A Sometimes Senseless World

Written by:
Linda Kay

BILL & TED characters are trademarks of Nelson 1991 Inc. The motion picture BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE & © 1989 Nelson Films Inc. All Rights Reserved. The motion picture BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY © 1991 Orion Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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He stood, studying the place setting with great concentration. After a moment he reached down and switched the positions of the fork and knife, then stared at it again. Nope, it looked right the other way. He switched the plastic utensils back again. Was that right? It had been so long since he'd tried setting a table. No matter which way he placed everything, it just didn't look right somehow. He tossed his head in defeat, deciding it looked good enough for paper plates. Besides, fried chicken usually didn't require knives and forks.

Satisfied with the decorated, albeit worn, card table in the dining room, Ted walked into the kitchen where the smell of burnt chicken still hung heavy in the air, despite the best efforts of the oven fans and open windows to clear it out. Testing the blackened pan carefully, Ted found it was now cool enough to handle and carried it to the open garbage can nearby to dump out the charred remains of what was to be dinner. Considering it a moment, he then dropped the burnt pan into the garbage as well. After overwhelmingly coming out on top in the Battle of the Bands and winning over the entire world there was little argument that Bill & Ted were indeed destined to become the most famous musicians to ever live. But, with a sigh, Ted resigned himself to the fact that they were undoubtedly two of the worst cooks in all of history, with the possible exception of Missy-Mom. He only hoped Bill got back from the Colonel's before the babes got home so they could still surprise them with a romantic dinner. With the table set, there was nothing left to do but wait.

While he waited, he slowly wandered through the different rooms, taking in everything with a deep sense of pride. While the furnishings weren't exactly classy.... in fact the rooms were mostly full of still packed cardboard boxes and mismatched second hand pieces from two decidedly different decorating schemes.... it was a home. Their home. A place where two families could build a life together. Thanks to the prize money from the band contest they were able to buy themselves a little place to settle down, with plenty of yard space for their sons to play in when they got older. Ted smiled when he thought about how their kids could hang out at the Circle K and San Dimas Mall, and on special occasions.... such as Sundays.... they could have the time of their lives at Waterloop, just like he and Bill did when they were growing up.

Still smiling, Ted sat down on one of the boxes in the living room and watched as the good robot Bill & Ted finished vacuuming the floor, which they simply did by walking around with their feet turned on. He couldn't wait until Elizabeth and Joanna came home from shopping with the babies to their surprise dinner. It was going to be a very special evening.

The sound of vacuuming came to a stop as the good robots finished. Ted looked up as they approached. "A most excellent job, good robot Bill & Ted! Thanks for helping clean up the house for the babes."

"Z'no problem...." both robots buzzed in somewhat crackly and weak voices.

"Whoa, you dudes must be totally run down!" Ted stood up and motioned to one of the wall sockets. "Now that we've got the electricity on, why don't you two take it easy the rest of the night and recharge?"

"Exzzzellent!" the robots chimed happily, sitting themselves down to plug their extension cords into the outlet.

Ted walked back toward the kitchen, leaving the robots to recharge. It was a convenient time for them to do so.... until they reached full power they would pretty much be out of commission. If they could get the babies asleep early, that would leave the house quiet for them. He glanced at his watch as he entered the kitchen. Bill certainly was taking long enough getting the food. There must have been long lines at the take out place.

He was about to open the refrigerator to make sure there were enough sodas when he heard a knock on the door. He couldn't imagine who would stop by at this hour when it was really too dark for door to door salesmen. His confusion grew as he approached the front door and heard the knocking again, realizing it was coming from the back door.

Turning around, he hurried through the house to the back door and stopped, pulling the curtains over the back door window aside as he flipped on the back porch light. With a happy exclamation of recognition, he quickly opened the door. "Rufus!"

"Greetings, Ted," Rufus nodded with a smile.

"Whoa, this is a most excellent surprise! What're you doin' here, dude?"

"I'm afraid I have not come on pleasant business, Theodore," Rufus answered gravely, making no move to enter the house. "A most heinous occurrence has taken place."

"What?" asked Ted, extremely concerned.

"It concerns Bill."

Ted's eyes grew wide with worry. "What about Bill?"

"I'm afraid he's been kidnapped."

Ted shook his head slowly. "No way!"

"Yes way," Rufus stated sadly.

Ted stood in shock, fumbling to find his voice. "When? How?"

"As far as we can estimate it happened only a short time ago, just outside some fast food establishment."

"But who would want to kidnap Bill?"

Rufus gave Ted a very concerned look, which scared him more than anything. "I fear our old nemesis, DeNomolos, was behind it."

"But he's on probation, isn't he?"

Rufus let out a short exhale of disgust. "Probation? What does that mean to a man like DeNomolos? No, I fear his allies in the future managed to return him to his own time, where he's apparently been planning this most non-triumphant act."

"No way," Ted repeated quietly. He looked to Rufus expectantly. "What can we do?"

"Come with me. I think I know where they've taken Bill, and we can still save him before something totally egregious happens."

"Okay!" Ted immediately agreed, moving to step out the door. Then he stopped, looking back into the house as if trying to decide something. "But what about the babes? They'll be home any time now."

Rufus held up his hands assuredly. "Don't worry. Once we've rescued Bill we can return to exactly this moment. The princesses won't even know you were gone."

Ted nodded, stepping outside and closing the door behind him. He could now see the phone booth standing just within the light of the porch. They hurried to the machine and Rufus held the door open as Ted stepped inside, entering himself after donning his dark glasses.

"Is Bill all right?" Ted asked worriedly as Rufus closed the door behind him.

"I hope so," Rufus sighed with little conviction, quickly dialing a number into the keypad. As the booth began to glow, he turned to Ted, the fear on his face apparent even behind the dark glasses. "It fills me with dread to think what DeNomolos may have in mind."

As the phone booth was pulled into the time circuit, Ted turned to stare at the infinite series of circuits stretching out in all directions around them. Rufus' words weighed heavily upon him, but he was determined to remain strong. If Bill were in trouble, he'd go through anything to help him.

Suddenly the booth exited the tunnel and dropped into the dark space between two black buildings. Waiting only a moment for the dust to settle, Rufus opened the door and stepped out. Ted followed him, looking around nervously at the quiet, seemingly abandoned warehouses standing nearby. He looked to Rufus and relaxed when he saw the calm expression on his mentor's face. "Bill's here?"

Rufus stepped away, looking around as if studying the place. "We're very close to DeNomolos' hideout. If Bill's in this time, that's where we'll find him." He looked back to Ted with concern. "It could be dangerous for you here. Maybe you'd better wait."

Ted stepped forward determinedly. "If Bill's in trouble, I wanna help him. Let me go with you."

Rufus studied him with a nod, then motioned for him to follow. "Stay close to me."

That was something Rufus needn't have bothered saying, as Ted stayed close behind, glancing around nervously.

After walking a short distance, Rufus stopped and motioned to an old fashioned manhole cover in the cement. "I believe this is the entrance," he stated, reaching down to take hold of the covering. With some effort he managed to lift it up, revealing that it actually swung upward on hinges. He motioned silently for Ted to follow as he climbed down a narrow ladder leading into the darkness. Ted carefully climbed onto the ladder and quietly lowered the cover behind them.

When he reached the bottom of the ladder he could see they were now standing in a cold, dank corridor which appeared to have been a working sewer at one time. Rufus began walking in one direction as if he knew where he was going, and Ted didn't argue with him. He was grateful for the man's guidance. This was one place where he wouldn't want to be alone. He hated to think Bill was somewhere in this smelly labyrinth by himself.

They travelled in silence for some time, checking various chambers and passages. As they walked, Ted had the sensation they were gradually moving further underground. The walls and open spaces showed signs of recent occupancy, and he wondered why, if this was DeNomolos' secret hideout, they hadn't seen anyone around. Surely DeNomolos still had his followers, and he couldn't imagine the man without a personal army around him at all times. He just seemed that type.

As they rounded a bend in the passage, Ted could see light ahead. They stepped into an enormous room which appeared to be some kind of conference area. It, too, was unoccupied. The walls were lined with openings leading to other passages like their own. Rufus entered the room cautiously as Ted watched from the corridor, hesitant to follow.

"Dude, where is everyone?" Ted asked softly.

Rufus didn't answer, instead stepping farther into the room. Finally Ted came up behind him, standing close as they took a few more steps toward the center of the chamber. "I got a weird feeling about this, Rufus. Something's not right here."

"Don't worry," Rufus said. "I think Bill's close now."

Ted was about to ask Rufus how he knew when he heard a shuffling sound in the corridor from which they'd come. He turned to see a person, dressed completely in black and carrying a large, lethal-looking weapon, step into view. Before Ted could say anything, every entrance was cut off by similarly clad guards wielding guns.

"Whoa, Rufus! What're we gonna do?" Ted asked.

Rufus didn't answer, but turned toward a door on one side of the room which was suddenly bathed in light. Ted followed Rufus' gaze as a huge and all too familiar figure stepped from the shadow of a wide corridor.

"Soooo," DeNomolos smiled with an evil glare. "We meet again."

With a great deal of courage, Ted stepped around Rufus and gave DeNomolos his best demanding look. "Where's Bill?"

DeNomolos shrugged innocently. "I believe he is arriving at your new home with an order of takeout chicken." His expression changed to one of mock sympathy. "It's a shame you're not going to be there."

The feeling of panic he'd been suppressing swelled as he backed away, swinging his head around to eye the guards as they stepped forward. He reached back toward Rufus, taking hold of the sleeve of his coat to lead him in no particular direction. "Rufus! C'mon! We gotta get outta here!"

Suddenly Rufus wheeled around, hooking one arm tightly around Ted's waist and pulling him back. Shocked by this action, Ted struggled to pull free, but found Rufus' grip incredibly strong. He looked up to see DeNomolos stepping toward them, and fought harder, digging his fingers into Rufus' arm to make him let go. His nails seemed to tear away portions of the cold, rubbery skin, and Ted could feel the arm beneath was as hard as steel. Looking down, he could see the metal framework and lighted circuits beneath the broken epidermis. Unable to believe his eyes, he craned to look behind him as the robot removed the dark glasses, exposing its glass eyes which burned a fiery red.

Terrified, Ted looked to DeNomolos, who was slowly approaching. He fought harder, trying desperately to break free of the robot's grasp. "No way!" he yelled out, repeatedly striking at the metal figure behind him as it grabbed his chin firmly with its other hand and held on tightly, forcing his eyes toward DeNomolos, who stepped closer and held up an ominous-looking weapon with three metal prongs on the end.

