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Author Topic: LMB One(ish)vision: Sands of Time Unfallen
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(With thanks to Abin Quank and Viridis Lament)

Earth: Pre-Egypt - 3013 BC

The boy stared at the objects before him as the dim light flickered, seemingly making the painted hieroglyphics on the walls dance about him in strange shadows.

He breathed in deeply, letting the scent of the storax incense fill his nose, hoping it would clear his mind and give him focus. He knew his master was just outside the room, waiting for him to make a choice, but this was a very difficult decision and - if he chose incorrectly - he feared his studies would be ended before they even truly began.

He steeled his mind and again regarded the objects.

The scale... the lodestone... the crystal... the candle... the whip.

Which one called to him? In which of the objects did his nature lie and - by its choice - which path would his magical studies proceed? He closed his eyes and breathed in again, hoping the cloud of indecision would lift and the answer become clear.

As much focus as the boy tried to summon, however, none of the five seemed any better to him than the others. He looked at the hourglass his master had placed on the shelf to mark the time. The sands were running out.

Why was this so difficult? Had his master not been preparing him for this day since the first moment they had met?

It had been in the second year of the reign of the pharaoh Menkuri Hotep Dic Nasewi when the great plague had fallen. The locusts had descended upon the land, stripping the crops bare and driving so many into the streets - their only choice being whether to beg... or to starve. Turned out by his own family who were unable to afford another hungry mouth, the boy had to learn very quickly to fend for himself. Begging for the smallest scraps, stealing whatever small morsels he could, living each day as though it might be his last, the boy had grown wily - and very sullen. In his heart, he grew to feel that he was worth no more then the lowly rats that shared the makeshift hovel where he spent his nights.

All of that had changed, however, when he met his master.

At first, the boy didn't know what to make of the man who had been staring at him as he sat begging outside the temple of the goddess Bast. He was a strange, wild eyed man and - had it not been for the man's priestly robes - the boy might have run the moment he took his first step toward him. But the man's appearance turned out to be the least startling thing about him - when compared with his voice.

He had approached the boy - his marveled look never wavering - and, before the boy even had a chance to ask for a coin or a scrap of bread, the man had begun speaking. Although the words that the man spoke were in the boy's own language, at first, he couldn't understand a single thing the man was saying. After a moment, the boy realized what was wrong. Although the words the man spoke were correct, the order in which he spoke them was completely wrong. It wasn't that he was just transposing a word or two - each sentence seemed to be a chaotic assembly of words that, only after the entire sentence was spoken, could the boy reassemble for meaning.

It was had been very confusing but - at the same time - incredibly interesting to the boy. After a moment of astonishment, he shook off his confusion and began listening intently. The man was saying something about how he'd been looking a long time, how he thought the boy was the one he was seeking, would he join him for supper... it was at that point that boy needed to hear nothing further. The promise of food was enough the get him on his feet and following the man out of the city center. The thought briefly crossed his mind that there might be a danger, but, in the end, his hunger outweighed any misgivings.

It turned out the man was being honest. Arriving at the man's strange home - a tetrahedron shaped structure in the sands beyond the city - the boy took his place at the table as the man ladled out a bowl of soup. Ravenous, the boy began gobbling it up, as the man explained - in his strange, unordered speech - what he was proposing. He was a magician, he claimed - not one of the holy men of Bast, but rather a practitioner of a different type of power. His speech, he explained, was a self-imposed discipline that forced both the speaker and the listener to extract order out of chaos. Learning this small exercise of control was the first lesson, he said, in starting a path into the magical arts - a path, he said, he hoped the boy would follow... as his apprentice.

At that statement, the boy scoffed. He might have been a child, but even he knew there was no such thing as magic. He swallowed his last mouthful of soup and, placing his empty bowl down, told the man that he appreciated the food - but that he had to leave. The man smiled and then asked him why he would leave... when he hadn't eaten yet. About to scoff again, the boy looked down at his bowl and saw that it was completely full. Lesson two, the man said with a smile, is that no magic can be done on an empty stomach.

That had been two years ago. Since then the boy had lived with the man as his apprentice, regaining his strength and being slowly introduced to the tenets of magic. Apart from a few small conjurations, however, thus far that seemed mostly to entail cleaning the rooms of the tetrahedron... and learning how to understand the master's strange speech without always trying to reorder it.

Finally, however, his master had told him the time had come. He was to remain in the room alone, as the sands ran out of the glass, and select one of the objects the master placed before him. This would be a sign as to what form his instruction would take. But... the choice was not an easy one.

Again, he looked at the objects.

The scale... the lodestone... the crystal... the candle... the whip.

All equal in his mind, none greater than the others. He looked again at the hourglass marking down his time. The last grains of sand ran down. His time was up. He sighed... knowing that he had failed.

Defeated, he began to stand up but - looking again at the glass - suddenly, a sense of peace settled over him. The answer - just moments before so elusive - came to him as clear as the day. The boy's mouth pulled back into a smile, as he realized the path his studies would take... what path they must take.

He picked up his chosen object and opened the door to see his master waiting outside.

"choice? made you Have your," his master asked him.

"Yes, master, I have."

"see Let object. your me"

The boy held out his chosen object... it was the hourglass.

The master smiled, "choices This gave I one wasn't you. the of"

"No, master... but it was the choice I made. You told me to look inside - to let the objects speak through me and the answer would come. This was the object that spoke to me. When the sands had run out, I feared that my own time had as well. But, then, I remembered that you never said as much - only placed the glass in the room. Had I wished... how easy it would have been be to simply turn the glass over and make the sand again unfallen."

"interesting... Interesting. very"

The master took the hourglass into his hand and held it up to the light.

"very This a symbol. powerful is - understand Do you represents? the hourglass what"

"Well... time, I suppose."

"time! Not only"

"What else does it represent, master?"

The master regarded his young apprentice and suddenly grew very serious. His eyes narrowed and, lowering his voice, spoke to the boy in ordered speech for the first time since they had met.

"That there may be no misunderstanding, my boy, this one time I speak to you in the tongue of Order. The hourglass... is a symbol of all that is. It is Space. It is Time. It is the Universe. It is a very difficult path that has chosen you, but... chosen you it has, and - once the door is opened - it cannot be closed. This is truly your will?"

"It is, master."

"I do not envy the long road you have before you. I assume you have chosen your familiar?"

"Yes, master. Before I met you, I shared my world with the only creatures capable of understanding the same the hunger and fear that I once felt. I wish to be familiared by that selfsame creature... by the rat."

The boy's master nodded. "Then, from this moment on, your name will reflect your studies. All that you were is past... now familiared by the rat... and dedicated to the magic of space, time and the universe... from now, until all is gone... as your master... I, Numnuts the Semi-Incomprehensible, hereby name you...."



(Drawing by Freekinos)

The Beginning....

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There's not a word yet, for old friends who've just met.

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I like the young magician's apprentice making a rules-breaking non-traditional choice. That's classic!
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Earth: Pre-Egypt - 3012 BC

STURat sat beneath the branches of the long-dead tree, its thin shadow the only protection against the midday sun.

For three days he had held this position - his legs crossed, palms upturned on his knees, spine in alignment with the arc of the sun. Three days with no food or water, no sleep, no action other than the rhythmic in and out of his own breath - and still the vision had not arrived.

It had been a year since his master, Numnuts the Semi-Incomprehensible, had given him the name of STURat, and, since that day, his studies had grown steadily - both in difficulty... and in intensity. This journey alone to the desert, his master had told him, was designed to break through the veil of this mortal plane and - through the singular focus of his will - allow him to glimpse the planes beyond. Thus far, however, all that he had glimpsed was the same barren stretch of desert plain, growing light, and then dark again, thrice over as the days passed.

He titled his head backward to slightly ease the pain that was setting in to his back. The glaring sun filtered through the dead branches, stinging his dry, crusting eyes. He closed his eyes against the pain, but doing so only made them hurt that much more. With an effort, he opened them again and saw that, suddenly, the sun above him was blocked out completely by a large object on the branch. Squinting, he let his eyes adjust to the new shadow and saw, to his surprise... the outline of a cat.

Startled, he jumped to his feet, stumbling backward in the process and landing flat on his back.


He grunted, as the air was nearly knocked out of him. He looked again at the branch, and - certainly enough - there sat a cat, simply regarding him with an almost indifferent air. STU laughed to himself, the first sound he had made in three days. He attempted to speak.

"How did you get up ther...?"

The words irritated his very dry throat and almost immediately sent him into a coughing fit. The cat looked down at him and turned its head quizzically.

"Are you quite all right, human?"

STU immediately tensed up, growing silent in mid-cough. Did that cat just... speak? Impossible. Clearly the brutality of the sun, combined with the lack of food, water, and sleep, was playing tricks on his mind. He dusted himself off, and attempted to shoo the cat away.

"I will thank you not to do that."

STU froze in amazement. It wasn't his imagination... the cat was speaking! This must be the vision his master had spoken of. He was seeing the world beyond!

"For... forgive me... spirit from beyond... I did not recognize you for what you were. I am STURat, apprentice to Numnuts the Semi-Incom..."

"Mmmmmmmrrrrrroooooow..." the cat yawned, interrupting him as it stretched, "Yes... you needn't go into all that. I know who you are. You are that young boy that all the temple magicians are so upset about."

"Temple magicians? Then... the knowledge you are here to deliver is of this realm?"

The cat seemed to grin, if such a thing were possible. "You humans do amuse me so. You are out here engaging in some sort of misguided vision quest, no doubt. Did that silly backward-speaking conjurer send you out here? Madness. Good luck, human... I merely came out here to see who all the fuss was about." The cat stood up, arching its back.

"Then... then you are not a vision?"

"I am only what I am. I have been called many things but, most often - and by those who would know - I have been called a stupid cat."

"But... you have the gift of speech... clearly that is not a sign of stupidity."

The cat grinned wider. "You should speak to more humans if you believe that to be true."

"If not the realms of visions, then... from whence do you come? Are you an animal familiar?"

"Not as yet. The woman who shall claim me as such has not as yet come into this world."

STU marveled at the cat's words. As much as it stunned him to even be in the presence of such an odd creature, the words it spoke were even more astounding.

"Not yet come into this world? How is it possible to know such things? Do your gifts extend to prophesy, as well?"

The cat jumped down from the branch and stretched.

"Mmmmmmrrrrrrrrrroooooow... ah, forgive me... that branch was quite uncomfortable. Prophesy, you say? You are rather superstitious for one who claims the hourglass as his sigil, aren't you? No... I do not see the events to come in this world... but I have been around enough times to know that certain events always come to pass. There are only so many grains of sand in the hourglass, you know. When tipped, they may fall in a different pattern, but the sand itself never changes. That is... unless the goddess is successful this time."

At the word "goddess," STU suddenly had an epiphany. "Ah! You are a messenger, then... of the cat goddess, Bast!"

"Mmmmm... you are not entirely dim-witted, are you, human? I did have a doubt."

STU shook off the cat's insult and continued, "But what do you mean, 'successful'? What does the goddess seek?"

"What she always seeks... to win. The great enemy tips the sands over and again, while my lady, Bast, attempts to break the glass. It is the game they play with one another."

"Break the... you speak in riddles, cat! What does that mean, 'break the glass'?"

"Oh, you needn't worry about all that. She is opposed by many different avenues - of that have no doubt. Even the efforts of silly chaos magicians such as your master are, in a small way, distractions from her cause. I suppose even you... as his apprentice... would be considered an opposition to my lady."

"I know not of what you speak, cat! My studies do, in no way, stand in opposition to the will of the gods!"

"No? Forgive me... I will leave you, then, to seek your vision," the cat said, turning back toward the city and beginning to walk away, "I had merely thought that the goddess of cats might be a natural enemy to anyone who had made the mistake of allying himself... with the rat."

