Samurai Powerpuffs is a crossover episode of Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack.
Samurai Jack and the Girls meet in the future and their fates are forever joined.
"I will find you, Aku!"
The samurai known only by the name of Jack stood on the crest of a foothill in the mountain range he was passing through. Below him in the valley, between the mountains and the ocean that lay just beyond, sat more of the shape-shifting demon's handiwork. What had once been a great city now lay destroyed. Some years ago, it appeared, as he saw no flames or smoke.
The warrior, weary after many days of travel, pulled his magical sword from his belt and raised it, the blade pointing to the blazing midday sun. It always seemed to give him strength when he needed an extra burst of resolve, and it did so now. In his endless trek to find his way home to his own time, he had borne witness to countless scenes of destruction and the misery of creatures of all types, victims of the evil spawned by Aku. He was seeing more of it. His angular facial features twisted into a mask of rage and set themselves like a slab of granite.
Completing his quest and escaping this terrible future meant that scenes like this one would never occur in the first place. But the suffering he encountered was real, and the sense of duty and honor instilled in him by his father made him do what he could to lessen it. At times, those qualities had caused him to sacrifice the chance to go home when it lay before him, in favor of saving those victimized. He knew that if whatever the ways home that presented themselves to him did work, then the victims would be spared the fate that had led them to where they were. None of it would have ever happened. But something told him that those 'ways home' were illusions, that to take those ways out would be to give in to temptation, which was only one of the many tricks up Aku's sleeve. That, he could not do.
No, the only way home was to meet Aku face-to-face and destroy it. Evil is a coward and avoids personal confrontations, relying on the weakness of others to do its work for it. But Aku would take him on if it believed the odds were in its favor. The ocean the samurai was seeing in the distance was a symbol to him, a sign that there was no place left to go, that the fight would take place here. Of course, he had fought Aku's minions in the seas before, but something told him that today was the day. He lowered the sword and replaced it in his belt, at his left side.
"And when I find you, I will finish what was begun so long ago. No more will you do what you have done in this place!"
The warrior began making his way down the hillside, estimating a few hours' walk until he reached the outskirts of the ruined city. He wondered if there were any life left there at all, any ally he could find, or if evil ruled there as well. An ominous rumbling came from behind him. He turned to see in the distance an approaching storm. Flashes of lightning lit up the dark mass. It was many hours away yet and just a storm, but Jack smiled. In the thunder's rumbling he thought he heard the voice of Aku, saying, "Very well, Samurai. I will grant you your wish!"
CHAPTER ONE – Weekend Plans "Girls! You'll be late for school again!"
Professor Utonium stood at the bottom of the stairs, shaking his head as he stared at the closed door of the Powerpuff Girls' bedroom. It was like this nearly every morning. As fast as those three could do anything, they still couldn't manage to get themselves ready in time. He gave them their privacy while they got dressed so he didn't know exactly what was going on in there, but he had a pretty good idea: Buttercup, already dressed, was getting in one last lick at some video-game villains. Bubbles was coloring one last picture. And Blossom was fussing with her hair. Her sisters would blame it on her, but it gave them more time to play.
"Coming, Professor!" they called out together, and a tri-colored flash later, they floated before him.
"Girls, you know what today is, couldn't you for once-"
He stopped and frowned. "Bubbles, you've got your dress on backwards again."
"I do?" She looked down. "Ooops!"
- * * * *
Buttercup was already half-done shoveling down her cereal when Bubbles scooted into her chair at the kitchen table. She hurriedly poured herself some cereal, spilling most of it on the table and floor. She zipped out of her chair, looking even more embarrassed.
"Never mind, Bubbles, I'll get it. Just eat." The professor sighed. "Girls, if you can't get yourselves ready and down here so we can have an orderly breakfast, you're going to bed earlier."
They immediately protested, Blossom being pointed at angrily by her sisters, but he held up his hand. "We'll talk about it. Right now, I just want to repeat…NO DALLYING AFTER SCHOOL!"
"We know, Professor." Blossom said. "We can't wait to go to the Bahamas either, but what's the big hurry? Our flight doesn't leave until six!"
"Yeah, Professor, what do we even need a plane for?" Buttercup groused. "What a waste of money!"
He sighed to himself. There were just some things kids didn't understand, customs checks and visas being only two.
"Being superheroes doesn't mean you can disregard certain rules that everyone else has to follow, Buttercup. We have to get to the airport, get everything checked and loaded on the plane, and that all takes time. I hope you've got all your stuff packed, like I told you to last night."
"We did, Professor." Blossom confirmed.
"Great." He gave Bubbles an annoyed look when she gulped the remaining milk from her bowl and wiped the moustache off with her hand, but said nothing. He gave them all goodbye kisses.
"Have a good day at school, girls, and remember, come straight home!"
As they called goodbye and he watched their trails fade behind them as they flew off, he knew something was going to go wrong. Something always did. Monsters, crimes, something always got in the way of his plans for them to have a nice, relaxed family vacation. Still, he got busy packing his own needs and getting the girls' things from their room and into the car.
The day crawled, as the girls knew it would. All of them daydreamed about getting away from their duties with nothing to worry about except how to cram as much fun into the weekend as possible. Who knew when they might get another chance? Concentrating on their lessons was hard and it wasn't helped any when, for some odd reason, Ms. Keane turned a simple math problem she was illustrating on the blackboard into a dissertation on Einsteinian physics. Thankfully, it was interrupted by the final bell. At last, the clock read 3 P.M.!
The teacher told her class to have a nice weekend and excused them, and the kids stampeded from the building.
"Free at last!" Buttercup sang out, floating on her back with her hands behind her head. "Oh, boy, a whole weekend in the Bahamas! I can't wait!"
Bubbles struck the same exact pose. "I'm gonna lay out and work on my tan!"
Blossom smiled, saying almost to herself, "And a whole weekend away from…the city of Townsville."
Buttercup heard her and pointed to the hotline phone inside the building, visible through the window. "And that!"
Bubbles closed one eye, pretending the open one was a monocle. She held a hand to her ear like it was the phone. "Powerpuff Girls, this is the Mayor. Get over here right away. I seem to have accidentally flushed myself down the toilet!"
The three broke up over that, but Blossom suddenly realized they were doing what the professor warned them not to…dawdling.
"Oh no! We better get going!"
Buttercup hopped down to the ground and looked up at her sisters challengingly. "So. Which one of you slowpokes wants to race me home?"
"Who you calling a slowpoke, fathead?" Bubbles shot back.
Buttercup grinned and crouched down like a sprinter in the starting blocks. "On your mark!"
Blossom returned the grin, narrowing her eyebrows and crouching herself. "Get set!"
Bubbles was up to the challenge. "Go!"
Ms. Keane waved and called out to them as they soared away. They turned the corner and a man yelled at them to slow down. Each girl's concentration was on nothing but beating the other ones home. They flew faster and Blossom pulled into the lead. As she turned another corner and down a street, Bubbles was right behind her but she didn't see Buttercup. Suddenly, the green streak blasted past her and both she and Bubbles had to give something extra to keep up. Then something strange began to happen. Blossom felt like she was inside a tunnel, for that's what the blurring images of the buildings she was passing looked like, the sides of a tunnel, and all she could see straight ahead of her was a small spot of light. She, and her sisters, she knew, had felt this sensation before, because they had talked about it. But now, the tunnel seemed to suddenly become airless and soundless, like she was in a vacuum. But she could breathe just fine.
Bubbles felt the same thing, straining to keep up. It was very strange. Then she heard Buttercup's mocking "I told you I'd win!" But her sister, who was just barely ahead of her and Blossom, hadn't opened her mouth! Still, the words spurred her to fly even faster, determined to get home first.
Buttercup had confidence in herself, but her sisters were keeping right up with her. She gave it even more, her grin becoming a sneer. She glanced to her left to see Bubbles, and couldn't believe what she saw. While she could feel the wind whipping her face and saw the sides of the tunnel zipping by, Bubbles appeared to be standing still. Yet she was right there. She snapped her head to the right. Blossom was motionless, her face fixed in a determined grimace. But Blossom actually seemed to be pulling ahead, or was it that she was falling back? She strained as hard as she could just to stay even with them, but she had never felt anything like this before.
Blossom looked to her left and Bubbles looked to her right. Both had the same thought at the same moment: "Th-they're not moving!"
Professor Utonium looked at his watch. It was quarter after three. If they had been let out right at three, they should be home already. He strode angrily for the phone and called the school.
Ms. Keane was a bit taken aback by the tone of voice coming through the phone. "Why, no, Professor, they left right when school let out!"
He thanked her and hung up. He went for the TV remote and began racing through the channels, expecting to see them in action somewhere. But not a single one of the news channels carried anything out of the ordinary at the moment. He called Townsville Hall.
"No, Professor, we haven't called the girls today." he was told by the mayor's assistant, Sara Bellum.
Now he was getting worried. And by four-thirty, any thoughts of the vacation were gone. A massive search got underway. Mojo Jojo had been questioned and his observatory torn apart, as had been the hangouts of Townsville's other most notorious felons. But nobody knew or had seen anything. The Powerpuff Girls were missing, vanished into thin air.
The samurai had walked through the wreckage for a half-hour and had yet to find a survivor. He did not expect to. Whatever had happened here had taken place many years ago. A thick layer of ash and soot covered everything. Buildings had fallen into chunks. What buildings were still somewhat intact had all of their windows broken out. Abandoned wheeled vehicles of a kind he suspected were self-powered, as they had no visible means of attachment to a horse or some other beast, sat everywhere in what were once the streets and walkways of this place. Many were twisted lumps of burned and rusted metal.
He didn't know how any of this was going to lead to Aku directly, but he kept walking, pushing on toward what had been the center of the city. It was where the tallest buildings had once stood, and it was still miles away. He saw what looked like a rounded tower of some sort, and thought that it may, at one point, have held a supply of drinking water for the people. There was writing on the side of the tank, but he was still too far away to make out the letters.
As his eyes swept the desolate landscape, he noticed something curious. There appeared to be no other animal life present, nor plant life other than the ruined and dead trees and shrubs that were once here. That was strange. Even if the city dwellers were all dead, be they human or some other strange creatures like the many he had encountered, something should have moved in to take over. But there appeared to be nothing. There was a possible explanation for that, something that no one in his time knew about, but he had learned of it since being thrown into the future. That was a thing called radiation. Nothing would live in it except for some lowly insects, and if it were present, it would be unwise for him to remain here for long.
He picked up his pace, moving steadily toward the center of the city. His senses remained attuned to any possible source of information, but the keenest one at the present was his intuition. Aku, directly or indirectly, was definitely the cause of this. But then, his ears detected a sound coming from a ways off. It didn't sound like a bird, as his eyes looked to the skies for signs of something else he had not yet seen. It sounded almost like….a voice! Yes! And it was growing louder, though it was still quite faint.
He spied a low-slung building ahead several hundred meters; that seemed to be the source. As he cautiously approached, his head swiveling about and all his nerves tensed for some surprise, it sounded more and more like a woman's voice. The building seemed to be mostly intact; there looked to be a hole in one side of it and the windows were gone. He stepped into the yard and saw sticking out of the ground a partial wooden sign. The rest of it was gone. What remained read:
Y Oaks rgarten
It made no sense to him, but he suspected it might be a place for children, as there were some damaged pieces of child-sized play equipment on one side of the building. There was nothing like that in his day, but he had seen some things similar since and the places were called 'schools' and were where young ones were sent for learning. Why the parents did not just teach their young themselves was something he would never understand. Only when they were older was it appropriate to send children away from their homes, as he had been when it came time for him to learn the ways of the Samurai.
The voice was indeed coming from inside.
"…waving goodbye…I just stood there waving goodbye…"
He walked up to the hole in the side of the building and peered into the darkness. Once his eyes adjusted, he saw an old woman in a tattered brown suit of some kind, with a ripped orange vest over it. Behind her on the wall was a large rectangular piece of black slate. Or a portion of it, anyway, as about a third of the slate had fallen out. What remained held some simple mathematical formulas and words befitting the ages of the students. Also written was the name 'Ms. Keane'. It was obviously the name of this woman. She stood motionless, waving her arm toward an unseen someone.
"…I just stood there waving goodbye, and they raced off… Just stood there… Stood there waving goodbye …and they raced off…and raced off…"
She appeared to be in a trance. Her eyes were crusted at the corners, as if she had been standing there a very long time. Well, he had found someone alive, but she looked more like the walking dead he had heard about. Sad creatures possessed after death by Aku and forced to spend their eternity walking endlessly, without ever finding peace or rest. He carefully climbed over the jagged section of wall and inside.
"…and vanished for fifty years…fifty years…fifty years…fifty years…"
"Fifty years?" No creature could survive for even weeks without food and water, none of which were in evidence. This was definitely a case of demonic possession. She would never know he was standing there. He backed toward the opening, his hand reaching toward the handle of his sword in readiness should she suddenly transform into an attacking beast of some sort. He couldn't believe what happened next.
She looked right at him and dropped her waving arm, putting it to her chest. "Oh, goodness, Professor! I didn't see you standing there! If you're here to pick up the girls, they just left!"
"Professor? Girls?" His sudden appearance seemed to have transported her to somewhere back in time, but she still looked to be in a trance-like state, her eyes looking at him but clouded and unfocused. "Where have I heard that before?"
"Well, I suppose I should get this place cleaned up for Monday."
"What has happened here?" he asked, and added, "Forgive my intrusion. My name is Jack."
She didn't seem to notice. She turned away and began brushing dust and mortar chunks from desktops with her hands. "Goodness, the mess they make when they don't use the door!"
She turned to look at him, smiling pleasantly. "Professor, do you think you could ask the girls to please not destroy my school when they fly out of here? Oh, and Professor, when did you start wearing a dress?"
That was followed by a girlish giggle, which sounded strange in the old-woman's voice. He frowned. "This is not a dress! It is a-"
But she had turned back to tidying up, and he knew the trance had taken hold again. He would not learn anything more here. He stepped out through the opening, looking both ways, but nothing else had changed. The storm was yet some ways in the distance. He pulled himself erect and brushed some dust off his clothing. He touched the hem of his garment and lifted it, looking down and frowning again.
"Dress, indeed! Why there is so much disrespect for the ancient ways, I will never under-"
He sensed it, whatever it was, before he saw it and then heard it. A presence that he felt. Lifting his eyes upward, he saw what looked like a rainbow trail flash low across the sky only for a second, then it was gone. But some of the rainbow's colors were missing. The flash was followed by a faint 'whooshing' sound. It was almost the sound of an incoming missile, and perhaps it was more of what had destroyed the city. But the expected explosion never followed.
He estimated the point in the horizon where whatever it was might have touched down, and set off in that direction. He felt even more certain that the battle with Aku would indeed be joined, and soon. The rumbling of thunder in the distance seemed once again to confirm it.
Buttercup shook off the strange sensation and focused on winning the race. She'd lord it over them but good on the plane, all the way to the Bahamas. She could see the tiny view of the end of the tunnel widening, and it began to take the shape of her house. It grew larger and she began to smile, knowing she was going to win. Suddenly, the sides of the tunnel seemed to collapse upon them and in a split-second, she could feel herself being spat out the end into her front yard. It was strange, but she was home. Blossom appeared standing next to her and then there was Bubbles, sliding on her face in the grass and spitting out dirt as she stood.
Triumphantly, Buttercup floated to the front door and began to open it, never noticing that her house was practically falling down. Their three round bedroom windows, along with all the others, were shattered and a big section of the roof was gone. She floated inside, the other two girls following.
Boastfully, she crowed, "I told you I'd win!"
Floating alongside, Bubbles scowled, "You already said that!"
"No I didn't!"
Blossom came to Bubbles' defense. "Yeah you did, Buttercup, I heard you!"
"No I didn't!" Buttercup thought. She laughed, "You just think I said it 'cause you knew I was gonna whip your sorry butts! Losers!"
"You didn't whip nobody, Buttercup!" Blossom shot back. "You just barely beat me!"
Angrily, Bubbles pointed. "And besides, you cheated!"
Buttercup thought that was ridiculous. She pulled the turned-up ends of her hair straight down. "I didn't have to cheat. I'm just more aerodynamic than you." Clapping Bubbles on her pigtails, she laughingly added, " I don't have big powder puffs to slow me down."
Crying, Bubbles screamed, "Professor!", like she usually did when she was being picked on and couldn't think of any other way to defend herself. But Blossom's sudden gasp got her attention, and Buttercup's, too.
The living room was a shambles. Furniture was overturned; lamps and pictures that had been hanging on the walls lay broken on the floor. Cobwebs covered everything. They noticed then the broken windows. Screaming for the professor and getting no answer, they raced about the house and found the same thing everywhere. The bright colors in their bedroom had faded from years of sun and exposure to the weather.
"What happened?" Bubbles cried.
"He has to be in the lab." Blossom said gravely. "But I'm afraid to go down there."
"Me too." Buttercup agreed. "Let's look everywhere else first."
They dreaded what they would find when they got there. They had no clue what had happened but they were intelligent enough to know that it had taken place a long time ago. Nothing had been disturbed in all that time. That meant either the professor was gone or he was…gone.
"Let's check the garage!" Bubbles yelled.
They raced downstairs, hoping to find it empty. Wherever he had gone to, maybe he was safe and would get hold of them somehow. But when they threw open the door, there sat his car, covered with years of dust. Blossom wiped some of it away from a window, and there were their suitcases, all packed and ready for the drive to the airport that was never made.
Gripping each others' hands for dear life, they made a chain and floated to the door of his basement laboratory. Gingerly, they began down.
"Professor?" Bubbles called meekly. Her voice echoed. The room was silent and in the darkness they saw disarray to match what they'd seen upstairs. As their eyes adjusted, they saw broken glass and ruined equipment everywhere. Had an experiment gone haywire and exploded while they were at school? But then, why was everything covered with the dust of time?
Blossom said softly, "Maybe he messed with that time portal thing and screwed something up. I remember him saying how dangerous it could be."
"Hey yeah." Buttercup answered just as quietly, but then heard something. "Hey, what's that?"
"I heard it too, Buttercup." Blossom said.
"Blossom, I saw something move!" Bubbles whimpered.
"Shh!" the leader whispered, pulling them in the direction of whatever it was.
Silhouetted in the dark, they saw a sitting figure. On the table in front of it sat a cauldron like the one they were created in, a flask of some liquid, a box of sugar, a jar of spices and what appeared to be some dried flowers. He held a spoon full of something in one hand.
"It's him!" Buttercup whispered. "What's he doing?"
The voice was that of an old man, but it was unquestionably Professor Utonium's. "Sugar, spice, and…powdered rice?"
"He's trying to make us again!" Bubbles whispered.
"But why would he do that?" Blossom wondered aloud. Her quizzical expression turned to horrified. "Unless he thinks we're dead!"
"Yeah, but it ain't gonna work if he's using rice." Buttercup muttered.
They floated out from the shadows just as he lifted the flask and poured what had to be Chemical X from it into the cast-iron pot. They pulled away, not sure if they should expect an explosion, but all that happened was a fizzle and some thick smoke.
"No, no! Darn!" he said in frustration. "Why didn't I write it down?"
"Now!" Blossom hissed, and they moved closer. Together, they called, "Professor?"
He turned toward the noise. "Wha? Who's there?" He reached for his glasses that sat perched on his aged nose. They saw him in full for the first time. Extremely old, bald except for long, unkempt white hair around the fringes, and without most of his teeth. "No! It can't be!" he cried, putting his hands to the sides of his head. "Oh, my mind playing tricks on me again! Why won't you leave me alone?"
"But Professor, it's us, the Powerpuff Girls!" Blossom protested.
