Standard Disclaimer: Disney owns Kim Possible, Rufus owns all the cheese, and I own the blank space between lines.

Chapter 2 – Battlefront

Nearby hospitals were not exactly plentiful and if reports went out of a world-famous hero teen dragging in a severely injured radio astronomer, it might attract the wrong attention.

Kim's dilemma must have shown in her face, as Ann Possible asked the question that Kim had been reluctant to. "There's a problem, isn't there?"

"Yes. The mission was a fake. The ones who tried to kill Catherine's sister tried to kill Mr Duncan and tried to force me to help them."

"I hope you said no."

"They were using mind control."

Mrs Dr Possible sighed. Why couldn't the enemies be more normal, like the ones in the novel she was reading. Wasn't fiction supposed to be stranger than fact? She vaguely remembered a quote something like that. Obviously written by someone who didn't have a teen hero as a daughter.

"This sort of work is really too delicate for a field hospital, I'll see what I can arrange. Try to keep him comfortable."

Kim moved them into a patch of nearby woodland for some shelter - both from the heat and from unwanted eyes. Within an hour, Kim could hear vehicles driving nearby. People's voices coordinating the setting up of tents followed. A glance through the trees showed that circus tents were being set up. In the middle of nowhere?

Suspicious, she edged closer and saw that medical equipment was being taken into one of the side tents, from an ambulance someone had hurriedly spray-painted with bright, lurid colours.

The Kimmunicator beeped. It was her mother.

"One makeshift hospital. The circus is genuine, they have to practice somewhere, you need a bit of camouflage and they owe me... five favours. Circus people don't talk, so you should be ok."

After her brief conversation, Kim moved forwards and cautiously approached one of the medics. On being assured Wade had checked everyone for mind control, given that he now knew the frequency the implant was using, the two of them got Patrick to the surgical tent. He was not doing well, but the medic assured her that his chances were good.

The ringleader for the circus entered at that point. Introducing himself as Bill, he asked if there was anything he could do to help. Kim reckoned this was his way of paying off the remaining favours in one go. It was obvious they couldn't all hide in this one tent forever, but she had no idea how to solve that.

Of all people, it was Ron who had the idea. "Hey, Kim, you're around acrobats. You could practice your moves around them. As long as it was in circus clothes, nobody would recognize you!"

Kim thought about it. It had some appeal, she could learn a few new moves in exchange for some of hers that they might not know. It wouldn't give her favours to cash in, but if - as she hoped - she became a diplomat or Global Justice agent, it might be helpful to have friends in high-wire places. She inwardly groaned at her own pun. It was as bad as some of Ron's. She put her idea to Bill.

Bill thought about it. "Show me what you can do and I'll see if I can fit you in. No promises, we're one short on the acrobats but I gather from your mother that you're used to leading. A temporary leader would be a disaster for the act, even if they'd agree to it. Are you willing to be part of a troupe?"

Kim bit her lip. It came down to pride versus certain death for Patrick and maybe everyone else. Her pride was important, but was it all that important in this sitch? She had, after all, been an assistant to her mother with only stomach problems rather than control problems.

"Ok, show me where you want me to go."

Within the hour, it was agreed. She couldn't seem to be top billing or close to it, it would blow the disguise in addition to disrupting the troupe. Nor could she take training time from people who would continue on. However, she could learn all the different routines and she was already highly skilled at much. The trapeze and high wire were relatively new but really just extensions of things she had learned on her missions. Juggling flaming torches was not hard for her to pick up. The tumbling and back flipping she was already a master of.

But there were new routines. Dangling by a silk scarf seemed precarious, she preferred more solid anchors. It's one thing to form a human pyramid, but it's a little more terrifying to form it on the shoulders of someone bicycling along a high wire when you've no grappling hook to rescue you - the balance is different, as is the fact that the "floor" is moving. Strange new routines copied haphazardly from Cirque du Luneil. These last ones, she proved very helpful, using her knowledge of cheer routines to adapt the routines from mere copies to being something innovative in their own right.

When the proposed routines were rehearsed without a hitch, she knew there was real mutual respect and admiration. Their routines were far more dangerous than she had ever imagined and their bravery and skill that much greater. She didn't understand why so many felt rejected by the world, but she respected that they were too compassionate, too intelligent and too gifted to be seen as simply blaming others or being lazy. They worked harder in a day than Bonnie did in a month, as if their lives depended upon it. Which, in all fairness, they did.