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Earth: Pre-Egypt - 3011 BC

Silently, STURat lit the candle on his altar and knelt before it. Through the wall he could hear the sound of Numnuts snoring but, still, he took care to move as quietly as possible, lest his master awake and discover his nightly ritual.

STU closed his eyes and whispered the invocation.

"Hail to thee, Banebdjedet... he of four heads, he of twisted horn, he who guards the four Bas. Hail, Baebdjedet, and open a way. Let the magician STU pass, that I may no longer be familiared by the rat, but be your servant... from this day forth... STURam!"

He focused the entirety of his will through his sigil, waiting for some sign that his invocation was heard.


He cleared his throat, shifting uneasily on his knees. He began again.

"Hail to thee, Ammut... she of judgement, she of triple aspect, she who devours the dead. Hail, Ammut, and open a way. Let the magician STU pass, that I may no longer be familiared by the rat, but be your servant... from this day forth... STUCrocodile!"

Again, silence.

This night, as ever... would be long.

Two years had passed since he had first been named by his master and - since then - his power was growing with each passing day. Fueled by the rumors spread by the temple magicians of the supposed "evil" chaos magic being practiced beyond the city walls, STU - along with his master - had finally been summoned six months before to appear in the court of the pharaoh, Menkuri Hotep Dic Nasewi.

Though it would have been child's play for an adept such as he to stun the court with his growing mastery of conjuration, STU had been warned by Numnuts to downplay his true skills and - when challenged by the temple magicians - to perform no feat greater they demonstrated.

Though it wounded STU's pride to do so, he obliged his master, and their gambit had worked. The pharaoh had decreed that he and his master were nothing more than charlatans plying their "magic" to the masses and represented no threat. They were allowed to return to their desert home, and be left to their practices, so long as they did not interfere with temple business.

That may have been all it took to placate the pharaoh but, still, STU harbored a far greater fear of who he stood to truly offend.

Not a day went by when his thoughts didn't stray back to that day at the tree when he had met that so-called "stupid," or - if he were to say it in the same, slighting purring, drawn out voice the cat itself had used - "stoopid," cat.

There had been times over the past year when STU doubted the encounter had truly happened at all. After all, his master had sent him there to receive a vision and - apart from seeing a talking cat - nothing else had arisen. Was it possible that the cat's words had been false? Had it been a vision, after all? But he thought again of how vivid it had all been and - truth be known - if it had been only a vision, wouldn't the cat have said something of greater value?

No... he believed the cat had been real and, accordingly, it stood to reason that he also should believe the words the cat had spoken were true. By choosing the rat as his familiar, STU had unwittingly given offense to the gods. Try as he might to stave off punishment for this offense, he knew - sooner or later - a price would be exacted.

Until that day, however, STU swore to himself he would do everything he could to placate the gods, even - if it were possible - assuming a new name. By day he continued his studies with his master, but at nigh - lest Numnuts discover his intent - STU attempted to contact the gods directly.

Thus far, however, all he had gotten for his trouble was an a shortened amount of sleep each night... and an increased monthly debt to the city candlemaker.

"Hail to thee, Taweret... she of new life, she of fertile sands, she who births all children. Hail, Taweret, and open a way. Let the magician STU pass, that I may no longer be familiared by the rat, but be your servant... from this day forth... STUHippo!"


"Hail to thee, Bast... she of... oh, curses!"

STU stopped his invocation as his candle flickered out. Accursed candlemaker! He thought the latest batch appeared to have inferior wicks. He was about to reach for another when, suddenly, an ominous chill seemed to pass through the air. All at once, STU was overcome as - seemingly from all directions - his mind was filled by the voice of another.

"Allow me, young magician. It is better to light a single candle... than to curse the darkness."

The light in the room began to rise - but it was no small flicker of a tallow candle... it was a glorious light burst forth, filling the room with an almost tangible force.

Nearly falling to the ground in surprise, STU looked about himself in wonder. Both confused and, at the same time, awestruck, he realized he was no longer kneeling in a small room of his master's home - he was in the midst of a magnificent temple that seemed to stretch boundlessly in all directions. His heart filling with fear, STU tried to rise to his feet to flee, when he was suddenly entranced by the vision seated before him.

There, seated on a majestic throne of gold and alabaster, was the most awe-inspiring being he had ever seen. Her larger than life body seemed the archetype for the most perfectly designed female form his mind could imagine. She was wrapped in a robe in which swirled about her in impossible waves - its folds billowing in a celestial movement that seemed to reflect the very arc of the heavens. Seated at her left shoulder, eyelids blinking heavily - as though it were only slightly interested in what was occurring - was the same cat he had met a year ago in the desert - the "Stoopid Cat".

But all of this - all the overwhelming impossibility of what stood before him - was not what brought STU to tears. No, what made STU forget everything that he had learned over the past four years, what reduced him at once from an adapt of chaos magic to naught but a boy playing at tricks, what made him weep... was her head.

Her sliver-thin eyes, her pricked ears atop her furred head, her sharp teeth glistening in a grinning mouth flanked by whiskers... STU wept as he looked into the cat-like visage... of the goddess, Bast.

"Weep not, STURat. These are the actions of a child."

Overwhelmed, but choking back his tears, STU tried to speak, "For... forgive me, goddess. Forgive me for the offense I have done to you and your kindred"

"Offense? Mmmmmmm... where would you have gotten the idea that you had done offense to our kind?"

Involuntarily, STU's eyes darted to the Stoopid Cat.

"Ah... indeed. Heed not the implications of one such as he, STURat. I love him truly, but he often keeps his own counsel. If offense was given by your choice of familiar, it was no doubt given only to Stoopid Cat himself, not to we who fashion ourselves as gods."

"F... fashion yourselves?"

Bast regarded STU carefully, then spoke again.

"Your prayers have not gone unheard, STURat. Though you shall not be divorced from your chosen familiar - once chosen it is with you always - my kindred will indeed grant you a boon. Your people name us as gods, and - indeed - once was a time we did inhabit the heavens. But that time... that place... was taken from us long ago."

STU's mind reeled in disbelief. What was she saying?

"Though you will not understand the full import of what I speak... know this, young mage: There is, all about us, the works of a great enemy. The enemy my kindred face is unbound by even those tenets that your master has fancifully ascribed as your name - Space... Time... and the Universe. We fight him always, both on this plane... and on others.

"But the war we wage is eternal. Of late, we have come to realize it cannot be won by the efforts of only such as we. It is, to this end, STURat, that your boon is granted. Ever shall you be STURat, but - from this day forward - you will be guarded by all familiars. STUJackal... STUIbis... STUScarab... STUHawk... STULion... the animals of all your gods shall guard your way toward becoming the greatest mage this world shall know."

STU fell prostrate before Bast. "Great Bast, I thank you for this boon. I have no understanding of why I am blessed thusly by the pantheon, but - whatever it may take - I pledge my aid eternally in your battle against this enemy. I will be ever your servant... and the servant of all gods. All that I have is yours to command."

Bast grinned.

"It is good to hear you speak so, STURat. It is very good to hear."

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Earth: Pre-Egypt - 3010 BC


STURat heard the command bellowed from outside and braced for the impact.

In a thundering volley, the stones launched by the army's trebuchets violently slammed into the invisible barrier formed by the protective circle he and Numnuts had inscribed about their home. The barrier held again - the stones glancing off - but STU felt their impact in his mind all the same, and was knocked off balance.

"focus, to got STURat! You've - the will Extend battlements! toward your"

"I am focusing, master! But there are too many!"

"in only is mind! your number The - thousand... one One or - same! all the is it"

The assault on the tetrahedron had been raging now for three days and - although neither he nor his master had attended the public ceremony - there was no doubt why they were being attacked... the pharaoh had been murdered.

Long had the policies of the pharaoh been held in disfavor among his court. He had arrived in their land seven years ago, seemingly out of nowhere following the death of pharaoh Khefre, claiming divine right to the throne. Though the temple magicians had protested violently - proclaiming they had foreseen, in augury, the arrival of a demon in the form of a man - this stranger was nevertheless eventually proclaimed the true pharaoh... though many involved in the decision would later claim to have suffered a strange compulsion.

Upon his coronation, the stranger had chosen the name, Menkuri Hotep Dic Nasewi, which further sent ripples throughout his court. An individual's name was of the utmost importance in both describing his origin... and his fate. And, this name,


his advisors had warned, held ominous portents. "Mn Kri" meant "established by the storm". When asked why such a strange title should be ascribed, the pharaoh had simply smiled and held his own counsel. But the greater cause for alarm was the pharaoh's desire to use the name "Htp Dc Nsw"... the opening words of the offering formula for the deceased. To do so, his advisors warned, was to all but invite Khenti-Amentiu himself to carry him off before his time.

But the pharaoh was a strong willed man, and insisted that this should be his name. This would be the first of many decisions which built enmity between he and the temple magicians. It would not be the last.

Against tradition, the pharaoh Menkuri had chosen his consort not from among the royal blood, instead taking the temple high priestess, Lis Aun Tahla Moon. Next, though they warned of a coming plague, the pharaoh had rejected the word of his magicians. When the locusts had descended two years later, it was claimed - in whispers of course - that it was as the result of his inaction. Finally, though the temple magicians had insisted that the practices of desert chaos magicians would be the downfall of the court, Menkuri had called Numnuts and STURat before the court and decreed them to be under his protection.

That protection, however, was clearly forfeit now that the pharoah had been killed.

It had been a week ago, as STURat engaged in his morning meditation, that he felt the disturbance. His mind - already in a vulnerable state through the intonation of his mantra - was suddenly filled with a violent scream, as though the very fabric of worlds was being torn asunder. He had quickly put up a protective spell, and banished the voice from his head, but it had already touched something inside of him. Somewhere... very close... a summoning was being done.

A day later, the word began to spread. Both the pharaoh and his consort had been murdered. Though no details were confirmed, many claimed to have seen a violet light in the skies over the temple. There was no doubt in STU's mind that this was the work of the pharaoh's own retinue, but - given public sentiment toward those who dwelt in the desert - it was only a matter of time before the accusation would be made. He and his master Numnuts had wasted no time drawing the protective circle.

But, after three days of the assault, STURat's will was weakening. A defense of this scale might be second nature to his master, but STU himself didn't know how much longer he could keep this up.

It was then - in his moment of doubt - that she again came to him.

The voice echoed in his mind.

"How goes the day, STURat?"

STU braced again as another wave of stones hit the barrier. His master was shouting something to him but, already, his will was drifting into that netherworld of his consciousness where he would commune with Bast.

"Not well, my lady."

"This task before you is not a difficult one, STURat, your master speaks truly. This physical battle is naught but pebbles cast by children into the ocean of your will."

"As ever... in all things I place my faith in you, my lady... but I feel the weight this time is too much."

"No weight is too great against the will of the mage, STURat. Find the will and the scale will tip in your favor."

"Ugh!" STU fell to the floor as another volley hit. He looked up to his master, his arms above him, frantically wielding the eldritch forces necessary to reinforce the barrier. STU's mind again retreated into the safety of Bast's realm.

"My lady... I can't do it! Please... I beg your aid!

"Always will I aid you, STURat. But this will require a sacrifice."

"Anything, my lady... all that I have is yours."

"It is good to hear you speak so, STURat. In a moment, all the forces that assault your home will be banished. When this happens, you will drop all resistance, allowing the circle to weaken."

"I... I am to break the circle?"

"As the barrier wards off the earthly forces that assault your home, so, too, am I prevented from entering within its walls as long as the barrier stands. The time has come, STURat, to enact that of which we have spoken. It is time for me... to commune with your master."

STU's mind bristled. He had long known this day would come, but it didn't make what he was being asked to do any easier.