"No! Don't!" Ted begged as DeNomolos lowered the weapon and jabbed it sharply into his ribs. In the next instant he was hit by what felt like an electrical charge that surged through his body painfully. He let out a cry as his body jerked back and in the next instant he felt his muscles lose all control and his mind went blank.

The evil robot Rufus released Ted, who fell into an unconscious heap on the floor. DeNomolos stood over the motionless figure, glaring down with disgust. "So this is the great leader?" he asked rhetorically with a sneer. "They're all idiots!" He gave the limp body a sharp kick before turning away. "Take him to Sector C."

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

The Volkswagen bug pulled past the SOLD sign on the front yard and into the driveway, the sound of the latest Van Halen release playing on the radio. After pulling up on the parking brake with some effort, Joanna turned the key to shut off the ignition and climbed out of the car, as did her sister, Elizabeth.

"We're home!" Elizabeth sang to the two occupants of the backseat, even though they were facing away from her in their carseats. Each sister worked to release their baby from the safety devices.

"You've had a busy day, haven't you, Little Ted?" Joanna asked her light haired son as she lifted him from the vehicle.

"Looks like the boys are home," Elizabeth said, noting the green van parked in front of the garage as she pulled little Bill next to her and groped for the handles of her shopping bag.

"They're probably waiting for dinner," Joanna added as they walked toward the house.

Walking through the front door, the girls set down their bags and carried the babies into the dining room, where they saw a light burning. They were surprised to see the table set, complete with unlit candles.

"Oh my, what's all this?" Elizabeth asked, pointing the table out to Little Bill.

Joanna continued into the kitchen where she found Bill sitting at the counter with several bags of take out food next to him. "Hi, honey," she said lovingly, crossing the kitchen to kiss him on the cheek.

"Hi, Joanna," Bill said in a friendly but quiet tone. "Hey, Little Ted." He leaned over and kissed his son's forehead quickly.

"You picked up dinner for us? How sweet!"

"Yeah," Bill replied as if he weren't really there.

Joanna set Little Ted down in his high chair but looked over her shoulder, eyeing Bill with concern as Elizabeth entered the room. "What's the matter, honey?"

"I dunno," Bill said, looking as if he were trying to think of something. He looked up at Elizabeth strangely.

"Where's Ted?" Elizabeth asked innocently.

"That's just it. I don't know where Ted is."

"What do you mean?" Joanna asked, noting the worry in Bill's voice.

"We were trying to fix you girls dinner.... as a surprise." He looked slightly shy when confessing this. "But we totally burnt the food, so I went to get some take out and Ted was going to set the table. Only when I got home, he wasn't here."

"Well, the table's set," Elizabeth pointed out, setting Little Bill in his high chair next to Little Ted. "Maybe the robots know where he is."

"They're in the other room, charging up," Bill informed them. "If we interrupt them, they'll never charge up properly again." He shifted his weight with a frustrated moan. "Why wouldn't he leave a note or something?"

Joanna stepped next to Bill and put a hand on his shoulder. "Aw, Bill, don't worry. He probably just went down to the Circle K to get some sodas."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Bill agreed, standing up.

"We'll feed the babies, and by the time we're done Ted will be home and then we can have dinner," Joanna assured him, placing her arms around his neck to let him know she had figured out what they'd had in mind. Bill gave her a warm kiss and watched as she turned to get out the baby food. Elizabeth was already tying the bibs around the babies' necks.

Bill wandered into the other room, not wanting the girls to know how worried he really was. He had checked the refrigerator, and they already had more than enough soda. He knew how much this evening had meant to Ted, and he simply couldn't imagine why Ted would have gone out after they'd worked so hard to make everything just right.

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

Slowly regaining consciousness, Ted could still feel the tingly sensation coursing through his body, particularly in his lower arms and legs. It felt as if the circulation was cut off to his extremities, which was somewhat uncomfortable. As he tried to move, in the hopes of shaking off the feeling, he realized the discomfort wasn't just a reminder of that painful weapon. He was somehow restrained and unable to lift his arms.

Upon opening his eyes he could see he was in a somewhat darkened room with fans and vents all around leading to some unknown destination. Some light filtered down from them, showing the air was thick with dust, as if smoke had been pumped in for atmosphere. And that same smell of stale sewage was still prominent.

Again he tried to move, but he could feel the straps that held him down to the table he was lying on. They came up through slits which were cut at various intervals all along the table's length, and held his ankles, his waist, his wrists and his chest and shoulders. The only thing he could move was his head, which he turned to study his surroundings.

Several figures, dressed as the people had been in the large room where he was captured, stood all around, almost out of sight in the shadows. "What's goin' on, dudes?" he asked as

cheerfully as he could muster, but no one answered him.

The sound of footsteps approaching from the direction his legs were pointing made him lift his head in an attempt to see. Soon enough, DeNomolos stepped into view, standing over the table with a sneer of satisfaction.

"I trust you are.... comfortable."

"Well, not really," Ted confessed, not understanding the sarcasm in his captor's voice.

"Good." DeNomolos slowly walked around the table, forcing Ted to crane his neck to see him. He didn't speak for a long moment, making Ted a little more than nervous.

"What do you want with me?" Ted finally asked.

DeNomolos chuckled slightly, continuing to walk around the table as he spoke. "You must be very pleased with yourself." He looked down at Ted, who shrugged with confusion, so he continued. "Winning the Battle of the Bands.... bringing about world peace."

"Oh, that. Well, yeah.... it was a most excellent turn of events."

DeNomolos stopped and glared at him, as if Ted had said something infuriating. He leaned in closer, hissing viciously. "And I suppose you think that everything just got better immediately. World peace happens overnight, 'ey?"

Ted thought about this, then shrugged again.

"Well, it doesn't, my friend." He backed away, circling the table again. "Not everyone took to the idea of a peaceful world right away. A few wise souls continued their efforts in world domination.... only they were too weak.... too pathetic to pull it off successfully." He stopped at the foot of the table. "There were still wars. People were still murdered. The world was still a realistic place for some time after your triumph. Until the nations lost their nerve and signed the International Peace Treaty, which later became the Intergalactic Peace Agreement." He spat out the words, as if they were distasteful.

Ted eyed the man worriedly. "Am I going to be tested on this later?"

Ignoring the comment, DeNomolos began pacing the length of the table. "A travesty this should all come about, really. The future of war was so bright. New weapons were developed.... warfare which would have brought about a whole new era in death and destruction." His face gleamed with pride. "I have painstakingly collected all remaining recorded data of such things. They are stored here, in my Archives of Armageddon."

"Maybe you oughta switch to stamp collecting or something, dude," Ted suggested. "This hobby of yours sounds most heinous."

Again Ted was ignored. DeNomolos stepped toward the head of the table again, studying the effect of his words on his captive audience. "It was marvelous.... the technology that was developed..... only to be forever banned. Much of it never used. A pity." He eyed Ted closer. "Do you know my predecessors came up with a foolproof example of chemical warfare that could debilitate entire armies, rendering them completely helpless?"

"No way," Ted responded.

DeNomolos' smile broadened. "Yes way." He backed away slightly. "Unfortunately, it, too, was banned before it could ever be put to use. My researchers came across it in some war records from the 2100's they had managed to uncover and immediately brought it to my attention." He sighed deeply, as if daydreaming. "Oh, it was a wonder of technology! It could be administered in a wide variety of means. One whiff would take effect within hours, so smoke bombs could be highly effective and easily discharged from a safe distance. Entire cities, states, could have been rendered helpless in the course of one day! And even greater than simply disabling the unfortunate souls.... but actually driving them to insanity!"

Ted stared at the raving man with wide eyes, unable to believe anyone could derive pleasure from such thoughts.

"Food and water supplies were equally susceptible, as the chemical could also be ingested. Just think.... entire nations falling victim before they ever knew what hit them, simply by infiltrating the very things every human being must have to stay alive." He sighed, as if explaining all this had been a great relief for him, then turned away as a man approached with a tray. DeNomolos picked up something from the tray before turning back to Ted.

"Of course, I've always preferred a more direct approach."

He lifted the item he was holding to a position where Ted could see. Ted immediately began to struggle, eyeing the syringe with great trepidation. "No way," he gasped, desperately trying to pull his wrists free from the straps that were sharply cutting into his skin.

With an incredibly intent look on his face, DeNomolos reached down, pressing his left hand on Ted's face to turn Ted's head away from him and hold it down firmly as he raised the needle.

"No. Please, don't...." Ted's pleas went unheeded as DeNomolos pinpointed the exact spot on the exposed neck and pressed the sharp point against it, hesitating just a few moments to draw out the suspense and anguish. With a sudden and harsh move, he plunged the needle into the vein, delighting in the squeal of pain the action produced, and pushed down the plunger slowly, reveling in the feeling of complete domination it brought.

It seemed to take forever, but finally the horrible pressure was released as the needle was pulled from his neck and DeNomolos lifted his hand away. Slowly he turned to look at the heartless man, eyeing him with an overwhelming expression of fear and disbelief.

DeNomolos casually looked down at Ted, noting the horror he had subjected with some delight. "Don't worry," he assured Ted with a smile. "It shouldn't be very long before it takes effect."

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

After finally managing to clear a space big enough in the refrigerator, Joanna placed the bucket of fried chicken, which no one had the heart to eat, inside. After closing the door, she walked back into the living room, where Bill was just hanging up the phone. "Any luck?" she asked hopefully.

Bill looked disgusted. "No. Captain Logan says they can't declare Ted a missing person until twenty four hours have passed. He did say he'd see what he could do in the meantime, though."

Joanna sat down next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Try not to worry," she pleaded without much conviction. "I'm sure there's a good reason why Ted isn't here."

Bill looked at her earnestly for a moment, then turned away. Together they sighed sadly. They'd been over every logical reason why Ted would have left and none of them made any sense.

The sound of a baby crying seemed to get closer, and finally Elizabeth stepped into the living room, cradling the fussing infant in her arms. The child didn't cry with a howling shriek like some babies, but just a quiet sobbing that was somehow more sympathetic.

"Oh dear," Joanna sighed. "He still isn't asleep?"

"No," Elizabeth answered sadly, sitting down on a chair across from them, rocking the baby gently in her arms. "I've tried everything." She paused a moment, studying the child's face. "Ted sings him to sleep every night. I guess Billy's grown accustomed to the routine."

Bill and Joanna exchanged a concerned glance. Elizabeth looked as if she were about ready to cry, but was trying hard to stifle it. She exhaled shakily, which the baby responded to with a harsh whine.

"There, there, little Bill," she encouraged as best she could. "Daddy's coming home soon, I'm sure." Her face twisted slightly, looking now like she really would cry.

"That's it," Bill announced, getting to his feet and moving to the door.

"Where are you going?" Joanna asked worriedly.