"Stay back ! Leave me alone!" He waved his gnarled hands at the apparitions before him in futile swipes, then fumbled beneath the table and pulled out a cane that had broken and been repaired with tape. He swung it at them. "I'm warning you!"
He gave out a sharp cry of fear when the Buttercup apparition, instead of disappearing, angrily snatched the cane from him and broke it in two with her hands, then threw the pieces to the floor.
"Professor! It's us!" it screamed at him. The other two ghosts moved forward. "Professor, it really is us." the Blossom apparition said pleadingly through tears.
"Girls?" he croaked. "Is it really you?"
"Yes, Professor." they answered together, crying tears of both joy and sadness. He buried his face in his hands and wept tears of the same. They went to him, lifted his arms and fitted themselves into his embrace, just as they had the night they returned from a long day of fighting and found him asleep at the dinner table.
The samurai had walked another hour and a half, judging by the sun's position in the sky, but the final location of that colored streak he had seen was still a mystery. He had not been able to get any sense of what caused it or where it went. But he had learned a few things.
The name of the destroyed city was Townsville, by the words on the large water tower that he now stood staring up at. The devastation here was the same as everywhere else. There had been massive fires which had long ago burned themselves out. The damage to the buildings bore the uneven appearance of them having been torn apart rather than blown up by weapons of war. That was a bit confusing. Some of the holes seemed rather large to have been made by some creature, though in his travels, he had met some that were very big. The 'woolies', as they were called by their subjugators, who he had helped to drive off; but he couldn't imagine those gentle creatures doing anything like this. Still, with the power that Aku had, anything was possible. It could have been Aku itself, if the people here had resisted it trying to control them. Aku may have even done it for its own amusement, such was the scope of its evilness. Or, perhaps, to lure the samurai to this very spot. If that were the case, Jack had better be at his most alert, as the demon would probably not show itself but instead use other creatures until it saw the opportunity to crush him. Well, he would be ready.
He had not seen another living soul since leaving the possessed teacher and her doomed school. He sidestepped rubble in the street, looking around. He spotted something curious still attached to a building that had escaped severe damage. It was a large advertising sign of some kind and featured a sitting dog. In spite of the holes in it, he could make out the words, 'Talking Dog says 'It's Good!
"Talking animals…hmmm." This was either a very advanced culture, if animals actually shared equal footing with humans; or a somewhat dimwitted one, if they took the advice of a dog on which products to buy. Either way, they no longer existed, and it angered him.
He had been in cities before and recognized seats of power when he saw them. They usually were large, imposing structures, set off by themselves, surrounded by manicured greenery and adorned with a banner of some sort. One to two kilometers in the distance, he saw something that looked like it could be that. If it was, inside he might find written evidence documenting who these people were. He quickened his pace. The jog would only take a few more minutes, even with the jumping over debris and stepping around ruined vehicles. As he drew closer, he saw the large white building take shape, and he knew this was that seat of power. It was a square building with imposing pillars in the front and two wings that jutted out to the sides in perfect symmetry. One of those wings was flattened and the other partially damaged. On top of the central portion of the structure sat a huge dome, though with many of the pillars that supported it broken, it had tilted forward and to one side at a crazy angle, and half of the dome was crushed inward. Sticking out from the top of it was a metal pole holding just such a banner as he expected to see. It was large and though tattered, it still flew, as if it were a symbol of hope. He had seen this one before, many times. A series of red and white horizontal stripes, and in one upper corner, white stars on a blue background. That he had seen it in so many other places told him that all of these places had, at one time in their history, been united by some common bond. With the evil that he had seen along the way, that bond had obviously been broken. It made him wonder if the banner of his homeland still flew, the beautiful red rising sun, and if his people were still one.
He dodged more debris as he climbed the building's front steps. Inside, there was as much damage as out. In many places the ceiling had caved in. Mustiness pervaded the entire place; the smell of decay and despair. Papers were strewn about the hallways he walked. Furniture lay overturned and broken in and out of cubicles. He figured the government leaders would have been located somewhere near the dome, the symbol of power, and he climbed some stairs leading to upper floors. On the second floor, the stairs ended here, and a large open area was flooded with light from the gaping hole in the dome above his head. Ornate woodwork everywhere was covered with dust and grime. He looked back and forth along the hallway as he walked, for some sign of where the top leader may have been. He saw a small sign with an arrow pointing further ahead. It read 'Mayor's Office.' Mayor was a term he had heard before. He followed the pointing arrow, and heard the low mournful wail before reaching the source of it.
Again, he found himself peering in toward a woman. This one sat in a chair at a desk, her back turned to him. She seemed very tall and Jack judged that she stood taller than he did. She had a billowing mane of gray hair, disheveled, with streaks of orange running through it. She sat hunched over, sobbing quietly. Around her was more destruction. The roof had a large hole in it. Books and papers lay everywhere. Pictures on the walls hung at crazy angles or were no longer on the walls, but face down on the rest of the debris. What looked like a child's toy communication device lay broken in two pieces; he had learned that they were called 'phones'. "An odd place for a toy." he thought.
One of the pictures still on the wall was a portrait of an elderly man wearing a top hat and a sash across his chest that read, 'Mayor'. These very same items sat on the desk in front of the sobbing woman. Obviously, the leader of this place was no more.
The woman startled him by speaking suddenly. The voice was again cracked with age, just like the teacher's had been. "I told him, you know. I-I told him to make…the call."
She stood. "'Call the girls', I said."
"Girls. The teacher mentioned some girls, too." He noticed when she stood that a small stand sat on the desk, giving a name. 'Sara Bellum'.
The woman walked to a shattered window and looked out. "CALL THE POWERPUFF GIRLS!!"
Jack jumped at the sudden screaming. The words reverberated through the empty office and street below. The woman buried her face in her hands, obscuring it from his view as she walked back to the desk and sat down.
"But they never came. Why wouldn't they come? It doesn't make any sense. And now it's too late! He's…GONE!!"
She broke into another fit of sobbing and slumped over the desk. Jack could see her hands rubbing over the departed's personal items in front of her. She had obviously cared deeply for him, though the samurai judged from the size of the items and the portrait that she had been much younger and at least three times his height.
"Well, love knows no boundaries, or so I am told." Romance was something he hadn't time for, though he had learned its many nuances during his days of training as a youth. One never knew when feminine wiles might be used as a weapon by an enemy under Aku's control, and he had been taught ways of discovering the difference. He smiled at the memory of some of that training, quite pleasant it had been. It had been too many years since…
Shaking his head, he forced himself back to the task at hand. He would have to repeat the same exercise as earlier. "Excuse me, my name is Jack. Please forgive my intr-"
She whirled around. He saw that the face had been beautiful once but was now ravaged by age and grief. "Huh?" Seeing him, she snatched the dusty old hat to her chest. "Keep away! He's mine! Don't come any closer! He's mine! Mine, I tell you!"
The eyes were just as dead as the teachers', in spite of the rage. She was in the grip of the same kind of trance. Suddenly, she seemed to see him, looking right at him like the teacher had done. She stood, dropping the hat.
"Professor! Professor Utonium! What are you doing here?!"
"There is that name again! But why cannot I remember where I have heard it?"
Before he could analyze it further or even open his mouth, she screamed, her face turning even more grotesque than it already was.
"Why didn't you send the girls?! This is YOUR fault! YOUR FAULT!"
She spun toward the desk and pulled a drawer open. When she turned back, the warrior knew he was in danger and tensed himself. She held a gun, and though she and the teacher may have been just some of Aku's mind-tricks, that the weapon was real he had no doubt. He dodged to his left as she fired, the bullet taking a chunk of plaster out of the wall behind where he had just been standing. She reacted quickly, bearing down on him. He now had his sword out and swung it toward her eyes as a distraction as he rolled back to his right. The next two shots only narrowly missed him as she closed the distance. Now it was all up to his training and his focus let him see the next three projectiles in almost slow-motion as they left the barrel. His slashing blade turned them all aside, sending them ripping into the walls or smashing what little glass remained in one window. She kept squeezing the trigger, the hammer hitting on an empty chamber as she came toward him. The shots rang in his ears, followed by the steady 'click-click-click' of the empty gun.
Her eyes once again unfocused, she walked right past him, still firing until she reached the doorway where the office opened onto the great hall. There, she stopped and stood for several seconds, letting her arm drop to her side and the gun slip from her hand to the floor. She turned and walked back to the desk, never seeing him, and slowly sat once more, putting her face in her hands, down on the desk. The sobbing resumed, and she was still sobbing when he exited the building to the street, still totally clueless about what was happening.
"Well, not TOTALLY clueless." he thought grimly. "The name professor, and these girls. But why am I being recognized as he, and what connection does he and these girls of his have to anything?"
Finding them was the solution to the mystery. But where? And what about that strange light in the sky? If he saw it again, it might lead him to them…and to Aku.
They sat on the edge of the table, looking at him.
"I still can't believe it's really you, girls. I never thought I was going to see you again…" He waved at the mess on the table.
"And you've been trying to make us again ever since." Blossom finished the thought for him. "But Professor, what happened?!"
"We know what happened, Blossom. The time thingie got messed up. That's why you're so old." Buttercup said. "Right, Professor?"
He blinked in confusion. "Time thingie? Oh yes, the time portal…but that was so long ago. I'd forgotten all about it." His eyes flashed. "I must see if it still works!"
He started to get up, but Blossom jumped up quicker and gently pushed him back into his seat. "Please, Professor, tell us what happened."
"You happened, girls. Or rather, you didn't happen."
Three cries of "What?!" greeted him.
He sighed. "I'm sorry, girls, my mind is obviously not what it once was. Please bear with me."
"The day we were going to take that trip to the Bahamas?"
"Yeah?" Buttercup said. "The car's still packed, but it looks like it's been sitting there forever."
"You saw it?" he asked in surprise. "What else have you seen?"
"The rest of the house, and it's all a big mess." Bubbles said quickly.
"That's it? Nothing else?" It didn't make sense to him.
"No, Professor." Blossom replied. "What's going on?" she said, more insistently this time.
"I think then maybe you'd better explain where you've been all this time. You never came home from school that day."
Shocked, they looked at each other. "We did too!"
"Professor, we only left there a little while before we got here!" Blossom said, a bit defensively.
"Easy, Blossom. I'm not angry with you. Something obviously has happened to the space-time continuum, and to help me make some sense of it, I want you girls to tell me exactly what happened to you."
They told him. When they were through, he sat there quietly rubbing the stubble on his ancient jaw.
"Professor?" Blossom prompted.
He looked up. "Well…some of it makes sense…it is theoretically possible to travel so fast that a rip in the fabric of time occurs, allowing objects to slip into the future."
"That's not what Ms. Keane said. She said that as you approach the speed of light, the distance between two points shrinks to zero and that means whatever is going that fast ends up in the future because everything else is kinda standing still, including time."
Bubbles was out of breath when she concluded her recitation of the lesson. Her sisters stared at her.
"Bubbles, you actually listened to that?" Blossom asked.
"Yes." she replied icily, her arms crossed. "Didn't you?"
"Duh, noooo!" Buttercup snorted. "Geesh."
"Bubbles," the professor said softly. "I'm happy to see that you're paying attention in class…"
He cast a slight disapproving look at the other two. Then he slapped his knee.
"But that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Hahahahaha!!!"
"Girls, light travels at the speed of light! If what Ms. Keane says were true, we would age every time we threw the light switch! Maybe she should stick to the three R's and leave quantum mechanics to the experts."
"I'm glad to hear that, Professor!" Blossom exclaimed. "If that's how you got to the future, you'd never be able to go back. You can't just fly backward."
"Yeah, if you did, you'd just keep going even farther into the future only you'd land on your butt instead of your face, right Bubbles?" Buttercup snickered. Blossom joined her and Bubbles shot them both a dirty look.
The professor got their attention again. "Girls, whatever got you here is pointless. We have to get you back to your own time."
"Where exactly are we?" Blossom asked. "Or, maybe I should say, when?"
"I don't really know, Blossom. My atomic clock was broken during the …the troubles. I started keeping track in my journals, but I lost track when my mind began to slip…If I had to guess, and I guess I do, I'd day forty-five, fifty years."
"So how do we rip time again so we can go back?" Bubbles wondered.
"We don't. Since time only moves forward, you would only be able to go forward through a rip. The only way back is across the fifth dimension with the time portal. Let's go see if it's still working. If it's not, girls, then there's no hope…"
He'd forgotten that he'd dismantled it years ago and that it was all packed in boxes, which had managed to survive because they were down in the hold along with DyNaMo. After the girls brought everything up, he located some tools that still worked and set about trying to rebuild it.
"If I can only remember how…"
While he worked, he began to tell the story.
"When you didn't come home, I panicked. You weren't at school, the mayor said he hadn't called you…no one knew where you were."
Bubbles sniffled, thinking how sad he must have been.
"Everyone started looking for you. Even Mojo."
"Mojo helped look for us? Really?" They were surprised to hear that.
"Yeah, I bet he really just wanted to make sure we were gone."
"Exactly right, Buttercup. But I'll get to that in a minute. The day after you went missing, a monster attacked, but it left when it realized you weren't going to show up to fight it. The next day, a dozen monsters came. They heard you were missing and offered to help search. After it was explained that that might get a little messy, they understood. A few of them even came to your funeral."
"Our funeral? Oh no!" Blossom cried, horrified. The other two looked the same.
"Girls, I didn't want to lose hope, and I didn't, for a long, long time. But I felt that Townsville needed closure."
"What happened then?" Bubbles asked.
"I'm sure you know."
"Mojo took over, right?"
"Right again, Buttercup. But it didn't last that long. Yes, he ruled Townsville, just like he always dreamed about. Threw the mayor out but he kept Ms. Bellum around. He knew a good administrator when he saw one. Naturally, he could have any material possession he wanted and without anyone to stop him, he took what he wanted. But he soon got bored with that. And it wasn't long before he ran into the same problems that existed before he took over. Crime increased. Since he basically controlled everything, he wasn't about to destroy it, so his old standby, threatening, became useless. Suddenly, running the city became a big headache and he gave it back."
"That's kinda funny, Professor." Blossom said. "He got what he wanted and found out it wasn't what he thought it would be."
"Yes, Blossom. 'Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.' But it happens more often than you think, and it's not fun when it does. This wasn't either."
"What did he do? Go crazy and destroy Townsville anyway?" Buttercup wanted to know.
"Indirectly. Townsville is gone."
They gasped. "It's…gone?"
"Yes, girls, the Townsville we knew. I haven't been out for years, I have no idea what it looks like now…"
"What did Mojo do?" Bubbles asked.
"Girls, this may be difficult for you to hear…but no one knows what happened to him. He left what sounded a bit like a suicide note but he was never found…"
"But, why?" Bubbles cried, literally.
"Girls, once you were gone, I think he felt that he had nothing to live for. He was obsessed with you, with defeating you. But all the times he tried, I can't think of one where he actually came close, can you?"
"Now that you mention it, Professor, I can't." Blossom said.
Buttercup agreed. "Me either. He was really just a big pain in the tush most of the time."
"Poor Mojo…" Bubbles wept. "Poor Townsville!"
"And, you, Professor." Blossom said. "All this time, thinking we were…"
It was too horrible a thought to finish, so she asked, "You said you finally gave up hoping. What did you think happened to us?"
He stopped assembling for a moment. "Girls, it was the one thing I was always afraid of. I thought you had simply become unstable and broken down into your components. For months, I would go out every day, trying to detect traces of Chemical X. Never found any."
He suddenly smiled and resumed working. "But, now we know we don't have to worry about that anymore. If you can make it through a time-rip without breaking apart, you don't have to worry about anything!"
"Whew, that's a relief." Buttercup breathed. "You had me goin' there Professor!"
The other two were just as relieved, but wanted to know what had happened to their beloved home.
"I think you know the answer to that one, girls."
They looked at each other for several moments, thinking, and arrived at it together. "HIM!!"
"Yeah, if we weren't there to stop him, he could do anything." Blossom said. "He just let Mojo have his fun first, and I bet it made him happy to see how that turned out."
"That creep!" Buttercup spat. "That means he's behind us getting to the future, too!"
"Yeah!" Bubbles exclaimed. "I bet he thought we'd think it was all our fault Townsville got destroyed."
"That's how he works, girls. But what's out there is real. Once Mojo left, crime grew even worse. Neighbor began attacking neighbor. Anarchy ruled. And when HIM wasn't amused by it anymore, he sent some of his possessed monsters in to finish the job. I locked myself down with DyNaMo until I couldn't hear the sounds of destruction anymore. When I came out, I found this. I've been able to survive here just fine, but I haven't dared leave."
"Well, that means he's probably out there right now, waiting for us." Buttercup said, her fury growing. "I say we go give 'im what he wants!"
"What he wants, Buttercup, is to ruin our minds." Blossom pointed out.
"Exactly!" Bubbles snarled, her brows knitting together. "We'll make him think we're all falling to pieces and just when he thinks he won, that's when we rearrange his face!"
Blossom blinked. Bubbles came up with some good ideas sometimes. "Works for me! Let's go!"
"No, girls." He held up his hands and they screeched to a halt. "That's not how you're going to beat him. We have to send you back. That will undo everything."
Buttercup frowned briefly, then brightened. "Okay. We'll kick his fanny when we get back, then."
"But Professor, won't we remember everything? People will think we're crazy!"
He tightened a few bolts and laid down his wrench, grinning broadly. "Well, Blossom, that's always a possibility."
"Aw, who cares, Blossom?" Buttercup nudged her sister.
"Yeah, Blossom!" Bubbles added, brightly. "We can write a book about it and we'll all get rich!"
"Nah, time-travel stories are overdone." Blossom countered. "But we'll think of something."
The professor stood back from the finished portal. "That should do it. Let's give it a test run. I don't want to risk sending you too far back, and if I don't send you back far enough, you'd have already been sent into the future at that point and I have NO idea what might happen to you then. We have to get this right the first time."
He turned it on and it hummed to life.
"So far so good." Buttercup muttered, her hands and legs crossed.
He made adjustments to the levers sticking out from its sides. "Uh, I'm not sure of the exact date anymore…"
"I think it was the 8th…" Bubbles said. "But I'm not sure."
"I should know, Professor." Blossom seemed confused. "It was only a few hours ago that we left. But that time-traveling made me forget."
"We'll try the eighth." He set the time, then took the pincers and carefully reached into the portal's open chamber. "Ah. Got something!"
He slowly pulled the extended device back out, and a newspaper came into view.
"POWERPUFF GIRLS MISSING!!", the headlines screamed. It was dated the 9th.
"Oops. You had the right day, girls, but the calibration's off just a hair. Only take a min- hey, don't read that!"
He grabbed the paper away from Buttercup, who had taken it and opened it up.
"The less you know about the future, the better."
"But, I only wanted to see what Michael Jordan did! Fooey! I was gonna bet Mitch for his lunch money!"
He frowned while he made the additional adjustment. "Blossom, remind me when you get back to have a little talk with Buttercup about cheating…and her stash of Slim Jims under the floorboards in your closet."
Her sisters whirled on her. "So that's where they've been going!"
"Hee hee hee…"
"Okay, that's it." he broke in. "Girls, this time we're going to the Bahamas, no matter what!"
He gave them each a hug. Blossom wrinkled her face.
"What's the matter, honey?"
"Professor, do you smell something burning?"
He sniffed. "Omigosh!"
They couldn't see anything wrong, no smoke anywhere, but he grabbed his wrench and worked frantically at the left side panel of the device.
"It's one of the spatial transducers!"
He tore open the panel and yanked out the coiled piece of glass tubing. It was black and smoking and he dropped it.
"Whew! Looks like I got it out of there just in time! The power grid looks OK."