Because they were good and put the effort in, it was easy for Kim to treat it the same way as she did when she helped her mother with brain surgery. The level of skill and precision was close enough the same.

Likewise, the circus folks warmed up to Kim quickly. They could trust that she'd save any of their lives if she could, if a routine went wrong, better than any netting. She was no wannabe, when it came to ability, and put in her share of the work. They knew she was hunted by killers and several of them knew from experience what that was like. And that new routine was going to draw crowds. It was a pity she would likely have left before the first public showing.

The time came when Patrick was healed up enough to fly transatlantic. Kim arranged a flight with Wade. A supersonic airliner was being tested and Wade had been able to arrange seats. Because this wasn't a regular flight, the three of them could limit the scrutiny and paperwork. This was convenient as Kim and Ron always had trouble explaining how they were leaving a country they never officially entered. Also, Patrick's passport was 250 feet under the collapsed remains of a radio observatory, give or take. The bomb craters made the surface very irregular.

Once back in the U.S., it was a short-haul flight to Middleton and a drive back to the Possibles' house. Catherine was waiting, still feeling the burns but able to move about a little. On her father entering she showed typical British stoic reserve. For all of about five seconds before collapsing into his arms.

"I was so worried about you dad, you shouldn't be allowed out on your own! You could have been killed!"

Patrick considered this for a moment. "I was in safe hands. Now, have you been doing your homework? It's probably late by now."

Kim and Ron exchanged puzzled glances and Patrick turned to them.

"It's a British way of dealing with shock. Substitute something less painful or, preferably, ridiculous for the trauma. Absurdly unhealthy, but it spreads out the pain and it does seem to work at least some of the time."

Catherine interjected. "Did they follow you?"

Patrick paused. "Quite possibly. You should not dismiss the possibility."

The joy in Catherine's eyes turn to terror. The few possessions she had that were not destroyed in the fire or too fused to flesh or clothes to free were in her pockets. She reached into one, grasped something tightly, then drew it out and handed it to Patrick.

It looked like a small handset, with some sort of finger holes at the back. Kim was puzzled by it but even more puzzled by Catherine's demeanour. Naked fear clashing with steeled resolve. A really bad combination, suggesting something of a suicide mission. Given the murderous opposition they had faced, that wasn't improbable.

"There's an old abandoned house by an airstrip, eight miles north of Middleton's boundary and three miles east", she whispered, although everyone could hear. "Less risk of innocent people getting hurt."

Kim wanted to scream no, you're not fit enough to walk to the car, let alone play hero, especially if you know you're going to get yourself killed! She could see the same reaction in both her parents and even Ron.

Patrick, however, was thinking things through. "Kim, can you call Wade?"

Kim quickly dialled up the boy genius and handed the Kimmunicator over.

"Wade, I need to know two things. I've some quantum wormhole tracking devices. It may be possible to goad Ann Dromeda into sending an assassin directly. That's our chance of finding out where she is located and something about her. This time, they're going to want to make sure of killing Catherine and myself and Catherine is geared up to try and use that proximity to apply the trackers to the assassin. You understand what that implies."

Wade nodded.

"First, the software and data needed to access the receiver is in this hand unit. Does the Kimmunicator have a USB adaptor?"

A line from the Kimmunicator snaked out and plugged itself into the unit. Wade glanced at the code. "That's good security! It would have taken me at least three minutes to break through if I'd known there was something there."

Ron butted in. "He's not joking, either."

"I'm certain of that. I'm also certain that that puts it beyond our opponents."

"The second thing?" queried Wade.

"Is there anything you can do to simulate Catherine well enough to fool a killer?"

Wade paused then shook his head. "Not in the time available. You can disrupt a hologram too easily."

Patrick thought for a moment. "Mrs Dr Possible, is there any reliable way of temporarily suspending the death process? I know that people whose core temperature plunges fast can survive without oxygen or a heartbeat for tens of minutes."

Ann considered this but shook her head. "It's not reliable and even if it worked for some things, there are many things nobody can cure. Anything that's possible is possible for a Possible, but that leaves far too much in this context. Is there any other way?"

Patrick turned to the Kimmunicator. "The tracking devices are transparent and use an impact adhesive. They have to be placed on the killer in a way they won't detect and at a time they won't detect. Catherine's plan is that he's least likely to notice when he's killing her. She's up close and he's busy."

"Why impact adhesive?"