"You... you promise that you won't hurt him, my lady?"

"On the contrary, STURat. Although at first he may resist... over time, I am certain your master will see the wisdom of our intent."

"I thank you for your mercy... I will do what you ask."

STU relaxed his will as, almost at once the sounds of battle from outside were gone. Numnuts paused in his posture, listening for a moment - then suddenly, violently, spun around to STURat.

"STURat! have What done?!?! yo..."

The final word never issued from his master's mouth as, suddenly, the door to the tetrahedron blew open violently, knocking him to the ground.

The goddess Bast entered, the Stoopid Cat seated upon her shoulder.

"He has only done that which I have asked of him, sorcerer. It has not been that long since I once spoke with you... former apprentice... surely you must remember the honor of performing in the service of a goddess."

She looked around the tetrahedron with bemusement.

"Mmmmmm.... The years have been unkind to you, Numnuts. For this I apologize... much was left undone the last time we spoke. I ensure you, however, I mean to remedy that in very short order. It is time to balance the ledger. The time has come, at last, Numnuts the Semi-Incomprehensible... for your final lesson."

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Earth: Pre-Egypt - 3009 BC

"coming. a sounds It like storm is"

"No, master. It is the wrong time of year for that," STU ladled the soup into Numnut's bowl, reassuring him in a calm tone. "Now, eat your supper. No magic can be done on an empty stomach."

Numnuts smiled vacantly, and began to eat.

STU watched his master for a moment, then quickly turned away. A wave of sadness struck him as he felt his eyes welling again. No... he wouldn't cry... this was for the best. It had to be. He walked to the window of the tetrahedron, looking toward the horizon. This year had been long, perhaps the longest STU had ever known, but... soon... soon the storm would arrive and all of this would be only as a distant memory.

The dust of the desert plain blew idly, kicking up small clouds then settling again. STU exhaled, his thoughts drifting back - as they had often of late - to that night four years ago. If he were being honest with himself, he knew that is when it truly had begun. It had not been until two years later that he had formally entered into the service of Bast, but he knew that night - the night he had been named, the night he had chosen the hourglass - was when the first step on this path had been taken.

"I do not envy the long road you have before you," his master had said - and how true those words had proven. The road had been long, and with more turns than STU could have ever believed possible. He had to believe, however, that the final destination would warrant the difficult journey... and the sacrifices that had been made.

At first, STU hadn't understood the enormity of the goddess' intent - the scale of the war she waged - but, after two years in her service, STU had come to understand a great deal that was hidden. It was difficult, even for a mage such as he - capable of commanding the eldritch forces, and imbued by the totemic power of the gods themselves - to grasp many of the concepts that Bast had taught him but, in the end, his faith was such that he accepted these things as true.

The stars in the sky, she had told him, were not merely the small lights that one could see... but rather they were vast suns from far away - many larger even then Ra himself. Some, as they spun through the heavens, even gave life to other smaller orbs... entire worlds existing far beyond the boundaries of the Earth. It was one of these worlds, Bast had told him, that she and the other beings that the people of Earth had named as 'gods' had once called their home.

As Bast told it, the true home of the 'gods' had been a virtual paradise - a world renown both for its beauty... and for the powers commanded by its extraordinary race of nigh-immortal beings. The people of this world had been capable of feats seemingly impossible to the human mind. Incredible speed... great strength... flight... command of the very elements. Some claimed that these abilities were a gift of the planet itself - that something deep inside its heart was the source of an energy that so empowered them but, in the end, such explanations were only speculation, and unnecessary

For as long as anyone could remember, the people of this world had lived together in harmony and peace. All of that had changed, however... with the coming of the great enemy.

No one knew from whence he had come. Some say he was a traveler from times beyond, some say he had always existed... but was from outside the boundaries of the material world, but - whatever his origin - one thing was clear... he desired their world for his own ends.

Bast had told STU the frightening tale of the enemy's reign of terror. Seeking to command the world's legendary power, the great enemy had hunted down her people as though they were nothing more than so many animals. Over only a handful of years, the land was razed and the population exterminated by the millions. In the end, perhaps not more than fifty remained. And for these last survivors... the most insidious fate yet still lay in store.

Seeking to hide from the enemy's hand, these remaining few had fled to a small island off the coast of the mainland. Such efforts proved pointless, however, against one who appeared to be able to peer into the very fabric of reality itself. Within only days after their arrival, the enemy again made himself known. With nowhere left to flee, the remnants of Bast's people watched in horror as the enemy's shadow stretched across the very sky and then, suddenly... was gone.

At first the survivors hadn't understood what had happened. Had the enemy yet spared them... or did he have some other, more horrible, fate in mind? A small party was dispatched again to the mainland, and - not more than two days later - returned with a strange and terrible tale. They had, indeed, been able to reach the mainland - but, when they had done so, not a single landmark had been familiar... the entire world seemed changed!

Further excursions would reveal the horrifying truth. Somehow - though they could not understand by what means - the very world in which this island now existed was no longer their own. It was as though the entire island had somehow been torn asunder from its foundation and - incredibly - placed on an entirely different world, existing as though it had always been so.

This new world, they learned over time... was called the Earth.

It had been no great feat for those with powers such as Bast and her kindred to, in very short order, establish themselves as the rulers of this new world. The people who existed on this world, STU's own ancestors, had been a primitive people who had worshiped the new arrivals with their amazing powers as gods. Realizing that they had no recourse - no way to return to their world or, indeed, to even locate it among the infinite stars - over time, most of simply accepted their new fate, content to be regarded as deities, collecting the small requisite spoils that such worship afforded.

Bast was not among them.

No, Bast - even in light of her new status among these primitives - refused to fall into same trap as her kindred. Her world... her home... her very race... all had been stolen by the enemy - and that was not a thing she would allow to go unpunished. She would have her revenge, no matter how long it took. Whether the enemy realized it or not, from this day forward, Bast had issued a declaration of war.

For hundreds of years, she had watched as the primitive people of Earth developed at a glacial pace - learning the basic tenets of language, of construction, of society. It had been an interminable wait but, eventually - on the banks of the river known as the Nile - a society developed that was more advanced than the others she had seen pass. These people - though still beholden to the ideas of gods and goddesses - had a slight understanding of something that no others had yet divined. These people - these 'Egyptians' - had a very basic command... of magic.

That small spark of true power was something the Bast knew immediately had to be fanned into a flame, if it ever was to serve her in the war against the enemy. She had scoured the land in search of a adept worthy of what she had in mind, and had found... only one. Far into the sands beyond the walls of the city, she found a young man who practiced a different sort of discipline than all others. This one lived in isolation, seeking to tame the very forces of chaos. This young man was, of course, his master, Numnuts the Semi-Incomprehensible.

Bast had taken Numnuts under her protection, fostering him as her apprentice and teaching him almost all she knew of the magic disciplines, that she might leverage the force of the humans in her efforts. Over time, Numnuts had grown incredibly powerful - more so than any other mage on this world - but Bast had a fear. She knew that the lifetime of a human was but a blink when compared to the time she knew it would take to prepare the force she needed to face and - once and for all - defeat the enemy. If the power of Numnuts was lost, it might take generations to find another that could reach the same level. His power had to be preserved.

Her solution came to her in the form of a magical vision. In her mind's eye, Bast saw the vast reaches of time stretching before her - years passed into centuries and beyond... into millennia. Bast saw that the final confrontation with the enemy taking place not within the lifetime of Numnuts, or - indeed - the life of any human, until thousands of years hence. The only way to preserve the power that Numnuts had tamed, to ensure it would not be lost... was through his lineage.

Bast saw deep into the future as a veritable Legion of powerful beings stood before the enemy. Among their number stood a young girl with the blood of both mages and gods. This young warrior was destined - the vision revealed - to be the seventh daughter, of the seventh daughter, of the seventh daughter... of Bast and Numnuts.

Humbled, but understanding the truth of the vision, Bast had explained this to her adept. She asked his help to sire the first generation of this brood - and, in doing so, help create - six thousand years hence - a great hope in the war against the enemy. At first, Numnuts had been eager to aid the goddess, but - during their first union - had almost immediately understood the consequences.

Bast was not a true goddess, but she was of a power far greater than he and - for all intents and purposes - when it came to their union, she may as well have been. The mental trial, occurring both on this plane and on those higher - had, the first time, left Numnuts in a state very near madness, and had taken him months to recover. The second union had been even worse and, very soon, he realized he could not continue with this plan if he had any hope of leaving his mind intact.

Bast had grown angry at his rebellion, insisting that he stay the course until the creation of the seventh daughter - but he would not. Fearful of her wrath, Numnuts had retreated to the desert - building the tetrahedron and surrounded it by a protective circle as a ward against his former mistress - lest his very mind be lost forever. And so had this separation had held for years - Numnuts growing older, and more powerful. He did regret that he had failed in what she asked of him but, in the end, it was not a sacrifice he could make. Instead, he sought a different avenue to preserve his power, seeking out one to be his own apprentice to carry on his legacy after his own years had passed.

What he hadn't realized, however, was the capacity for sacrifice that STURat would have.

STU turned again and regarded his master, sadly.

"hungry. still STURat, am I"

STU waved his hand, as the bowl again refilled. He turned back to the window and regarded the horizon. Soon she would be here. This would be the fourth visitation she had paid to the tetrahedron since the night of the army's assault a year prior. If all went well tonight, this would mean only one remained. He swallowed hard.

He loved his master - of this there was no doubt - but Bast had given him knowledge and powers undreamed of. As long as he had breath to draw, she would have his loyalty. STURat knew that aligning himself with Bast meant he had enlisted on her side in the war that was coming but, further, he knew that no war would be won... without casualties.

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Earth: Pre-Egypt - 3008 BC

The torch burning in his hand, STURat stood on the desert sands, looking again toward the darkening clouds on the horizon.

Though Bast had told him what to expect, no mere words could have prepared him for how quickly the storm would move. The tempestuous clouds, perhaps only ten minutes out, were gathering force as if they had a mind of their own... or as if they were being guided by some unseen hand. For three years, the goddess had been preparing him for this moment, but - now that it was arriving - STU's thoughts themselves were being clouded... by sorrow.

He turned back to the tetrahedron.

"It is almost time, master," STU said softly to himself.

"I... I... I want you to know... wherever it is that your Ka may rest... that... that I never imagined things would end this way."

He regarded the tetrahedron, his home for the last seven years, and felt the tears again welling up.

"I... I want to thank you... for all that you gave me, master - for allowing me to rise above the wretched hands of poverty... for always treating me as though I were of your own blood... for giving me... so much... for giving me... my very name."

Behind STU, the storm clouds continued to darken, become denser with each passing moment, but he could give them no thought right now. His heart was too full as he looked at all he was saying farewell to.

"This is a very difficult world we live in, master. The mage understands that perhaps better than anyone else could. You taught me so much. You taught me that any choice we make - once made - closes off other avenues that we might have wished to travel. I... I... have to believe that, by serving Bast, I have made the right choice. That my service against the mechanisms of the enemy will... at the battle's end... make all of our sacrifices worthwhile. I only wish... I..."

STU shook his head and, with regret, touched the torch to the thatching of the tetrahedron. It smoldered for a moment, white smoke billowing, before the flame caught. He took a step back and swallowed, gathering himself again and then continuing.

"You will be glad to know, master, that my lady Bast is again with child. The spell has taken. Soon she will give birth to the seventh daughter and her vision has shown her that this child will have the full aptitude. I... I don't pretend to understand all that is at play, but... I know what each union did to you... the slow maddening that you underwent. If had known that this seventh union would... that you would... I might have..."

At that moment, the sound of rolling thunder began to echo across the desert. STU turned to look at the storm. It was almost time. He needed to steel himself. He turned again to the burning tetrahedron for his final farewell.