Bill stopped at the front door. "I'm going out to look for Ted. Maybe somebody's seen him somewhere.... or something."

"Don't be gone long," Joanna begged.

Bill walked back and kissed her gently. "I won't stay out long. I just can't sit here and not do something. Y'know?"

Joanna nodded. "I know. Take care."

Bill opened the door and stepped outside. "I'll let you know right away if I find out anything." With that he closed the door and headed toward the van. Joanna and Elizabeth watched through the front window as it backed out of the driveway and disappeared down the street.

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

Apparently there was no way to get comfortable in this cell. It was comprised completely of stone; damp and moldy in places. There was only a single arched opening on the one side of the small enclosure and it was covered by thick metal grating. Only a portion of this grating swung open when unlocked, but he knew from a great deal of pulling and pushing that it was firmly locked.

Ted sat against the far wall, wondering why such a place had been built without the foresight of putting in a bed or chair of some kind. Then again, he concluded, comfort for any prisoners would probably not be high on DeNomolos' list of priorities.

Checking his watch again, he realized he'd been sitting alone in this dank place for well over an hour. He could've guessed it had been so long. He'd even grown accustomed to the sickening smell of sewage which had been so nauseating to him before.

Somewhat nervously, he looked down at himself, trying to see if there had been any obvious changes. Nothing looked different. He was somewhat surprised, having expected to be horribly ill or breaking out in scaly skin or something most heinously gross by this time. He hoped that somehow the chemical hadn't worked at all, and maybe he'd still be able to get out of this horrible place and back to Bill and the babes.

A nervous flutter came over his stomach as he thought about home. Deep down he was afraid. He really didn't know where Bill was, and he certainly couldn't trust DeNomolos to tell him the truth. It saddened him to think his best friend might be in a similar situation, also left to wonder what his fate would be.

He looked up as slow, steady footsteps seemed to approach. A shadow stepped between him and the light from the corridor, outlining the huge monster like an eclipse.

"So...." DeNomolos smiled. "How are we getting along, hmmm?"

Ted eyed him but didn't speak, not wanting to give the man the satisfaction.

"Huh.... very well." He motioned to someone behind him, and a man stepped forward, setting down a small basket before withdrawing. "I don't suppose you're hungry."

Looking away, Ted tried not to react to the statement. He was, in fact, very hungry, since he had not eaten dinner. He looked up after a moment when there was no further dialogue to see DeNomolos was now peeling an orange which he assumed came from the basket the other man had brought. The sight of this power-hungry maniac peeling his own food was somewhat intriguing, and Ted watched with confusion.

Making sure that Ted was watching, DeNomolos pulled out a small section of the fruit and popped it into his mouth, savoring it visibly. Despite his attempts to act uninterested, Ted couldn't keep his own mouth from watering at the sight.

DeNomolos held the rest of the orange through the bars. "Here.... eat. It is not my wish to starve you. I should prefer you remain alive for a while."

Ted turned his head away, not having any intention of falling for or being a part of any crazy scheme this man might have.

DeNomolos' expression changed to one of quiet anger. "You're not very grateful. Are you going to be an uncooperative prisoner?" When Ted didn't answer, he pulled the orange back through the bars. "Perhaps.... I should obtain a more willing subject. Let me think...."

Ted eyed the man worriedly as he thought.

"What is her name....? Elizabeth, I believe? Yes, perhaps she would be more...."

"No!" Ted protested, getting to his feet.

With a slight smile, DeNomolos once again pushed the orange through the bars. "Then here." Noting Ted's reluctance as he stepped forward, the man softened his tone. "I assure you, it's perfectly safe."

True, DeNomolos had eaten a portion of it himself, but the other half could still be poisoned. Ted took the orange carefully, not even sure if it wouldn't explode or something. He didn't trust this man at all, but he didn't want DeNomolos to make good on his threats. He stood, looking over the fruit for a moment, wondering what its purpose could possibly be. It certainly looked like a good orange.

He eyed DeNomolos again, noting the insistent look on the man's face, and resigned himself to whatever was going to happen. He ripped off a bit more of the peel and lifted it to his mouth to eat.

The second he'd taken a bite he knew something wasn't right. It didn't taste like an orange. In fact, it didn't taste like anything. He spit it back out immediately, wiping his mouth with his sleeve and eyeing the fruit with disgust.

"Is something wrong?" DeNomolos asked with obvious mock concern.

"What is this?" Ted demanded to know, lifting the orange to his nose to smell, only to find it had no smell whatsoever.

"It is an orange."

Ted shook his head seriously. "No way. It doesn't taste or smell like an orange. It's some kind of fake thing you created. One of those bogus food things you were talking about earlier."

DeNomolos smiled broadly, as if he were enjoying all this for some reason. "Regardless of what you may think, it is, indeed, an orange. Ripe and juicy and delicious." His smile widened. "It just proves my hard work is finally paying off."

"You're messing with my mind, dude!" Ted accused him angrily, throwing the orange through the bars past him. "What do you want from me?" he screamed, shocked at the way his voice cracked on the second half of the sentence.

DeNomolos' expression turned dead serious. "Everything."

Ted backed away as DeNomolos stood, staring at him with such hatred.

"It won't be long now." The man then turned and was soon out of sight, apparently not caring about the orange or whether Ted got anything to eat.

As he stepped back, Ted's foot caught on one of the uneven floor stones and he fell over, catching himself by grabbing at the wall. As he stood straight, he could feel a sharp pain and looked down to see he'd cut his finger on the edge of one stone.

Confused and scared, Ted sat down on the cold floor and automatically sucked on his finger to clean away the blood. After a second he realized something strange. Normally the taste of even a small amount of blood was very distinctive, only there wasn't any taste. He examined his finger and saw it was still bleeding.

Thinking a moment, he reached down and grabbed up a section of his shirt and pressed it against his face, breathing deeply. Nothing. He'd worn the shirt all day, yet it didn't have any scent of himself or of laundry detergent. Just.... nothing.

"What's happening to me?" he asked himself aloud, startled when his voice cracked again.

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

"No sign of forced entry. No evidence of foul play. Yet no one's seen him since last night." Captain Logan sat down on one of the nearby boxes, eyeing the tired and worried faces around him with an expression of helplessness. "I don't know what to tell you."

"There must be something you can do," Elizabeth sighed sadly. "Ted isn't the type to leave without telling anyone where he was going."

Captain Logan looked like he wanted to argue with that statement for a second, but stopped himself. Instead he settled for, "Are you sure he didn't say anything about having to go somewhere?"

"No way," Bill said emphatically. "The last ones to see him were good robot Bill and Ted, and they said he was here when they went to recharge and didn't say anything about leaving. They don't remember anything after that, though."

Captain Logan shook his head. "We can't officially declare him a missing person until tonight," he reinformed them.

"Isn't there anything we can do until then?" Joanna asked desperately.

"Well...." Captain Logan got to his feet. "I can spread the word throughout the precinct and put out an APB now."

"Oh thank you, Dad!" Elizabeth jumped to her feet and threw her arms around her father-in-law, then realized how awkward she'd made the man feel and backed away. "I mean, Captain."

He patted her shoulder with a smile. "That's okay, Elizabeth." He turned to the others. "You might want to contact the media as well. Seeing how popular you all are, they'd probably be interested to know Ted's missing, and it might speed up the search."

"Excellent idea," Bill nodded. "I'll do that."

"I'll contact the station." Captain Logan opened the front door, then stopped and looked back. "Try not to worry. I'm sure Ted will turn up soon."

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

Even though the position in which he was sitting on the uneven stones was painful, he remained huddled in the corner of the cell, waiting with dread for DeNomolos to reappear. He knew the man would eventually.

Shortly after DeNomolos had left, someone down the hall began playing music, if it could be called that, really loud. The strange synthesized squeals and tones didn't have any particular rhythm that he could fathom, and he thought how heinous it would be, if DeNomolos succeeded in taking over the world, that this could possibly be future top 40 radio fare. Even more annoying was the fact that it was apparently being played on a very poor sound system, as the music kept cutting in and out. He could almost picture the loose cord leading to the speakers. He was trying his best to ignore this obnoxious distraction, but it was becoming nearly impossible.

A shadow crossed the floor in front of him and he pushed himself farther against the stones as DeNomolos appeared. He hadn't heard him approaching this time.

"Getting settled in at last, I see," the man smiled with an evil twinkle in his eyes.

Unable to hold back his anger any more, Ted lurched forward in his spot. "Go to Hell!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. Only no sound escaped from his mouth. He fell back immediately, clutching at his throat.

"Oh dear," DeNomolos cooed. "What's the matter? Cat................ tongue?"

Ted glanced up at DeNomolos in confusion. The expression which was returned was one of great pleasure. "Why are you doing this?" Ted mouthed, horrified at his inability to speak.

DeNomolos' face grew serious. "At last, the fulfillment............. dreams. I will finally see to it that you never create the music which leads to this useless society. No longer................ two fools." He pointed at him bitterly. "You will............ here forev.....!"

Ted shook his head as if hoping to shake something back into place. Now DeNomolos' voice was going silent like the music had been doing. He looked up and saw the man still ranting and raving, but no words were coming out of his mouth and the sound of the music was also completely gone. He couldn't even hear his own breathing, which was becoming rapid as he realized what was happening.

A sudden gesture brought his attention back up to the man on the other side of the bars. He was holding up his index finger and mouthing something. "One...." Could it be "One more"? He walked away slowly, apparently laughing.

Pulling his knees close to his body and hugging them tightly, Ted sat terrified, contemplating what DeNomolos meant by his final sentence. He had a pretty good idea what would happen next, and the prospect horrified him. He shivered from fear, realizing he would soon be completely at this monster's mercy.

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

"I feared as much." Rufus spoke gravely, looking over the information the Three Most Important People were displaying in front of him.

"It is most egregious that the unauthorized activity within the Time Circuits was not detected until it was too late," the hovering woman stated.

"Indeed," the Supreme Most Important Person concurred. "We did not realize anything had happened until the changes in the past began to manifest themselves."

"The announcement of Ted's disappearance prompted us to open this investigation," the Third Important Person continued. "We have now positively traced this unauthorized time journey to the date Ted vanished."

"I see," Rufus hummed, far ahead of them in thought. He had located the point of arrival and was not surprised to see that the booth in question had returned to their time. The location was also of interest to him, and not completely unfamiliar.

"We must locate Ted and return him to the past," the Most Important Person stated with great emphasis.

"Undoubtedly," Rufus again agreed, still studying the location. "I fear he may be in grave danger."

"But who would perpetrate such a bogus act?" the Female Important Person asked.

"I'm afraid it is our greatest adversary.... Charles DeNomolos."