"Whoa, good thing!" Buttercup exclaimed. "Pop another one of them things in there and let's go!"
"Uh…" his face fell and his shoulders slumped. "I can't." He indicated the wrecked laboratory. "I salvaged everything I could, and a spatial transducer wasn't on the list."
"Oh no!" Bubbles gasped.
Buttercup gave a cheery, "Great! Now what?"
"Professor?" Blossom said. "I think I know where we can find one."
He sighed. "So do I, Blossom. I should have gone there and taken everything I could when I had the chance. It might be worse off than this place, but now it's our only hope."
He picked up the burned-out component and Blossom studied it to know what to look for.
"But Blossom, girls…you have to promise me…just go there and come straight back. If you should see HIM, avoid him if you can. You might see some horrible things. If you do, keep telling yourself they aren't real. Because if we can get you back home, they won't be."
"We promise, Professor." Blossom promised.
"Hey!" Buttercup protested. "How can you promise for us when we don't even know where we're going?"
"Shut up, Buttercup, and just remember what we just got told. We're going to Mojo's."
Jack walked across the wide plaza that sat in front of the destroyed City Hall, toward what had once been a large, open grassy area. It was filled now with the ruins of fallen buildings. His immediate goal was at the far end of the former park. The closer he got to it, he thought how strange it was that a city would build itself around a volcano; however small. It was, in fact, the smallest he had ever seen, and he'd seen a lot of them. He'd even been thrown into a few active ones by some Aku-driven creatures before escaping, barely.
This one, though tiny, was still the highest point around. It would give him the vantage point he knew would help to locate that strange beam of light. As he neared the base, the odd structure that sat at the volcano's peak became more clearly visible. It was a rounded structure, except half of it had been torn away and lay shattered on the ground. A moat, filled with fetid water choked with weeds, surrounded the base, and the stench from it met his nose. A staircase went up the side to what was left of the former observatory home of Mojo Jojo, though the samurai did not know this, but large claws from something had torn away chunks of the concrete and left gouges in the rock. His climb to the top would be difficult.
He spent some minutes poking through the rubble on the ground, looking for something to help with the climb. He learned that this culture had been very advanced technology-wise. There were several deadly-looking weapons. However, all were damaged to some extent. None of them did anything when he tried them.
Whoever had lived here, for there were sections that resembled living quarters, had eclectic tastes. There were weathered texts on many subjects, and in many languages. Some were in his native Japanese. A broken Chinese vase. Smashed miniature wooden sailing vessels laying in shards of glass. His foot touched a small book. He bent down to pick it up and flipped open its dirty pages. It was a day planner, though Jack did not know this, either. But he figured out the basic idea quickly enough from the dates at the page tops. On each were the printed words: "Things To Do" and below, assorted handwritten tasks. These were crossed off except for the first item at the top of every page: "Destroy girls".
"Hmmm. If these are the same girls those poor tormented creatures referred to, then the owner of this book is, or was, not their friend."
He would need to be especially cautious. An intelligent creature who could design advanced weapons and was under the influence of Aku would be very formidable. He saw nothing that might help him, no rope, no sharp metal objects to use as climbing spikes. His hands and his sword would have to do. He did see, though, the remains of a bathing chamber. The tub was broken in two and a faded wrap of a material that did not exist in his time but was around in abundance in the future, called plastic, partly covered it. It was decorated with small bananas. Attached to a piece of wall was a metal bar with a dirty kimono draped over it. It angered him that possibly one of his own countrymen was the evil owner of it. He turned away to begin his climb.
It took less time than he thought. He was able to shove his blade into a crevice and lift himself over the broken steps to the good ones. At the top, he saw that the remains of the dome had round windows every ten or so meters, and knew what the place was. A giant telescope on a swiveling base stood near the center of what had been an observatory. Though many internal walls had fallen, the floor that covered the mountaintop was still intact. On the floor he saw a rotted piece of plywood and bent down to see what it covered. He felt a chill draft when he slid it aside, and stared down into a black rectangular pit. A shaft to somewhere deep inside the dead volcano itself. A metal framework lined the walls of the pit. " An…elevator?" Another thing he had heard about in his travels, but hadn't yet seen one.
As he stood to investigate further, the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood erect. He turned toward where his senses told him to, just as that odd light source rose into the sky from a distance. This was it. He would watch that light and follow it; he would not lose it this time. It rose at an angle away from his location, then made a sharp turn and came straight at him. Its size increased dramatically. Whatever it was, it moved at an incredible speed. He did not want to be seen. A quick turn of his head showed little hiding space, so he eased himself into the shaft, placing his feet on the metal ridges. He slid the plywood into place over his head, holding it up a few inches so he could still watch the beam. When it passed over, he would ease himself back out.
But that did not happen. As he watched, a look of amazement grew on his face. The streak slowed and came down toward the mountaintop. He could make out the shapes of children. Three of the strangest looking children he had ever witnessed. Giant, wingless flying insects they resembled with their oversized heads and large eyes, though they were clearly humanoid. Dressed in the three colors that made up that light trail, it was their tremendous speed that created the effect. And they were about to land. He did not wish to scare them off, so he lowered the board to see what they would do. They hung there looking, and then did something curious. They seemed to be having an argument. The one in pink looked furious, her face turning nearly the color of her dress. The one in blue shouted something back that he couldn't hear and the other two backed off. She waved her strange-looking, stubby arms, making a point that the other ones seemed to accept, then they took off together as suddenly as they had appeared. Not wanting to lose sight of them, he sprang upward, but his right foot slipped. There was nothing to grab hold of, and down he fell, into the blackness. And as he did, he suddenly remembered where he had heard the name 'professor'.
They were shocked beyond belief. He'd told them Townsville was gone, and it was. As was typical, Bubbles cried, Buttercup fumed and Blossom did her best to keep all of her emotions in check so she could do her job.
"They're all gone!" Bubbles wailed. "Everybody!"
"Yes, Bubbles. I don't see how anyone could have survived this."
They passed over the Malph's they always did their grocery shopping at. There was nothing but a hole in the ground. Broken pavement with pieces of water lines sticking out everywhere. No food. No water. For fifty years, maybe. For miles, every tall building they could see was damaged. There were thousands of smashed, burned, and in some cases, literally flattened cars and trucks. In the distance, the bay bridge connecting their city to Citysville was gone, and it looked like that town had suffered the same fate.
"HIM isn't getting away with this one." Buttercup said quietly; such was the extent of her rage that she had to hold it back or risk losing all control. "Not this time. When we get back, he's gonna wish he never heard my name."
For once, Blossom agreed with her. "Yeah. I don't care if us going back means it never happened. But we gotta get back first. Come on."
They banked sharply and sped in the direction of Townsville Park. They saw the ruins of the dome they had put their own holes in so many times, and seemed to think the same thing at once.
"Why do we always do that?" Buttercup wondered.
"That whole 'shortest distance' thing," Blossom said, "but after seeing this…"
Bubbles whimpered, "Poor Mayor an' Ms. Bellum. I hope they didn't know what was happening when it did."
"The mayor didn't, that's for sure." Buttercup said drily.
"Buttercup! That's terrible!"
"Sorry, Blossom. But I'd rather laugh than cry."
They had passed overhead and were slowing as they circled back and dropped down toward the other place they'd been so often.
"Yeah, Buttercup, I guess you're right." Blossom gasped sharply, seeing the extent of the wreckage at the observatory. "Oh, no!"
"Oh no is right." Buttercup muttered. "We aren't gonna find anything here."
Blossom wanted to scream every bad word she'd heard used toward them by all the criminals they'd busted. She began to tremble with anger. Bubbles snapped her out of it after calling her name three times.
"What, Bubbles?" she snarled savagely.
"Hey! Save it for HIM!"
"Whoa!" Buttercup sputtered, jumping back.
"I'm sorry, Bubbles. What did you have to say?"
"Blossom, the professor found a way. Maybe Ms. Bellum and the mayor did too. Maybe lotsa people did, if they're hiding like the professor."
"Hmm. Maybe, Bubbles."
Bubbles began to point in the direction of Townsville Hall, growing more excited with her sudden thought. "An' maybe Ms. Bellum might know other places we can look for that thing we need! Or even Ms. Keane!"
"Or, we could just go back and ask the professor."
"Yeah, but I really wanna know if they're OK!"
"Me too, Blossom!" Buttercup said, just as anxious. "We can kill two birds with one stone!"
Blossom shuddered. "Please don't say that!" "Oh, all right, but we better be careful. I don't wanna run into HIM."
- * * * *
At precisely that moment, the suspected source of all of this popped into existence outside of the ruined Pokey Oaks Kindergarten.
"Where are those brats?!" the red demon spat in his guttural, evil voice, looking at a timepiece strapped to his wrist. "They should have been here by now!"
A crash of thunder got his attention and he looked up to see the dark clouds approaching.
"Perrrfect!" he purred in his odd, echoing, lilting voice. "A light show to go along with my command performance!"
The samurai gasped for breath. His strength and reflexes had saved him yet again, as his strong hands and legs had shot out to push against the wall and stop his fall to certain death. But his heart was pounding not out of fear, but amazement. Total disbelief. What had eluded him had suddenly come flooding back upon seeing those strange creatures.
On one of his many treks he had come across a small religious sect in the dense jungles of what had once been the country of Nigeria. It was a country that had not existed in his time. Aku's tyranny had extended to there also, and this small group had so far gone undetected, a tiny light in the vast darkness. He had spent three days and nights with them before travelling onward.
When he had met two of the sect members foraging for food on the outskirts of their settlement, they had invited him to come stay with them. And upon meeting their leader, he had been in for a surprise.
The small, wizened figure of an elderly primate, a chimpanzee, greeted him. With great excitement, too, until Jack had explained who he was. The leader was greatly disappointed and told the tale of his group's creation. In a very odd, repetitive manner of speaking, yet Jack had enjoyed hearing the story. There was still some goodness in this future, and the story promised of more, when the storyteller's prophecy came true. Jack had met many animal creatures with the intelligence and power of speech that humans had; this was not surprising. The story was.
The leader called himself simply Mojo, and his clan of human followers were known as the Keepers of the Lights of Virtue. He himself had been a vile, despicable criminal in his former life. He explained how he had been given his gift of intelligence as a byproduct of the experiment done by the man who Jack had been mistaken for. The three children who were the product of that experiment had been a gift to the world, but he, Mojo, had not seen it that way and had made it his goal to crush them. They stood in his way of attaining his goals. Until the day they disappeared. Then he had had free reign, and learned that it was instead a curse. Those children had been saviors, not enemies, and he had seen the light. He had escaped their city before its final destruction and come here, to the roots of his original creation. It was here, through prayer and study, that his beliefs had taken shape and he had amassed a small but devoted following.
The children, they believed, would one day return, to restore the world to its former state and cleanse the world of evil. But not until the sinners of this world had fully repented their crimes against mankind, the animal kingdom and nature. The sect dressed simply and lived what could only be called a meager existence, but they were happy to share with the stranger what little they had. Each member wore a necklace of small beads made from the quartz native to the area, and the stones were the very same colors that Jack had seen in the sky this day. Pale blue, green and pink.
Jack had briefly told of his tale, and the old chimp had nodded his head sadly.
"Ah, yes, I am familiar with the evil of which you speak, though I have not heard of this Aku. I have heard of him, who is probably the same evil by another name. But perhaps him is not Aku."
"What is he talking about?" Jack had wondered, very confused. Then Mojo had led him to their simple altar, where the group practiced their daily devotions. There, rising ten feet into the air, stood a solid rock statue of three female children, holding hands as they appeared to rise into the sky right out of the ground.
"They are the Virtues of Mercy, Strength and Wisdom. And when they return, as certainly they will, they will again be known as the Powerpuff Girls."
The same Powerpuff Girls that the old hag had called for in vain; the one that had tried to kill him in the destroyed government building. The same Powerpuff Girls who had just soared away from the spot above his head. What the elderly primate had told him just before he left their camp make perfect sense.
"It is fortuitous that I have made your acquaintance, samurai. I have always had an affinity for things Japanese and appreciated the tenets of honor and sacrifice practiced by the samurai, even if I did not always practice them myself. If this Aku sent you into the future to escape defeat, then he is not as strong as he thinks. That is true of all evil. It cannot win. I now believe that is what happened to the girls. If they were sent into the future as you were, they will find their way back. And so will you."
It made him think of a passage he had read during his studies of the world's religions in his youth. It was not from the religion of his people but it held great significance now.
"And a child shall lead them…"
Jack had bade his hosts a thankful farewell and promptly forgotten the tale. He'd heard many strange ones on his journey, and many were of a religious nature, even somewhat similar to this one. Good creatures across the many lands held onto their beliefs of someday being delivered from Aku's treachery. But no longer was this one just a tale. He had found the allies he hoped he might. Mojo's prophecy was coming true.
Allies he would not have if he remained clinging to these walls. Climbing back up would be near to impossible in his present position, but he could walk himself carefully down, like a crab, an arm and a leg at a time. Once there, he could climb back up, though it would be painful with the skinning his hands and bare legs had taken from scraping against the stone and steel. Or, he might find another way out down below. Surely anyone with the intelligence to build something like this place would have provided for an alternate means of escaping it. Down it would be.
He found a large, open chamber with steel beams holding up the rock ceiling. It was fairly dark, but incredibly, artificial light was coming from small recesses in the rock ceiling. What was powering them? Everything outside indicated that any source of power was also destroyed.
It looked like the elevator shaft had been located in the volcano's crater, and this underground level had been carved out of the volcanic rock. There was practically no damage to the array of machinery that lined the walls. Most looked like giant mechanical men and appeared quite fierce. Everything was covered with a fine layer of dust. Along one wall of the chamber stood a tall metal rack with shelves full of boxes. Amazingly, the boxes were in good shape. The elements had not gotten down here.
He walked the length of the chamber, trying to sense where the power could be coming from, and also trying to spot a way out. As he did he noticed that the boxes on the shelves had large quantities of writing on them. Obviously listing what was stored inside, so the items could be easily found when needed. But the words had a very strange, repetitive pattern to them. One box in particular caught his attention:
'This box contains as its contents various components with which to construct from the assorted parts a device that will be like the device that Professor Utonium has already constructed so that I may return myself to the past, thereby going back in time and preventing the Powerpuff Girls from being created when I am able to obtain the plans for such a device from Professor Utonium, because I do not yet have them.'
Incredibly, nearly the same thing was inscribed beneath it in Japanese characters.
"What? I have found the place once occupied by Mojo!"
The significance of those words sunk in. "A time-travelling device? Such a thing actually exists? I have been promised this means back to my time before but always it has been a myth. And this professor is the one in possession of it."
That confused him. If this professor had the means to send them through time, was he the one who had removed them from the city of the past, thereby causing its destruction? Mojo had said very little about the man and surely would have if this professor had turned on his own creations. Confusing, but he would not find the answer standing here.
What should he do? Keep looking down here for another way out? If he searched some more, he might find something among Mojo's creations, ones that had been intended to do evil, with which to fight that evil. But then, how to find the girls? This place was the highest around, but he might have to wait before he saw them again, and he hated sitting still. Searching seemed like the better choice and he would spare his sore arms and legs the climb back up.
He made his way beyond the rack of boxes and turned a corner. And there sat the source of power. Painted in red on a steel door was the word 'Danger!', and in yellow the sign that he had learned meant radiation. Behind that door, he knew, was something very powerful if controlled. But in the wrong hands, it was a fearsome weapon of mass destruction. He had been horrified to learn that such a weapon had been used not once, but twice, against the people of his homeland. He had been even more appalled when told that those weapons had been used justly to stop the horrors caused by a few madmen who happened to be Japanese, to prevent even more horrific ones. More of Aku's work.
It was sad that Mojo had used his talents as he had, but at least he had seen the light. And it was a shame that so much of his work, that could have been turned to good use, now lay in ruins. At least what was up there at the mountaintop. He envisioned all that destruction, and suddenly his eyes went wide.
"The telescope!" He would be able to find the girls much easier if it still worked. Finding them was more important. The long climb began.
"Okay, guys, here we go…" Blossom said nervously as they descended through the gaping hole in Townsville Hall's dome. They lit amid the rubble of the mayor's office and saw the door to the great hall wide open.
"I don't see anybody, even with my x-rays." Bubbles whispered loudly. They carefully floated about the large office, fearful to touch anything. Buttercup spotted something shiny and pointed it out. They zipped toward the door.
"It's a gun!" Blossom exclaimed. "And it's clean! Like somebody just put it there!"
Buttercup felt her skin crawling. "This is giving me the creeps."
"Look! Bullets!" Bubbles cried, pointing at the spent casings on the floor.
"They're shells, Bubbles." Blossom corrected her, bending down to pick up the revolver. She sniffed it and made a face. "This was just fired!"
"Somebody was here, Blossom. Lookit the footprints!" Buttercup called out suddenly, pointing at the sandal prints left by the samurai. "And the marks in the dust here look like someone was trying to get out of the way of those shots!"
"And from the size of them, it's a man." Blossom noted.
"Who could it be?" Bubbles wondered. "And where's the footprints of the shooter?"
"This is a real mystery, girls. But it's not gonna help us with what we're really here for. Let's give the rest of the place a quick check and head out to the school."
- * * * *
HIM rubbed his pointed beard, grinning in anticipation. "Any time now! After they scream their accursed little heads off when their dear professor and that bimbo at City Hall run them off, they'll surely go running to see their beloved teacher!"
Barely a minute later, he heard them coming and whisked a claw, making himself invisible. He watched them land and noted happily that the thunder and lightning would be timed almost perfectly.
- * * * *
Jack had found the telescope's lens filthy with years of caked grime, and it pivoted with difficulty. But it worked. After cleaning the lens, he swiveled it about, not knowing where to look. He noted the two spots he'd already visited today. Then, he saw them. Leaving the last place he'd been, where he'd almost been shot. Incredible it was, watching them fly through the sky, and he felt a chill go up his back. To be the objects of such reverence, by a former enemy, no less. They must be very special indeed.
He watched with a growing sense of something not being right as they came down by the school. They had visited the same three spots he had, but in exact reverse order. It troubled him, gave him the feeling that they would not meet. But there was little he could do. He could not fly. There was no way he could climb down and run to their location unless they stayed there for a good hour at least. That was unlikely, so he watched, and hoped that they would find a reason to come back this way. If they did, he would not hide this time.
"Where do you think everybody went, Blossom?"
"Beats me, Bubbles. You'd think we'd have seen people's bones or something, but it's like everybody just…vanished."
They floated down to stand just outside the school. Buttercup suddenly whipped her head around. She saw nothing, though, and turned to her sisters.
"Nobody anyplace, but I feel like I'm being watched."
"Me too!" Bubbles said.
"Well, let's get this over with." Blossom floated toward the hole in the school's wall.
"Then what, Blossom?"
"Then we go take a closer look at Mojo's. Did you see any of his robots 'n stuff anywhere?"
"No…" Buttercup admitted. "…you know, I always wondered where he kept those things."
"Underground." Bubbles said, as they entered the school.
"Yep." Blossom agreed. "And that's where we're looking."
Inside, they saw only the wreckage, and it brought tears to their eyes. Bubbles found one of her drawings on the floor, faded and barely recognizable. The place where they had spent so many happy hours, and a few not so happy, was a scene of utter despair, yet they had only been in it a few short hours ago.
All Blossom could get out was, "This is awful."
"And it's been like this for fifty years." Buttercup said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Bubbles seemed to be in a trancelike state. "Fifty years…fifty years…"
- * * * *
"Ah, that's my cue!"
HIM smiled. "Now, the real fun begins! And the beauty is that I didn't have to wait fifty years!"
He began to chuckle softly and made himself visible, as a red mist.