"I am sorry for your passing, master. I truly wish such a price had not been necessary to complete my lady's design, but - in the end - your passing will not have been for naught. The child that my lady Bast now carries - the seventh sire of your union - will, many years from now, bear a great line... a hope in the war against the enemy. When that day arrives - I swear on your Ka - the enemy will pay for all that has been lost. I swear you will not have died in vain."

The dark clouds began filling the entire sky, blotting out the very sun as they began to whirl about in an ever-increasing maelstrom. The fire STU had set now wrapped around the entire tetrahedron in which he had laid out his master's body.

"And when that day arrives, master," STU began to speak louder as the winds of the storm increased, "it will be I... STURat... who stands beside this young warrior and delivers the final blow."

With a gesture of finality, STU tossed his torch into the burning wreck and, gritting his teeth... turned to face the storm.

STU looked at the storm... the entire sky had grown black in its expanse. It moved in a sickening, disorienting fashion, almost as if it were alive - a vast dark serpent threatening to swallow the entire world.

It had been a storm such as this - Bast had told him - that, nine years ago, had delivered the man who would become the late pharaoh, Menkuri Hotep Dis Nasewi. Though it astounded STU's mind to imagine that such things were possible, Bast had said that the pharaoh had not arrived from a distant land... but from a distant time.

Bast had told him that this man had come from the far future... a time she had called the "20th Century" and that his arrival had caused a great unbalance. That balance needed to again be struck. When the storm cycled back, nine years later, it would seek to return someone to the pharaoh's original time. That someone... in the service of Bast... was to be STU.

There was much work to be done, Bast had said... and thousands of years before that work would bear fruit. STU was to be her advance force in this new time... the center point around which other beings of great power would amass and, by doing so, aid in the creation of a great Legion - a force capable of standing in defiance to the works of the enemy.

The storm swirled viciously above him, creating what seemed to be a convex shape with a slivered opening at its center - a shape that, if STU had been a more superstitious sort - he might have described as resembling the eye of a cat.

"All right!!!" STU shouted up into the swirling vortex, "All right, you bastard! Let us..."

A lighting bolt issued forth from the vortex, striking STU.


"... do this!!"

"Get out of the way!!!"

STU spun around confusedly into the sudden darkness as a bizarrely dressed man ran toward him, shouting in a strange language. STU looked wildly at his surroundings. It was night... in a field... Where was he? Had it worked?!

"Move, you moron!!! Grenaaaaaaaaad...!"

STU never heard the last sound issue forth as the man leapt upon him - the explosion blasting both of them backward into the trench.

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Earth: Argonne Forest, France - September 27, 1918 AD

Slowly, STURat's consciousness began to crawl back to the waking world.

His first thought was that his chest had been crushed. Each breath he tried to draw was so labored that, at first, he thought the concussive blast from the explosion might have collapsed his very ribs. Gasping, he tried to sit up to free the weight from his chest but - as he shifted - his left arm sank elbow deep into the mud of the trench floor. The sudden shock of the sensation helped to clear his mind as - all at once - he realized the pressure he felt was something lying on top of him. A sickening feeling rising in his stomach, he looked down and saw the body of the man who had jumped on him - the one who had taken the lion's share of the blast.

Struggling to free himself, STU found purchase on a root sticking out of the trench wall. Desperately, he pulled himself up to a seated position, the man's body rolling slightly into his lap. As though the motion itself had dislodged something, the man suddenly came to life - and started to convulse. A wave of panic washed over STU as the raw reality of his situation set in... this was all really happening! The memories flooded back to him in staccato bursts... the time storm... the bolt... the sudden shift... but what was going on now? What sort of sickening future world had he been transported to?

Feeling the man's convulsing body in his lap, STU realized he had to do something. He closed his eyes and centered his will. He could feel the man dying, but he would do what he could to ease his suffering. Placing his hand on the man's chest - STU projected a wave of calming energy into him. Gradually, the man's convulsions ebbed, and his breathing - though very weak - began to steady. A look of calm settled over the man's face and - with a great effort - he opened his eyes to look up at STU.

As if through a haze, the man struggled to focus on STU's face but, suddenly, his eyes widened. In a near stupor, he choked out a single word.

"Y... y...you?"

STU shook his head uncomprehendingly. He couldn't understand the man's strange language but, nevertheless, STU continued to try to calm him. The man let out a small laugh, immediately sending himself into a coughing fit. Still coughing, he reached up to the collar of STU's robe and grabbed it tightly. He steadied himself as best he could, and gasped out - in halting Pre-Egyptian - "This is... twice... I've... saved you."

His grasp weakening, the man's eyes rolled back and slowly, he slipped back down again. His hand still on his chest, STU felt the man's essence fade away as he breathed his last.

"I am... I am sorry." STU spoke in Pre-Egyptian, "May Aken speed your..."

The man's head tipped backward, his strange metal helmet rolling off, as STU suddenly stopped his prayer short. Looking down at the dead man's face, STU couldn't believe his eyes. Though he had no idea where he was... or even when he was in the infinitude of time... he was absolutely certain of one thing: the man lying in his lap - who had just given his life to save STU's - was the late pharaoh, Menkuri Hotep Dic Nasewi.

A thousand thoughts raced through STU's mind.

Where was he? Bast had said that the storm would transport him to the original home of the pharaoh - the 20th century - but how was it possible that the same man could die here, when he knew for certain that Menkuri had died two years ago... in STU's own time? Had STU arrived prior to the pharaoh traveling to Egypt? Had his presence somehow changed events such that Menkuri died before he had gone back?

No... no, that didn't make any sense... Menkuri had just spoken in STU's own tongue before he died - even saying that he had saved STU before. Clearly, he was speaking of his having spared STU and his master at the hands of the temple magicians. The man who just died must have been from a time after the events STU had already lived through. But how was that possible? Had the pharaoh not been murdered? Had he somehow returned to this "20th Century"?

Even as STU's mind continued to race around the labyrinthine possibilities, however, something else was occurring. Slowly, all around him, the blackness of the night was beginning to recede into the first glimmers of dawn. Little by little, the expanse of the trench - all but hidden a few moments earlier by the night's dark cover - began to resolve itself into a sharper grey focus. Pausing from his confused thoughts, STU raised his head to take in his surroundings... and immediately regretted doing so.

Though the dirt trench was not dug in a straight line, it remained so for a long enough stretch that STU could see a fair distance to either side. This was a rough-hewn trench in which he lay, very unlike the reinforced trenches he had known on the banks of the Nile. This had been dug in haste, and not for any long-term use. At many points, the walls were collapsing under steady rivulets of muddy water coming in from the ground above. This incoming water had pooled in places, creating an uneven floor, broken by dank ponds of stagnant filth.

But the structure of the trench occupied perhaps only a moment of STU's thoughts, as his mind very quickly resolved itself to a far greater horror. All about him, to both sides, piled atop each other in sickening heaps, were the bodies of the dead. STU couldn't begin to fathom the world into which he had been thrown, but one thing was infinitely certain from the mass of death surrounding him:

This was a world at war.

He couldn't be certain what had happened here, but it seemed as though this trench must have been a defensive position - one that had not served its occupants well. Surrounded by such mass carnage, his stomach began to turn, but - fearful to move - STU squinted his eyes against the growing grey of the dawn, looking for any sign of movement. For the briefest of moments, a small spark of hope entered into his heart as he thought he saw something moving among the dead, perhaps ten feet away.

Then he realized what it was.

It began with a small scurry in the corner of STU's eye. His gaze darted toward it, but it quickly disappeared. Two other such flickers appeared suddenly in the periphery of his vision. He squinted again, trying to discern what these moving shapes were. All at once it hit him, as he realized the full scope of the movement. Crawling across the bodies of the dead, in numbers too numerous to even count... were the rats.

Despite himself, STU began to retch. Though he was, himself, familiared by the rat, it was one thing to call upon them in their totemic nature - utilizing their strength in cunning, their resourcefulness, their defensive postures - but it was another thing entirely to come upon a horde of them in their earthly aspects - red in tooth and claw - scavenging amongst the bodies of the dead.

Filled with disgust at the sudden confrontation of this most brutal aspect of his spiritual brothers, STU felt the eldritch energies rising in his stomach. Pushing Menkuri's body off him, STU forced himself to stand as best he could, and closed his eyes. There had been too much death in this place - he would not countenance any further desecration. Extended his magical will out toward the creatures, he felt each of their essences connected to his own.

"Away." STU commanded. "Away, my brothers. Leave this place and seek another hole in which to hide."

One by one, he felt - in his mind's eye - each of the myriad rats begin to scatter, climbing the walls of the trench and fleeing into the field above. He held his concentration until he felt the last of them depart, and then opened his eyes again. He sighed, exhaustedly.

"It seems I shall be the only Rat in this hole, today... and not that for much longer."

He didn't know where he was, or where he could go, but STU knew he couldn't stay in this place any longer. He looked down at the body of Menkuri - so strangely garbed in the uniform of this time. Bast had said told STU that Menkuri had not been a true chosen pharaoh, but - even so - it pained STU to see him so.

"My pharaoh," STU spoke, "I do not know what sorcery has brought you to this place, but I thank you again for having spared me. I sense there must be greater magic about you than I know. Perhaps, if your power is true, we may yet meet again. Until that day when I may return the boon, however, I must again ask of your aid."

STU knelt next to Menkuri's body and, placing his hand again on his chest, silently uttered the words of a conjuration his master had taught him... a spell of similarity.

A strange glow emanated about STU as his desert garb began to transform. His sandals grew, wrapping around his feet into thick-leathered boots. His robe descended further down, the fabric separating into trousers, then winding around his boots into tight wraps. His tunic expanded over his shoulders and down his arms into a woolen coat, until - at the last - his clothing resembled the same soldier's uniform that the pharaoh was wearing. With a weary sigh, STU reached down and retrieved the metal helmet Menkuri had worn and placed it on his own head.

"Farewell, my pharaoh." STU said, "until the day we shall meet again."

Reaching up to the top of the trench, STU hoisted himself up with a great effort. He looked around the desolate field. What was he going to do? He hadn't the slightest idea of how to navigate this strange world and - even if he did - he had no idea in which direction to even begin. He looked to the eastern sky.

The sun was just beginning to crest the horizon. Perhaps it was a portent... or the closest to one that one might hope for in a place such as this. After all, no harm could ever come by walking toward the arms of Ra. Straightening his coat, STU took a step toward the east as, suddenly, the morning silence was shattered by a thundering crack.

Before the sound could even fully register in STU's mind, he felt the metal slug rip through his chest.

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(With acknowledgement to the Yellow Kid)

Earth: Beaufort Hospital, Bristol, England - October 12, 1918 AD

"Say hey! There he is! Howzaboy, Stuey? They getcha all cleaned up, did they?"

STU sat up in his bed, turning to face the bald-headed Lieutenant who was sidling up. Lieutenant Randolph was a patient, as well, but - in the two weeks since STU had woken up in this place - he hadn't been able to figure out exactly what he was here for. One thing was certain, however... Lieutenant Randolph loved to talk.

"Sure they did. I know I said this before but - I gotta tell ya, kid - you're a regular walking miracle, you are... well... except for the fact that you don't really do too much walking. Aww... I'm just ribbing you, kid. Seriously, though... I seen a lot guys come in and out here, but I never known anyone who looks as good as you do so quick after taking a slug like that. You're one lucky guy, Stuey. Whatcha got there is what in the Air Service they call a 'million dollar wound'. In and out, nice and clean. Not so bad that it'll take you down for the count, but just good enough that once you get up and around you'll probably get a nice trip home outta the whole thing. Home... heh. Yeah... sorry about that, Stuey... I forgot... they don't know exactly where your home is yet, do they? Ah, that's all right - I'm sure you'll start yapping when you're good and ready. Let 'em wait... that's what I say."