The Three Most Important People exchanged worried glances. "He has returned to our time then?" the Supreme One asked.

"It would appear that way," Rufus confirmed. "The booth arrived in an area very close to DeNomolos' old headquarters. I believe that is where Ted was taken."

"But DeNomolos was arrested in 1991!" the Female Important Person pointed out. "How could he be allowed to escape?"

Rufus turned to them sympathetically. "You must remember, there were never any serious charges against him.... not serious enough to require a lengthy jail sentence at that time, anyway. Do not forget, the man once escaped death. I hardly think probation six centuries ago would scare him into civil obedience."

"It is of utmost importance that the Great One be located immediately," the Supreme Important Person announced.

Rufus nodded his head to them. "I shall attempt to locate him myself. It will be easier to infiltrate the premises on my own. If I find the situation beyond my capabilities, I shall contact the Halls of Excellence immediately to request assistance."

"We will give you an allotted amount of time to locate him," the Supreme One suggested. "If you do not return, we shall send a group to investigate and infiltrate DeNomolos' retreat."

"Very well," Rufus agreed. "Let us just hope we are not too late."

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

Rocking slightly in the corner where he sat curled, Ted consulted his watch again. It had become a nervous habit as he waited alone, wondering with great trepidation what fate awaited him. His cell had become a foreign place to him, recognizable only by sight. Each time he looked up and found his surroundings to appear somewhat blurry or distorted, a wave of panic came over him until he blinked or rubbed his eyes to find that it had either been fatigue or tears which had blurred his vision. As he looked around, he wondered if it were day or night. Things did seem somewhat darker than he remembered, especially in the corners of the cell.

Two blurry figures suddenly moved into his peripheral vision and he turned as they approached the bars of his cell. He didn't recognize either of them. One apparently was a guard, but the woman with him didn't seem to be in any kind of uniform. The man pointed at him through the bars as the woman leaned in closer, gawking as if she couldn't believe her eyes. Both stood unsteadily and appeared to be giggling constantly, giving Ted the impression they had been indulging in alcoholic revelry sometime earlier. The woman opened her mouth as if she were squealing noisily, prompting the guard to hold up a finger earnestly to shush her.

Ted turned away in disgust. He wished there were something in the cell to hide behind, as he didn't particularly feel like being the showcase for some drunk guard to impress his girlfriend. He lowered his head into his knees, trying to disappear in the spot where he was, but he couldn't resist peeking up at them to see if perhaps they'd gotten tired of staring at him and left. It was with some despair he noticed that looking at them was like watching an old silent movie with the outsides of the screen closing into a circle to highlight the action within.

The guard again motioned for the woman to be quiet and moved toward the door of the cell, fumbling with his keys for some time before finally finding the right one and fitting it successfully into the lock. Ted lifted his head as the man entered, much to the apparent delight of the woman. He motioned to her to shush again before turning to Ted with a sly sneer. Ted pushed himself further against the wall as the man approached, reaching down to retrieve a long knife from his belt sheath. Eyeing the approaching blade with wide eyes, Ted pushed himself as far into the corner as he could, having no where else to go. As the guard bent over him, he turned his head away, closing his eyes tightly.

A moment later he cringed as he felt the guard roughly grab a large handful of his hair and saw at it with the knife until he'd managed to cut off a generous amount. As the man withdrew, Ted looked up at him angrily. The guard stood over him with a dominant air, then lunged out suddenly, jabbing the knife toward Ted menacingly.

Startled, Ted cowered again, then looked up to see the guard walking away, laughing and stumbling as he left the cell. The unsteady man spent a moment on the lock and then turned to the woman, who accepted the lock of hair with great enthusiasm. Ted watched all this in disbelief, unable to comprehend their pleasure at such cruelty. The woman waved his own hair at him nastily just before the guard led her away, eyeing her with the expectation of his favor being returned.

Dropping his head into his folded arms, Ted felt like crying but surprisingly found he just didn't have the energy. He sat there a moment, trying to collect himself, then looked around. The cell was even darker than before. Looking at the bars was like looking through a tunnel. He got up and walked toward the light of the outside corridor, hoping his vision would improve. When it didn't, he pressed his face against the bars, wishing he could wake up from this nightmare.

Looking down at the floor, he tried to take in everything he could, knowing it wouldn't be long before the world was completely gone. He noticed the way the moss grew on the edges of the stone, how the light cast a shadow from the bars on the floor, how uneven the shadow became where the door to the cell was....

Lifting his head from the bars, Ted studied this more carefully. It somehow didn't look right. Surely the door would align with the bars when closed. He stepped toward it slowly and reached out, pulling slightly. He was startled when the door swung gently in his direction. He looked around nervously, afraid someone would see. Realizing no one was nearby, he examined the door more carefully. The lock's bolt was out but hadn't hooked into the space allotted for it. Obviously the drunk guard hadn't closed the door properly behind him.

Ted's heart fluttered wildly. Here was a chance to escape. He wondered if it would be worth any punishment DeNomolos could devise if he were caught. Then he realized this would probably be his only chance. He had to go now while he could still see. Slowly, he opened the door and glanced up and down the corridor before scurrying from the cell and down an adjoining tunnel.

He didn't know where he was going, so he just followed the corridors and hoped they would lead him to an exit. He walked quickly down the seemingly endless passageways, praying at every turn that no one would see him.

Approaching a corner, he leaned around and spotted several guards standing in the walkway, talking among themselves. Suddenly they jumped, as if something had startled them, and turned in unison, running in his direction. There was no time to run, so Ted pressed himself against the wall as they dashed past his corridor and on down their tunnel. He sighed after they'd passed, then ducked into the hallway from which they'd come, moving at a more urgent pace.

After passing through another series of corridors, he entered a large walkway. A movement caught his eye slightly above him and he looked up to see a red light flashing wildly. Somehow he knew it was probably accompanied by a screeching alarm, and that it was alerting the guards to his escape. He hurried past the light, determined not to be caught.... not after all this.

Stumbling around the bend of a curved tunnel, his arm bumped painfully into something sticking out of the wall. Reaching back, he realized it was a metal ladder leading upward. He peered through the darkness of his own sight and could barely make out the outline of a manhole cover above. He remembered entering through just such an opening with the evil robot Rufus, and lunged at the ladder, pulling himself up clumsily.

Pushing with all his strength, he finally managed to lift the manhole and slide it far enough aside so he could squeeze out. Once outside, he stood gasping a moment and taking in his surroundings. The sky was dark, but still lighter than the empty warehouses which stood around him ominously. He started running down the narrow street until he reached an intersection. He looked around with growing worry; the tunnel he could still see through was steadily becoming narrower; yet he could make out that no matter which way he turned it would lead to a seemingly endless series of streets and warehouses.

Turning around, he spotted several dark spots of movement only a few warehouses away. They appeared to stop and then head in his direction. Immediately, Ted started running up the street out of their sight and kept up a furious pace, turning different corners occasionally and hoping he was going in the right direction. After several blocks he could make out what looked like an end to the buildings ahead. With renewed hope, he quickened his run until he reached the end of the street, which connected with another street running perpendicular to it.

He screeched to a halt at the low wall opposite the warehouses and took in as much of the view as he could. He now realized the warehouses were on a higher level than the city which stretched out below. He turned his head to scan the horizon, which stretched on endlessly. Surely there was someone in that whole expanse of city who could help him.... only how did you get down there?

Glancing down, his hopes jumped when he saw several young people standing next to a car in front of what looked to be a club. They appeared to be saying goodnight to each other. Desperately he called out to them, waving to get their attention. "Help! Please, help me!" But they took no notice of him. He then remembered about his voice being gone and wondered how else he might signal to them. But two of the people had already climbed into the car, which drove away as the others walked back into the building.

Turning to look behind him, Ted realized it probably wasn't safe to stay in one place for long. He decided to head toward the right, hoping to find some means of getting down into the residential area.

After a short time, he reached an open area with large cement structures which apparently had been built to hold trees and provide sitting spaces for lunchtime, although the greenery had been reduced to bare branches. The road he was on came to a dead end, so he turned right along another warehouse across from the former park area. Once he reached the end of the warehouse, he turned the corner and came to a sudden stop, having walked into the view of several guards who stood with their guns at the ready. Thankfully they were facing the other direction, and he had time to duck back around the building.

The world around him was now just a small opening in otherwise complete darkness, and the close call made him realize he couldn't elude the guards for much longer, not being able to hear them approaching. He eyed one of the cement structures, noticing that the edges of it, which could double as benches, were raised above the ground about one and a half feet. Without a second thought, he ran across the walkway and jumped down, pushing himself back underneath the cement overhang. Once he was back as far as he could go, lying flat on his stomach with about two feet between him and the edge, he lay still, his heart racing furiously as he waited.

What felt like several long minutes passed, and he slightly raised his head in an attempt to look at his watch. He found he couldn't see his watch, let alone the time, through the darkness. His eyesight had become too narrow to make out any detail.

Suddenly, what looked to be several pairs of black boots appeared, coming in his direction. He lay motionless, trying not to breath as they drew closer, becoming only slightly more defined. They stopped in front of where he was lying and stood, becoming darker and darker. He fought not to move as complete panic gripped him and the boots disappeared into darkness.

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

The man shook with fear, wondering why he had been the one chosen to deliver the news. He stepped back as DeNomolos spun on him, furiously.

"What do you mean he can't be found?!"

The man shivered nervously. "They've searched everywhere! He's just.... disappeared, sir."

DeNomolos slammed his fist down angrily. "He can't have just disappeared! You worthless cretins! If I find out who was careless enough to let him get away, I'll have their head!"

"Yes, sir. I know you will, sir. I.... I just need to know.... what should we do now?"

DeNomolos leaned toward the man threateningly. "They had better find him before sunrise, or everyone will pay! Do you hear me???"

"Yes sir! I'll inform the ranks, sir! We'll find him, sir!"

"And bring him to me unharmed, if possible." He turned away as the man took the opportunity to leave. "I want the pleasure of punishing him myself."

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

Quietly he slipped along the walls, making his way to the upper level. Once there he looked around carefully before stepping forward into the streets. He'd already been lucky enough to avoid encounters with three of DeNomolos' guards. He couldn't remember ever seeing so many of the men out in the open at one time before.

Crossing the street, he passed quietly along the side of one warehouse, trying to remember where the entrance to DeNomolos' lair was. He seemed to remember it was on the other side of the district, which meant he still had a way to go. He hated to think how many guards might be around the hideout itself, seeing he'd encountered so many this distance away. He was beginning to wonder if it had been such a good idea to come alone. Apparently something big was happening; maybe even more than he'd predicted.