- * * * *
"Well, let's go." Blossom said as they floated outside. She looked up at the darkening sky. "We better move before we get caught in the storm."
The girls were startled, hearing the soft, high-pitched chuckling at the same time a reddish cloud seemed to begin swirling around their feet.
"Don't you know, the faster you go, time…slows…down. Your time stopped for fifty years while you were out racing around!"
"I know that voice…" Blossom whispered.
Behind them, the cloud thickened and the demon emerged from a burst of flame.
"Seconds, minutes, hours, days, and nights crawled by on hands and knees as you raced the speed of light."
They spun to see him drifting above them. "HIM!"
"Yes! Coming back now? Remember?"
They could hear Buttercup's echoing challenge from the schoolyard. "So. Which one of you slowpokes wants to race me home?"
He didn't get the reaction he expected. Buttercup pointed angrily at him.
"Don't try to pin this one on me, you dork!"
"Yeah, we know it was you!" Bubbles scowled.
"It's impossible to make time stand still just by flying faster," Blossom said, snarling the rest, "so you're the one responsible for this!"
With that, they pounced on him, kicking, punching and screaming out their anger as they blasted him with their eyebeams and knocked him through another wall of the ruined school. They went in after him, and he got to his knees, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
"All of my wonderful illusions and they saw right through them…but, how?"
"Well, Miss Smarty Pants," he snarled back at Blossom while climbing to his feet, "spare me your scientific explanations. Your dear Ms. Bellum certainly thinks it's your fault!"
"Oh yeah? She didn't tell us that!"
Bubbles frowned. "Yeah! We didn't even see her!"
"Nope." Blossom said smugly. "And that you're here means that we were supposed to see Ms. Keane, too, right?"
He whipped his head to the side. The Keane illusion wasn't there, either. Something had gone wrong. He could only assume they hadn't seen the professor, either, though he hadn't bothered to check to see if the man was gone like all the others were. No one could have survived for fifty years after what he'd done to the place.
"Your stupid head games don't work on us." Buttercup spat. "But that's all you got. You can't take us on yourself."
Now, the lovely Townsville zombies he had ready to go would be useless. It made him furious.
"Well," he said in his effeminate voice, drawing his face into an evil sneer, "it seems I underestimated you once again. But, you girls underestimate me. That's what happens when you've been out of the loop for fifty years!"
At that moment, a tremendous bolt of lightning lit up the sky and the accompanying clap of thunder shook the ground. The skies opened up. His cackle turned into a menacing laugh and they watched, mesmerized, as his body transformed into something of sheer brute strength. His red claws grew into immense steel pincers and his black-booted legs thickened like tree trunks. He towered above them, his head crashing through the ceiling of the school and showering them with debris. His red face was now a black mass, showing sharp, white teeth. He grinned down at them balefully.
Their eyes could not get any bigger. "Whoa…"
"Still want to take me on?"
Buttercup didn't even notice that she was getting drenched. "Thought you'd never ask!"
- * * * *
The telescope was a powerful one. Jack watched the red demon come into view but didn't know what to expect. It was a strange-looking thing but not very big and didn't appear to be very powerful. Its power seemed to be one that could make it appear suddenly, as it had. He saw the three small objects attack it, and was amazed by the beams of light coming from their eyes. No wonder they had been viewed almost as goddesses by that sect in the jungle.
He was able to see in through the new hole made in the wall of the school. The girls' backs were turned before, but at this angle he could see them in profile, looking at the red creature and apparently having a conversation with it. They looked very odd indeed. So tiny and seemingly innocent, with those enormous wide eyes. But he couldn't tell which one was the merciful, the strong or the wise, as they were all obviously strong and none looked very charitable at the moment. He had thought, from seeing the statue of them, that the lack of a nose or ears, and fingers, was merely artistic license. But now it was plain they had no noses, and when the red-haired one tossed her head angrily, the hair moved aside and revealed no ears. And their hands resembled clubs. Their simple style of dress, though, added to the impression that they were just children. It was a very incongruous combination.
The red-haired one was standing furthest away, and now she shifted her body so that he could see her face fully. He could read her lips as well as those of the creature, whose countenance oozed evilness. From their brief exchange, he learned that the girls had not seen the possessed creatures that he had, and that the red figure seemed surprised. They must have been illusions, created to confuse or frighten the children, but Jack had seen them first. They were obviously designed to interact with a living person and once they had done so, they disappeared.
The girls seemed to understand this and were making it clear that they weren't fooled. In fact, they appeared ready to resume the fight. Then the lightning struck and he was blinded momentarily. When he could see them again, he was stunned by the transformation that he witnessed. There was only one thing that could change its shape like that.
"Aku!" he cried. "I must get to them!"
But what could he do from where he was? It would take too long; by the time he reached them the fight would be over. Children, no matter how powerful, would be no match for the shape-shifting demon.
- * * * *
"Heeeyahhhh!!!" Buttercup let out a war-cry as she launched herself at their new, improved enemy. Her sisters were right there with her, firing their lasers. She rubbed her hands together, preparing to send a green energy beam into that sneering face, but before she could get it off, his own eyes flashed white and she slammed into the ground.
Rubbing her head, she stood, growling. "Okay, not bad! So it takes us ten minutes instead of two!"
But when she took off again, she saw that Blossom was trapped in one of the steel claws and she was straining, firing her lasers ineffectually at the laughing brute. Bubbles attacked his face with her feet, pumping like pistons, but he merely swatted her aside with his other claw. Buttercup raced to grab her before she slammed into the ground.
"He's definitely tougher, Bubbles, we gotta think of an attack plan. Just pounding him isn't gonna work this time!"
"But, we hafta save Blossom!"
"Blossom'll be okay for now. He wants all three of us. Come on, let's make him come after us instead!"
"Split up?" Bubbles suggested.
Blossom watched her sisters' streaks disappear in opposite directions and smiled to herself. "Good, girls!"
She felt HIM's grip ease slightly and waited. If she moved now, he'd tighten his grip on her and not make the same mistake again. She was soaked to the skin by the driving rain and knew that would make her slippery in his steel claw. She would just wait for her opening and hope that her sisters would be able to spot theirs.
HIM whipped his massive head in both directions. "Now, where did those brats run off to?"
"What?" He looked down at the wet Powerpuff and saw the fear in her face.
"Yeessss." he hissed. "So they should be!"
"Can you blame them? I'm scared too." Blossom waved her hand out toward her once-beautiful city. "It doesn't matter that it wasn't our fault we got here. Everyone's just as dead. We lost."
"Yeeeessss!" The effeminate lilt was suddenly back in his voice and she felt his grip ease even more. "Well, I'm glad you finally realize that."
She dropped her head and sobbed, "Yes. It's over. Nothing matters anymore. Do what you want with me."
The storm broke and the rain stopped as rapidly as it had begun. The clouds parted and the sun shone through, reflecting off of the teeth in the demon's suddenly brilliant smile.
Jack expected as much, but was surprised it ended so swiftly. They were no match for Aku. The two girls that escaped had gone in opposite directions, then had circled and met, hiding themselves in another approaching storm cloud. Jack had seen the first storm break, but this second one had appeared out of nowhere.
He read the lips of the red-haired girl, and they bespoke of the matching look on her face, utter defeat. So much for allies.
- * * * *
"Okay, what next, Buttercup?"
"Just keep watching. This storm is moving closer. When it gets to them, we'll jump out. HIM won't be expecting it and Blossom'll be able to get loose."
"But, won't the same thing just happen again?"
"Nah. He was right, we did underestimate him. We thought we could just kick his butt but he's better. If we surprise him, we'll have the advantage this time. It still might take us longer than we think, but we'll beat him."
"Yeah. I wonder what Blossom is doing?"
"I hope she's talking him into a false sense of security. With that stupid big ego of his, it'll work, too."
Bubbles giggled. "Yeah! Then, we can go get that stuff we need so the professor can fix the time machine!"
"Yeah, Bubbles. And when we get back to our time, we get to smash his face all over again…"
- * * * *
"Nothing matters anymore? Why Blossom, I'm surprised to hear you say that!"
"Does it?" She looked up, her eyes lifeless. "Everyone and everything that meant something to me is gone."
"Even your sisters?"
"Well, no, but they feel the same way. There's nothing left for us."
She could fly out of his grasp right now. But she had no idea where her sisters were. She would have to play the game a while longer, but it was going pretty good.
"It doesn't have to be that way, Blossom." the oily voice cooed.
"What do you mean?"
He waved his other claw and from the desolation, flowers sprung out of the ground and long-dead trees suddenly sprouted new, green leaves. Their ruined school was instantly restored and the playground was full of laughing children. With her super-vision, she could see that none of them were anyone she knew.
"I don't know any of those kids."
He waved his claw and it all disappeared. "Merely a demonstration, you foolish girl. I'm just showing you the power I have. I can give you back everything I took away from you!"
She had no doubt that he could. But none of it would matter a thing to her. There was only one way to restore what they'd lost and that was for it to not have happened. And she knew that HIM expected a price to be paid for what he was offering.
"Oh. But you want something from us, right?"
He stroked his chin, smiling. She hadn't said no. "I've got her!"
"Weeeell, not right away…you girls can go on living in your Townsville, just like before, and I won't even bother you like I used to!"
"Then what's the catch?"
"Ahh! I do have her now!"
"Very simple. Your souls belong to me. For eternity."
"So you can torture us, right?"
"Now, would I do a thing like that?" He laughed a long, low laugh, his voice slipping back into the menacing rumble. "Of course I would!" Then his voice reversed again. "But seriously, all I'd expect from you is to provide a little 'muscle' from time to time when I need it, to enforce my rules in other places."
"Okay! We'll do it!"
"Just like that?" he asked suspiciously.
"Well, if we say no, you'll just let us live forever in all of this."
"Smart girl. You really do have no choice."
"I know. Let's find my sisters. Don't worry, once I explain it they'll go along!" "NOT!"
"Like they have any say in the matter!" the demon thought.
He looked up at the sky. "Hmm, another storm."
"Perfect weather for purchasing souls!"
- * * * *
"Some allies." Jack backed away from the telescope momentarily, feeling mightily let down.
So much for them being the Three Virtues. Aku had defeated them without having to resort to his usual armies of monstrous beasts or mechanical drones. He had done it with the simplest means possible: A promise. One that would not be kept. They were indeed children, and easily fooled. Temptation was one of Aku's oldest tricks, used on the weak of will, and though these children might be physically strong, they were immature. That will had not yet developed in them. Mojo and his followers would be devastated to see this.
It was fitting that another storm was brewing. Now he would have to battle not only Aku and whatever other creatures he could muster, but these three tiny powerful beings as well. He went back to the telescope.
- * * * *
"I'd better be right about this. Don't let me down, guys!"
"Why don't you just make it go away?" Blossom questioned, pointing to the storm front right overhead. She squirmed in his claw, grasping one of the points tightly.
"What!" HIM cried mockingly, sensing her discomfort. "My new enforcer is afraid of a little rain? I'm not afraid of a little rain!"
"Well, then, how about a little pain!"
She erupted outward, holding onto the tip of his claw and twisting his arm behind his back.
"Aagghhh!! Why you little…!"
He never finished his angry oath, because green and blue streaks blazed out of the black clouds and exploded in his face. They knocked him back and with his arm twisted behind him, he wasn't able to react quickly enough. His eye-lasers missed Buttercup and Bubbles badly but theirs didn't, slicing into his eyes. He screamed and swung blindly at them, getting lucky and knocking Buttercup to the ground. But Bubbles got around behind him and with Blossom practically twisting his right arm into a pretzel, she drove into his back with her feet like a jackhammer, sending him to his knees. Buttercup pounded away on his face.
With all the strength he could command, he threw them off, flinging them violently aside and they crashed to the ground. But when they recovered, they saw that the effort had cost him his new, powerful body. He was on his knees, looking like his former self. They moved in to finish him off, growling fiercely, showing their teeth.
"Buy our souls?" Blossom shrieked. "You better start worrying about yours!"
He snapped to his feet, snarling at them in his evil voice. "You accursed little cretins! I offer you immortality and this is how you repay me? Fine!"
He swung his claw and in shock, they saw a rip form in the sky above them.
"Then live out the rest of your miserable little lives in this paradise!"
He disappeared into his familiar red cloud and the rip sucked him into it.
"NOOOOOO!!!" they screamed, flying at it. But it started closing up on them. Buttercup dove into it headfirst and it closed on her.
"Buttercup!" her sisters shouted, grabbing her legs and pulling as the vortex tried to take her along for the ride to wherever HIM was trying to escape. She finally popped free with a loud thunderclap. She threw one fist in a rage, punching the air.
"Hear me now and believe me earlier! I'll be back!"
They floated there, out of breath and shaking with anger. All of their rage at what he'd done had exploded out of them, but he'd gotten away one more time. But they knew they would get another shot at him, if they did what they were there for. It was time to get to it.
Blossom prepared to take off. "Come on, guys. To Mojo's."
Bubbles took her position alongside, but noticed Buttercup still hovering there, staring at where the rip had closed. Her face was a mask of anger. Bubbles floated up to her and gently tugged at her arm. Her sister was breathing heavily and tears of frustration streamed down her face. Bubbles tugged again, whispering softly.
"C'mon, Buttercup. We'll git 'im. C'mon."
- * * * *
Stunned, Jack fell back from the telescope.
"They…they have beaten Aku! They have forced it to flee!"
He now believed that his final fight with Aku would not take place this day, as he had thought. But he knew that he had found his ally. It was now clear which of them was what virtue. The green-eyed one, throwing herself into the gaping maw after the demon, she was Strength. The blue-eyed girl, gently going to her sister's side, she was Mercy. And the one with pink eyes, the one who had taken Aku's own game of temptation and turned it against it…she was Wisdom. Aku had called her Blossom, as if they had met many times before and knew each other well. So, he was not alone in having battled the demon repeatedly. He felt ashamed at having doubted them and was very glad for not having been there. For he would have confronted the girl Blossom, and he would have lost face.
They had not only the power of might but the power of will, which came from belief in yourself and what you stood for. He knew that, even though they might be easily identifiable by the virtue they represented, that all three of them shared those qualities. He had underestimated them and he knew, that when he finally met them, he would be wise to remember that they were more than just children. Even if they behaved like children.
- * * * *
The samurai was not the only one watching the girls' defeat of HIM, for the time being, anyway. For as the storm cloud passed overhead and Jack crouched under the piece of plywood to stay dry, an evil presence looked out from it. It had become the clouds.
"So. There are other creatures with vast power capable of defeating my forces. And they were flung into the future as well and are trying to return to the past, just as the samurai tries. I was not aware of that particular dark spirit, although I have spawned so many it is impossible to keep track of all of them. It is enough to know that they do my work for me. But it failed to defeat its quarry and they will live to fight another day."
The demon pondered what it had learned from the two creatures who had waited, unknowingly, right in its presence.
"I must find this time machine they speak of and destroy it! The samurai must not be able to use it to return to the time of his father! I have promised to finish him at a time of my choosing, and while I was not thinking of it today, today it may be. The presence of those children may make it interesting, indeed, but they will ultimately share the fate of the great warrior! Hahahahahahahaha!
Jack knew they would still be angry at Aku having slipped away. He had experienced the same thing himself and knew the emotion well. But until it passed and he had used it to strengthen his resolve for the long-term goal, he was a dangerous person to approach. Thusly, he did not want to surprise the girls when they arrived, lest he have their anger turned on him. It would not be a good way to begin an alliance. So he decided to let them see him as they approached. He dropped the plywood back over the elevator shaft and stood in the open, watching the colored streak coming toward him. The rain was easing and the dark clouds were mostly passed to the ocean side of the city.
- * * * *
"Ah! The samurai reveals himself at last! And those children are approaching him! I will observe and learn the location of this time machine, and then rid myself of them. Aku's eternal reign begins this day!"
- * * * *
"Look, girls!" Blossom pointed ahead. "Is that a person?"
Bubbles squinted. "Oh my gosh! It's the professor!"
They put on a burst of speed, but then Buttercup cried, "Hey, that's not the professor!"
"It looks like him, but it's not him!" Blossom said, perplexed. "Where did he come from?"
"He looks like one of those samurai guys." Buttercup said. "Look at how he's dressed, and that sword!"
"Yeah, but where did he come from?" Blossom repeated. The man stood, unmoving, arms crossed, watching them. "I think he sees us."
"Look! Birds!" Bubbles cried out suddenly, pointing to their right. Indeed, a small flock of perhaps twenty boat-tailed grackles, often seen not far from the coast, flew out of the sun that had poked from behind the now-distant storm clouds. They circled over the man and the ruined observatory, looking for a place to land. He glanced up at them briefly. Several landed and drank from puddles of rainwater left behind, while the others remained in the sky, circling, looking for someplace better.
It was the first life of any kind they had seen. Blossom had a sudden thought. "Hey, maybe with HIM gone, things will start to come out, now."
That made sense to Buttercup. "Maybe. Hey, Blossom, he's not reaching for his sword. I guess he thinks we're harmless."
"Or maybe he was watching us through Mojo's telescope!" Bubbles said brightly.
"Hey, good eye, Bubbles!" Buttercup answered. "Maybe he saw us the whole time and knows he better not mess with us!"
Blossom sighed. "Don't go getting a big head, Buttercup. We ought to be careful, this could still be one of HIM's tricks."
They all had noticed that the stranger had dried blood and numerous scrapes on his legs and that his hands looked raw. Buttercup mentioned it now.
"If he does mess with us, he's gonna have a lot more than a few cuts and bruises!"
They floated to within fifty feet of him, remaining slightly above so he had to look up at them. His eyes never moved.
They jumped back.
"H-how do you know my n-name?"
He slowly raised a hand in greeting. "Do not be afraid. I am a friend. My name is Jack."
Buttercup recovered first. "We'll just see about that, Jack. Answer the question! How do you know our names?"
"This one has the aggressiveness of a tiger." He smiled slightly. "I have told you mine. What is yours?"
"Back off, Buttercup, he's right." Blossom turned her head to look at the stranger. "These are my sisters Buttercup and Bubbles." She frowned. "But, if you knew that, you wouldn't have asked…" It dawned on her. "You were watching me, weren't you?" She pointed at the telescope.
"Did you see us beat HIM?" Bubbles asked, wide-eyed.
"Yes, but I prefer to use the word 'it'. The demon does not deserve to be referred to as a person."
"What else would we call him?" Buttercup frowned. "It's his name."
"Gesundheit!" they all said at once.
Now Jack frowned. Aku probably went by many names, but this Gesundheit was a very odd one. "Well, it would appear that you have battled it before, as have I."
Buttercup was astonished. "You've fought HIM before?"
"Yes, I have fought many battles against the forces of Aku."
He held up one hand. "Please. You may call it what you-"
"We should try to get dried off before we catch cold, too." Blossom said. They were still pretty wet from the rains.
Bubbles said, "No wonder he got a cold with that dress he's wearing."
"It is not a dress!"
"Yeah, dummy!" Buttercup looked at her sister. "It's hitatare."
Jack was astonished at the use of the term for the specific style of kimono he wore.
Buttercup looked at him and giggled, putting her hands to her mouth. "I bet even your fundoshi got wet. No wonder you got a cold!"
Jack blushed at the mention of his undergarments, especially coming from a young female child. But he needed to clear up this confusion. "I do not have a cold! Where are you getting that idea from?"
"You keep sneezing!" Bubbles said.
"I have not sneezed."
Blossom took over. "Yes you did, twice, and we said 'Gesundheit' 'cause it's the polite thing to do when somebody sneezes. We were trying to tell you about HIM and you were about to tell us what you call him when you sneezed!"