STU regarded Lieutenant Randolph talking away, wondering to himself whether he talked to everyone like this - or whether it was STU's silence that opened the door for him. In any case, STU was extremely grateful that the Lieutenant had taken a shine to him, as it made at least one aspect of his situation much easier... learning the language.

The very first lesson that Numnuts the Semi-Incomprehensible had taught STU, all those years ago, was the control necessary to extract order out of chaos. His master had used his disordered speech as a constant reinforcement of that principle and, in doing so, had prepared STU for a challenge such as this. Admittedly, this was an entirely different level of that principle - one in which STU had to not only discern the grammar of the language, but the very meaning of the phonics themselves. Completely overwhelmed by his new surroundings, understanding neither the language nor the technology of this new time, STU had decided to simply remain silent... and listen.

"...from half the guys in this joint, anyway. Not of one of 'em can hold a decent conversation. There's that one fellah... that limey Corporal? He seemed like he might have it on the ball, but once that cute little nurse with the book cart - ahhh, Stuey, you know who I mean - once she started coming by with those donated books, that guy piped right down. Now all he does is keep his nose stuck in that damned book all day. And the same one, no less! I mean... come on! I get it, buddy... you're a bookworm - but mix it up a little, you know what I'm saying? He musta read that thing cover to cover about twenty times already. Give somebody else a chance with it. Not that I'm a big reader or anything... I'm more of a doer, I like to say. That's why I joined into the Air Service, I suppose. Yeah... the wild blue yonder - that's the only real place guys like me have left to conquer, you know? Unless you wanted to go to the moon or something. Ha, ha... I'm just kidding you, Stuey, but seriously... flying? It's like nothing else in the world. I flew with Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, you know that? Now, there's an ace who..."

Little by little as the days passed, STU had sat quietly, allowing the doctors to treat his wound, which - as Lieutenant Randolph had observed - was healing preternaturally quickly. All the while, however, STU's greatest treatment had been his time with the lieutenant. It had been very difficult at first, until STU realized that this language had many different varieties, and patterns of delivery. The majority of people around him spoke with what was called an "English" accent, but the Lieutenant spoke in an "American" slang.

From what Lieutenant Randolph had been saying over the past couple weeks, STU came to understand that he, too, was being regarded as an American, by virtue of the uniform he'd been wearing when they found him. STU was still hazy on the details of how his rescue had occurred but, apparently, he had been found in the aftermath of a battle in something called the "Meuse-Argonne Offensive" and been extracted to a hospital in England for treatment until they could discern who he was. That was a detail, of course, STU had no intention of disclosing.

Though how Lieutenant Randolph seemed to know his name was still a mystery to him. A mystery that - now that STU felt he understood the language, and could trust the Lieutenant - he decided it was time to solve.

"...got to be kidding me, right? The 'Red Baron'? I mean... why stop there? Why not have a 'Blue Viscount'... or a 'Green Marquis'? These Jerries are really something else with their..."

"Lieutenant Randolph?"

"Great day in the morning! He speaks! How long you been holding out on me, kid? Are you playing these dopes, or something? Good for you! Don't you worry, Stuey... don't you worry one bit - your secret is safe with me, kiddo. We got to stick together. After a..."

"Lieutenant Randolph?"

"Hey, kid... we're pals, right? Just call me 'Billy'."

"All right... Billy... why do you call me 'Stuey'?"

Billy laughed, standing up. "Ha... sorry about that, kid... just a little joke."

"What do you mean?"

Billy moved around to the bottom of STU's bed and removed the clipboard. He turned it around so STU could see.

"See... 'Severe Trauma - Unresponsive'... 'STU'. I had to call you something, you know. Aw jeez... I just realized... if you're talking again, they're probably going move you out of here and down to the main population. Who am I supposed to talk to, now? I can't go back to playing cards with that French guy... I just can't! I don't think he even realizes that we are playing. He just keeps looking at the cards and asking for 'cafe'. Sure, I take his money, but...

"Main population? What part of the hospital are we in, Lieut... um, Billy?"

"You don't know? Where's your head been for the last two weeks? We're on the floor with all the... you know..." Billy raised his finger to his temple and started making a circular motion. "I could see right off that you weren't - something in your eyes - but I figured you were keeping up the silent treatment on purpose - trying to make a play for a Section-8, or something. Ahh... don't you worry, Stuey. You just stick with me... I'll keep you safe. After all, I got a secret, too."

"You do?"

Billy nodded, then looked theatrically to either side before leaning in close to STU and whispering.

"I'm a super-hero."

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Earth: Beaufort Hospital, Bristol, England - October 13, 1918 AD

STURat sat in his wheelchair - the sun shining through the window of the dayroom, warming his face. He closed his eyes, letting Billy's rambling words just fade into the background. He enjoyed feeling the warmth of the sun wash over him, reminding him of the sands of an age now lost - five thousand years gone in Pre-Egypt.

"...and that's why I'm telling you that you should just keep up the silent act - at least for another couple of weeks or so. After that we can... ooh! Wait here, Stuey... I'll be right back. I'm going to go see if I can scam that French guy out of his pudding."

STU opened his eyes and watched Billy bound off with a spring in his step. What had he gotten into?

The goddess Bast had sent STU to this world of the future to act as an advance envoy. She had assured him that his magic would act as a beacon for others with great powers and that, together, they would form a legion to stand against the enemy... but how was he to do that here... in a hospital for the insane?

His only lead, thus far, had been Billy himself, and that did not fill STU with any great hope. Yesterday, in confidence, he had let STU in on his greatest secret, which was the fact that... his hair didn't grow. According to Billy, he had started shaving his head during his Air Service training as a safeguard against lice, but - after flying some mission - he realized that it had stopped growing back. He had told STU that - because of this - he was convinced that he was an immortal.

STU looked over at his friend - negotiating with an insane Frenchman for pudding - and had his doubts.

With a deep sigh, STU turned back to the window. The day room nurse's fat cat - the one she brought in because she thought it helped calm the patients - had jumped onto the sill, and was lying in the sunbeam, with its back to STU.

"What do you think, puss?" STU said quietly. "What does your lady Bast have in store for me, huh? Oh... forget it. You've got the right idea." He reached out and scratched the cat behind its ear.

"Mmmmmmm... yeeeeees... dooo thaaaaaat," the cat said.

STU froze, as the cat rolled over and grinned at him.

"Why did you stop, human?"

"Stoopid Cat?" STU whispered in shock. "How... how did you get here?"

"I go where I like, human."

"Stop calling me, 'human'. I have a name, you know."

"Do you? I thought you merely answered to whatever random group of letters someone assigned to you."

STU ignored Stoopid Cat's insult and continued. "Did your lady send you to me? Do you bring aid from Bast?"

"Bast is not my lady. I told you - only yesterday - that the one who would claim me as familiar had not come yet come into this world. That was remedied, however... shortly after you left."

"Yesterday? You told me that almost five thousand years ago."

"Did I? I assumed it had only been a day, as time always seems so much longer in your company."

"Enough with your nonsens... wait... shortly after I left? So you became the familiar of Bast's seventh daughter?"

"Indeed... and remain so."

"The daughter yet lives?"

"There are a great many long-lived humans who walk this world. I believe you may have already met one."

"You mean the pharaoh. How do you know th... ? No, forget it... I can't get a straight answer out of y..."

"The former pharaoh who called himself Menkuri Hotep Dic Nasewi," Stoopid Cat interrupted - almost as if to intentionally contradict STU, "is merely a little ghost who doesn't know how to die properly. If you have met him in this time, it is surely in one of his revenant cycles. He dies so often, I have lost track. And yet - in another sense - he has not yet been born."

"If not him... then who have I met? Please speak clearly."

"Ah... little magician. Things are so difficult for you, aren't they? If only you had a master to guide you."

"You would do well to hold your tongue, cat! My master may have died in the service of Bast, but I have long since become more powerful than he had been. I am not above unleashing the eldritch forces on the likes of such as you."

The cat grinned wider than STU would have thought possible. "Now, that would be amusing. But, no... I've already had my fill of rat today."

"And what would the lady Bast think of you speaking to me in such a manner?"

"Perhaps you should ask her... ah... I forgot, she hasn't communed with you in this time, has she? Just left you with a blank shopping list and let you run amok in the store, hoping you would be intelligent enough to choose the correct items. She never was the best judge of character."

"Enough. If you have nothing you can provide me with to help in my task, I am well done with you."

"Oh, human, our time together is not finished by half, I'm afraid. And time... is exactly what you should be concerned with."

STU sighed. "Fine... continue. What is this of 'time'?"

"Use your nose, little rat. You are purportedly the great mage... and yet you cannot even sense when you are near power. Even among the humans in this hospital is one with the capability to achieve a near mastery of the chronal arts. Though it shall not be for over a thousand years, one of your fellow inmates in this prison of the mind stands to be a great thorn in the side of the enemy. Though I do not profess to know the will of Bast... if I were acting as her errand boy... I might seek to encourage this human to proceed down such a path."

"But... who is...?"


Stoopid Cat jumped off the ledge with an annoyed caterwaul, as Billy flopped down in the seat next to STU's wheelchair, a spoon in his mouth.

"Arr woo tawkin to ah cah? Sorry... good pudding. Were just talking to that cat, Stuey? You crazy or something?"

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Earth: Beaufort Hospital, Bristol, England - October 15, 1918 AD

"For the last time, Billy... no."

STURat sat in the day room, watching the other patients milling about. Somewhere among this motley crew was the one he sought.

"Come on, Stuey. I mean whattya got to lose? They don't know what unit you belong to... they don't even know who you are - hell, I'm not even a hundred percent sure you know who you are, the way you hold your cards so close to your chest. Who's gonna miss one John Doe, more or less?"

"And where exactly would we go, Billy?" STU turned to his friend with annoyance. "Did you think about that? Two escaped soldiers just wandering the English countryside in the middle of a war? That sounds like a really fantastic plan. Forget about me... do honestly you think the Air Service would just let you go AWOL and not be looking for you? You're supposed to be an officer. Just drop it, all right?"

"Aww, for crying out loud, Stuey. You're thinking about the whole thing way too small. We wouldn't have to stay in England... it's a great big world out there... we could go anywhere. Two smart guys like us? We got the whole world just waiting for us. The two of us tearing loose - we could make a fortune, you and me. We could... we could go to Cuba."


"Yeah, sure, why not Cuba? It's a whole new frontier down there, just waitin' for somebody to bust the whole thing open. You and me, kiddo, the sky's the limit. We could do anything. We could be high rollers. A couple of guys with some big ideas and the power to make 'em happen. When I think about all the money somebody could make down there... criminy! It's not just about the money, you understand - though I do gotta say that's a big part of it, I mean, why get into the racket if you're not gonna make some scratch on the whole deal - but it's more about the fun. I mean, why do anything, if it's not going to be fun? That's my philosophy. That's why I started flying. Conquer the air, kid, that was the idea. You think I got any kind of loyalty to the Service? Not me, buddy. I just needed a way to get up there. This whole war is just a sham, anyway - just a bunch a little boys moving checkers around some crazy board. They want you to think that there's a plan to it all... but there ain't. There's no good guys, there's no bad guys. There's just a bunch of kids playing a game that don't have an end. It don't matter what side you're on. Switching sides is nothing. It's as easy as pie. You don't like me being a super-hero... fine.. I could be a super villain, if you like that better. It's just that easy, and it's all the same to me."

STU sighed. "You're not a super-hero, Billy."

"Yes, I am... I'm an immortal."

"No, Billy..." STU looked at his friend, sadly, "... you're not. I know you think you are, but the fact of the matter is... you're just bald."

"Now that's just mean, Stuey. And it ain't even true - I used to have hair."