"A real pain to remove when stuck and no stickiness until firmly applied - makes it easy to carry around."

"How much force do you need to apply?"

Patrick told him. Wade looked thoughtful.

"And why does she need to be killed?"

"If they're not convinced we're both dead, they won't leave. One of us needs to get up close and she has the skill and strength."

Catherine looked up with blazing eyes. "And I'm not giving dad the chance. This one is mine."

Patrick shook his head. "It has to seem to be her and it has to be convincing enough for the assassin to go back to Ann Dromeda. It does not technically have to actually be her, that isn't a requirement, but she will do this if we don't find an alternative."

Ron had a question. "Why do the tracking?"

"If the killer is still here, they might not limit themselves to us. After all, a teen hero or a vengeful family could follow them when they get the job done."

Ron gulped. "Oh..."

Kim looked anxious. "What stops them from killing my family anyway?"

"Ann Dromeda likes things to look like accidents, natural disasters, and so on. Fewer questions. Killing you would raise a lot of questions and get a lot of attention. As long as they think it's not worth it, you're probably safe."

"Probably?"

"Best I can do, I'm afraid. The best hope is to shut down the operation completely so that there's no threat at all, and that requires the tracker."

Kim could see Catherine suppressing the horror behind a resignation and a firm belief that she had to be the one to buy Team Possible both time and information. She wished she could reach out and take the burden away or fix things or... or... anything but this. To have suffered such desperate living - homeless and in fear, to then undergo such horrible tragedy and pain, and to have everything she had left taken from her just as she was starting to heal... No individual should go through that, let alone a child, although she knew it happened around the world daily.

Jim and Tim, who had been hiding in a corner spoke up.

"I know!"

"No, I know!"

They both spoke together. "There is a way to do this where nobody gets killed!"

Meanwhile, in a massive lair hidden inside a dormant volcano, several figures walked towards a meeting room. Energy use was minimal to reduce the risk of detection. Meta-materials coated the outside, converting the energy signature of the lair to something closer to natural. Being a volcano, the energy was easily masked.

"Well?" Ann Dromeda demanded, her face - already scarred by mystical symbols - looked more threatening and terrifying than usual.

"We've located them and we intercepted a communication to the hospital that a derelict house is going to be used as a makeshift field hospital for both of the surviving Duncans. We can eliminate them in one go."

"And the tablets?"

Their energies have been detected but their position has not been fixed yet. Once there's no possibility of anyone else retrieving them, we will be clear to retrieve them."

"Very well. This has to be done right, this time."

"I have sent twenty guards and Fenric. That should suffice."

Ann Dromeda thought about this. "Interesting choice. Not very discrete, though."

"There's a teen 'hero' involved. She is protective of her family. A weakness. This will be discrete. As long as she feels they are safe if she gets uninvolved, she won't. She's a minor celebrity and if she doesn't get uninvolved, it is going to get messy. Terror is the easier option."

Ann nodded. "Just so long as you understand the price of failure."

The man's eyes glowed green as he laughed. "Failure, as those Americans say, is not an option."

Outside the ruined house, two figures stood. The man with a stave, the girl unarmed. Stood is perhaps the wrong word. They fought as though their lives depended upon it. An apt phrase, in this case, because they did.

Shego was watching with admiration and a little fear. Catherine did not fight by the Way of Kimmie, Catherine was not concerned with justice or capture. To judge from one oddly-angled combatant on the ground, she was not concerned with the well-being of backs or necks, either. This was no quarter given and none taken fight to the death against horribly unequal odds. Twenty versus two. The man was not as impressive, closer to Ron in ability but just about able to fend off three at a time. Too bad there were ten trying to murder him. He had so far defeated none. The girl, though, had a growing pile of unconscious bodies with a few corpses thrown in. One of them literally.

Shego resisted the urge to tell Kim, lying on the ground next to Shego, that this was real fighting. Glancing at Kim was enough to convince her that Kim was just as impressed but utterly horrified.

Kim leaned closer to Shego. "Did Drakken add the fighting skill or violence?"

Shego gestured no. "That all comes from the girl."

Kim considered this and was going to say more when a large man in black body armour. The man gestured that the man with the stave should be grabbed. This was quickly accomplished.

The new man turned to Catherine and sneered. "Surrender now and I'll only kill you two. Refuse and I'll destroy this entire town."