Upon reaching the recreation area, he looked around to see no one. Apparently the guards had mobilized and moved on to another area already. He decided it would save time if he crossed through the park diagonally into the east side of the now abandoned warehouse district.

Moving swiftly and silently, Rufus darted through the somewhat open area, listening carefully for the sound of anyone approaching. He was almost through the park when he heard something and came to a stop, glancing around nervously. After a moment the noise repeated itself, only it wasn't the sound of approaching footsteps or guards talking. It was more like an almost inaudible scuffling.

Rufus looked around carefully, trying to pinpoint the cause of the noise, but there was nothing in sight. He took a few more steps when he heard it again, only slightly louder this time. It was down low somewhere was all he could ascertain. Looking down, he studied the cement structure in front of him, then got down on his knees, bending over to look beneath, where he assumed the sound had to be coming from. His eyes widened with shock when he did so. He could just make out Ted, lying on his stomach in the narrow space, looking terrified.

"Ted!" He was somewhat surprised when Ted didn't react to his voice. Bending over further, he spoke more earnestly, keeping his voice down just in case. "Ted?"

When Ted still didn't respond, Rufus laid down on his side and reached underneath to touch Ted's arm. As he did so, Ted's whole body jerked back suddenly and he hit his head sharply on the cement above him. Ted pushed himself as far back as he could; his eyes wide with fear.

"Oh Ted, hey.... it's just me. Rufus."

Ted still didn't answer. Rufus could see he was visibly shaking and became very concerned. "It's okay. Come on. I'll take you out of here."

Thinking Ted might be in shock, Rufus reached into the space and grabbed Ted's arm to pull him out. Ted began fighting back, struggling and pulling away. But Rufus was determined and pulled harder, grabbing him with his other hand and pulling him forcibly out of the space.

Once Ted was mostly clear of the enclosure, he tried to get up and run, but Rufus held on to him, pulling him back down to his knees. "Hey, come on. I'm here to help you, Ted! It's me.... Rufus!"

Rufus was startled when Ted became wild, striking him furiously as he tried to pull free. Still he refused to let go, taking the blows as he held on to Ted's arm and tried to calm him. Finally, exhausted, Ted stopped struggling and slumped down, dropping his head as if in defeat; his mouth open as if he would cry but no sound coming out.

Realizing he had to get Ted out of there as soon as possible, Rufus took hold of his shoulders and shook him gently. "Come on, Ted. Snap out of it. We have to get out here. Do you hear me? We have to get out of here!"

Ted raised his head and reached out to push the arms away, then stopped. He followed the arms with his hands then reached out to touch the front of Rufus' coat, concentrating on the pin he wore on his lapel. Rufus looked down, trying to figure out what Ted was doing. Ted's hand then came up to his face, feeling his beard before moving up to his cheek and nose. Rufus eyed Ted more closely, raising his own hand which he passed in front of Ted's face, noting the way Ted's eyes stared straight ahead, not focused on anything. Ted's whole body seemed to sag and Rufus observed with some pain as Ted's bottom lip began to tremble and he mouthed his name, "Rufus", without actually saying it.

"Oh no...." Rufus heard himself whisper, pressing his hand against the side of Ted's face as a tear rolled down Ted's cheek. "Oh Ted.... what have they done to you?"

He pulled Ted close to him, embracing him tightly. As Ted sank into him, sobbing softly, he cursed himself for not getting there sooner to prevent this from happening. He sat for a minute, not wanting to disrupt this comfort he knew Ted needed so badly, but he knew he had to get Ted to safety.

"Come on. I have to get you away from here." He shifted his position, pushing Ted slightly away from him as he moved his arms around Ted and struggled to help him to his feet. After a moment, Ted managed to get his balance and Rufus led him back the way he'd come, hoping beyond all hope they wouldn't run into any of DeNomolos' guards on the way.

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

Shifting his weight slightly, he sank further into the cushioned seat and pulled the coat, which was draped somewhat clumsily over his shoulders, tighter around him. While his world was still one of darkness and silence he was aware of the movement beneath him; the constant vibration and sudden speed changes that told him he was in some kind of vehicle, and one without much legroom, he noted with some discomfort. At least the seat belt which had been placed around his waist and shoulder didn't cut across him at a painful angle like the ones in the van did whenever he tried to get comfortable on a long road trip. He turned onto his side as best as he could manage and exhaled in utter exhaustion, relieved that he was relatively safe but still terrified of this sudden and complete helplessness.

After he had turned onto the last straightaway, Rufus looked over at Ted, sadly noting the drawn, vacant look in his partially closed eyes. The aura of despondency that surrounded his passenger was so unlike Ted's natural effervescence it was unnerving. Compassionately, he reached over and gently brushed aside the hair that hung clumsily over part of Ted's face, inadvertently startling Ted for a moment. Lightly, Rufus rested his hand on Ted's head, which Ted lowered back to rest against the seat, and spent a few moments stroking the dark hair softly, which seemed to relax Ted even more. Turning his attention somewhat back to driving, he pulled his hand away and replaced it on the steering wheel. No sooner had he done this than Ted's left arm emerged from within the coat and reached out toward him searchingly. Rufus offered his hand again, which Ted took hold of gratefully. He didn't take it back again until they had reached their destination.

The steady movement gradually slowed until it had stopped. The hand reluctantly pulled away from his grasp and there was a rocking movement as if some weight were being lifted from the vehicle. A sudden sharp movement informed him Rufus had apparently climbed out, closing the door behind him. Realizing they must have arrived at wherever they were going, Ted sat up and automatically felt for the door handle, but he couldn't figure out how the door was supposed to open. He sighed as he stopped groping the smooth surface, realizing he didn't know anything about this form of modern transportation or where to begin looking for a way out. Seconds later a slight rocking and a cold breeze of air, accompanied by a pair of guiding hands, solved the problem. He climbed out carefully and stood, feeling awkwardly off balance without any sense of where he was. He was relieved when the arms came around his shoulders, slowly leading him forward.

They moved slowly, pausing occasionally when there were stairs or inclines. Rufus allowed Ted to lean into him as they walked, using his body as a guide and support. Luckily they didn't have too far to go, and Rufus refused to be distracted by the stares of the few people who happened to see them pass and came to their doorways to gaze in utter amazement and apprehension.

When they entered the Great Hall, the Three Most Important People sat forward slightly. "Rufus! You have located Ted!" the Female Important Person stated with surprise.

"This is indeed most excellent," the Supreme One stated calmly.

"I fear it is not as excellent as it may appear," Rufus corrected them sadly, repositioning his arms to help Ted remain steady.

"He is hurt," the woman noted with dismay.

"Most egregiously, I was not in time to spare him much suffering at the hands of DeNomolos, Most Exalted Importantnesses."

Silently, the Supreme One leaned toward them, holding his hands out invitingly. Rufus stepped forward, guiding Ted's arms toward the floating mentor until the Supreme One had warmly taken hold of his hands. The man spent a moment studying Ted's face with growing trepidation.

"Oh Rufus..... he is without sight."

"And hearing," Rufus added sadly. "And I think perhaps speech. Maybe even more." Rufus couldn't remember ever seeing such a look of sadness on his leaders' faces before, and it chilled him to his heart.

"Why? Why would anyone want to do this to our Great One?"

Even without his senses, Ted felt awed. The warmth of the hands that were holding his.... the way they were elevated.... he knew who this was. He'd only been there once before, but he knew. As the hands released him, he stepped back of his own volition, feeling he must somehow show his respect. Unable to think of anything else, he slowly air guitared, certain his meaning would come across.

This action only managed to produce more heart-wrenching sympathy than he could have imagined. The Three automatically returned the gesture, regardless of Ted's inability to see it. Once done, Rufus stepped forward and placed his arms around Ted again, straightening the coat which had fallen lopsided when Ted had motioned.

"We must help Ted," the Supreme Important Person stated seriously.

"Most assuredly," the other two agreed.

"I will take Ted to one of the guest rooms," Rufus informed them. "We must keep him here until we know exactly what was done to him and how to rectify it."

"Yes, Rufus. We trust you to make sure he gets the best care while he is in our time."

"Certainly," Rufus nodded, turning Ted to lead him out of the domed area.

A group had gathered outside the door, stepping back as the pair exited. Rufus motioned to a woman who was standing nearby to follow them as they made their way down the long corridor.

"What do we need, Rufus?" the woman asked as she walked somewhat behind them.

"Are any of the guest suites available?"

"I believe several are ready right now. The Non-Heinous, Bodacious and Most Excellent Suites should all be vacant."

"I think the Most Excellent Suite would be the best. We'll need medical experts to advise us immediately."

"I can send for them right away," the woman assured him.

"Outstanding. I'll get Ted settled in. He desperately needs some rest. Make sure everyone knows he is not to be disturbed without expressed permission from the Three Most Important People."

"I'll get on it right away." She hurried off to set things up as Rufus and Ted continued to the guest quarters of the Halls of Excellence, an area generally reserved for visiting dignitaries and historical personages of significance.

Rufus led the way into the modest but comfortable quarters labeled as the Most Excellent Suite. The room was akin to a high rated hotel room, complete with bed, bath and an entertainment center stocking all of the Wyld Stallyns CDs and hologrammatic videos. Rufus stepped back to close the door behind them, leaving Ted standing in the middle of this room where he turned his head as if he could somehow make out his surroundings. Ted took a cautious step forward on his own, then another before bumping into the large bed which was in front of him. He reached down and felt the edge of it, pushing down on the mattress to make sure it was what he thought. Rufus stepped next to him and took his coat back, setting it aside for the moment. He moved toward the head of the bed to pull the covers down when he noticed Ted was standing somewhat oddly, his knees drawn together slightly but noticeably.

Ted felt Rufus' hands on his shoulders, turning him to walk again, which he complied with although he had no idea where he was being led this time. He found himself concentrating fiercely on everything, trying to properly picture himself in each new environment. Rufus guided him ahead as they moved through a doorway where they paused for just a second. He was then led forward until Rufus' subtle direction indicated he should stop. A moment later his hands were again directed in front of him, slightly downward, where they came in contact with something cool and smooth with sloped edges almost in the shape of a complete circle. He released a sigh, wondering how Rufus had known but grateful nonetheless. He quickly relieved himself, turning around when he was finished.

He was then led back through the doorway and was left standing again. He felt around him, but there was nothing within reach, so he waited for Rufus to return, which he did quickly. Soon he was at the bedside again, only this time the textured bedspread had been pulled away, leaving the smooth, cool sheet exposed. At Rufus' urging he sat down on the edge then slowly lowered himself to lie across the bed, his head finding the pillow in its appropriate place. As he settled himself down, he felt Rufus untie his right shoe and pull it off, then the same with the left one. A moment later the blankets were pulled up over him and patted down gently. It reminded him of the way his mother used to tuck him in when he was a boy, and he closed his eyes, pushing the side of his face into the pillow as if to force the world away from his thoughts. His ordeal had left his emotions raw and he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep and escape from reality. As tired as he was, it wasn't long before he was able to do so.

