blown up. "They're happening all around you.

"I needed you to get everyone who's out in the open and send them somewhere safe," Wade said.

"If they're happening in the area shouldn't we get out of the area?" Josh asked. "Also, in case you forgot where I was headed next, there was an explosion here. What about the boom?"

"It's a two mile radius and expanding," Wade said. "Everyone needs to get inside behind locked doors until we figure out what's going on. As for the boom, unless you've got a reason to think it wasn't an isolated incident, the ongoing animal attacks are a more immediate concern."

Josh thought about that for a moment, since when did Team Possible take a run and hide approach?

"I can't blame you if you don't want to take the risk of helping," Wade said, "but Kim is missing, Rufus weighs less than a paperback--"

"Seriously?" Josh asked.

"I know, with all he eats you'd think he'd weigh more," Wade said. "Anyway, that's Kim and Rufus. Ron is unconscious, and if she listened to me, then Tara is dragging Ron to a hiding place as we speak, so you're kind of the only person I'm in contact with on scene and I could really use some help rounding everyone up."

Josh thought it over and then said, "What do I do?"

"Obviously Kim took her mission gear with her on her mission, but there are still some useful things in Kim's locker. Outdated tech, backup gear, that sort of thing. You're going to need . . ."

* * *

Ron had woken up, but it was touch and go, and he was barely capable of supporting his own weight. He wasn't going to be going anywhere in a hurry. Still Tara was preparing to get him out of the area when Barkin and the others who had followed the blood trail ran back into the room and slammed the door behind them.

"Barricade it it with something!" Someone shouted.

Three adults were holding the door closed, and when something on the other side hit the door it looked like they might not be enough. There was a growling sound that, Tara estimated, came from something very large, and then there was the horrible sound of something clawing at the metal door.

Two members of the party were clearly injured. All were afraid.

For a moment Tara was frozen with indecision. It was just a moment though. She'd long since learned a lesson that neither Kim nor Bonnie had managed: delegate.

"Do I help you or evacuate the others?"

"Evacuate the compromised premises!" Barkin shouted.

"Got it," Tara said. She turned her attention to Ron, "Sorry, we don't have time."

"Wha?" was all Ron said before she started to pick him up.

Ron was over Tara's shoulders and she was heading for the auditorium within a few seconds.

"Rufus?" Tara asked.

"Uh-huh?" The rodent asked.

"Keep an eye on him for me."

"Ok," Rufus said before he climbed onto Tara and then onto Ron.

When Tara was on the stage she made use of an asset gained from cheerleading: a shouting voice that made microphones and amplification unnecessary:

"Listen up everyone, it's not safe here and we have to move somewhere else."

"What's going on?" Bonnie asked.

"Not completely sure," Tara said, "but apparently the police are telling people to shelter in place so we just have to get to a safe place to shelter."

"Define safe," Someone said.

"Someone's been mauled here," Tara said, "there are a bunch of reports of wild animal attacks in the entire area, and no one knows what that explosion was."

All that remained was to determine what the safest place in the school was. Tara was in favor this debate taking place on the move, and led by example.

When not everyone chose to follow her example she added, "Also, one of the killer beasts is in the process of breaking down a door to get into the backstage area."

Everyone looked at the curtain that separated backstage from on stage. A moment later everyone started to exit the auditorium.

* * *

Josh had made contact with just five groups so far. Admittedly some of them were pretty large, but they were all stragglers who'd gotten turned around in the high school's halls. He wasn't sure how much of a difference he was really making. Every time he'd made contact he'd given them directions from Wade that, hopefully, would lead to them joining up with Tara's group.

Most of the work of finding the people had been done with a prototype Kimmunicator which showed him human heat signatures, represented by red dots, superimposed on a map of the school.

Wade's voice crackled in, Josh guessed that the crackling was part of why Kimmunicator was filed under "abandoned prototype" rather than "back up, early model." Wade said, "Josh, I've done some work toward adapting the system we're using to locate other people to also show . . . non-human heat signatures."

"Non-human?" Josh asked. He probably didn't want to know. Don't think about blood.

"It seems impossible, but I'm picking up things that are significantly colder than the ambient temperature and not heating up. Ordinary cold blooded creatures would slowly warm or cool to room temperature, but these things . . . it's like someone reversed the polarity on warm blooded metabolism."

"You do realize that what you just said makes no sense and doesn't really mean anything, right?" Josh said.

"It always worked with Kim and Ron," Wade said. "Anyway, I'm sending updated protocols to your device. Avoid the blue dots."

There was a bit of static, then several blue dots appeared on his map in addition to the red dots that had been there before.

One of them was close and getting closer.

"Wade, one of the blue dots--"


Josh did.

"I'm sorry! I didn't notice that one," Wade said quickly as Josh ran down a hall. "I'm going to go radio silent and then see if I can find a way to lure it away from you. Find a place to hide, Josh."