"I see." he said, not seeing at all. He scratched his head, thinking.
"Ah! I have misunderstood. Gesundheit is not the name of the demon that you have been calling 'him', but is known to me as…"
"Aku!" they shouted, also getting it.
Grinning, he said, 'Gesundheit.'
- * * * *
Their brief laughter seemed to break the ice.
"Uh, we don't wanna seem rude, but could you give us a second? We need to talk to each other." Blossom said this rather shyly, not wanting to offend him.
"It is all right." He told her. "You do not trust me yet. That is very wise."
They huddled together, whispering quietly. Blossom knew they were being watched closely.
"Okay, guys, he seems to be real, but he could be one of HIM's tricks."
"I don't think so, Blossom," Buttercup said. "HIM isn't sharp enough to remember all the details to keep his story straight."
"What do you mean, Buttercup?" Bubbles asked. She already liked the stranger and saw no problem.
"Those warajii he's wearing."
Blossom narrowed her eyes. "In English, please. And since when do you know so much about Japanese culture?"
"Hey, Miss Know-it-all, you're not the only one that knows how to open a book! If I'm interested in somethin', I know how to study, too!"
"Please, girls, don't fight!" Bubbles pleaded. "He's watching!"
"I'm sorry, Buttercup. But please, make it so we all know what you're talking about."
"Okay. His sandals. I think they're what made those marks on the floor in the mayor's office!"
"Really?" Blossom swatted Bubbles' arm; her sister had turned her head toward Jack. She hissed, "Bubbles, don't look!"
"Yeah." Buttercup said. "HIM acted like we were supposed to have seen Ms. Bellum and Ms. Keane. Remember?"
"Yes!" Bubbles whispered excitedly. "Ms. Bellum was 'sposed to be mad at us for not coming to save the day!"
"Yeah, Bubbles, and she thought Jack was the professor! Or, HIM's illusion did. He got to them before we did and that's why we didn't see them!"
"Great detective work, Buttercup." Blossom said approvingly. "That's that mystery solved. But it doesn't explain who this guy is and why he went there in the first place. Or to our school."
"Oh no!" Bubbles gasped. "What if he saw the professor, too!"
"Only one way to know, guys. Let's get some answers from him. If he's a part of HIM's game, he'll lie."
"And if he is, samurai or no samurai, he's going down!" Buttercup promised.
They turned and floated to within a few feet of the stranger, to watch his eyes when he gave his answers. They weren't too worried for their safety.
"We apologize again if we seem rude, sir, but you were right. We were taught not to talk to strangers, let alone trust them."
"You have a wise parent. All children should be taught that lesson. Sadly, many are not."
"Well, we're gonna talk to you now." Buttercup glowered. "We want some answers, and we better get 'em!"
"You may ask anything you wish." he replied calmly, holding up his palms in a gesture of openness.
"He looks so much like the professor!" Blossom thought. "Even though he's clearly Japanese. It's weird."
"Okay," she began. "Does the name Sara Bellum mean anything to you?"
He knitted his brows in thought.
"Not before today." he replied. "But just a short time ago, I encountered an old woman who may have been she."
"Where, and what happened?"
"Perhaps I should tell you my history. I believe we may have something in common."
"Just answer the question!" Buttercup barked.
"Well, may I at least describe the events of today, when I arrived in this place?"
They exchanged quick glances and nodded for him to go ahead. He related his experiences up to the present, including how he had observed them. He told Blossom how impressed he was by her turning the tables on Aku, and their amazing abilities, but he left out certain information. He wasn't completely convinced about them, either. They could be a part of Aku's treachery. It was a feeling-out process on both sides.
Bubbles leaned in toward her sisters and whispered faintly. "He didn't say nothin' 'bout the professor."
"Neither did HIM." Buttercup reminded her. "It don't mean nothing."
Blossom leveled her gaze directly at him. The eyes, if they shifted in the slightest, would tell her something. "It makes sense that you could have just walked by the school and heard Ms. Keane. But what made you go to Townsville Hall?"
"And how did you manage to not get shot?" Buttercup asked with a fierce scowl. "Even a real samurai can't stop bullets like we can."
"They can withstand weapons fire? Incredible!"
"When I left the teacher, it was clear that she was under a spell and I suspected the work of Aku. It seemed that whatever happened to this city took place many years ago and nothing survived. So I sought out the place where the leaders had ruled from, hoping to find records and information about the people who lived here. That's where I met the possessed woman."
He smiled at Buttercup. "You are correct, young warrior. Even the most skilled samurai cannot defend against that sort of weapon without…this!"
He savagely whipped out his sword, making them flinch, then grinned and slid it back into his belt.
Recovering, Buttercup cried, "No way! What, is it magic or something?"
He slowly pulled it back out, took it by the blade and held the handle out to her. "Indeed, it is. Go ahead, you may hold it."
Buttercup took it and a thrill shot through her. "Oh my gosh! I felt something! I don't know what, but I felt it, just for a second!"
She stared at it in wide-eyed wonder, then handed it over. Bubbles gingerly reached out to touch it, then pulled her hand back. "I think I felt it."
Blossom took it by the handle and looked the blade up and down. She saw tiny nicks where bullets could have possibly hit it, including a very small piece out of the edge.
"I don't feel anything." She started to hand it back.
"That is because you are distrusting and do not believe in magic. Your sisters apparently do." He took it back from her. "I assure you the magic is real. The sword belonged to my father and my father's father and was in the possession of many a shogun before that. In my hand, it nearly destroyed the evil that is Aku before it escaped by opening a passage in time and casting me into the future."
"Just like us!" Bubbles exclaimed.
"Yes. And without you in your time, and this sword in my past, look what has become of the present. That is why we must return to our own times."
"When are you from?" Blossom wanted to know. "We're fifty years in our future."
"Only fifty years? I do not know when that is, but my past was much longer ago than that. The means of transportation that lie ruined below us, and many other things that I have seen, were not even far-fetched dreams in my time. Although what I see here appears to be outdated. There are some cities that are still quite civilized, though Aku's evil has taken root in them."
"Other cities? With people?" Bubbles asked. "Really?"
"Yes. Many people, from all over the world."
"Maybe everybody in Townsville escaped!" Bubbles felt a little better.
"That is possible." Jack admitted. "Many have taken refuge in these places because of what was done to their homes."
"Then we have to help you go back." Blossom said. "If you beat HIM, I mean Aku, then what happened to us won't happen!"
"No, Blossom, that may not be true. I may not be successful in defeating Aku. We must both return to our respective times. I believe I may have discovered something that will allow it. But I must know something from you first."
"Hey, can I see that sword again?" Buttercup asked.
He held it back out. "You may, but be very careful. It is not a toy."
"I just want to see how strong this thing really is." She turned it and pointed it directly at her stomach.
"No!" He lunged for it.
"Hey, is that hara-kari stuff for real?" She rammed it into herself, as the samurai screamed in shock.
"Boy, this thing's not very sharp."
Buttercup pulled the sword away from herself and ran her hand along the blade. "Yep. Duller than Big Billy."
Blossom saw Jack lying face down where he had passed out from fright and grabbed it away from her. "Buttercup, are you stupid?"
"Yeah, that was mean!" Bubbles yelled at her sister. "Scaring him like that!"
She and Blossom both flew down to help revive him, but he was already on his knees, staring at them with a look of amazement. He had not passed out, he was overcome by what he had seen and was actually bowing before them.
"It is true. The prophecy is true. You cannot be harmed!"
"Duh!" Buttercup snorted. "We've got superpowers. No dumb sword can hurt us, not even a magic one!"
Her sisters got him to his feet but the look on his face didn't go away. Blossom gave him his sword back but he didn't take his eyes off of Buttercup as he replaced it.
"The legend of the sword is that it cannot harm the truly good and just. Even a samurai has flaws and is susceptible to falling under Aku's evil. Many samurai believe they live honorably by following our ways to the letter, but they serve evil shogunate who care only about getting and keeping wealth and power. Even I can be killed by my own sword, but what you have just done is not possible…unless the prophecy is true."
To illustrate his point, he walked over to a piece of steel re-bar sticking out of a shattered concrete support pillar. His face contorted as he swung, and the blade sliced cleanly through the steel, leaving a fresh, gleaming surface.
"Whoa!" Buttercup said under her breath.
"There is nothing wrong with the blade. I sharpen it often. Yet, you are not made of metal."
"No, we're made out of sugar, spice and-"
"Quiet, Bubbles!" Blossom shushed her sister. "What's this prophecy you keep talking about?"
"Maybe it was not wise to mention it. Letting them know they are goddesses at such a young age may be harmful to them in the long run."
"Perhaps I will tell you later. We must see about fulfilling the task of returning to the past. And that brings me to what I was going to ask you before. Those unfortunate creatures I met mistook me for someone they knew as 'professor'.
"Yeah, you do look a lot like him." Blossom confirmed.
"He created you, true?"
"Yep!" they all answered proudly.
"Ah! Your reaction tells me that he was a good man."
"Was? He still is!" Buttercup said.
"'Cept for when he won't let me watch wrestling."
"So he is still living in your time? That is good."
"Sadly, my father is not."
"He's still living now!" Bubbles shouted happily. "Oops! Maybe I shouldn't have told…"
"No, Bubbles, you shouldn't have." Blossom agreed with a deep scowl.
Jack quickly tried to calm her concerns. "I assure you, we have a common goal. I have learned that at one time, he was in possession of a time-traveling device. Do you know if he still has it?"
The girls pulled away and grouped together again as he eyed them curiously.
"Thanks a lot, Bubbles!" Buttercup groused.
"I'm sorry!" she whined.
"Well, nothing we can do about it now." Blossom sighed. "The question is, do we trust him?"
Bubbles looked back over her shoulder. She saw that the grackles had decided that this place was as good as any to set up camp, and they had busily set about constructing nests with bits of cloth, grass, mud and sticks. She saw several taking off and others returning with things in their beaks.
"I do, girls. Look at those birds. They can tell when evil's around and they're staying."
"Good point, Bubbles." Blossom said. "I say we take a chance."
Buttercup agreed. "Yeah, me too. Tricking us with a samurai ain't HIM's style. But if it is a trick, that sword isn't gonna help him."
"Yeah. Let's roll."
They broke formation. "Yes, sir, he still has it." Blossom said. "But it's broken. We came here to look for parts to fix it with."
They saw a real smile for the first time. "I think I may be able to help with that. Come with me!"
- * * * *
They stood underground, Blossom pawing through the large box of components after floating up to get it off the shelf. Her sisters had lifted Jack and gently lowered him down the shaft. He had met some fantastic beings during his journey and was more comfortable with their amazing abilities than someone else might have been.
"Whoa!" Blossom crowed. "This is great!"
"I hope there's a facial reducer in there." Bubbles said, trying to see for herself.
"Hmm." the samurai thought. "Something that would reduce the size of their heads. That might be useful. Though they do have a certain charm about them the way they are."
"It's 'spatial transducer', Bubbles." Blossom shook her head. "There's a whole bunch of 'em, plus a lot of other stuff, too. This is more than we could've hoped for!"
She looked up at Jack. "How did you find this?"
He told them how he had ducked for cover when they had first flown over, and how he had gotten his scrapes.
"Do you think this will help?"
"Yeah! You're as good as home right now!" Buttercup replied excitedly. "Looks like good old Mojoke saved the day again!"
Bubbles giggled. "He'll be real mad when we tell him!"
"You will be surprised to find out differently. But that can wait."
Blossom stood up. "Let's go." She looked up at the samurai again. "The professor's gonna be real surprised to see you!"
They heard a sudden squeaking noise.
"Look!" Bubbles cried out, pointing under the bottom shelf. "A cute little mousie! Here, mousie, mousie!" she cooed at it, getting on her knees and reaching out.
"Bubbles, leave it alone." Blossom told her.
"Aw. It looks scared."
"You and your stupid animals, Bubbles." Buttercup scolded. "Sheesh!"
But Jack looked at her and said, "Caring for the weak gives one great strength. There is as much power in one kind gesture as there is in ten born of anger."
Buttercup hung her head and said, "Yes, sir."
Without warning, a loud flutter of wings startled them as one of the grackles flew from the elevator shaft, straight at the mouse. It squealed and ran across the floor, panicked, when it should have just ducked further beneath the shelf. Bubbles waved her hands frantically at the bird. Blossom almost dropped the box of sensitive parts and Buttercup stood frozen. Jack helped Bubbles to try to shoo the bird away. They did, and it shot back up the shaft without its prey.
Bubbles was shaken up by the ordeal, practically in tears. "That mean ol' bird!" Then she spotted the mouse, laying on its side. "Oh no!"
Jack bent down. "It appears to be unharmed. It is just very frightened."
Bubbles ran over to pick it up and it let her. She could feel its tiny heart pumping madly as she cradled it in her hands.
"Put it down, Bubbles." Blossom told her.
"I can't! The birds'll come back after we leave!"
"She is right." Jack agreed.
"Oh, okay! But we have to let it go when we get back home."
Buttercup hoisted Jack onto her back and floated up the shaft. Blossom carried her treasure gingerly and Bubbles followed her up, clutching the terrified little animal. Within minutes, they were halfway to their ruined house, Buttercup pointing out points of interest to Jack as she carried him.
From Bubbles' hands, a tiny set of eyes peered out.
"Hahahahahahaha!! The fools lead me directly to the scene of their own demise! For when I have witnessed the destruction of the time machine with my own eyes, their fates will finally be sealed! There will be no escaping the wrath of Aku!"
Professor Utonium was not displeased that the girls had brought along the stranger, but he was a man in a hurry. Still, he had allowed for a brief introduction. Jack was deeply honored to meet someone with the ability to create life with his own hands, and that such life could be so pure and righteous. It was something the various religions of his day would not have found acceptable.
"I wish I had more time to hear your story, Jack, and tell you ours, but I really want to get this thing working."
Jack understood completely. But when the new component was plugged in and Jack had been totally shocked by the object pulled from the portal during the test run, a photo of the professor and the girls from his desk in his lab, something popped loudly and began smoking. The professor feared it was something more serious this time.
"It's a different part, but it's plugged into the same power grid. If the grid itself is bad, it will keep blowing something every time. Girls, there are enough parts here to practically replace everything. It will take me less time to do that than to keep replacing individual pieces when they go bad, and I'm not risking sending you back until it's right. Why don't you all just rest up while I do this, and I'll come get you when it's ready? You girls remember how rough the trip can be."
"Yeah, it is pretty hairy." Buttercup agreed.
So the girls led Jack out to what once was their back yard. Though overgrown with weeds and some debris lay in it from their house and the Smith's next door, which was flattened, they had it cleaned up in minutes. Jack couldn't believe his eyes. He sat on a stone bench under the maple tree in the center of the yard while they sat on the grass around his feet. There, they told him the story of their birth, including how Mojo and the Chemical X had figured into it. They explained what they did and described what their city had been like. He heard about the wonderful friends their teacher and Ms. Bellum had been to them and how they influenced their lives. Blossom did most of that explaining. Buttercup thrilled in telling about the battles. Bubbles would interject with things that seemed to make little sense, but it gave him the feeling that they were indeed still just children. And other times she would come out with some totally brilliant observation that had her sisters staring at her, obviously never having thought of it themselves. He was completely captivated by them. They took the evil they saw in stride and were not in the least beaten down by it, as were many children he had met in this world. While he listened, he drew his sword and began to restore it to its sharpest with a whetstone that he kept in a small pouch, concealed beneath his belt.
Then he told them his story, or did his best, because Buttercup would interrupt often with a question about samurai life. She never took her eyes off of his face or that magnificent sword. They were amazed by some of the creatures he described for them, but he found them not as incredible as the 'monsters' they apparently dealt with routinely. Bubbles cried at some of the terrible suffering he told about, while her sisters angrily swore that Aku, or HIM as they still called it, would pay when they got back. He began to wonder if they were really talking about the same demon, but he admitted to himself that as time went on, Aku's power had probably grown. It would be much stronger here than in their time.
- * * * *
Buttercup was still asking questions. Blossom suddenly realized they had been sitting there quite a while and interrupted, "I'll be right back. I'm gonna go see how the professor's doing."
Her brief trip had a dual purpose. She wondered if the samurai's sword was really all that special. Was she not feeling its magic because she didn't really believe in it, or were her sisters just gullible? She'd noticed very fine metal shavings left from Jack's sharpening and decided to collect them. When they got home, she'd get the professor to see if there were any special properties in the shavings.
She floated through the rubble of her house, shaking her head again at the destruction, and went down into the lab.
"Professor? How are you coming?"
"Oh, Blossom, it's you." he said, turning. She hoped she didn't show what she was feeling. She couldn't get used to how old he looked.
"Not good. The main power grid was bad. Fortunately, there are a few extras in the things you brought, but it's taking a little longer than I expected. Another half-hour ought to do it."
He noticed her eyes wandering. "What are you looking at?"
She told him what she wanted.
"Hmmm. I wouldn't recommend taking anything from the future back with you, but in this case that sword was around long before any of us, so I guess it would be okay. And I am intrigued by the possibilities you bring up. I'll find you something."
She went outside with a small piece of fiberglass tubing. He'd told her to melt it at one end and then seal the other end. It would be lighter and less of an irritant to her than metal, once she had slipped it in the small pocket sewn into the inside hem of her dress. Buttercup had somehow coaxed Jack into letting her play with his sword again while Bubbles watched, and no one noticed her carefully blow the shavings into the tube with a tiny puff of breath. First, she had to use her magnification-vision to see what she was doing when she scraped them into a pile. She turned her back, gave the open end a shot from her eyes and melted the tip, and slid it inside the hem. Done.
"It's not fixed yet, everybody."
"Cool!" Buttercup said. "Jack's showing me some really neat ken-jutso moves!"
"Great. Remind me to sit as far away from you as possible at dinner."
"Your sister handles herself well for a beginner." Jack said, and Buttercup stuck her tongue out at Blossom. He didn't see that, or he would have told her that the tongue was also a powerful weapon and could get you in a lot of trouble if you used it improperly. He held out his hand for his sword.
When they were sitting down again, Buttercup said, "Okay, I wanna hear about this prophecy thing you were talking about."
"I will tell you. But first I must say that I do not believe it, as I first did. You see, Buttercup, I was bowing before your greatness when you did not die at your own hands with my sword. I did not understand your unique abilities at the time. I now believe the prophet to be mistaken, as he had a hand in your creation."
"Yes. You know him as Mojo Jojo."
- * * * *
After he told them the tale, they still had a hard time believing it. But Bubbles was very happy to hear that he was still alive somewhere.
"Y'know, he could have been like a brother if things went different." Blossom said thoughtfully.
"That's a scary thought." Buttercup laughed. "But it's kinda funny that now he sees us as goddesses. Gee. I know we're popular, but goddesses?"
"Hee! Some people just don't have much of a life, Buttercup!" Blossom chuckled.
"Well, the professor did say that Mojo realized after we left that we were what gave his life meaning. We should be thankful he cared about us that much, because we weren't too nice to him sometimes."
Blossom and Buttercup whipped their heads toward their blue-eyed sister.
"You're right, Bubbles, we weren't." Blossom said quietly. "Maybe that story he told when he tried to get our powers was true. Maybe he did feel unwanted. That's something else we can fix."
The samurai was amazed still further by their way of looking at things. They were truly wise beyond their years, all of them.
"Gee, I just had another scary thought." Buttercup piped up. "This Aku sounds like a real bad dude the way you make him sound. HIM could be scary at times, but most of the time he was just another jerk. I mean, even with him, Mojo, Princess and Fuzzy all getting together, we still found a way to win."
"Yeah, Buttercup, this Aku sounds a LOT worse than that." Blossom agreed.