The new man radiated evil. Had anyone a device capable of measuring it, they'd find that this was actually happening. He had a mystical mark on his face that radiated energy of a kind that could only be called evil.

The girl glared, backed off and faced the newcomer. "And how do I know you won't do that anyway?"

"You don't, beyond knowing we don't publicise."

Catherine considered and, much to Shego's disgust, surrendered. Shego knew the plan and knew the threat wasn't idle, but hated the very idea of giving in.

Catherine let herself be led to the newcomer. Neither Shego not Kim expected what happened next. Her hands were bound, she was stripped of her clothes and an ignited blowtorch was placed on a cradle along with an assortment of knives, gloves with spikes in the palms and other implements of torture.

At that point both the watchers looked away. The screams of agony didn't start for another five minutes but continued for another fifteen before breaking off suddenly.

Shego glanced back and wished she hadn't. Catherine's body had been largely destroyed and her severed head was now held by her assailant. Judging from a few details, Catherine had probably been raped as well. She hated Kimmie, but as a rival on opposite teams. Not like this.

The man had died a cleaner, but only slightly less brutal death. His guts had been ripped out and thrown into the ground before he, too, had been beheaded. Marginally more deserved, thought Shego, as he hadn't been as talented.

She heard Kim throw up as quietly as possible, suggesting Kim had seen too.

Those guards who were standing left. The man shot the rest through the head. Messily, making recognition impossible thought Shego.

Once the armoured man had left, Shego and Kim returned to the others. Kim was shaking badly and Shego actually had to help her at times. Patrick was crouched down near a complex piece of electronics. Catherine was next to a similar device, receiving CPR.

"Did it work?" Kim asked, after pulling him up on the Kimmunicator.

"I'm tracking the signal and it's going strong. It's moving north-west of you."

Kim breathed and took one of her mother's patent anti-trauma pills. "I may need another."

"Now, Kimmie, you have to build a resistance to severe trauma, you can't depend on medicine."

Kim nodded, agreeing but privately thinking that it was very, very unlikely she would ever experience anything like this again unless she became a mercenary.

"What happened to Catherine?"

"The feedback from whatever she suffered caused her heart to stop. I assume that was from whatever killed the replicant."

Kim decided against discussing the systematic physical and sexual trauma. At least, not until her mother was older.

"Where's Ron?"

"He's on sedatives after hearing the screams."

Shego strolled over. "I want my pay and under the circumstances make it double!"

Kim gestured to two crates. One marked "Drakken", which Drakken was already exploring. The other was marked Shego.

Drakken became aware he was noticed and came over. "The twins were an irritant and kept modifying the stuff I made. I was also dragged away from important world-dominating work. However, your recognition of my superior intellect and generous donation of money and some of Dr Possible's work will suffice I suppose. Just don't keep expecting me to keep bailing you out!"

Shego grimaced. Drakken was going to be more insufferable than usual for a long time. However, as she looked through her own crate, she'd been paid handsomely for her part in threatening Dr D into coming here, working with the twins and producing clone-like creatures whose senses and muscles were related over to the brains of the people they were replicas of. She'd heard the word "avatar" and thought it sort-of fit.

She had not expected the senseless, gratuitous violence after the surrender. oh, her dreams started at R and worked their way up, and they usually involved the torture (amongst other things) and eventual death of Kim Possible, but those were her dreams, her fantasies, something she would do and love every second of it. It was not for others.

Kim needed someone to work with who wouldn't get her killed (yet). Blunder boy was out of the picture. Catherine was supposed to be dead and needed to stay dead for now. Shego considered her for a moment, excellent fighter, a little too obsessed with dying perhaps, too dangerous to have as an enemy, totally out of the picture for right now.

Shego grumbled. She hated to admit it, but she was the only person qualified. However, she wanted triple danger money, the right to leave if it got too dangerous, and total authority. She couldn't see Kim ever agreeing to such terms.

Patrick watched as Catherine was taken away by stretcher to the field hospital. She was drifting in and out of consciousness but breathing on her own. He wondered how much of her shattered mind was left and the morality of forcing life onto someone who was unlikely to want it.

Not that he was in much better shape. He was in a great deal of pain and was grateful when the medics came back to assist him in as well.

Wade was monitoring the signal, the attackers were unlikely to detect the trackers as they didn't try to transmit long distances, and all evidence pointed to the deception working. It was now a matter of whether the trickery had been worth it.

Shego drifted up to Patrick, now in his hospital bed. "I'm taking the princess to the dungeon."