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

"How does that look?"

Bill nodded approvingly, although not with much energy. "It is most excellent. Thanks for your help."

"It's the least I can do," the record store owner replied, checking one more time to make sure the Scotch tape was firmly holding the piece of paper to the window. Once finished, he leaned around to the entryway to look at Bill, who was standing just outside the store. "I hope he turns up soon."

"Yeah, me too. Well, thanks Mr. Anderson." He turned and walked away, looking around quickly to see if there were any nearby stores he had missed. Nope, that appeared to be the last one. Everyone seemed more than willing to hang their somewhat amateurishly photocopied "missing person" signs, and between the princess babes and himself they seemed to have the entire San Dimas Mall covered.

As if on cue the girls appeared at the top of the escalator. The babies, which were strapped to their fronts, appeared to enjoy the ride down unlike the girls, who looked exhausted.

"We got all the stores on the upper level," Joanna informed Bill as they approached.

"Everyone's being most helpful," Elizabeth added, shuffling the remaining signs in her hand to straighten them. "Maybe it will help."

"It's better than doing nothing," Joanna stated, then turned her attention to something else. "Oh, look."

They turned to where she was pointing. In the huge windows of an electronics store across from them, row upon row of television sets, all tuned to the CBS Evening News, had Ted's picture on them as a news reporter spoke seriously about his mysterious disappearance nearly forty eight hours ago. The girls watched as Bill walked over to the store, staring at the screens through the glass. As the lengthy report came to a close, Bill leaned forward slightly, pressing his forehead into the glass as his shoulders sank.

Joanna and Elizabeth looked at each other worriedly. While they had not openly discussed it, both had noticed a significant change in Bill's behavior over the last two days. He seemed to grow more despondent as time dragged on with no clues as to Ted's whereabouts. His usual, optimistic attitude was growing darker and his whole demeanor had become draggy and lifeless. It was as if a part of him were dying.

The girls walked over to the electronics store and Elizabeth waited as Joanna stepped behind Bill, placing her hands on his shoulders. "Bill? Honey, let's go home. The babies need to be fed."

Bill turned to her and nodded, taking her hand. "Yeah. We can go around more of the neighborhood tomorrow, huh?"

She smiled warmly, which always made her look so pretty, but it was short lived. "Most definitely."

They walked over to Elizabeth and Bill placed a supportive arm around her waist as they headed for home.

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

The world was dark and muddy; the stench of raw sewage hung heavy in the air. All around him were hideously deformed, looming figures. He wanted to run, but there was no where to go. They seemed to close in on all sides. He had the sickening sensation of being prodded by them out of curiosity. Above them he could see one huge, monstrous outline, which laughed incessantly. Everything was exaggerated.... the sights, the sounds, the smells....

Then suddenly everything was darkness. His mind was complete confusion. He felt trapped, as if everything had closed in around him, cutting off all surroundings. It seemed like he was dreaming, and he wanted to wake up but he couldn't. He sat up and concentrated, his eyes clenched tight.... telling himself repeatedly that he was awake and would find himself at home in bed. He opened his eyes.... and there was nothing.

The tightness in his chest increased as he breathed deeply, trying to make sense of it. He had to be awake.... but he couldn't wake up. He threw his sweaty face down into the pillow.... yes, he could feel it. He was in bed! He had been asleep. He looked up quickly.... still nothing.

Suddenly it came back to him. DeNomolos.... the injection.... his escape and then everything going blank. Then Rufus came, like an angel out of nowhere and....

He paused; his body stiff. Where was he? It could be anywhere. He'd put complete faith in Rufus.... but how did he know it was really Rufus? DeNomolos had tricked him before. True, it wasn't a robot version of Rufus, but it could have been someone dressed like him. The ride in the car.... they could have easily been going in circles for all he knew. He could just see DeNomolos now, playing with his mind.... teasing into a state of complete trust and then torturing him with his heartless tricks. It was just like him to come up with something this elaborate. He wanted more than anything to believe he was safe, but he just didn't know. And that dream....

Rufus walked alongside the female doctor as they made their way down the corridor to the suites. "Is that all you could ascertain, Andrea?"

"Without waking him, yes. He's definitely blind and deaf, and he certainly didn't react to either smell or taste. And I'm sure that wound on his neck was the cause.... some kind of injection. We'll need to do a full analysis. I suspect we may even need to take a blood sample."

Rufus cringed. In their modern age of medicine the taking of blood samples was not a common occurrence and only done when something escaped all other diagnosis. "If it is necessary."

"It may be." She noted the look of concern on his face. "We will do all we can, Rufus."

Rufus eyed her appreciatively. "I know." He sighed. "I've already braced my family for the possibility that I may be here for a while."

As they approached the room, Rufus stepped forward to open the door. "If he's awake, perhaps you can diagnose him further."

The moment he entered the room he knew something was wrong. The way Ted was propped up in bed, lying on his stomach and leaning on his elbows.... his body tense and motionless. Rufus immediately ran forward, followed closely by the doctor.

"Ted? What is it?" He reached out and lightly touched Ted's back, not at all prepared for the response he received. Ted jerked back suddenly, knocking Rufus' arm aside and pushing himself back across the bed away from him. Rufus automatically reached out after him, trying to catch him before he climbed out of the other side of the bed, but Ted kept moving, falling somewhat clumsily off the other side and dragging half the covers with him.

Seeing what was happening, Andrea ran around to the side of the bed and bent down. "It's all right, Ted. Just calm down." She reached out and gently grabbed his arm, only to be pushed away as Ted grew more frantic, trying to get to his feet but colliding with a small stand; its contents tumbling as he nearly knocked it over in his hurry to back away.

By this time, Rufus had climbed over the bed and hurried after Ted, who finally backed himself into a corner where he slid down to crouched position. Rufus reached down and tried to take hold of Ted's arms, but Ted fought him back fiercely, pushing and struggling wildly. After several attempts to get him calmed down, Rufus realized he was doing more harm than good, as Ted was so out of control he was inadvertently striking his head against the wall each time he pulled back. Rufus slowly backed away as Ted curled into the corner, shivering and crying.

"He's too scared.... he doesn't know where he is," Andrea stated worriedly.

"He needs help," Rufus sighed quietly. "How can we help him if he won't trust us?" He thought a moment, then looked to her.

"We could sedate him," she thought aloud. "But without knowing what he was given, it could do more harm than good."

Rufus eyed Ted with concern. "If only there were some other way to get through to him.... to let him know he's safe."

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

The guards stood, assembled, as DeNomolos paced angrily in front of them. He had not spoken for some time, which only made them more nervous with each passing moment.

Finally their corpulent leader stopped and stood, glaring down at them. "You let him escape. You let him escape!"

Every head dropped in shame at these words.

"He is being kept safe at the Great Halls! You fools! You idiots! We had him here, within our clutches, and you let him get away!" His eyes bugged out of his head, as if he might explode, then amazingly his expression relaxed somewhat. "But we are not finished yet."

The guards looked up with surprise. DeNomolos motioned toward a nearby doorway and the Evil Robot Rufus emerged, stepping toward him and then stopping at attention.

DeNomolos turned his evil stare to his followers. "I trust that as stupid as you all are, you are not stupid enough to make the same mistake twice!"

The guards eyed each other with semi-smiles, getting the idea. DeNomolos turned to his robot replica. "You know what to do. Let no one see you.... and make sure you bring him right back here to me."

The Evil Robot Rufus nodded his head once before stepping into the time booth. A moment later he had disappeared on his sinister mission.

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

After hanging up the phone, Bill rubbed his ear to get rid of the numbness. He felt like he'd been on the phone all day, then looked at the clock on the wall to realize he pretty much had. It seemed like every reporter in the world wanted to talk to him. He didn't mind the ones who seemed genuinely concerned, but it bothered him when certain ones insinuated that perhaps something had happened between them to make Ted want to leave. Their search for sensationalism at this time was incredibly disturbing to him.

He walked across the kitchen to the refrigerator, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the still untouched bucket of chicken as he reached for a soda to quench his parched throat. The girls would be back from their latest trip around the neighborhood to paste up the signs. He wished he had some news for them, but the last conversation he'd had with Captain Logan didn't hold anything promising. The police were just as baffled as everyone else.

He was about to walk back to the telephone to call Missy and see how she was holding up when a strange but familiar sound caught his ear. It took him a second to respond, then he ran to look out the window. Sure enough, he could just make out the outline of a smoking telephone booth, which had landed squarely in their back yard.

Racing out the back door, Bill stopped as the door of the booth opened and an immediately recognizable figure stepped out. "Rufus!" he called out with some relief.

Rufus stepped forward. "Greetings, William."

"Oh Rufus, thank goodness you're here. It's Ted...."

Rufus held up his hands to stop him. "I know all about the situation."

"You do?" Bill became more anxious. "You know what's happened to him?"

Rufus nodded. "That's why I've come. He needs your help."

Bill shook his head in amazement. "Oh man.... I knew he was in trouble! I had a feeling he wasn't in this time. Rufus, where is he?"

"He's in the future and he desperately needs you, Bill."

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Bill stepped into the booth and waited for Rufus to join him. As Rufus moved to step inside, Bill suddenly remembered. "Oh wait! I'd better leave a note for the babes. They'll be worried if I'm not here when they....."

He was suddenly interrupted by another loud noise from the sky above. Rufus turned with surprise as another booth crashed down, landing not far from them in the back yard. Bill leaned to look around as the door of the other booth opened and out stepped.... Rufus!

The second Rufus stopped and stared at them with a look of complete surprise, which Bill and the first Rufus returned. The second Rufus then stepped forward urgently, calling out desperately. "Bill! Get away from there! It's an imposter!"

Bill was stunned by the sight of two Rufuses, but at the second one's urging he immediately moved to get out of the booth. The first Rufus turned to push him back inside, and Bill grabbed the door, swinging it shut violently on the arms which were trying grab him. With a flurry of energy, the first Rufus threw the doors open again, shoving Bill against the back of the booth. He quickly turned and shut the doors behind them, pinning Bill against the glass wall as he quickly dialed the phone. Bill could see the other Rufus running toward them, but the ground opened up before he could reach them and they were gone.

"Damn!" the second Rufus swore, hurrying back to his booth.

Once the booth was time travelling, the first Rufus released his grip on Bill, who stared at him in horror. "What do you want? Where are you taking me?"

Rufus looked down at him sympathetically. "I'm taking you to Ted."