"Jack?" Bubbles raised her hand as if she were in school. "You said Aku always makes himself into different things. Do you know what he really looks like?"
"Hey yeah, Bubbles," Blossom said. "HIM always looks the same, until today, and even then we knew it was still him. He doesn't change into different monsters and stuff."
Buttercup added, growing more agitated, "That's what I meant! What if HIM and Aku aren't the same? What if Aku is really bad, and HIM only works for him?"
One more time, Jack was stunned. They had taken the seed of a thought that he had gotten and fully explored it in their young minds, in only a matter of seconds.
"I'm scared." Bubbles wasn't afraid to admit.
"Me too." Blossom said. "What if we aren't strong enough to beat him?"
"You will never have to." Jack said reassuringly. "You will be on your way back to your own time very soon, and if I and my sword do not fail, you will never have to worry about it."
"Can you at least tell us what he really looks like", Buttercup asked, "so we know, just in case?"
"I will try."
"Hey guys." Blossom pointed to the sky suddenly. "I think it's gonna rain again. Let's go inside."
"Hey wait, those aren't clouds, those are birds!" Bubbles cried out.
"Wow! You're right, Bubbles!" Buttercup exclaimed, getting to her feet. "That's the most birds I ever saw in my life!"
A dark, pulsating mass of what looked like the same grackles they'd seen earlier rapidly approached and they could hear the wind the wings were creating.
Jack leapt to his feet, drawing his sword. "Those are not birds! It is Aku!"
"After 'em!" Buttercup shouted, and the girls took off right into the flock, ignoring the samurai's warning. Instantly, the lead wave of birds morphed into steely versions and doubled in size. They dove straight for the house, becoming guided missiles, detonating on impact.
"Lasers!" Blossom waved her sisters into position and they turned their beams on the birds, sweeping across the front flank and picking them off before they hit. Only the first six or seven had struck, turning the upper story of the house into flames. When the attacking horde noticed what was interfering with it, half peeled off and swarmed the girls. To no avail, as their slashing fists and feet blew the possessed grenades apart. What few did get by exploded harmlessly against them. The girls kept their beams concentrated on the ones attacking the house…and Jack.
In spite of his initial fear for them, thinking of them momentarily as just children, he left them to their own devices. He was convinced they could handle themselves, at least with Aku's first wave. This would not be all. He ran to the garage and leaped to the roof of it in a single bound, then began swatting the few destroyers that got past the girls. His sword sliced them in half easily and they erupted into shrapnel, piercing the burning upper story of the house. Ten minutes of this and the swarm turned into a trickle, and then the deadly flock was no more. The girls flew down and doused the flames with their super-inhalation. His eyes became huge.
"That ain't nothing!" Buttercup laughed, blowing smoke.
"Don't brag, Buttercup!" Blossom scolded. She looked at the warrior. "That wasn't really Aku, was it?"
"Not Aku itself. It may take many forms, but it also may control other creatures and change them. Those birds had no control over themselves. But Aku has also underestimated you. It will not make the same mistake next time."
"Then we better get down to the lab!" Blossom shouted. "Let's go!"
"And let's just hope it works!" Buttercup added.
"What is that?" Jack said at the same second all three girls said, "Uh, oh."
They felt a heavy vibration coming from below them. A grinding noise, the sound of rusted machinery creaking, came from behind the house, then changed to a whine of engines.
"I know that sound!" Bubbles cried. "It's DyNaMo!"
"Yes!" Blossom shouted. "Professor must've heard the fight and took the portal to the DyNaMo for safety!"
"All right! No way is this Aku gonna beat her!"
Momentarily confused, Jack asked, "What is this dynamo?"
As Blossom quickly explained the battle robot, an astounded samurai saw a gigantic metallic amalgam of the three small children rising slowly into the air, straight up, above the house. He just stared at it, mesmerized, until it was several hundred feet above the house.
"Professor's not taking any chances with the portal." Blossom said. "It's our last chance to get home."
"But why's he going so far up?" Buttercup wondered. "Oh, well. C'mon, Jack!"
She grabbed the startled warrior under the armpits and they took off. To their total shock, the missile ports on the robot's arms slid open and a dozen projectiles fired out. Directly at the house.
"Aku!" Blossom screamed. "Take out those missiles!"
She and Bubbles began intercepting the death raining down, exploding them with their laser beams. Buttercup instantly took Jack to a safe distance a thousand feet away, where he'd be less likely to be hit by shrapnel. She raced to rejoin her sisters, calling back , "You're sittin' this one out!"
Luckily, the professor hadn't fully reloaded the robot with its complement of weaponry. It fired perhaps two dozen missiles and the girls were able to take them all out except one. Blossom sped to get in front of it and turn it away before it could hit the house, but it was too much for her and it carried her straight down. She and the missile disappeared completely from sight.
Fear gripped her sisters' hearts. But the explosion never came. Jack himself was sure the poor girl was doomed, and was amazed the rocket didn't go off. He raced toward the house.
"A dud!" Buttercup shouted. "Bubbles, I really hate to do this, but we hafta take her out!" Meaning DyNaMo, not Blossom. She was probably looking for the professor.
They headed straight for the battle droid, knowing what would get the job done. The professor had told them what to do in a last-resort scenario. Hit the robot's pigtail fuel nacelles.
"Let's hit the same spot!" Bubbles shouted and Buttercup nodded. They didn't have time to worry about Blossom, or Jack, who was down to five hundred feet away. The robot came at them, taking a savage kick at Bubbles. She deftly avoided it and kicked her leg out, tripping it. Buttercup saw her opening and grabbed it by one arm, spinning with it and finding a spot on the left pigtail with her beam. She released the robot, sending it straight up, a thousand feet. Their infra-red vision found the hot spot on the nacelle and they locked their beams on it.
Buttercup saw Jack running toward the house. "Jack! Get away! This thing's gonna blow!"
Then time seemed to stop, the next horrible moment frozen like a photograph in their minds before they saw nothing more. At the precise moment the DyNaMo blew, there was a tremendous 'WHUUUMMP'. Their house seemed to lift completely off the ground for an instant, then was engulfed in a fireball, the debris falling back into all that remained, a gigantic, scorched, black pit.
Buttercup and Bubbles had only a second to scream inside their minds, "Blossom! Professor!", before the blast sent them into the falling wreckage of the robot. They crashed into the debris-filled street in what, to them, had been a quiet suburban neighborhood just a few hours before.
Bubbles crawled out from under one of the robot's massive legs. She was scorched but otherwise fine, just a bit dazed. She saw her sister's green dress poking out from under the fuselage of the DyNaMo fifty feet away.
"Buttercup!" She shot over to her fallen sister. "Buttercup!"
"Unnh. Get this thing offa me, Bubbles…"
She was okay, too. They were both covered with soot but didn't care. All was deathly still around them. They flew to the edge of the pit and looked down. All that remained of their home was burning, shredded lumber, scraps of cloth from furniture, shards of glass and dishes, lumps of things that had been made of metal, welded together. Smoke billowed upward from everything.
"Oh no…" Buttercup whispered. "…look…"
Caught on a metal rod sticking straight up was half of Blossom's red bow, smoldering away. Bubbles grabbed her sister's arm and pointed out a small black shoe lying on its side, on what had been the front step.
"Nooooooo!!!" Buttercup screamed at the heavens.
Bubbles collapsed to her knees, burying her face in her hands. "P-Professor…"
They spun to see behind them, Blossom, floating, a charred, grimy mess. Her hair was undone and tangled, her face, arms and legs streaked with soot, her clothing was ripped and filthy and she was minus the one shoe.
"He's gone." she said, louder. "The time machine…gone…no way home…"
"Aku!" Buttercup screamed. "I'll get you if it's the last thing I do!"
"But what can we do?" Bubbles said in a tiny voice.
"Jack isn't afraid of that thing, and we're gonna go with him and find it! If it takes us forever!"
"Jack!" Bubbles cried. "Where is he?"
"Yes. Where is he?" Blossom said in a cold voice. "Don't you think it's strange that he knew exactly where to find what we were looking for and he was just standing there waiting for us?"
"What are you saying, Blossom? That Jack is Aku?" Buttercup didn't believe it.
"Do you really believe all those stories? Especially the one about Mojo?"
"Well, yeah, that one was a little far-fetched." Bubbles admitted.
"We led him straight here!" Blossom shrieked. "Aku! Show yourself!"
She flew toward the rear yard and her sisters followed. They saw the samurai just getting to his feet under the tree.
"Girls! You are unharmed!"
"Yaaahhhhh!!!" Blossom knocked him flat and peeled off, coming back around and firing her lasers at him. If it hadn't been for Buttercup landing a karate kick to his chest, the beams would have struck home. He rolled away, then leaped vertically toward the tree, grabbing a branch and slinging himself around.
Buttercup charged him. "You trait-OOF!!" She took a kick to the stomach. He let go, rolling on the ground and coming to his feet again, his sword out and ready.
"What has happened? Why have you turned against me?" He dodged a blast from Bubbles and took a glancing punch from Blossom in the shoulder.
"Don't give us that!" Bubbles shouted, firing her beams again. "We know you're Aku!" He was able to deflect them and they hit Buttercup full in the face.
"Watch it, Bubbles!"
Jack avoided another kick from her and one from Blossom. "Aku?"
Grunt. Slash. "You have been deceived!" Slash, slash. Kick.
"Liar!" Blossom shouted. "You deceived us!"
They were closing in on him, not giving him room to escape. He took a partial laser shot from Bubbles in the left leg.
"Yeeahhhh!!" "I have sworn never to attack a child, but…"
He took the offensive, slashing his blade across Buttercup's arm. It bounced off harmlessly. Blossom gave him a one-two to the side of the head and he almost dropped the sword.
"He's weakening!" she yelled. "Finish him now!"
They let loose together with one concentrated beam. The samurai lunged forward straight at them and the beam burned away the string holding his topknot, but that was all. Hair flying, he whirled around and swung the blade at their backs. It caught Blossom across the right arm as she turned, slicing her, but it didn't faze her in the least. She sent a kick to his jaw that knocked him back, but as he was falling, he swung again and the blade opened a gash across her left cheek.
Then, Buttercup and Bubbles were on him, pounding him with punches. He tried to roll away, and a few of the savage pokes dug up the ground when they missed. Blossom found an opening between her sisters and fired one more blast. It caught his right wrist on the tender part and the sword fell to the ground.
"No, please!" he gasped. "I am not your enemy!" He looked into the three faces that glowed with savage anger. " I am not Aku!"
"Let's finish it!" Blossom growled.
Buttercup lunged for the sword and lifted it high. "All that stuff you knew a kid like me would fall for. Well, Samurai Jack, I'm not as dumb as you think I am! Or, should I call you…Aku?!"
She started to bring the sword down but Bubbles' gasp stopped her. "Blossom? Blossom, you're bleeding!"
"Huh? Oh, it's nothing. Do it, Buttercup!"
Stunned, Buttercup saw blood flowing from the cuts on her sister's face and arm. The samurai used the distraction to roll away and leap to his feet. Buttercup spun slowly, moving past Blossom toward him.
With everything she had, she swung the weapon at the samurai's head, gave her wrists a flick…and plunged the blade into the center of Blossom's chest.
The red-haired Powerpuff disappeared in a massive, oozing black cloud, which rose rapidly skyward and took shape into something Buttercup and Bubbles had never seen before. The demon Aku had finally revealed its true self. It was almost entirely black, with a green face and a flaming red beard. It bared huge fangs in its hateful mouth and its deep-set black eyes reflected the light from the actual flames that made up its eyebrows. It waved its long, pointed devil-tail slowly behind it, almost like a dog that was happy to see them. Aku was, in fact, quite pleased with itself. The troublesome time machine was no longer a threat. Its hands became enormous, long-fingered things, and it raised them menacingly.
"So, Samurai!" it said in a deep voice that seemed to shake the whole earth. "Your little friends have chosen sides. They have chosen wrongly!"
It bored its fire-filled eyes directly into theirs. "You have chosen to follow the samurai and you will face my eternal wrath along with him!"
"Th-th-that's Aku?" Bubbles squeaked, shaking with fear. The shape-shifter was now dwarfing them, standing fifty feet high. Buttercup dropped the sword and froze, staring, her eyes about to burst. Jack quickly scooped the weapon up in his right hand, then moved behind the girls, crouching and whispering to them with a gentle hand on each of their shoulders.
"Do not be afraid. It has not met the likes of you. Make believe you are fighting those giant dragons you told me about."
The legend of the dragon was something he knew quite well, and he had seen some fantastic creatures in this future, but he couldn't comprehend some of the slimy beasts they had described. That they would be able to defend themselves against Aku, he was sure of. Destroy it, no, but together, perhaps they would drive it off. He would take them under his wing and they would search for another way back to their respective pasts. But the girls were fear-struck and in grief as well, and he needed to get them past it.
Buttercup sobbed, "But we can't, without Blossom! An' she's…gone!"
Tears rolled down Bubbles' face. "Professor too!"
"They are with you where they matter most." he said, making a fist and tapping it against his chest. "Right here."
He jumped up, knowing sudden action on his part would get them moving. He rose his sword over his head and bellowed, "Aku! You have stolen a child's father for the last time! Today your reign of evil comes to an end!"
A deep rumbling laugh filled the air as Aku towered above them, raising its massive fists.
"End? My reign is just beginning!" It flattened out its hands. At that action, twin shrieks startled it as the two girls launched themselves at it.
"Ahhh, you have wisely chosen to die swiftly! So, die!"
Hundreds of tiny, razor-sharp arrows came out of those huge, flattened hands. On the ground, Jack readied his sword to deflect any that might get by them. He had seen Aku use this one before.
"You are in for a surprise!"
- * * * *
Blossom coughed and tried to see through the thick, choking smoke. She had fought her way through debris, literally punching herself a path. Her anger at what Aku had done, for surely the Professor wouldn't have destroyed everything, kept her mind off of the horror. She knew he had to be gone now, and the girls and the samurai, who knew about them. But she didn't want to leave him down here, if she could just find him…maybe there was an air pocket somewhere. She kept calling out for him.
"Professor? Professor, can you hear me?"
"It's no use. He's …gone. Everything's destroyed. We can't go back now…what are we going to do? What am I going to do? What if I'm the only one left?"
She heard a deep-pitched roar and she felt the ground tremble. It had to be Aku. It was time to find her way to the outside somehow, but there was so much rubble. There was literally tons of wreckage on top of her. She slammed her fists into some more boards and heard them splinter, then surprisingly, the smoke cleared. It was being drawn away from her. That meant fresh air was around somewhere!
With renewed hope, she called out, "Professor!"
"Blossom? *cough, hack* Blossom, is that you?" The voice was tinny, echoed.
"Professor! You're alive! Are you okay?"
She blasted through several more feet and found the source. His voice was coming through a long section of pipe; the chimney flue.
"No." came the voice, sounding weaker. "Where are the girls?"
"I-I don't know."
"Find them, Blossom. *cough* Forget me, find them…"
"Blossom, please listen…the time portal was destroyed…"
"Don't move, Professor, I'm coming!"
He chuckled. "Don't move, huh? Blossom, there's nothing you can *hack* do. I'm in an air pocket but the whole thing will collapse before you can get ten feet from me…you must find the girls and *cough* find some other way home…Jack will look out for you…"
"Yes, Blossom, you must…please…it's the only way."
All she could do was sob. She could barely hear him now.
"Blossom…that thing out there…you can *cough* beat it…I know you can."
"Blossom, you have to…*cough* ..you have…you….hhuuuuuhhhh……"
She didn't know if he had just passed out, or…or. It was too horrible to think about, as was the possibility of traveling this world endlessly, looking for a way out. That thing was going to pay…
- * * * *
The demon watched in amazement as the tiny creatures flying at it batted away its arrows like they were so many gnats. If they were afraid, they weren't showing it.
"They are strong and fearless, but they are children. They are no match for Aku!"
It suddenly shrunk to a tenth of its size, putting all its energy into its tail, which became a massive club. It swatted Buttercup right into Bubbles, and the force drove them into the ground, creating a giant crater. It then swung the club at the samurai, who was forced to take evasive action. Aku easily evaded the sword-thrusts, which were defensive in nature. That sword was the one thing that could possibly destroy it, though it had survived contact with the magic blade on more than one occasion. Aku had simply retreated, promising to deal with the warrior at a future date. Today was that date, sword or no sword.
A blinding pink streak shocked it out of its thoughts.
"Aaaagghhhh!!!" Blossom blasted from the debris and grabbed the club. She swung it in a circle until her and Aku's colors blended into one pinkish-gray blur. Taken by surprise, the demon couldn't reshape itself quickly enough and Blossom let go, flinging it into space. She raced to the crater. Her sisters were just stirring, and she felt Jack at her shoulder. She hadn't even seen the samurai, so focused was she on Aku.
Rubbing their heads, her sisters saw her, and they knocked her over, joyous at seeing her. Their joy quickly turned to sadness when she told them about the professor.
"Jack?" Blossom asked. "Can we help you look for another way back to the past? If you think we'll be too much trouble, we can just-"
A wave of his hand silenced her. "You are no trouble. You have now become a danger to Aku and it will want revenge. We are best off by staying together."
"Great!" Buttercup exclaimed. "Now you really can teach me all sorts of cool samurai stuff!"
He smiled. "The most important weapon a warrior has is his mind. There are many lessons I can teach you, and most will have nothing to do with weapons."
That brought a smile to Blossom's face and disappointment to Buttercup's.
"I will tell you a very important one right now. You see, this sword has great power. It was this sword that Aku sought to escape by casting me into the future. I have wounded it a number of times since, but always it has escaped. That has taught me something."
"That evil will always find a way to escape?" Bubbles said. "No bad guys ever escape us!"
"Yeah, Bubbles, but there's always some other bad guys or evil monsters to take their place." Blossom noted. "Is that what you learned, Jack, that evil will always get away?"
"No, Blossom. I have learned that evil fears what is good and right, and that is why it is always forced to flee. Evil cannot stand to face good for very long. That is why it will never win a final battle. Evil can only win by fighting small battles. It wins some of those, but not all, as long as we fight back. Evil can only defeat us when we give up."
"The Powerpuff Girls never give up!"
The three girls extended their hands until they met. A fourth rested on top of theirs.
"Nor will I."
Aku was literally burning…with anger. Flying through the atmosphere didn't bother it, nor did the return trip. The idea of what had just happened was the cause of its fury.
"Not even the samurai has the power to do that! Those creatures must be crushed, and soon! They cannot be allowed to join forces with the one who carries the sword!"
Having taken on its true form again, it raced back to earth, toward what was once the city of Townsville. It heard the last of the samurai's lesson to the children, and the question from the yellow-haired one.
"When do you think Aku will try something again?"
It decided to answer her, right then. It suddenly appeared above them in the sky like a giant black sun with a snarling face. It darkened the sky just as an eclipse might, and the black flames radiated out from it like the true sun's did. Those little flamelets didn't evaporate, though, they turned into whirling star-shapes.
Buttercup knew what those were. "Throwing stars! Watch out!"
A hailstorm of the deadly objects rained upon them. There were literally thousands of them. The girls shot up to block them. Buttercup whipped herself into her tornado spin. That blew many of them in a wide swath away from the intended target. Blossom gave a blast of her ice-breath, which didn't slow them but made them brittle, and Bubbles' thunder-clap shock wave shattered many more. They were hit by some of the flying blades and by exploding shrapnel, but it didn't penetrate their tough skin, only stung them. They could hear the steady 'ching-cha-ching' of ones that got through being turned away by Jack's slashing sword, and the savage yelling of his war-cry. Soon, Aku was spent and needed another short rest before trying something else. It took its own form again whenever it rested, and did so now, raising its fists. Because when it looked down, it let go with an earth-shaking roar of triumph.