"Yes, I know. You used to have hair... but then you shaved it, and one day it didn't grow back. That's not a power, Billy. That's just getting older. The sooner you admit that to yourself, the sooner they'll probably let you out of here."

"You think that's why I'm in here? Ha, ha... oh, Stuey, that's a good one, that is. That is really rich. Trust me, kid, you don't know half of what you think you know. Fact of the matter is that I'm in this place because I got a bead on things. I know stuff they don't want anybody knowing. They think they're all so smart. They think they're pulling the wool over everybody's eyes. But I tell you one thing - the Randolphs didn't raise no dummies. OK... well... that's not entirely true... I did have a cousin that wasn't the sharpest tack in the box, but you know what I'm saying. Anyway... the things I seen, Stuey... well... it'd probably make your hair fall out if I told you. But that's why we gotta get out of here. That's why we gotta just quit this sucker's game and get to..."

STU let Billy's words drift to the background, as he turned back to the room. A team of doctors was entering, leading a middle-aged man in a suit onto the floor. Over the past weeks, STU had seen visitors brought through a couple of times in tours like this, but something about this man seemed different. STU could sense, almost empathetically, a cloud hanging over this man - a great sadness that he seemed to carry with him with an almost tangible weight. STU watched as the group walked among the patients.

"...and this wing, Dr. Wells," the administrator was explaining to the man, "is where the most severe mental trauma cases are treated."

"Hmm, yes. I imagine that you see a great many young men returning from the Front with issues of this sort."

"Sadly, that is the case. The majority of cases we've seen over the last two years have been primarily among the conscripted soldiers. These young boys are called up and asked to face things that they are entirely unprepared for. But we do try to maintain as positive an environment as possible to aid the men back to their full faculties. We try to involve them in activities which - while still engaging - are of a less demanding nature. One of our greatest successes has been with the book donation program."

"Books, eh?"

"Yes, we find that the act of reading benefits the patients on multiple levels. It provides the men with a distraction from their current situation - a form of escapism, if you will - while still keeping the mind both active and challenged. In fact, we have several of your books in our library available for the men."

"Oh, yes?"

"Yes, in fact, there is one young patient who has taken quite a shine to your works. He's quite inseparable from one of your novels... ah, yes... there is the boy. Corporal?"

The young blonde boy looked up as the group approached him.

"Corporal," the administrator continued, "I would like you to meet someone. This should be quite a treat for you - but this is the man who wrote the book you are so fond of. May I present, Dr. H.G. Wells."

"W... Wells?" the looked up at Wells with a mixture of confusion and disbelief.

"Yes," Wells replied looking down at the Corporal's book. "Ah... 'The Time Machine'! One of my favorites - quite dear to my heart for several reasons. How are you finding it, lad?"

"Dr. Wells... I... " the Corporal stood up in awe, "I... you have no idea what an honor it is to meet you, sir."

"Nonsense, lad," Wells said, shaking the young man's hand, "the honor is all mine. I want to thank you for serving your nation, son. I know how difficult this war has been... for all of us."

The young man's eyes widened, as he began nodding. "Yes, sir. It has... but that is why you represent such a hope for us."

Wells raised an eyebrow, as the doctors began to give each other a couple worried looks. "How's that, lad?"

"Your machine, sir."

"All right, Corporal," the administrator said, "that's enough. Dr. Wells has to..."

"No..." the Corporal interrupted, "... just a moment. I know that in your book you traveled to the future, Doctor... but wouldn't a more reasonable thing to do be to travel to the past? Just think of the possibilities... think of what you could accomplish! If you were to go back... if you were to change things... why... why, you could make it so this war would never have had to happen in the first place!"

"All right, son," the administrator said, placing his hand on the Corporal's chest. "I apologize, Doctor... as I said, in the early stages, sometimes trauma cases are unable to separate the fictional aspects of..."

"No!" the Corporal lunged forward, grabbing Dr. Wells' lapels. "Dr. Wells! Just think about it... it could work! It doesn't have to be this way! Nothing has to be this way!"

"Orderlies!" The administrator called out, shouldering his way between the Corporal and Dr. Wells.

"Please... Dr. Wells!" the Corporal shouted, as two large orderlies charged into the room, taking hold of the young man's arms. He tried to break their hold, growing more violent as the pair wrestled him away from the tour group. He continued shouting, even as they pulled him thrashing out of the day room.

"Please!!! Listen to me, Doctor! It doesn't have to be this way! No more war! No more dying! No more DYING!!!.

"I am so sorry, Doctor," the administrator was saying nervously, attempting brush Dr. Wells' lapels straight. "These cases can be very unpredictable at times. I truly hadn't thought that the boy..."

Billy, uncharacteristically silent as he had watched the scene play out, turned back to STU and began again.

"And this is where you want to stay, huh? I'm telling you, Stuey... Cuba. We get down there, get a couple of horses..."

"Who was that, Billy?" STU interrupted.

"That nutcase? He's the one I was telling you about. I used to talk to him a bit before he went off the deep end with that book - but I could always tell that he had a couple of screws loose. A couple? Hell, more like a whole..."

"What is his name?"

"Heh... even his name sounds crazy. You never heard of such of thing. Get a load of this, the guy's name is... Phineas B. Fuddle."

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Earth: Beaufort Hospital, Bristol, England - October 16, 1918 AD


STU awoke to the sound of a bell echoing throughout the hospital. Confused, he sat up in the darkness. It was the middle of the night... what was going on?

From outside the door of his room he heard the heavy sounds of orderlies thundering by.

"Come on! Move!" One of them shouted as he ran by. "We've got a runner!"

STU sighed. "Oh, Billy..." he said quietly to himself, "...what have you done?"

"Who, me?" A voice suddenly came from the chair next to his bed, startling him. "I didn't do nothing."

"Agh! Billy!" STU hissed, "What are you doing in here? What's going on?"

"Somebody went over the fence. I told you we should of done it first - now they're probably gonna be beefing up security. How's that old saying go... 'He who hesitates is lost'? Yeah... we could still do it, but now it's gonna be trickier. Aww - that's all right, Stuey, it'll just add a little spice to the whole thing, a little savor, you know? A little salt to give the soup some..."


"Whattya mean, 'who'? Who else? That little limey kid."


"Yeah, Phineas. I told you that guy wasn't wired too tight. Ain't no way he's gonna make it out there on his own. It's always better to do these kinda things in a gang. You need one guy to... say, Stuey, whatsa matter, kid? You OK?"

STU had raised his hands to his face. How foolish had he been. For three weeks he had bided his time in this place, confident that events would simply eventually lead the one of power to his side - that somehow Bast's will would cause an attraction of those who could serve her cause to STU. He had taken too passive a stance, trusting the natural flow of things, and now... his opportunity may have been lost.

As much as it galled him to admit, the Stoopid Cat had been right. It had said that somewhere within the hospital was an individual with an affinity for chronal power, someone who - if correctly guided - could hone that power to be a force against the enemy. Though Phineas was clearly still young and confused, his outburst earlier had shown STU that he must have been the one that cat was referring to. He had spoken of wanting to travel in time... to modify events... to save lives... to stop wars. To anyone else, these words would speak of madness, but STU knew that this was exactly the type of idea that could stand in opposition to the enemy.

But, now he had escaped - before STU even had a chance to talk to him. If he were caught, STU knew that he would likely be heavily guarded going forward. And if he weren't? STU didn't even want to think about the level of spell necessary to locate a single individual across an entire world.

He turned back to Billy.

"No... no, I'm all right. I was just thinking about Phineas. He's in for a rough time, I think, regardless of what happens to him."

"Aww... nertz to him, Stuey. I'm telling you that guy was a nutcase. What with that book all the time... who needs it, you know? A bunch of crazy kid's stuff - that's all it turned out to be. After they pulled him off all kicking and screaming, I finally got a chance to take a look at it. I figured why not, right? It was still just sitting there in the day room, so I figured I'd take a peek and see what all the rumpus was about - what made old Phinny go all Funny. So I crack it open and whattya think it is? A kid's book! All about time travel, and these - I don't know, aliens or something - these "Matlocks" or some crazy thing. And it's not just like he was reading it, neither. Oh, no. He's got the whole thing all marked up, like he's taking notes on it, or something - like it's a textbook or something. I tell you, Stuey, that kid is one grade A..."

"You took the book?"

"Yeah. Finders keepers. I didn't really want the thing or nothing, I just didn't want him to have it no more. Just something about me, I guess. I know it's kinda crazy, but I kinda like stealing things. It kinda gives me a rush, you know? Like I'm - I don't know - some kind of crook or something. Some crazy sort of guy, running capers and..."

"Where is it now?"

"What... the book? I got it right here." Billy reached into his robe, pulling out Phineas' book and handing it to STU. "Now don't go getting any ideas, Stuey, it's mine now. Just because we're buddies don't mean you get to..."

"I'm not going to keep it, Billy, I just want to see..."

STU stopped short as he saw the inside back cover. On the dust cover, around the author's picture of H.G. Wells, Phineas had scribbled some notes. Some of the things appeared to be mathematical equations, others just single words, but - right at the bottom of the page - was what looked to be an address.

"Billy, I think I know where Phineas is going."

"Yeah, me too, Stuey. He's going right back here once they catch him."

"No... I don't think they are going to catch him. Billy... have you ever heard of a place called 'London'."

"Hmm... let's see... 'a place called London'. Gee... Stuey, I dunno... that kind of sounds like some obscure little town... what are talking about, you galoot? Of course, I heard of London! It's only the freaking capital of England! I swear, Stuey, the way you talk sometimes it's like you never..."

"Billy, listen... I have something very important to tell you, and you must promise to tell no one. Ever."

"Who am I gonna tell, Stuey? Whaddya take me for - some kind of snitch or somethi...?"


"All right, all right... I promise. Sheesh. So what's this big secret, Stuey?"

STU sighed and looked at his friend. He couldn't do this alone and, for all his eccentricities, STU felt in his heart that he had to trust Billy.

"All right. Billy... this may be difficult to understand, much less to believe, but I am not what you think I am. I am not simply some soldier who lost his memory in battle. I am a Pre-Egyptian mage who has traveled here from the past of this world. My true home is nearly five thousand years ago, but I arrived in your time via a chronal storm. I am in the service of an ancient goddess known as Bast, who has tasked me with the creation of a legion of superbeings to stand in defense against a powerful enemy who seeks to destroy all. I believe that one of these beings may be our fellow patient, Phineas B. Fuddle - who has the capacity to become a powerful chronal manipulator, if only I can intercept him before he does something that I fear may endanger the fabric of both space and time. I must leave this hospital at once and travel to London, where I strongly suspect that he may be travelling to find the author H.G. Wells - who Phineas believes has created a functioning time machine. Billy... I need your help. Will you help me?"

Billy blinked.

"When do we leave?"

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Earth: The English countryside, somewhere near Lambourne - October 19, 1918 AD

"Stuey... you know I like you and all... but tell me again... why the hell are we doing this?"

STU looked over at Billy, his boots caked in mud almost to the knee. For almost three days now, they had been trudging their way eastward toward London, but STU could tell that Billy had had about enough.

"We've discussed this, Billy. I know where Phineas is heading, and I have to stop him."

"Just forget all that for a minute... I'm just asking why the hell we gotta walk there?"

"We've been over all this. You know as well as I that they will be looking for us. Taking the train would have been too dangerous - we can't afford being discovered before we reach London. I know that Phineas would have faced the same dilemma, so I'm certain that this is the route he would have been forced to choose, as well. I only hope his advanced start on us doesn't make the difference."

"Yeah, OK, sure... I get that Phinny'd be in the same boat - assuming you're even right about him going to London..."

"I am."