"What have you done to him?" Bill angrily demanded to know.

Rufus sighed in exhaustion. "DeNomolos is the one who hurt him."

"And you work for DeNomolos?"

"Bill.... I am Rufus!"

"Sure!" Bill snorted. "And who was that other guy? An evil robot replica?"

"Most likely so." Rufus lifted his arm with a look of pain and pulled back the sleeve of his coat, revealing a nasty looking gash from where the door had hit him.

Bill eyed the wound with some surprise. "You're bleeding, dude."

"It's okay," Rufus assured him.

The sincerity of the man's voice caught Bill's attention, and he relaxed again. "Rufus, I'm totally sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. It's just when I saw that other you...."

"Really, Bill, it's okay," Rufus repeated, lowering his arm with a wince of pain. "At least now we know how they got hold of Ted in the first place."

Bill's expression turned to one of worry again. "You mean....? Rufus, where is Ted? Is he okay?"

"He's safe for now, but he's not exactly.... okay. That's why we need your help."

"I'll do anything, Rufus. Just take me to where Ted is."

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

DeNomolos turned in anticipation as the booth crashed down in its designated spot. His gleam of excitement quickly turned to a glare of fury when he saw the Evil Robot Rufus exit the booth alone. "Where is he?"

"I apologize, oh Great One, but the genuine item was already there."

"Rufus was with him?"

The robot nodded stiffly. "I tried to trick him, but Rufus got him into a time booth and they were gone before I could reach them."

DeNomolos' expression slowly turned to one of concentration. "Hmmmm.... Rufus has undoubtedly brought him to our time." He turned to his chief scientist, who was standing nearby. "Are you sure you cannot produce more of that chemical? I would so love to debilitate everyone in the Halls of Excellence."

The scientist shook his head. "It would take weeks to track down enough of each element to create the sufficient amount for such an act. It was difficult enough to prepare the small amount given to the Great One," then noting DeNomolos' sneer, "....I mean, the Pathetic One."

"Damn. Then we have no other choice. Put 'Operation TimeKill' into effect!"

The scientist's mouth dropped open. "But.... but that would mean...."

"I know what it means!" DeNomolos screamed. "Just do it!"

The scientist hesitated before deciding he should try to reason with the over-emotional leader. "Perhaps you would like to think this decision over. After all, it will limit our abilities as well...."

"You're questioning my judgement?" DeNomolos snarled viciously.

"No.... it's just that I...."

Before the small man could finish, DeNomolos grabbed him roughly by his shirt, pulling him into a face to face confrontation. "How dare you challenge my decision?! I'm fully aware of the consequences! Just do it!"

"Yes, sir! Right away, sir!" The man pried himself free and scurried away.

DeNomolos turned to the Evil Robot with a sigh of slight satisfaction. "At least this way I'll know where they are.... we can deal with them in a more direct fashion later!"

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

When Rufus opened the door of the booth, Bill could see they had landed in the Great Hall. He stepped forward to the Three Most Important People, who bowed in his direction.

"It is most excellent of you to come, William," the Supreme Important Person stated sincerely.

"I'm just glad Rufus came for me," Bill told them, then turned to Rufus. "Where's Ted?"

"I will take you to him," Rufus promised. He looked to the Most Important People, who nodded.

"Go right ahead, Rufus," the Female Important Person urged.

Rufus stepped back, motioning for Bill to proceed to a nearby doorway. Bill gave the hovering leaders a short, friendly wave before walking through the archway with Rufus close behind.

As they made their way down the corridor, Bill said brief but polite hellos to the few people they passed. When no one else was in sight ahead of them, he turned to Rufus. "Dude, what exactly is the matter with Ted? What did DeNomolos do to him?"

Rufus released a sigh. "I'm afraid Ted is senseless."

They walked in silence for a moment as Bill thought this over. Finally he turned back to Rufus. "That's what his dad always used to say, but what does that have to do with it?"

"No, not like that.... you'll see for yourself in a moment. We're almost there."

Finally they reached a door and Rufus opened it, allowing Bill to step in ahead of him. Bill glanced around briefly as they entered the suite, noting how comfortable it looked.

"Has there been any change?" Rufus asked Andrea, who was sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I'm afraid not, Rufus. He won't let me near him." She got to her feet as Bill approached, having spotted Ted in the corner of the room.

Bill stood, too stunned to react at first. He'd never seen Ted looking so withdrawn and terrified before. "Ted?" he said softly in shock. He then felt Rufus' hands on his shoulders but didn't turn to look at him, unable to take his eyes off his friend. "Ted.... what happened, dude?"

"He can't hear you," Rufus informed him.

Bill looked over his shoulder with a questioning look. "What do you mean, Rufus?"

"That's what I meant by senseless, Bill. He can't hear, see, smell or taste."

With a look of utter disbelief, Bill turned back to Ted. "No way, Rufus..... How....?"

Without answering, Rufus lifted his hands as Bill stepped away from him, slowly walking toward Ted.

Ted felt someone place a hand on his shoulder and pushed it away angrily. He wasn't about to let anyone get near him. He was tired of being tricked by these people.

Bill was shocked at Ted's reaction, realizing by Ted's vacant stare that what Rufus had told him was the truth. He moved from a squatting position onto his knees and leaned over his friend worriedly. "Ted? Dude, it's me! Don'tcha know me?"

Ted could sense that someone was still close to him, and as soon as the hand touched him again he pushed it away, striking out fiercely. All at once the person grabbed him by the forearms, pushing them down in a forceful but not violent way. Something about this sudden action made Ted stop struggling as a fleeting memory overcame him. It was a myriad of countless playful wrestling matches from his adolescence; bouts in which Bill always tried to subdue him by grabbing his arms and holding them down in the same manner. But it was more than that.... this was exactly the same.... the same amount of pressure, the same shape of the hands, the same harmless force behind it. Ted sat, dumbfounded, as the hands released him from their grip. Unable to believe it, he reached out hopefully, finding the soft, familiar fabric of a worn t-shirt with an unmistakable draping of flannel outlining it. Instead of discouraging his exploration, the person seized his hand and pulled it upward to be pressed against a face, as if demanding recognition. One sweep of his fingers discovered the short, curly hair, and with a great rush of emotion Ted launched himself forward to bury his head into the chest of his best friend, wrapping his arms around the familiar, firm frame and squeezing as tight as he could. Maybe they could fake Rufus, but they couldn't fake Bill. And while he didn't know if they were really safe, at least now he knew Bill was alive.

Ted had lunged at him with such energy that Bill was knocked back into a sitting position against the wall. He drew his knees up slightly, pulling Ted into his body acceptingly and holding him tightly in return. He just sat there, not knowing what to do or say. Simultaneous feelings of relief and anxiety swelled within him. Little did he realize how closely his feelings paralleled Ted's.

Rufus and the doctor stood nearby, letting them sit in silence for a while. Finally Rufus stepped forward. "Thank you, Bill. I'm so relieved he knows you."

"I can't believe he didn't know you, Rufus," Bill replied.

"He did at first, but I guess it's hard for him to know who to trust."

Bill looked down at Ted, then reached down to take Ted's wrist. "Come here," he said to Rufus, who approached, bending down to their level.

Ted didn't fight Bill, although he wondered what he was doing by directing his arm out. After a moment he felt the familiar long coat and a hand took his. He winced with embarrassment, realizing that Bill wouldn't let the man near him if it wasn't really Rufus. He always considered Bill a totally smart dude, and not that easily duped. Rufus gently patted his head, as if to let him know he understood his earlier behavior.

As Ted's body relaxed in Bill's arms again, Rufus drew his hand back and Bill noticed the thin stream of blood that was running down the man's arm. "Dude, that arm looks pretty bad."

Rufus examined the wound again, cringing slightly. "Yeah, it is most egregious."

Hearing this, Andrea stepped forward. "Let me see," she insisted.

As Rufus stood up, he motioned to the woman. "You haven't been introduced. Bill, this is Andrea. She's one of our leading medical authorities. Andrea, I'm sure you know...."

"Bill S. Preston, Esq.," she finished for him. "It is indeed an honor."

"Same here," Bill offered.

After Rufus managed to pull his sleeve back, Andrea took his arm, eyeing it with some concern. "Hang on." She stepped away, retrieving a cloth from the bathroom, which she used to dab the blood away. Once done she wrapped her hands around the wound and her expression became one of concentration. Bill watched with some surprise as the skin beneath Andrea's hands glowed slightly with a warm, orange light. After a few moments she pulled her hands away, using the cloth to wipe away the dried blood, revealing an arm that showed no sign of injury. "How's that?"

Rufus tested his arm by stretching it out in front of him then bending it back. "Much better. Thank you."

"Whoa," Bill sighed softly from the corner. "That's most impressive! Can't you do something like that to help Ted?"

"I'm afraid it isn't that simple," Andrea sighed sadly, turning from Rufus. "All I'm doing is speeding up the body's own healing process. With Ted, he isn't just sick or injured.... apparently some kind of chemical has been injected which his body isn't able to combat. We have to find out exactly what that chemical is and then try to find a way to neutralize it. We'll need to take a blood sample, and you can help us by...."

She was suddenly interrupted by a strange, loud rumble followed by what felt like a shockwave that made the whole room shake. Ted nervously pushed himself further into Bill, who held him tight, not sure for a moment whether or not the room would somehow fall in around them. The shaking was shortlived, but had left its impact evident on the faces of everyone present.

"I see you haven't solved the problem of earthquakes," Bill commented with a shaky voice.

"That was no earthquake, William," Rufus stated worriedly. "Wait here." He hurried from the room, leaving Andrea and Bill to exchange uneasy glances.

Already the Halls of Excellence were buzzing with anxious bodies, all trying to find out what had happened. They parted as Rufus approached the Great Hall, making his way into the domed area where he was relieved the see the Three Most Important People hovering in place, apparently shaken but otherwise unhurt. Several eminent scientists were already there in consultation.

"Rufus!" the Female Most Important Person exclaimed. "Are the Great Ones all right?"

"They're fine, your Importances. What has happened?"

"Something has happened to the Circuits of Time," one of the scientists reported. "We fear it may be sabotage."

"Sabotage?" Rufus echoed in shock. "How extensive is the damage?"

"We're not sure.... but it looks most extensive," another scientist said quietly. "All we know for sure is that time travel has been rendered impossible."

Rufus shook his head, taking in this news with great distress. "But.... but that means...."

The Supreme Important Person held up his hand to stop Rufus from continuing. "We face many obstacles, Rufus, but we must concentrate on one thing at a time. The Great Ones are safe for now.... it is imperative that everything which can be done is carried out to restore Ted's senses. That is more than enough responsibility for you to bear. We shall worry about repairing the Circuits of Time."