A moment later he didn't have to place his belief in a blue dot. A crash behind him had him turn to look at a mass of black fur, he didn't make out much of anything about the shape or size, but he did note the pristine white teeth.

Before he saw it he didn't think he could run any faster, after he saw it he was running faster without thinking about it.

A random, completely unfounded, downright Ron-like, probably-bad idea popped into Josh's head and he headed for the cafeteria.

* * *

Tara surveyed, for what seemed to be the thousandth time, the people she was with.

Barkin and his group had caught up to them after barricading the backstage door and the most direct doors out of the auditorium. Barkin had advised that they seek out a half forgotten fallout shelter under the gym building. It was the best suggestion anyone had had so far. That just meant getting through the halls from the auditorium to the exit, across open space to the gym, and from there to the shelter.

If the auditorium hadn't recently been refurbished, of course, they'd have held the talent show in the gym and be there already. Sometimes even good things turned out to be bad things.

Tara focused on the task in front of her. She was carrying Ron to a place he'd hopefully be safe and shepherding these people to the same place. Wade and Josh had both sent more people her way, and their group had grown in size.

Now they had perhaps as much as a three quarters of the people who attended the talent show.

They just had to make it somewhere safe.

The smell of blood coming off Barkin's group and some of the newcomers wouldn't make things easy, though.

* * *

Josh made it into the cafeteria only a few seconds ahead of his pursuer and vaulted over the counter. Now he put all of his hopes in mystery meat. No self-respecting predator would ever think to touch stuff, and hopefully its smell would disguise his own.

He tried to slow his breathing, but had no luck.

Then he heard the doors forced open.

He wasn't sure if he could breathe now even if he'd wanted to.

It followed his scent, or perhaps just intuition, to where he jumped over the counter, but then Josh heard the footfalls stop. There was sniffing, just over the counter, and only mystery meat between Josh and those shiny white teeth.

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

2004 - Unknown

"It really does work like a phone," Kim said. She dialed the number for Middleton high school back in the US. There was a ring, then a high tone, then a trilling tone, and the world was gone.

When Kim hit the ground she was moving forward fast, even though a moment ago she'd been standing still.

The jagged ground scraped her before she came to a stop.

"Dementor must not have ironed all the bugs out," Kim said as she got to her feet. When her eyes adjusted to the darker lighting, she realized that she was in a cavern of some sort. Some other part of Drakken's lair?

If it was, it was a part he hadn't been using. There was no sign of human activity anywhere.

The fact that she could see was oddly disconcerting considering that there was also no sign of any light source.

Knowing from experience that up was usually a good way to go, she started in the direction that seemed like it would lead her there.

Drakken had confiscated her Kimmunicator and she hadn't actually stopped to get it back, she'd dropped the ring communicator in the not-actually-bottomless "bottomless" pit when the shark had smacked her in the face with its tail. Wade probably had her chipped, just like Ron, but that didn't mean she could contact him.

She was on her own for now.

* * *

At first Kim wasn't sure if the sounds she was following were real, or just her imagination playing tricks. She followed them anyway.

As she drew nearer she was sure that something was walking through the tunnels and caverns that made up the cave system. Closer still and she could tell it was an animal.

When she actually saw it, though, she had to cover her mouth to be sure she wouldn't make a sound.

It was a dog, but it couldn't be natural, could it?

Larger than a St. Bernard, shaped like a wolf, soot black fur, bone white teeth.

It was walking with purpose and Kim decided to follow -- at a distance.

It clearly knew the area as it didn't face a single dead end and never once so much as slowed down or looked around.

Eventually it was joined by another dog just like it. Same breed? Same litter?

Then another.

And another, and another.

When there were dozens of large, unkempt, nearly identical dogs Kim was sure someone had bred or cloned a dog army, and it was definitely on the move.

Whose evil lair was she in, anyway?

Still, the dogs were clearly going somewhere, and that somewhere was a place Kim hadn't been yet, so if she followed then there then . . . she didn't have enough information yet. Right now all she had were a couple of puzzle pieces that didn't fit.

So she followed, cautiously, in hopes of learning something

* * *

Kim slipped. It barely made a noise maybe-- Kim cursed canine hearing; at least ten of the dogs were coming her way.

Where before Kim had had a goal and direction --get out, go up-- now Kim wasn't thinking ahead at all. Every move she made was strictly in the moment. Would a zig or a zag be better at shaking her pursuers? Jumps down broke line of sight more quickly than running on level ground so soon she was deeper than where she'd started.

* * *

Kim finally thought she'd lost the last of the dogs, but she was now thoroughly lost. What little map she'd created in her head was useless now, she had no idea where she'd been and where she hadn't.

Plus, some of the places she'd jumped down were ones where she was pretty sure that she couldn't get back up again. Drakken had confiscated her grappler too.

She just had to try to get the lay of the land from scratch. Again.

* * *

At first it had been faint sounds, but she followed them and the sounds resolved into words. Someone talking, at length, to him or herself. Standard super-villain stuff. Finally something that made sense.