"... so, OK... and I get what you're saying about the train... but, sheesh, Stuey! This whole walking across the country stuff is strictly for the birds. There's gotta be a better way. You're supposed to be this hotshot magician, right? If you're so hot on catching Phinny - and I don't even understand why you want to do that - can't you just, ya know, 'magic' us there or something?"

"I told you, Billy - magic doesn't work that way."

"Oh, no? Well, how does it work? Not for nothing, Stuey, but - you gotta admit - your whole story is kinda screwy... and that's coming from me! Sure, I helped you get out of that nuthouse - but I figured you were just ribbing me with your whole 'ancient magician' routine. Just having a little fun with your buddy, you know? Paying me back for hassling you so hard about breaking out. But I'm starting to get the idea that you actually believe this stuff. I'm worried about you, kid... are you nutso for real?"

STU smiled. "No, Billy... I'm not 'nutso'. I am all that I said I am."

"OK... fine, then... keep it up. Who am I to dig into your business, right? I mean, I'm an immortal, so sure... why not? You're a magician. All I know is that I'm the one who distracted the guards when we broke out, I'm the one that nabbed us these clothes back in Bristol, I'm the one that's been leading you this whole way. If you're such a 'magical' guy... when are you actually gonna start doing some magic."

"It's not that easy, Billy. It is true that I can command the eldritch forces - and that I am protected by all animal familiars - but you must understand that all magic is ultimately an expression of the will. When the mage's will is aligned with the will of the universe, all things are possible. When the mage uses his will for an expressly personal gain, however... there is always a price to pay."

"Well, that's pretty convenient."

STU stopped walking. "No, Billy. No... it is not convenient... at all. The price for the selfish use of magic is high, make no mistake. When I first arrived in this time, it was in the midst of battle. My immediate need was simply to appear as the others around me appeared. Foolishly, I cast a spell of similarity to affect the uniform of this time and - for this use - I received a bullet through my chest."

"Jeez, Stuey... there's no need to get all morbid about it. You know I'm just giving you a hard time. I'm just sick and tired of walking, is all. I just wish we could... I dunno... flash there or something."

"I don't even know if such a thing is possible, Billy. I have never had cause to use my powers for transport."

Billy started walking again. "Oh... it's possible. Trust me."

STU followed, smiling. "Is that so? Tell me, my friend... are you versed in the ways of the mage, as well?"

"No... but I do know that some things can flash from one place to another. Things a lot bigger than two guys, too."

STU continued smiling. "And what sort of things might those be?"

Billy stopped walking and grew very serious. "Stuey..."


"Do you want to know why they put me in that nuthouse... the real reason I was in there?"

"Apart from your claims of immortality?"

"Hey! I'm being serious, here, Stuey! And I am immortal, damn it!"

"My apologies, Billy. That was unkind. Yes, please tell me... why were you in the hospital?"

Billy paused, sitting down on a tree stump. He looked up at STU.

"There's more going on in this world than anybody knows, kid - a lot more. You say you're a magician? OK. You say you came here from the past? All right. It all sounds completely crackers to me, Stuey... but I believe you. I do. And you wanna know why? Because I seen something that - if I hadn't seen it with my own two eyes - I would of thought was completely crackers, too."

"What did you see?"

Billy regarded his friend. After a moment, he sighed.

"It all started about six months back. I told you I was flying under Eddie Rickenbacker, right? Well... one day we're flying back from a mission in Baussant - that's where old Captain Eddie clipped his first plane - and the whole squadron was in pretty bad shape. We lost a lot of good men that day... and a lot more of us were flying damaged. Anyway, I don't know what happened - I must of have taken a shot to my fuel line or something - but, all of a sudden, I start losing altitude... and fast. I know that if I try to take it down where I'm at, I'm a goner. There's just no way I can land this thing. So... I get the crazy idea that maybe - if I can peel off to the west... get above the water - maybe I can try to bail out. It sounds crazy, I know. It was a one in a million chance. Even if I did make it, who's to say that hitting the water wouldn't kill me? Or that if that didn't do it, that I could even stay up in the water until somebody found me to fish me out. But... it was the only chance I had. So I do peel off. I start heading west and, somehow, I'm able to keep the old girl up until I get out over the ocean. I start undoing my rig as she keeps going down. I kill the engine and she goes into a steady drift, but I'm still trying to figure out just how in the hell I'm going swing this. And that's when I saw it."

"Saw what?"

"The island."

STU regarded his friend carefully. "An island?"

"Yeah... an island. And not some little thing, neither. Stuey... I'm swearing to you, this thing is huge. At first, I'm thinking my nav equipment has to be off. There ain't nothing that size off the coast - leastwise not on any map I ever seen, but - lost or no - if I keep heading the way I am, I'm gonna be crashing nose first right into it. I try to fire up to engines again, but no dice - the girl's dead. I try to grab the rudder control thinking maybe - even without the engine - I can force the drift hard right and keep it out to sea. But I couldn't do it... the whole thing was just locked up. I only got two choice, neither one of 'em very pleasant - either I'm bailing right now... or I'm crashing into this thing. Either way, I'm pretty sure that's gonna be all she wrote for Mama Randolph's little blue eyed boy."

"So what happened?"

Billy shook his head. "To this day, Stuey... I have no idea. The plane's heading right for this thing, dead to rights, when - all of sudden - this weird glow starts rising up out of it."

"A glow?"

"Yeah, this purple-type light or something. I start thinking that maybe I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel or something - like this is what you see when you're about to die. But it keeps getting brighter. This huge purple glow is just rising out of this island - getting bigger and bigger - wrapping around my plane, even. And then, as god is my witness, the whole thing just... flashes. And just like that... the island is gone."

"G... gone?"

"I know... it sounds crazy, right? Like I just imagined the whole thing or something, but - I swear to you - I seen this huge island just disappear right out of the ocean. I seen it with my own eyes. Anyhow... I can't even stop to think about that right then because I'm still drifting down hard. Somehow - to this day, I still wonder how - I'm able to bail out before she hits. The plane goes down, but I got clear of it. With everything I got, I was somehow able to swim back to the coast and stumble into a med station. They got me hooked back up to my unit later on."

"So what happened? Did you tell your story to your commander?"

"You kidding me? Not a chance! I knew that a story like that would get me a one way ticket to the booby hatch. So, I just kept quiet about the whole thing... but, I'll tell you one thing... I started going over reconnaissance maps like nobody's business. I musta looked at every last overlay in the HQ in the next week or so - but there was nothing at all saying there was an island out there. That thing just wasn't supposed to be there. It was right about then, though, when I noticed that my hair had stopped growing."

STU shook his head and slightly snorted.

"Laugh all you want, Stuey. I'm telling you... I ain't bald. I shave it like this on account of the lice... but I got hair. At least... I did until that glow hit my plane. I'm telling you, it did something to me. Just like that - not a single hair grew on my head. But it's more than that. Any cut I get? Just like that... a minute later, it's gone. A bruise? A minute or two... it's gone. Whatever happened out there at sea... whatever that glow was... it's like it locked me into the exact way I was when it hit me. It's like, no matter what happens to me, I keep getting 'reset' or something. I'm immortal. I know you don't believe me. Here..." Billy stood up, "... try me. Punch me in the kisser. Seriously... crack me in the cheek hard, so you leave a mark. I'm telling you... it won't stick."

"I'm not going to punch you, Billy."

"No... seriously, do it. It'll hurt me, sure... but, after a minute or two, it'll just be gone. I'll just go back to the exact way I was."

"I'm not punching you. So, if you didn't tell anybody... then why did they send you to the hospital?"

"On account of me stealing those planes."


Billy grinned. "Heh... yeah. What? Do you think I was just gonna let them make something like that and not try to find it? It's the new frontier, kid."

"What do you mean 'make something like that'?"

"Well... the more I thought about it... the more it started clicking. Something like that... a whole island that just disappears? Who do you think made something like that? It's the Army, Stuey! Or the Navy... or the Air Service. Who knows? Maybe it's all of them... but, somehow, they figured out how to make things that can just 'flash' from one spot to another. Can you imagine what that'll mean to the war? This thing could be over tomorrow... once they start using it. Of course, they're never gonna tell that to guys like you and me - oh, sorry, I forgot... you're not really a soldier - but they're never gonna tell that to somebody like me. Well, I'd be damned, Stuey, if there's something out there like that - something so amazing that it just changes everything you ever believed - and I wasn't gonna get to the bottom of it. So... a day later... I stole a plane and headed out to find it again."

STU laughed. "And did you?"

Billy smirked. "No. All I found was nothing but a bunch of empty ocean. But I wound up taking so long searching back and forth that - before I knew it - I was running out of fuel again. I wound up having to bail out of that plane, too. They threw me in the brig for that one. For a month, they tried to make me fess up about why I did it... but I kept my mouth shut. They were gonna strip my bars, but old Captain Eddie wound up speaking up for me. He knew I was an ace pilot, and - what with the mission to Bois de Rate coming up - he needed as many good aces as he could get his hands on. He musta pulled some strings pretty high up, cause they wound up letting me out under his supervision. Yeah... they probably shouldn't of done that, I guess... considering that - about an hour out to Bois - I peeled off again. There just wasn't any way I was going fly into battle for some crazy dogfight when I knew that the whole end to this war was right out there. So, I flew again out over the ocean... and wound up bailing again."


"I know, I know. Well, that was that last straw. They threw me into the brig again, and sent in some doctor to give me the once over. I didn't tell him nothing, of course - but he wound up making up his own mind about things. He told my command it was 'combat fatigue'... that my head was making it's own choices cause I didn't want to fly into battle no more. He called it 'fatigue,' but my commander called it something else... cowardice. I ain't no coward, Stuey... I just know that somewhere out there, there's an answer to all this. The end to this war. But it doesn't matter what I think, I guess. They made up their minds... I was yellow. "The Yellow Kid," they called me. Heh... I actually kinda like that name, believe it or not. It sounds like some crazy super-hero... or super-villain, whatever... I told you, I ain't picky. But yeah... that's why they sent me to Beaufort."

STU looked at his friend in amazement. If only he could know the truth of what he had really seen. Though STU couldn't be absolutely certain, he knew that what Billy had described could only be one thing. After all this time - even five thousand years on - the island from Bast's original home planet, which had been torn asunder by the enemy... was still on the move. STU knew, as soon as he was able to intercept Phineas, what his next course of action had to be. But first... he had to stop Phineas.

"Billy... that is truly an amazing story and, what's more... I do believe you."

"You do?"

"Yes. There are more things in this world than men can imagine, and I think you're very lucky to have found one."

"Yeah... well... thanks, Stuey. That means a lot. But... you know... fat lot of good that's gonna do us here, huh? That old island might be flashing around the world... but we still gotta hoof it. Unless any of your little 'familiar' animals want to start helping us out, huh?"

STU laughed. "Well... that is always a possibility, I suppose, but I honestly don't think that..." he suddenly paused, looking down the crest of the hill, as the morning's first light began breaking.

"What is it? What do you see?" Billy squinted down the hill and saw the small farm below. His eyes widened. "Aww... Stuey, kid... I knew you'd come through."

"Billy... this is not my doi..."

"Ahh... don't you worry, Stuey, I won't tell anybody. Looks like we're gonna beat old Phinny into London, after all. You stay here, kid, I'll be right back. It's time to steal us a couple of horses."

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Earth: The Home of H.G. Wells, London, England - October 21, 1918 AD

"You sure this is it, Stuey?"

STURat crouched down in the woodline as Billy tied up the horses. He looked through the moonlight at the stately home rising before him. After five days crossing the country, they had finally arrived.

"Yes... this is the home of Dr. Wells"

"So what next?" Billy crouched down next to STU. "Are we just supposed to walk up and knock on the door? I know you think that Phineas is heading here, but what makes you think this old guy is gonna just open up his doors for us - a couple of sorry-looking soldiers come knocking in the middle of the night."