"Hahahahahahaha!!! You young fools have done what I have not as yet been able to do! Ah, how sweet this victory will be, that good has unwittingly destroyed itself!"
The girls whipped their heads toward the ground. Jack lay there, bleeding from uncountable small cuts, where the flying shrapnel had eluded his blade. They tore down to the ground.
"Oh no!" Blossom cried. "What have I done?" She could see that he would bleed to death soon if they didn't do something, but there weren't any hospitals or doctors. The shrapnel didn't seem to have pierced his clothing; the cuts were all on his face, hands, arms and legs. But some of the cuts were deep and there were just too many.
"We're sorry, Jack!" Bubbles cried, literally. Buttercup wept, too. She had nothing to say. All of them had thought they were doing the right thing.
The warrior opened his eyes a sliver. "It is all right. You did the correct thing." "No we didn't!" Buttercup said mournfully. "You always got away before we came along!"
Jack closed his eyes. "No. Do not blame yourself. Remember my words. Aku never wins unless we stop fighting. You must continue without me."
The demon's laughter rained down on them and it took immense joy in watching the tears flowing from the tiny things. Soon, it would dispense with them as well, and evil would rule the universe unchallenged. Suddenly, the laughter stopped and its flaming brows shot skyward.
"What?! NO! It is impossible!"
The girls' tears fell on the samurai's face and the wounds began to magically close. Jack felt his ebbing strength returning and sat up, startling them. They had no idea the effect they were having.
"I am healed!"
"Jack!" Bubbles pointed. "Your face! It's all better!"
"Yes! You have powers that are unheard of!"
He stood up, telling them what they'd done, and they wiped their faces and rubbed the wetness on his other wounds. They had no problem making more tears, only these were joyful ones. The joy was short-lived, though.
"No!" Aku screamed, creating gale-force winds. "You draw your strength from the samurai's words and he draws his from your tears! You have seen the last of each other!"
With that, one of its claws slashed an opening in the sky. Jack knew right away what it was.
"Yes, Samurai! Like you, they will be cast into the future, where I will deal with them!"
The wind reversed direction, sucking the girls toward the swirling rift in the sky. Jack leaped to catch Bubbles by the hand as she was ripped away, but they couldn't hold onto each other and he fell to the ground. They screamed and fought, to no avail. They were heading right into it. There was nothing any of them could do.
"You must fight! No matter where Aku is you must always fight!"
The girls barely heard it amid the howling winds and their own frantic screams, but they did. And stopped screaming. They remembered the lesson. They would not quit.
Buttercup looked into the laughing face of the demon and pointed at it. "You're goin' down, sucka!"
Just before the vortex closed on them, Aku did an incredible thing. It split itself into two identical demons, both laughing hideously. One half followed the girls into the vortex.
"There is no escape from Aku, for either of you!"
When Aku faced the warrior, Jack was standing calmly, arms crossed, sword tucked in his belt. There was a small grin on his face.
"Very impressive, Aku."
"You do not seem very impressed, Samurai, yet you should!"
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. You have made my task all the easier."
The demon roared with laughter. "Ah, but it works both ways, Samurai! Together, you were a formidable foe indeed, but without you to guide them, they are putty in my hands! However, since both of my selves knows what the other is doing, while you do not, casting myself in two cannot work against me!"
"But you are weaker." Jack said, raising the sword. "And unable to withstand the forces of righteousness." He narrowed his eyes and added, "On either side."
"I can withstand your blade for as long as I must, Samurai. For when my other self returns, your friends will have turned against you! Hahahahaha!!!"
- * * * *
They exited the vortex with the sound of thunder. They turned, ready to resume the fight but Aku, who had been chasing them, was gone. Nowhere to be seen. But what they did see was amazing.
"This is the future?"
The Townsville they were looking at was their Townsville.
Blossom stared at the scene below in disbelief. "Maybe he made a mistake and sent us back to the past, Buttercup."
"Or maybe Jack already finished him off!" Bubbles exclaimed. "And undid the future, just like he said!"
"Hey yeah! Let's go check!"
Their home was straight below them. But first they made a low pass over the city. Everything looked normal, everywhere people called out to them, "Hi, girls!"
Townsville Hall was intact, as was their school. The streets of the city and Pokey Oaks were alive with shoppers and workers going about their activities.
"If that thing sent us into the future, it sure doesn't look like it." Buttercup noted.
"Yes." Blossom agreed, pointing out that this future would be in addition to the fifty years that HIM had sent them. She added, "I think you're right, Bubbles! Jack won!"
"Let's go home!" Buttercup shouted, and they streaked in that direction. They burst in through the front door.
They saw a note on the coffee table. Blossom picked it up and they all read:
"Girls, there's been a change of plans. We won't be taking that trip after all, but I will be taking you somewhere else. Don't go anywhere and when I get back I'll tell you all about it."
"Whoa!" Buttercup croaked. "Jack musta done it! Our future is already changing!"
"I wonder where we're going?" Bubbles asked. "I hope it's longer than just a weekend."
"We'll probably have to pack different things, if we're not going to the Bahamas." Blossom said. "Let's go unpack."
Their suitcases were sitting right where they had left them that morning; a morning which now seemed years in the past. Everything was just the way they remembered it. Buttercup threw hers on the bed and snapped it open. Blossom went into the closet and began poking around.
Bubbles went to the window and looked out. Suddenly she squealed, "He's home!" She flew out of the room and down the stairs, calling his name excitedly.
Blossom called out, "Go ahead, Buttercup, I'll be right down. I'm looking for something."
- * * * *
"Please, Bubbles." He had to hold her away from him, she was so excited.
"Professor, you won't believe what happened to us today! But everything's okay now!"
"Yeah, Professor, we thought we were never gonna see you again!"
"What are you girls talking about?"
"Who? Look, you two, you can tell me all about your monster fight later. I have something to tell you."
"Yeah, where we goin', Professor?" Buttercup yelled.
"Where's your sister?" he frowned. "I only want to explain this once."
"Right here, Professor." Blossom zipped around the corner.
"Good. Girls, we are going on a special trip. We are going to Japan!"
"Japan!" Buttercup cried. "Yay!"
"Japan?" Blossom said, "Why there?"
"Come with me and I'll show you."
- * * * *
"Curse that accursed HIM or whatever it calls itself! It did too good a job destroying this place! There is nothing for me to turn to my advantage!"
Aku used what it called its 'minions' to do most of its work, relying on its own shape-shifting abilities only when necessary. Doing that drained its energy and it was forced to rest from time to time. But all there had been here was those birds, a few scattered mice and some insects. After what it had seen the girls do, those would be useless. It would take too long for Aku to summon beasts under its control to get there from other places. It had been attacking the samurai half-heartedly, mainly in an effort to tire him out and conserve its own energy. Avoiding that magical sword in its present state was crucial.
And it seemed to be working. The great warrior was indeed tiring, but was doing his best to hide it.
"You have failed, Aku! In your weakened state, you do not have the strength to defeat me. If you did, you would be more forceful in your attacks, but you fear my sword!"
"Aku fears nothing!" it roared.
Jack ignored it. "Yes, you are afraid of my sword. And you are afraid…" he said, narrowing his eyes with a sneer, "…of them!"
"How dare you! They are mere children! Aku fears nothing! You will pay for your insolence, samurai!"
- * * * *
Down in the lab, the professor listened to their rapid-fire questions but didn't answer. Instead, he led them to something covered up with a plastic tarpaulin.
"Girls, I've always had a fascination with Japan and wanted to go there someday. But, we're not just going to Japan…" He whipped the tarp away with a flourish. "We're going to ancient Japan!"
"The time portal!" Blossom exclaimed.
"Awesome!" Buttercup shouted. "Maybe we'll see some real samurais!"
"Maybe we'll even see Jack!" Bubbles said excitedly.
The professor frowned. "Jack? Who's Jack?"
"That's not important, Professor." Blossom said matter-of-factly, then shrieked, "Because we're not going!"
Her eye beams blew the time machine to bits.
With all its anger driving it, Aku formed itself into a gigantic, black vulture. Its beard made it almost resemble a turkey, something Jack had never seen until he came to the place that was once known as America. His laughter only enraged Aku further as it swooped toward the warrior, talons slashing and massive beak snapping.
Jack waited until the shadow was over him, then dodged and swung. He struck one of the outstretched talons and sliced it off. Black ooze shot out and Aku was engulfed in an electrical charge, as if struck by lightning. It screamed with rage and pain and was forced back to its original form. When it faced Jack again, it had shrunk in size.
"Curses! I have allowed my anger to get the best of me!"
Jack stood in the yard of the former Utonium home, looking up. "You are diminished, Aku. Every stroke of my blade diminishes you further."
"Silence, fool! It is you who will be diminished, and destroyed by the very creatures who once healed you!"
The samurai stared at the demon, hovering safely away from the power of his blade.
"Aku knows it is in trouble, yet I sense it is still confident. I fear for the young ones."
- * * * *
"Blossom, what have you done?" the professor yelled, horrified.
Her sisters looked at her in shock. "He did it again!" Buttercup shouted. "Aku took her over again!"
She and Bubbles opened up on Blossom with their lasers. Blossom cried out in pain and fell back but didn't return fire.
"No girls," she gasped, "it's him. He wanted to go back and stop Jack from being born."
To her utter amazement, and her sisters' too, the professor simply crossed his arms and said, "Yes, I am Aku."
He held up his hands before they could move. "But I had no intention of going back to destroy the samurai. I cannot do that by myself; I do not have the power. I wanted you to see the truth of what happened in my time. For you see, what the samurai has told you is all lies. He is the true evil. It is true, I am very powerful and can send myself and others into the future, but I cannot return. I needed that time machine and hoped that you would help me."
They talked quietly for several moments, Aku/professor watching them curiously. When they broke, Blossom spoke.
"Well, I guess it does make sense."
"Yeah," Buttercup agreed. "How could one guy do all the stuff he says he did?"
"Really!" Bubbles laughed. "An' those magic tears making him all better like that! We've got superpowers but that's a new one on us!"
"Okay." Blossom said. "We'll help you, but there's one thing that confuses me. How are we gonna go back to where he is if you can't go back in time?"
"I cannot once I am in the future, but that is the reason for my splitting, as you saw. My other self can open up the passageway and that is our way back. But doing so weakens us both. I must reform soon. Together, we can defeat the evil warrior and undo the damage he has caused. But we must hurry, for my other self is in battle with the samurai as we speak and needs our help!"
They watched in awe as the professor waved his hand and they were in the sky once again, near the spot where they had first seen their restored Townsville. Aku took its form once more, but appeared much smaller than earlier, and its eyes shone with less brilliance.
"It wasn't kidding." Buttercup whispered to her sisters. "It looks weaker."
"Yeah." Blossom whispered back. "We better hurry up!"
- * * * *
Aku wanted to weaken the samurai further before the rejoining but it was not going well. Twice more it was struck with the sword and twice more it was weakened. Things were not going as planned and now it was the warrior that was doing the taunting.
"He is right! However, I sense things are going well. Perhaps it is time to reform."
Aku swung one of its hands and opened a new portal across the sky. Jack was powerless to stop it.
- * * * *
"Pounce on the samurai before he can react!" Aku told them. The vortex had closed behind them and the girls could see it opening at the other end of the long tunnel that they were following it through this time.
"Here's what we'll do." Blossom said. "Bubbles, you fly down and bring the samurai to us, so Aku can save its strength until it joins. Aku, Buttercup and I will stay with you until you join your other half, just to be sure the samurai can't attack both of you at the same time."
"A wise plan, young one! Once he is destroyed you will be rewarded!"
"Once his evil is undone, so will be what that other creature I witnessed did, the one who sent you here in the first place. He and the samurai have been working together!"
"Yeah, that's what we think, too!" Buttercup said.
They were nearly to the opening now, and as they burst through it, Blossom shouted, "Bubbles, do your stuff!"
Jack saw Bubbles racing straight toward him and the other two hanging back by the reappeared Aku; while the demon's other half raced toward it.
The two voices roared in unison, "It is over, Samurai!"
Bubbles screeched. "It's over!"
She grabbed Jack roughly by the neck, lifting him off the ground, and she sneered savagely skyward. She raced directly toward the half of Aku streaking to meet her sisters.
Whispering to the startled warrior, she said, "It's over all right. For Aku!"
Jack sliced his blade across its arm. Both halves screamed, trying to reach each other, but Buttercup and Blossom had hold of the others' arms and it couldn't move.
"No! You have deceived Aku!"
"Just who'd you think you were dealing with, huh?" Buttercup shouted, blasting it in the face while punching it with her free hand. Blossom was doing the same thing. "Good thing you thought to look for those Slim Jims, Blossom!"
"Which weren't there! They say the devil's in the details but some devil you are! You can't even keep your facts straight!" Blossom laughed at Aku.
"Yeah!" Buttercup scowled. "And if you needed a time machine so bad, why'd you blow up the other one?"
The demon was in too much pain and shock to realize what it had missed.
"No! Must reform! Must escape to another time!"
With Bubbles holding him, Jack sliced Aku again and again. But its oozing life-force reached out its snaking tendrils for its other self, which was holding its own against the two Powerpuffs. It hadn't shrunk at all in size.
"No!" Jack yelled. "Do not allow them to join!"
"We need a sword like yours, Jack!" Buttercup shouted over. "Its too strong!"
Blossom froze, stopping her attack momentarily. Her eyes flew wide. "Girls! We do too have a magic sword! Remember our kitty friend?"
Jack had no idea what they were talking about, but the faces of the other two girls showed that they did.
"Hang on tight, Jack!" Bubbles told him. "You're on your own!"
She took off to join her sisters and they flew out of sight in an instant, leaving Jack to hang onto the wounded and weakening half of Aku. He was able to do what he never could standing on the ground, where the demon had always been able to take to the sky and escape. He plunged the blade into Aku again and again, but its other half was very close. If they were allowed to touch…
Out of nowhere, which was actually outer space where the girls had met and formed up, Jack saw a tri-colored blur like the one he first saw early that day. Incredibly, as it got closer, it began to look exactly like a sword in shape. It dove straight at the stronger half.
Aku saw it coming. "No! It is not possible!"
Jack heard three savage shouts.
"I am the blade of Wisdom!"
"I am the blade of Mercy!"
"I am the blade of Strength!"
"We are the Sword of Righteousness!"
With a scream that seemed to rip apart the sky, they sliced through the heart of the demon. Its ooze spread in all directions as it seemed to implode. Jack saw the three girls emerge from behind it, looking a little dazed from the force of their action. He also saw, as he hung onto the other half of Aku, the two black masses touching.
"No!" he shouted, hanging on, as with its last remaining strength, the rejoined Aku once more threw open a path to escape. It lunged toward the portal. Jack held on with one hand, stabbing it repeatedly.
"Get it, girls, don't let it get away!" Blossom shouted, fully recovered. They tore after the rapidly shrinking mass. It was halfway through the opening, pulling the samurai in with it headfirst.
"Jack!" Bubbles screamed. "Let go!"
"Let go!" they all screamed frantically. They weren't going to reach him in time.
Jack turned to face them, a slight smile on his face. "It is my struggle now, girls. Your struggle has only just begun." With one final savage thrust and a horrible shriek from Aku, the portal sealed itself with a force unknown to them. The entire sky seemed to explode in their eyes and when they struck the earth below them, they were not aware of it.
"Do not move and you will not be harmed!"
Their eyes opened slowly and widened suddenly at the sight of four figures surrounding them where they lay in the grass. Blossom tried to turn her head and only caught a glimpse of some tall buildings. She wasn't able to make out any details before a heavy metal boot came down on her chest. The pressure was intense but not crushing; she could still breathe.
"I said, do not move!"
The voice was loud and metallic, breathed through a mask of some kind. The face was totally obscured by it, the visor mirrored. The figure, and two of the other three, were tall and outfitted in black metal suits that gave no clue as to who or what was inside. The fourth figure was shorter, but not by a great deal, and bulkier; and was dressed like the others. All of them looked very powerful but appeared to be weaponless, which only added to that impression. The fourth figure held something in its metal hands but Blossom couldn't turn her head far enough to tell what it was.
"Robots." Blossom thought. "Some kind of police. We are still in the future. Looks like Jack's struggle didn't go so good."
Bubbles only saw what looked like a shiny slab of marble right behind her head that looked to her like a grave. She immediately thought, "Cemetery!" and lurched, and another foot came down on her. This happened at the same time as with Blossom, and the second command to hold still was directed at both of them. Buttercup, however, got a bit farther. She flew off the ground, trying to get between the figures.
"Don't move, nothin! I'm outta he-"
One of the figures actually lifted off the ground and strong hands choked off her shout. One of the arms closed over her eyes. There wasn't time for her to see much.
"Helmets and cuffs!" shouted one of the metallic voices. The shortest one produced the requested objects and they were quickly placed on the captives, helmets first. They were made of steel and completely obscured their vision. The cuffs were actually belts with steel wristlets that held the girls' arms motionless at their sides, and leg irons that clipped to one each of the captors' chests.
"What do you want with us?" Blossom snapped. She was fed up with this, no matter where this future was or who was behind it.
The same one who gave the order answered. "You will know what we want you to know when we want you to know it. For now, all you need to understand is that you will not be harmed. As long as you cooperate."
The voices were indistinguishable in tone, but Blossom knew it was someone different speaking this time; it came from slightly to her left.
"This one is not cooperating!" It gave Buttercup a dope-slap to the back of her head. "Hold still!"
"Hey! I'm gonna kick your tin can!" Buttercup threatened, but stilled herself. Blossom could hear her sister's captor muttering under its metallic breath.
"You work for Aku, don't you?" Bubbles said. "Big stupid meanies!"
What sounded like laughter came from all of their captors, in a metallic rumble.
Blossom heard another, slightly different voice say, "Someday, little one, you will remember what you have just said and laugh, as we are. But now, you will shut up!"
The four voices laughed again. The girls could feel themselves being carried into the air but with the helmets on, could not see their surroundings. If they could, they would have seen themselves leaving a grassy park with a polished marble marker. In the marble, on the opposite side of where they had lain, were engraved likenesses of themselves, with the words:
"This spot marks the birthplace of the Powerpuff Girls, November 18, 1993."
- * * * * * *
The seven figures approached the grounds of a large, stately residence on the outskirts of a modern city. They entered through a force-field set into the roof of the rear of the mansion. There they found waiting a fifth figure, dressed in similar fashion to the others. The girls were unhooked from their captors and re-hooked to steel loops anchored in the floor. They were going nowhere.
"They look harmless enough." the new figure said.
"Who are you?" Blossom asked, somewhat forcefully. She detected a slight difference in this new voice and was sure her sisters could, too.
"This will go easier if you remain silent and let me do the talking." she was told. "Agreed?"
"Why should we?" Buttercup spat, and received another slap. "Whoever you are, you're gonna get it!"
"Buttercup, we're not exactly in a position to argue with them." Blossom pointed out. "Let's just see what they want."
"It is not what we want." said the voice. "It is what must be done. You are going home. Remove the helmets." This voice was obviously in charge.
"Home?" Bubbles squeaked. "You mean, home, for real?"
"Indeed." said the voice while the girls felt hands removing the helmets. When they could see again, they saw the five standing around them. Blossom made the assumption that the tallest one was the leader. They were in a white room, spotless and totally devoid of furnishings, empty except for the eight plus a tall, cylindrical object that resembled a small rocketship and stood to one side.
"We're going home in that?" Buttercup snorted.
"Well, it's definitely not the time portal." Blossom quipped.
"Time portal?" the tallest one said scornfully, confirming Blossom's assumption. "What fool uses one of those?"