Patrick was aware of the multitude of meanings in that. "There's a stealth aircraft on the runway here. That way, you don't have to tip anyone off that you're working with your enemy."

Shego paused. "You know, that's almost not a bad idea."

"You know, that was almost a compliment."

"You don't mind working with evil people? I am evil, you know."

"You like a real challenge and you're not fussy about who provides it as long as it's worthy of you. I don't see that as good or evil, but if you like calling yourself evil, I'll try to remember that."

Shego blinked. He wasn't scared, revolted, horrified, disgusted - or, indeed, craving, lustful or any other emotion she'd seen in people of all types and beliefs. This was a new one. She didn't agree with him, at least entirely, about her motives but as long as he didn't try to convince others she wasn't evil, she'd be happy enough. Sneering not entirely convincingly, she left.

In the next room, Patrick knew medics were fighting furiously to keep Catherine alive, as her heart had stopped again only moments after entering the building. The will to live is important and he feared hers had been as destroyed as her replica.

In a third room, Dr Ann Possible was changing into her mission outfit. Ron couldn't go and no way was her daughter going to try to solo this. This wasn't about pride, dignity or even personal survival. Personal survival was at risk in every adventure Kimmie had, but she was competent enough to understand the risks and deal with threats. She knew it was more likely than not that Kim would die before her, but that wasn't a certainty. If she tried to solo this, it would be. But only by hours, as Ann had no illusions about the reprisals that would follow. Knowing the twins were in just as much danger convinced her that this mission was going to need an extra edge.

She followed Kim to the aircraft that they were going to take to the enemy base and entered via the bomb bay doors. It wasn't until she sat down and buckled up that she realized who the pilot was. 'Well, this should be exciting, at least", she thought.

Kim climbed in through the cockpit door and strapped in. Shego took off. Perhaps launched is a more accurate term. The forces hit 3g as the plane climbed insanely rapidly, before Shego loosened the throttle a little and kept speeds barely subsonic until they reached the coast before hitting the throttle again until they were cruising at Mach 5.

"I haven't had this much fun since the last time your dad took me on that roller-coaster, Kimmie!" Ann laughed.

Kim blanched. "Mom! This is far too dangerous! Shego, we have to go back!"

"No way, princess!" Shego snarled. "We wouldn't have the fuel to then complete the journey, and our surprise would be gone by the time we refuelled".

Ann also chimed in. "If we fail, everyone at home will be dead within hours. Dead here or there doesn't matter, but we've a better chance of not being dead if there's more of us."

"Who else came along?" Shego asked. "I don't care which of you die or when, but I need to make sure we have the fuel."

"Just me", Ann replied.

Shego grunted and adjusted the speed. "I hope you fight well enough to make it worth carrying you."

Ann could only hope the same. She was decent, but no expert, preferring brain to brawn. Here, there was no telling brain would matter at all.

Wade had fed the distance, direction and altitude data to the Kimmunicator screen, so Kim could navigate as needed. So far, there had been no problem. But, so far they'd been outside enemy airspace and they had no idea where that would begin. Assuming the enemy had air defences. If you're trying to stay invisible then active air defences weren't a smart move.

Shego continued on the path, ignoring the occasional inquiry. Nobody could catch up, if she pushed the aircraft further, and only a tiny number of nations could keep up as it was. As none of those were anywhere close, she considered the situation to be under control.

Still, Global Justice did make a careful note of a heavily cloaked aircraft of unfamiliar design at high speeds travelling without proper authority or credentials. They pointed a spy satellite in its direction and monitored it remotely.

"Ok, we're just about on-target", Shego called out.

"Where do we land?", asked Kim.

"We don't. We haven't the fuel, there's no runway and that would make us too easy to track. We'll slow down to the point the escape systems work, then we eject. I'll program the autopilot to speed back up and continue going. Get your helmets on, or don't. If you want to die now, that's your problem."

Kim and Ann hurriedly put their helmets. They'd been wearing their flight gloves for some time.

There was a terrific bang and three supersonic ejector seats blasted out from the cockpit. The initial drag chutes deployed automatically for each of the seats once it had stabilized.

Down to subsonic, the drag chutes were cut and the three descended, waiting to deploy their chutes until as late as possible, hoping the chutes wouldn't fail on them.

Kim had a scare, her main chute initially failed but the backup worked. Close, maybe too close, to the ground…