"Honestly, Billy... I don't even know that he will. All that I know is that I can't let Phineas get to him first. Phineas is convinced that Dr. Wells has invented a working time machine, and - from the notes he wrote in the book - he is willing to do whatever it takes to get a hold of it. I know that you think that Phineas is crazy, but I really feel that he's just misguided. If he reaches Wells before I have a chance to talk to him, I fear what might happen. Phineas might go too far when he doesn't find what he's looking for - perhaps even try to harm the doctor - and then I will have lost the only chance I have to guide him back on the right path."

"Well... you're a more generous guy than me, that's for sure. But - if you say that this is important - then, all right, buddy... let's do it"

Billy was about to stand up when, suddenly, STU placed his hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Billy, I'm going in alone."

"W... what are you talking about kid? You think I went all this way with you just to bow out of the end game? Just because they call me the "Yellow Kid" don't mean it's true. Forget it... I'm going with you."

"No... you've already risked enough coming this far - and for that I truly am grateful - but I have no idea what Dr. Wells' reaction will be to all this. With a story like this... especially considering the source... he may very well wash his hands of it all and simply call the authorities. While that is no great harm for me... you are an officer in the Air Service, and escaped from a military hospital during wartime. Given your history, I have no doubt that this latest exploit would mean incarceration for you... quite possibly for a very long time."

"So... what... that's just it? 'Thanks a lot for breaking me out, Billy, for guiding me across the countryside... for stealing me a damn horse... but now we're quits'. That's a heck of thing, Stuey. I figured you for better."

"I'm sorry, Billy, it's for your own good."

"So what about Cuba?"

STU smiled. "You are still planning on escaping this country?"

"What else am I gonna do? You said it yourself... I got no chance of ever flying with the Service again. This war's got nothing for me. It's time for the Yellow Kid to find a new frontier to conquer."

"If that is your will, my friend, I am certain it will come to pass. You will want to know then, however, that my animal familiars of the feathered variety are noticeably absent from this area of the country."

"Huh? What's that supposed to mean?"

"My empathetic abilities allow me to sense that the birds of this area have long learned to avoid flying in certain patterns... lest they be harmed by the man-made aircraft flying out of the field... that lies not more than twenty miles to the east."

"Ther... there's an airfield near here?"

"Indeed. I can sense that if you ride less than two hours east, you will find an entire garrison of aircraft. They are guarded, of course - though I can't imagine that would prove too much of a hurdle for the great Yellow Kid."

Billy grinned from ear to ear. "Ahhh, Stuey... I knew you wouldn't leave me in the lurch. You're a good egg, kid. Call me crazy, but I got a feeling - before all this is over - you and me are going cross paths again. Two guys like us in a world like this? Trust me... there ain't no keeping us apart for too long. You ain't getting rid of me that easy."

"Of that I have no doubt. It is a long life and... after all... you are an immortal, aren't you?"

Billy laughed and stood up. "You're all right, kid. Listen... I don't know what you got planned for old Phineas, but - for what it's worth - if anybody has a chance of helping him, I'm sure it's you." Billy untied one of the horses and pulled himself up into the saddle. Rearing it about, he paused for a moment and reached inside his coat. "Oh... I almost forgot... Phinny's book. I was just kidding about you not having it. If you still want it, it's yours."

"That's all right, Billy. You were the one with the foresight to take it. If it hadn't been for your action, we never would have come this far. It is right that you should have it."

Billy grinned, placing the book back inside his coat. "Yeah... I'll tell you what... I'll just hold on to it for a while... a reminder of the time I met that time-traveling magician. Well... good luck, kid. See you in the funny papers... Havana, here I come! Hey ya!"

Billy gave the horse a light kick and began trotting off to the east.

STU watched as his friend disappeared over the hill. He had no doubt that Billy would be just fine. With a sigh, he turned back to the Wells estate. He wasn't quite so certain, however, what his own future had in store.


STU stood before the door of the Wells estate, listening as the footsteps descended the staircase inside. He steeled himself for the door opening, wondering exactly what he was going to say. Though he had come for Dr. Wells' benefit - as well as that of Phineas - STU had no illusions about how ludicrous a story it was. He was about to inform this writer that an escaped mental patient was on his way to steal a fictional device, but that it was imperative that - upon his arrival - he be remanded into the custody of another stranger who had arrived in the middle of the night. STU swallowed. Though he hated to do so, it was clear that this meeting might require the use a magical compulsion. Within a matter of minutes, however, STU would realize that all his misgivings would have been for naught.

The door opened, as the writer, H.G. Wells, stood before him.

"Doctor Wel..."

"Ah! Iron Rat! How wonderful! Come in, come in... did Cobie come with you?"

"Co... Cobie?" STU followed Wells inside, quite confused about what was going on.

"Yes, I had anticipated the arrival of several of your compatriots... tonight being a somewhat momentous journey, after all. I had quite expected that Cobie would be the first to arrive. I was certain that he would want to see me off... to savor the irony of it all."

"I... I'm afraid that I'm traveling alone, Doctor."

"Bah... no need to be so formal, Iron Rat. Ah, no matter. I'm certain that the rest of your teammates will be along shortly. My apologies, I had forgotten that you always did favor a more solitary travel, didn't you? Well... shall we retire to the library? I have just laid in the coordinates and fired the old girl up."

"Doctor Wells... I... I... am sorry, but I believe there may be a misunderstanding. My name is STU and..."

Wells paused and - looking again at his guest - slapped his head lightly. "Ah... my apologies, Stu... in the evening light, I had mistaken you as hailing from a later point. I had assumed you were already in your identity of Iron Ra... ah, perhaps I've said too much. You are clearly several years younger than I had first thought. Three thousand... emmm... one, I'd wager? Ah, no matter - I shall hold my tongue, lest I accidentally say too much, eh? In any case, please... this way into the library."

STU followed Dr. Wells into the library, his mind reeling. Somehow - though STU had only briefly glimpsed the doctor during his visit to the Beaufort hospital - Wells already seemed to be well acquainted with him. Could it be? Had Phineas been right all along? As Wells walked across the library and drew back the curtain on the far wall, all doubt left his mind. There - its gears already cranking and pulsating with a strange violet energy - was a machine that, for all intents, looked to be an almost exact replica of the illustrations STU had seen in Wells' book. There stood... the Time Machine.

"Well... don't just stand there with your mouth agape, son... I could use your assistance with the calibration. After all this time, I'm finally doing it. I have long fancied meeting him for the first time, you know... long before he ever met me. Yes, that's right... I am planning on going to the year 3000 to meet Coba..."

"Dr. Wells! Thi... this is incredible... I..."

"Oh, come now, it's not that incredible. I had to make the journey sooner or later and... I don't know... seeing all those boys so affected by this damned war... I decided that now should be the time."

"No... you don't understand. Your... machine... Dr. Wells, you must listen. I fear you are in grave danger. I believe someone is planning on coming here to attempt to steal this machine."

Wells sighed, "The Archduke, again?"

"The Arch... what? No, Dr. Wells... last week... you met a young man..."

"Yes... indeed you did, Dr. Wells," a third voice suddenly called out from the library door, as both Wells and STU turned to see him. Standing there - his own face marveling at the machine - was Phineas B. Fuddle.

"Who... what is the meaning of this?" Wells said gruffly. "Stu... is this boy one of your teammates? I don't believe I've ever... no... wait a moment... I do know you, don't I? Good lord... yes... you are that young lad, aren't you? From the hospital?"

"Oh... indeed I am, good doctor. I am the 'young lad' to whom you apparently so readily lied. To whom you so casually denied the existence of the very thing that now stands before us."

"Phineas," STU interrupted, "Just wait a moment... Dr. Wells isn't..."

Phineas spun toward STU who - up until now - he had barely noticed. "I beg your pardon? What did you just call me? Ha, ha... it's you! You are that silent American from the hospital, aren't you? How ever did you...?" Phineas shook his head. "Bah... I haven't the time for this nonsense. Doctor, let us make this brief, shall we? I wish no harm upon you. All I wish... is to use your machine."

"Oh... is that all?" Wells scowled. "I have no idea how you have found my home, lad... or what you think you are accomplishing by this ambush... but I'm afraid what you suggest is quite out of the question."

Phineas grinned. "Oh, you misunderstand me, Doctor. I wasn't asking you. I was merely informing you as a matter of courtesy. I will be taking the machine. For years you have been in possession of the most startling technology ever devised by man... and what have you accomplished? Nothing! You have written storybooks of its potential - grown fat on the profits gleaned by the fictional accounts of its capabilities - when, all the while, you've had the ability to use this machine to serve mankind! It was your duty to do so!"

"Phineas..." STU raised his hand to attempt to calm him.

"Silence, fool! I have no idea what your business is here... but my own is with Wells. Yes, Doctor... you have wasted the potential of this machine. Have you no conscience? No soul? All around you, a war wages. While innocents suffer, while people die... you do nothing to stop it."

"Lad... you haven't the foggiest notion of how the device works, do you? You speak of conscience? Of duty? If only things were as cut and dried as you suggest. Are you mad? Do you think I want war... want death? Of course not! But such things have already come to pass. The past has already been written, lad. The past... is immutable!"

"Enough! Enough of your lies!"

Phineas lunged toward H.G. Wells, his arms raised in rage. Before STU could even react, he was upon him.

"Phineas... no!"

STU leapt forward toward the pair - Phineas struggling to wrest Wells aside, Wells trying to hold back the much younger man. As STU grabbed the back of Phineas's jacket, Wells lost his footing and fell against the machine. All at once, the pulsating violet glow steadied and - with an increasingly high pitch - enveloped the trio.

And with that... all of reality tore open



STU heard a sustained sound of screaming. Phineas? The sound faded away, blending into a clipped, broken tone, then ceased to be a sound at all, breaking apart into an indecipherable blanket of component waves.

Perception warped all around him as light, sound, and sensation all merged into an indistinguishable whole. STU's mind raced as a sickening pulse washed over him. All focus began to fade as even his very body seemed to lose cohesion. Where was he? When was he? What was he?

Almost out of instinct, mind grasped on to the fragment of a memory.


Hand extended.

With a great effort, his mind enacted the thoughts that - somewhere - he knew corresponded to a hand reaching out... though in his current perception, such things as "hands" themselves seemed like no more than some abstract concept from long ago.

"SSSSSSSSS.......TTTTTTTT......UU....UUUUU..... UUUUU.....HO.....OOOO......LD....OOOOO......NNNN!"

What was that? A voice?

The word "Wells" arose in STU's mind. What did that mean? A face... a hand... a mind? STU couldn't fathom a distinction between any of these things, but - somehow - he felt a connection occurring between his own essence, and that of something called "Wells". Yielding to it, he gradually felt a pressure being exerted on what was beginning to coalesce into his own hand. It was being held by that of H.G. Wells. STU was being pulled up higher... nearer the center of the Time Machine.

"Hold on, Stu... almost there... I've got you..."

"Ph... ph... phineas?" STU stuttered up toward Wells.

"The boy? He couldn't hold on... we lost him. Just another moment, Stu... please... you are too heavy. We are almost there, but I can't hold you much longer. Please... just try to pull yourself up..."

STU heard the words and tried to make sense of them. Yes... pull himself higher. Still holding on to Wells hand, STU tried to swing the rest of his body higher. For a moment, it worked - his mind began to clear as he saw his leg borne up toward the machine. The motion, however, threw the rest of his body off balance, and he began slipping out of Wells' hand.

"Stu... no... just another moment... we are almost..."

"I... I can't...please... help..."

"Stu... nooooo!"

STU lost his grip, falling away from the machine and into the maddening chaos of the time stream.

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