All five erupted into metallic laughter. The leader spoke again, seriously now. "You three are in the future. You obviously know that things changed from what you last remember. But make no mistake, you must return to your own time. For your own good we have prevented you from seeing things the way they are now. Your lives must not be shaped by anything you see here. All you may take with you are your memories, which will have little meaning to you since the events you lived through will not have ever taken place. Except for one thing. Remember the words of the samurai."
"Well, you don't sound like you're enemies." Blossom said.
"And it's not like we have any choice." Buttercup added disgustedly.
Bubbles looked at the strange contraption. "Is that thing bumpy like the professor's thingie?"
"Yes." one of the others lied. The trip would not be bumpy at all, but something else important had to happen. "The trip across the fifth dimension is rough no matter how you make it."
"So we're giving you a little something to put you to sleep." another said. "Don't worry, it won't hurt, and you won't have any after effects when you wake up."
The girls got very nervous about that. Superheroes or not, they didn't like needles, and because of their tough skin, the professor needed big, special ones to give them injections. But they saw no needles.
One of the figures stepped forward and as softly as was possible in the artificial voice, said, "Relax." It gently pressed one steel-jacketed glove against Blossom's neck. Blossom felt a tiny prick and nothing more as she sagged into the arms of the shorter figure. Buttercup squirmed and tried to get away but her legs were firmly planted. Seconds later she was out, caught by one of the others, and Bubbles looked fearfully up at the metal creature towering above her.
"I guess we're gonna have to trust you."
Surprisingly, the creature bent to one knee and touched her lightly on the head. "Trust each other and the ones you love. Trust yourself."
It caught Bubbles itself as it put her out. The leader touched two buttons on its suit. A hatch on the rocket popped open, and the locks holding the girls released them. The shorter figure carried Blossom to the rocket and the leader stopped it. While the other two girls were loaded and strapped into their seats, it lifted the hem of Blossom's dress, looking for something. It tugged and pulled out the thin tube that she had put there. Blossom was then put inside and the hatch sealed. Another button was pushed and a small compartment opened on the side of the capsule. A finger-like projectile came out and the little tube was fitted into it before sliding back into the rocket.
Everyone stepped back. The leader pressed buttons in a programmed sequence, lights inside the rocket flashed accordingly, and then the small ship shimmered, like something on a very hot day, and disappeared.
They awoke in their bed, at the same moment. They sat up sharply and looked at one another, then out into their room. It was only seven but the room was already flooded with light. They saw their suitcases sitting there, all packed for the Bahamas.
"Girls? Do you remember anything about someone named Jack?"
"Yeah, Blossom, I sure do." Buttercup replied.
"Was it really real or did we all just share each others' dream again?" Bubbles wondered.
"It was real, Bubbles, I know it was!" Buttercup insisted.
"Yes, I think so, too." Blossom said. "Well, we can find out if Jack really defeated Aku or if it was all a dream."
She said nothing but floated out of bed and reached under it for her book bag. She slid it out and pulled out a scrapbook she'd been keeping. She tossed it on the bed.
"In there. It's my September 11th book. If Jack was real, that thing will be blank."
She got back in bed and opened it so they could all see. There on the first page was the photograph of themselves and their teacher, Ms. Keane, standing in front of the World Trade Center. It had been taken by the professor during their trip to New York in the summer of 20001. That the picture was even in this book at all was bad news.
"Well, that didn't change, but I'm afraid to look at the rest."
Nothing had changed. All of Blossom's newspaper clippings and her little written thoughts were there.
She closed the book. "That answers that." she said sadly.
"It musta all been a dream then." Buttercup muttered.
"Well, " Bubbles said helpfully, "at least there isn't any Aku then."
"Yes there is, Bubbles." Blossom tapped the scrapbook. "There's always gonna be evil, no matter what name it goes by."
"But where did we come up with that name?" Buttercup wondered.
"Probably from some old movie when we fell asleep in front of the TV."
"Girls! Come down here, now!" they heard the professor calling.
"Great!" Blossom said, throwing off the blankets and jumping out of bed. "Here we are talking about a stupid dream and we're gonna be late for school!"
"That's funny!" Bubbles said. "In my dream, the professor yelled at us that morning, too!"
"Hey yeah, me too!"
"Girls! Come here! Now!"
They flew down the stairs and saw, instead of him ready to chew them out, the professor staring at the living room TV with a stunned look on his face. He had on the major cable news channel and on screen were two bearded men with turbans on their heads being held at gunpoint by men in camouflage fatigues. The words at the bottom of the picture read:
'Breaking News: bin Laden Captured'.
They let out a collective gasp, then a joyous whoop. "He did it! Jack did it!" They hugged one another.
The professor stared at them curiously. "Girls? Did the President recruit you three to search those caves with your x-rays for a special-forces mission and you didn't tell me about it?"
"What?" Blossom shouted. "No!"
"Then who's this Jack you're talking about?"
"Uh, nothing, Professor. Maybe it's a coincidence." Blossom mumbled. "This is really great news, Professor! I'm sure it's all we'll talk about in school today. C'mon, girls, we better get ready."
"Wait, girls. I'm not sending you today."
He grinned sheepishly. "Well, you see, I was going to wait until just before you were going out the door, but as you can see, it's nowhere near time for you to leave. I have a little surprise for you. We aren't going to the Bahamas for the weekend."
"Nope. We'll be spending two weeks in Japan!"
"Jack!" they shouted. They didn't know that bin Laden's capture was just a coincidence, but this was not. Their world had already started to change.
"It's déjà vu all over again." Buttercup cracked.
"When are we going, Professor?" Bubbles asked, all excited.
"This afternoon." he said, then frowned. "We've got plenty of time for you to pack…and to tell me who this Jack is."
"You wouldn't believe us if we told you, Professor." Blossom said.
"Try me. To the lab. Now!"
- * * * * * *
"Pretty crazy story, huh, Professor?" Buttercup said when they were finished. He was sitting at his desk and they sat, still in their nighties, on their beanbag chairs that they had brought down.
"Yes, Buttercup, that's the craziest story I've ever heard."
"Okay. Now that that's over with, why are we going to Japan all of a sudden?"
He reached into a drawer and pulled out a very old, very battered hardcover book.
"It's not all of a sudden, Blossom. I've been planning this for a long time. I just wanted to keep it a secret and surprise you. Now, I'm going to tell you girls a crazier story."
They looked back and forth at each other. What could be crazier than what they had been through?
"You see, I went there once, many years ago, when I was doing some mineral research. But that's not all I was researching. I was also doing some family research."
"What? You're Japanese?"
"Not really. Hardly any that counts, anyway. It was really just a family myth that got handed down over generations, that one of our ancestors was once a great samurai warrior."
They gasped yet again.
"Yes. Crazy, isn't it? Someone supposedly from my mother's side, going way, way back. I never believed it. But when the chance came one summer when I was in college to go on this trip, I jumped at it. Part of the story was that this warrior came from a small village, and it just happened to be near where our group was going to be. So in between our research, I asked some questions. Never found any direct connection to anyone in my family, but I also never found anything that would disprove it, either. But, the legend of this supposed great warrior was known to some of the older residents of that town. It seems he was quite a character, always telling stories to anyone who would listen, about how he had fought a great evil with his magic sword and battled it to a draw."
"Huh?" Buttercup interrupted. "You mean he never beat Aku?"
"This Aku was only one of many evil creatures from the folklore of that time. No one truly believed in demons. Even then, people knew as they do now that evil is something that takes hold and thrives in people's hearts. But apparently this guy believed it and told his story to anyone who would listen. They all thought he was crazy."
"But HIM's real, Professor." Blossom reminded him.
"I know, Blossom, and that's how he works, through others."
The girls didn't know what to think. "Did we really just dream all of this, then?" Bubbles asked. "Or are we crazy?"
"I believe you, Bubbles." he said. "When I said everyone thought he was crazy, it wasn't exactly true. He had family, and his tales were written and passed down to future generations. Most of them were lost over the centuries, and I do mean centuries. The heyday of the samurai ended in the late eighteen hundreds but they go back to the fifth century. But some of the writings survived and I was able to translate some of it."
He opened his battered book and read from it. "My translation of Japanese wasn't the greatest, and some things don't translate to English well at all. But here's a little. 'Near the end of my journey through the many strange lands, I encountered creatures of such virtue that I felt sure the evil I had sought to eliminate could finally be destroyed. There are many virtuous qualities, of course, but these three were revealed to me as the virtues of Wisdom, Strength and Mercy.'"
"He's talking about us!"
"Sure sounds like it, Bubbles. There's more. 'Though these creatures shared these and many other qualities with each other; Wisdom to me was like the sacred cherry blossom, blazing with beauty and full of the passion it inspires in the young of heart.'"
"Me?" Blossom gasped.
"'Strength was like the wild meadow flowers, their beauty undiminished by their fierce independence and will to survive.'" He looked at Buttercup and smiled. "Sounds like he's talking about you, kiddo."
All she could do was let her jaw drop.
"And then there's this. 'And Mercy was like the purity and effusiveness of the spring brook, full of winter's snows.'"
Bubbles made a face. "Esuveness? I'm not sure I like that!"
"No, honey, it means something good. He might have written this in his later years and couldn't remember your names but this is how he remembered each of you. Or maybe your name and Buttercup's don't translate well into Japanese, but I'd say he came real close to describing you."
"So you believe us?" Blossom asked.
"Yes, girls, because there's more. It has to do with your creation."
That was met with wide-eyed silence. They couldn't believe it.
"Yes, girls. One day, our research group heard about an archaeological dig near the town where we were staying and a few of us decided to check it out. We were allowed to look at an area that hadn't been searched yet, as long as we didn't disturb the site. Well, I hadn't been there ten minutes when I saw something that looked totally out of place. I called one of the dig organizers over and showed him."
Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles spoke at the same time. "What was it?" "What happened?" "Was it a skeleton?"
"No, Bubbles, it wasn't that kind of a dig. But, they threw us out. They thought we had contaminated the site, and the organizers told us to get out. So I picked up the object. They weren't interested in it. When I got back to the place we were staying, I took a closer look. It was obviously something modern, because fiberglass wasn't around whenever that culture had lived there. When I moved it, I heard something sliding around inside it. I took out my knife and cut the end off of it and dumped the contents out on the table. It looked like dust. It looked like nothing, really, so I forgot about it until late that night when I went to bed. When I put out the light, the stuff glowed in the dark like you wouldn't believe."
"No." Blossom thought, a chill running up her back. "It couldn't be!"
Buttercup beat her to it. "Are you tryin' to say that whatever that stuff was is Chemical X?"
"It's not the only thing in there, Buttercup, but I now believe it's what got the job done." he said with a small grin.
Blossom sat up sharply, knowing the answer before she asked the question. "Professor? Was it in like a little tube with the ends melted together?"
He stared at her with his mouth open and pulled the small fiberglass tube with one end missing from his coat pocket. "Blossom?" was all he managed to get out.
She jumped, not noticing her sisters staring at her. "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!!"
She turned to them and began to explain in a disbelieving monotone. "I did it. You guys weren't watching. I didn't believe the sword was magic like you guys did but when I saw Jack sharpening it I decided to take the stuff that came off the blade and bring it home for you to look at, Professor. I put the tube in the hem of my dress, but when we came back I wasn't wearing it." She looked at him in disbelief. "How?"
"It was put there at that dig for me to find, Blossom. By the same creatures who sent you back."
Buttercup shook her head. "Man, this makes no sense at all! The thing that helped give us our powers came from the future after we were already born."
"But it seems like that's exactly what happened, girls. I'm sure someday I'll come across an existing theory to back it up."
"I think it makes sense, kinda." Bubbles said. "It means that it wasn't really an accident when Mojo pushed you, Professor. It was 'sposed to happen, just like everything else that happened."
"Yes, Bubbles. It also means that Mojo was a part of it for a reason, though he doesn't know it. You know the story he made up that time he tricked us into giving him your superpowers?"
"Sure do!" Buttercup snorted. "How'd we ever fall for that?"
"What if he didn't make it up? To be honest with you, I don't remember much. I was so wrapped up in you girls."
"And we were wrapped up in ourselves." Blossom said, somewhat ashamed. "Maybe he really did feel neglected. I mean, look how he turned out in the future when he thought we were gone."
Buttercup wasn't sure she liked where this was going. "Are you saying we should try and be friends with him?"
"I don't know, Buttercup. But do you remember the last thing Jack said to us?"
"Yeah. Never quit fighting."
"Nuh uh!" Bubbles corrected. "He said, 'Your struggle is just beginning.'" She was surprised at herself for remembering that. "What did he mean?"
"It's real complicated." Blossom said. "Professor, see if this makes sense? Jack also said that it was his struggle, with Aku. Do you think that maybe he never did beat it, because it looks like all the bad stuff that happened in history still did. Maybe he only did enough to take away the future that Aku made, and after that, Aku and Jack battled each other for the rest of Jack's life, inside of him. That's why Aku is only considered a legend, and why nobody believed Jack when he told them what he went through."
"It makes a lot of sense, honey. Evil is something that lives in our hearts if we aren't careful to always stay on guard against it."
Buttercup gasped. "Professor! Jack said almost the same thing!"
"And that's what he was trying to tell us." Bubbles said. "Maybe nobody is all good or all bad."
Blossom looked at her. "You're right, Bubbles. Not us and not Mojo, either. It won't be easy. He isn't going to love us overnight."
"The feeling's mutual." Buttercup muttered.
The professor stood. "Well, girls, we need to get moving if we're going to catch our plane. Maybe we'll learn more about our mutual heritage on this trip. And when we get home, we'll see about extending an olive branch to my old lab monkey."
"Okay, Professor." Blossom said. "I think we oughta give it a try. But we still have a score to settle with HIM!"
"He won't ever try that again!" Bubbles promised.
"And maybe someday, he'll only be folklore." the professor said.
As they floated out, Buttercup muttered again. "Geesh. I can't get used to the idea of Mojo being our brother. It would be stupid to give him our powers again."
"Girls?" the professor said. "From what you've told me, I think we already may have!"
One by one, the metal-clad figures removed their helmets. The first one off revealed the long, flaming mane of an adult Blossom. Though now fifty-five years old, she looked no more than half that age. Her sisters quickly followed suit. Then the leader took its off, showing a fifty-ish Professor Utonium, graying at the temples but still fit-looking in spite of being almost ninety-five. In their changed future, he had developed the process that radically slowed the aging process: The long searched-for Fountain of Youth. (The world naturally believed it was a wonderful thing for mankind, but privately he admitted to the girls that it was because he couldn't stand the thought of looking the way they had described him as an old man.)
The final figure removed its helmet, showing the grinning, greenish face of Mojo Jojo, sporting a brightly colored bandana over his large head and an earring in his right ear. Not to mention his large, Powerpuff eyes.
Of course, the three girls knew the story of Aku and the great Samurai known only by the name of Jack, because they had lived it. So did the professor and their long-lost brother (who didn't like JoJo and preferred to be called Mojh). Everyone else in Townsville, including their own children and Blossom's twin six-year old granddaughters, also knew much of it. (Buttercup had lived the party-girl life she'd always dreamed about and had been the last to settle down. Her two were six and eight and loved the idea that they were an aunt and uncle at their ages.)
All of it was now a part of history. And part of that history was the knowledge that the samurai warrior had indeed been a direct, though distant, ancestor to the professor, on his mother's side, and indirectly, to the girls as well. But because of that history, everyone in Townsville had been warned to stay away from Powerpuff Park around a certain date and time. The girls from the past could not be allowed to see their future.
With those girls on their way home, Blossom asked, "Professor, are you sure this is going to work?"
"Yes, Blossom, the time machine will drop that tube in the exact spot where I found it."
"But Professor, what if something goes wrong?" Bubbles worried. "It might change everything!" She touched Mojo's arm. "I can't stand the thought of you not being my brother, Mojh."
"That was so long ago, Bubbles, that I do not remember the days before you showed me the light. But as we are still standing here, it will not change, or should I say it has not changed, for us standing here is evidence of that being the case, or we would not be standing here."
"Geesh. That's not the only thing that hasn't changed." Buttercup thought with a small grin on her face.
"Professor, I know you've explained it a hundred times, but I just can't get how something that happened now, in the future, caused something to happen in the past, and it's happened over and over and nobody remembers it!" She gave her long, shining black hair a toss as if to say she needed to clear out her head.
"I'll try once more, Buttercup." the professor said, while everyone got out of their special suits, made just for this day. He was dressed as always, in his black pants and white lab coat. Mojo wore a black leather outfit as he spent much of his free time riding his big Harley, when he wasn't assisting his father in the lab or handling an emergency with his sisters. They no longer wore color-coded clothes, opting for casual wear; Buttercup and Bubbles in jeans and loose-fitting sweaters and Blossom dressed a bit more stylishly.
"It all starts with the samurai. His reality came before ours, so even though you never met him until after you were born, your creation was still the result of that encounter. Time is an endless looping cycle."
"Yeah, I know that, but why did we have to send ourselves back?"
"Because, Buttercup, there is that rip in the fabric of time that was created when HIM sent you to this time. That rip was never closed because you never went back. HIM returned the way he came. Aku and Jack both returned to their time through the portal that Aku created. Only you did not return. You remained fifty years in the future, and when the portal closed, that future changed to the one we know. Your past selves did not belong here."
"Yeah, Buttercup." Bubbles chimed in. "If we don't close up that hole, Aku might find a way through it and change the future again."
"Right, Bubbles." Mojo agreed. "We have no way of knowing if any of our counterparts in this endless cycle have sent you back, so we had to do it, and as I have already stated, we are standing here discussing that which has already not happened."
Buttercup just shook her head. Blossom said, "Don't feel bad, Buttercup, it gives me a headache, too. All I know is it was weird seeing ourselves as kids again."
"Yeah." Bubbles said. "Poor me! I was so scared!"
"It was great seeing you like that again." the professor said.
"Good thing we had those restraints." Buttercup smirked. "I was an ornery little cuss, wasn't I?"
Four grinning faces looked at her. "Was?"
Some things, indeed, never change.
With Aku defeated, the demon slipped into the realm of legend. So, eventually, did the samurai class itself, as ancient tribal dynasties gave way to the modern nation-state of Japan. Many became scholars, teachers, artisans of all kinds and especially, martial arts instructors. The one who had been known in the future simply as Jack turned away from the traditional militaristic way of life of the samurai warrior and continued his quest for knowledge, while writing his memoirs in the hope that future generations might learn from them.
Jack would never know the part his magical sword had played in shaping future events, other than the ones his own eyes had witnessed. But, its purpose was served and it became just another sword. It stayed in his family, along with his writings, which were largely ignored by the people of his society and even ridiculed in some quarters. Eventually, the sword and much of his written work became lost, as happens to things when passed down over many generations. Blossom had been correct about one thing. The samurai's personal struggle with the demon in his own heart would continue for the rest of his time on earth. He could have become bitter at not having his tales believed, but to do that would be a battle lost. It mattered little, for the important work had been done. The future had been freed from its enslavement. He could have remained a warrior, keeping pure in spirit to the ways of the samurai yet perhaps serving the wishes of an impure master. That would be another battle lost. So he chose the path of non-violence. All the days of his life, there would be battles to fight, decisions to be made.
One day, the girls would come to understand why the world had seemed to change so little upon arriving back in their past. One man could not alone undo all of the evil that had been caused by those who had lost their fights with the demons inside them. Bad things would still continue to happen in their future. But they remembered the samurai's words. Unless they continued fighting the small, personal battles with evil and not just the great ones, they would never lose.
Losing was something they could not and would not do. For they knew, though his name was never recorded in any history book, that Samurai Jack had won the greatest battle of his life.