She approached while sticking to the shadows.

Finally she was able to make out the words.

"The dogs go first like always, but the dogs haven't gone for ages. The way they're going it must be a big one, first in centuries and big, big like never before. Doggies and darkness go first, clear the way. Then the unseen, and finally the population gets to move," the voice said.

Kim was becoming convinced of two things. One: the voice was female, two: she wasn't going to get anything out of it. Whoever it was was simply too far beyond sense.

"The people move, but not me, not me, gone ages ago. Should be unseen myself, so they say. So they say. They say, but I won't settle for that. No, no. Why would I go there. Ought to be a person, I should. Why would I give up that? No, I just have to find-- Hello there."

Kim couldn't see the source of the voice yet, but somehow she was convinced that it was talking to her.

"Why don't you come out, young one? Let me see you."

Maybe, just maybe, Kim could get answers.

"Don't be afraid," the voice said, "I won't harm a hair on your head."

Kim continued down the tunnel she was in and soon came to the entrance to one of the caverns.

"Why I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt that lovely body of yours."

Ferociously creepy, but a chance at answers. Kim walked into the cavern.

"Not something so fresh. No, no."

The woman was dressed in old clothes. Like Jamestown reenactment old. She was also somewhat transparent.

"Such a fresh, warm body, still juicy, wouldn't want to harm it in the least," she said.

Slim possibility of a hologram, but probably a ghost. Kim hadn't dealt with a ghost before, but she'd seen a fair amount of magic.

"I'd never harm a body such as yours, what with there being so little chance of having another so fresh sent to me."

Very creepy ghost.

"Where am I?" Kim asked.

"Why the After, deary," the ghost said. "All those restrictions placed on you before are gone now. Wouldn't you like to get out of that confining thing and take a look around?"

"Thing?" Kim asked.

"That delightfully fresh body of yours; doesn't it feel like a straight jacket?"

Very, very creepy ghost.

"It places so many limits on you. Don't you want to fly?" the ghost started to move towards Kim. "I promise I'll take good care of it while you're gone. Not harm a single hair on its juicy scalp. I'd never have that."

Kim started walking backward, maintaining the distance between herself and the ghost.

"I think I'll be keeping my body on," Kim said. "If you could just tell me the way out of here."

"Oh, you don't want to go that way," the ghost said, "hairy stinky dogs there. Doggies always go first. They can smell the air from the living world. Drawn to it, they are."

"Just the same," Kim said, "I think I'll be going now."

"That's not nice," the ghost said. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to share?"

"Definitely going," Kim said.

"The fastest way is to fly, but you can't take that fresh body of yours with you when you fly," the ghost said. "So if you really want to go, just fly away and I'll keep the body safe."

Possibly the most coherent thing the ghost had said. Definitely the most disturbing.

"Going," Kim said with what she hoped was finality. Then she ran.

Today was, apparently, a day for running.

* * *

Kim felt that she was almost spent. She didn't have another run in her. The ghost had been hard to shake. She had to be more stealthy. So when she finally saw a sign of civilization, she was in full creeping mode.

It was a bar, more or less. It was a disgusting decaying version of a saloon.

Kim crept to a window and peered inside. What she saw made her want to retch. They were standing and sitting around, drinking and talking like ordinary people, but they were so very clearly dead.

Putrid decaying corpses. Rotting flesh hanging from bone. They wore moldy tattered clothes on the verge of simply falling apart.

She strained her ears and listened to the conversation nearest her.

"This is the biggest opportunity in centuries," one said, "maybe more."

"I'll believe it when these eyes see sunlight again," a second said. "Until then it's just more talk."

"The first hounds have already gone through," the first said, clearly enthusiastic. "Word is they're meeting no resistance."

"How could there be resistance?" a third chimed in. "They've kept us all locked up down here for so long they hardly remember we exist, much less how to fight us."

Was that possible? Was it like with wildfires? Could it be that having no "controlled burns" of fighting these things in recorded history meant that the world was unprepared for them now?

Kim shook her head. She'd stop them now. She could do anything.

"Dogs and darkness have an easy time making it to the other side--" the second said.

"And they'll pave the way for us," the third countered.

"I'll believe it when--" the second said again.

"We'll know soon enough," the first said. "The important thing is that if we do get the chance, we can't afford to waste this opportunity."

"I'm just glad it didn't open in their territory again," the third said.

Whose territory?

"Life lovers," the second spat.

"As it was, so it shall be," the first said, raising a glass. "It was our world before and it will be our world again."

"I'll drink to that," the third said.

"I'll drink," the second said.

Kim didn't want to watch that display and crept away from the building.


  1. I don't know - as a quick-and-dirty I-don't-know-what's-going-on explanation, "like warm-blooded, but backwards" makes sense to me. :P

    Interesting story. :)

  2. Very cool story, Chris! Keep it up, I want to read more!