Rufus straightened his coat as if to show he had successfully composed himself. "Yes, your Excellences." He turned and left the room, slowly making his way back to the suite. He knew he had to concentrate on Bill and Ted, but things were happening so fast it was getting to be a bit too much, even for him.

As he entered the room he saw that Bill was introducing Ted by way of touch to Andrea. She got to her feet when he approached them. "What has happened?"

Rufus looked down at Bill, noting the expectant look on his face with some pain. "It seems.... someone has vandalized the Circuits of Time, rendering them useless to us."

Bill's eyes opened wide in shock. "But.... but Rufus! I didn't leave a note for the babes! They won't know where we are!"

With a sigh, Rufus dropped his head. "I know, William. But there isn't anything we can do until they are repaired."

Bill leaned back against the wall, his heart sinking. "I can't just disappear, too.... what will the babes think? What will they do? And the babies...."

Ted lifted his head and turned his face to Bill with a questioning look. For a brief moment, Bill thought Ted could actually see him, but he soon realized that Ted had simply sensed his distress. The worried expression that confronted him brought him back to the situation at hand, and he knew he'd have to be strong if he was going to be of any help to his friend. He took Ted's face in his hands gently, trying to convey his support. He couldn't do anything for the babes, but he was going to do all he could for Ted.

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

"That's about all we can do for now," Captain Logan stated, checking to make sure the chain reached its slot on the door without leaving too much slack. "The security people will be here tomorrow to install the alarms."

"We really appreciate all of this Captain Logan," Joanna said nicely, although she wanted to continue by saying, "What good will it do now?"

"I'm setting up an extra patrol in the neighborhood and we'll be keeping surveillance on the house, so don't worry," he added.

When the girls didn't reply, Missy looked at her husband with concern then turned back to them, leaning forward slightly. "If there's anything I can do, just let me know. I'd be happy to babysit any time."

Elizabeth took her hands warmly. "Oh thank you, Missy.... I mean, Mom. It's just so nice of you to stop by!"

Captain Logan approached, looking ready to go. Missy stood up. "I'll drop by again tomorrow."

"Great," Joanna nodded.

"And I'll bring a casserole or something!" Missy continued enthusiastically.

"Oh, um.... great," Elizabeth managed to sputter, eyeing the blackened pot roast Missy had brought with some trepidation and already fearing for the safety of their best kitchen knives.

The girls each hugged Missy briefly before she walked out the door. Captain Logan paused in the doorway. "Make sure you lock this behind me!" he warned.

"Yes, sir," Elizabeth said. "Thank you."

She shut the door behind him, making sure the deadbolt and chain were firmly in place. Once done, she could hear Captain Logan's footsteps move away from the door with a satisfied air.

Joanna was studying the pot roast on the dining room table with some sympathy when her sister approached. "What should we do with this?"

Elizabeth looked at it sadly. "Break it up and use it as charcoal?"

"Breaaak uuup?? Uze az chaaarcooaal...." Good Robot Bill hummed, overhearing her.

Joanna pushed the roast across the table to the Good Robots, who stood awaiting instruction. "Would you throw this away for me, please?"

"Throoow awaaay," Good Robot Ted echoed, taking the pot roast. The robots walked noisily into the kitchen as Joanna sat down at the empty dining room table, lowering her forehead to rest on one hand. Elizabeth stepped forward, placing a hand on her shoulder.

"It's almost like they're still here," Joanne cried.

Elizabeth sat down next to her, gently demanding her attention. "Joanna, we have to believe they'll come back."

"I know," Joanne sighed. "But what if....?"

"Don't think about it," Elizabeth urged. "Joanna, you know Bill. He's gone after Ted. And they'll both come back." When her sister didn't seem convinced, Elizabeth thought for a moment. "Jo.... they'll be okay! Someone's always looking out for them! Remember how they escaped being executed by father? And how they defeated DeNomolos? They even died and went to Hell and they still came back!"

Joanna wiped her eyes and smiled. "You're right. They'll come back." She looked around at all the unpacked boxes lining the walls. "And we should have the house ready for them when they do."

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

"Are we ready?" The male scientist stood by expectantly, waiting for word to proceed.

"Almost," Andrea answered after noting the growing appearance of relaxation that came over Ted's face, which was cradled in the warmth of her hands. "This may help a little," she said to Bill, who was sitting on the bed next to where Ted was lying, holding his friend's hand.

Pulling her hands away, Andrea turned Ted's arm over. "I guess we're as ready as we'll ever be," she sighed, reaching for a bottle of antiseptic and a cotton swab on the bedside stand. The scientist approached, readying the needle as Andrea began to cleanse the skin just below the inside of Ted's elbow. Almost immediately Ted pulled his arm away nervously, automatically reaching up to place a hand over the unsightly bruise on his neck.

Seeing this, Bill squeezed Ted's hand and patted his shoulder lightly. "Hey, it's okay, dude. They gotta do it." He stopped self-consciously, realizing he'd forgotten Ted couldn't hear him, but apparently no one gave it a second thought.

Andrea took Ted's arm gently and lowered it back down, which he allowed her do although he still looked anxious. Once she finished cleaning the area the scientist stepped forward, quickly locating a suitable vein.

He found it very difficult to lie still when he had a pretty good idea of what was coming. He'd always hated shots, and coupled with the still fresh memory of that horrible injection DeNomolos had given him it took all his willpower not to pull away a second time. Instead he squeezed Bill's hand tighter, grateful for the support. He couldn't help but cringe slightly when he felt the needle enter his arm and wished for it to be removed as soon as possible. He found it terribly disturbing not to be able to tell whether they were putting something in or taking something out, especially when he could feel the person fidgeting with the instrument while it was still in his arm.

Finally the needle was removed and he let out a breath, allowing his body to relax. Bill's fingers wiggled slightly as his grip loosened them, and he realized he'd probably been holding on too tightly. He then felt the smooth hands of the woman wrap around his arm and the strange warmth began emanating from them again. He didn't understand what was happening, but it felt so good he didn't protest.

The scientist carefully screwed a top onto the second vile of blood. "I'll let you know what the lab is able to discover," he informed Rufus before leaving the room.

Bill watched as Andrea pulled her hands away, revealing no sign of any puncture where the needle had been. "I can't get over how incredible that is," Bill said.

"It does make things easier, although it is a specialized art," Andrea explained. "I already took care of a nasty cut he had on his finger." She sighed sadly. "I just wish my skills were of more help to him."

"But you're already doing so much!" Bill pointed out.

Andrea gave him a tired and grateful smile. "Thank you, Bill." She pulled the covers up around Ted, who turned slightly onto his side. "He should sleep now for a while."

"I guess all we can do is make sure Ted's as comfortable as possible until the laboratories can analyze his blood and hopefully come up with a cure," Rufus stated.

Bill looked up at him worriedly. "Hopefully? What if they can't?"

Rufus eyed Bill sympathetically. "We'll worry about that when and if we have to."

Ted propped himself up on one elbow, reaching out to Andrea questioningly. She set a hand on his shoulder to let him know she was there, watching as he placed one hand under his throat, opening his mouth as if panting, then motioned as if he were drinking.

After patting his shoulder, Andrea turned and walked into the bathroom, returning a moment later with a glass of water. She sat down on the bed as Ted sat up, offering him the glass which he accepted gratefully.

Watching this, Rufus rubbed his forehead as if it ached. "I should have realized he'd be thirsty and hungry. I'd better have the kitchen dudes get some food together, huh?"

Andrea took the empty glass back from Ted as he laid back down, curling up to get comfortable. "I don't think he's thinking about food right now," she said, patting his head out of motherly instinct. "But you might have something ready when he wakes up."

"An excellent idea," Rufus agreed, then looked to Bill, who had pulled his legs onto the large bed as he settled himself comfortably to watch Ted sleep. "Would you like anything, Bill?"

"Huh? Oh, uh.... not right now, Rufus. Thanks."

"Maybe you can give us an idea of what Ted might like later," Rufus suggested.

"Yeah, sure."

Andrea got up, stretching slightly. "I think I'll go down to the medical library and see if they've found anything which resembles Ted's symptoms. Just call me if you need anything."

"Thanks for everything, doctor babe," Bill offered sincerely.

After she exited, Rufus wandered toward the bed slowly as if wondering what to do. Bill watched him approach, noting the air of exhaustion that surrounded the man. "Rufus, dude, why don't you go rest for a while?"

Rufus eyed the Two Great Ones with concern but was unable to deny that his energy was completely spent. "I hate to leave at a time like this, but I must admit I could use some sleep."

"Go ahead, Rufus. I'll totally watch over Ted."

Rufus nodded. "You'll be safe here. The whole building has been secured for your stay. If you need anything at all, just push that button on the wall behind you and someone will be right along to attend to your needs."

Bill craned his neck, locating the button Rufus was referring to. "Outstanding," he stated quietly. "We should be okay here then."

"I've taken the room next door, so I'll be nearby if you need me."

"Thanks for everything, Rufus. I don't know what we'd do without you, dude. Really."

Rufus smiled, taking the words to heart. "No problemo. I'll see you again soon."

After Rufus exited the room, Bill leaned back against the headboard wearily. He looked down and saw Ted's eyes were closed and he was breathing slowly and deeply, indicating he had already fallen asleep. Bill wondered if he'd be able to get any sleep at all himself. At the moment it was an incomprehensible concept, as his mind was too troubled to rest.

Carefully dropping his head back, Bill thought about Joanna and Elizabeth and wondered how they were reacting to his sudden disappearance. He wished they could be there with him.... and the babies, too. Funny.... he'd never fancied himself a family man, but when Little Ted came along it had been the most incredible thing that had ever happened to him. He smiled, thinking back to that day.... the way Joanna and Elizabeth's grandmother shuffled from one bed to the other, overseeing two births at one time.... the first time he held his son. He'd never forget the look of contented pride on Ted's face as he sat across from him, holding his own son.... knowing the expression was a mirrored reflection of his own. They had shared everything together.... their marriages, the birth of their first children, their rise to success....

He wasn't aware that he had been dozing off until he was startled awake by someone grabbing him. He sat up suddenly, unsure of what was happening until he looked down and saw Ted, disheveled as if he had been suffering through a bad dream, groping to find him. Surprised, Bill lifted his arms as Ted pulled himself closer until he was nestled against Bill's chest, settling down to sleep again.

As soon as Ted looked comfortable, Bill lowered his arms acceptingly and leaned back again, instinctively rubbing his friend's back. As Ted's breathing became more relaxed, Bill let out a sad sigh. They had been through everything together, but now he could only imagine how lonely Ted must be feeling.

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

The darkness was thick; filled with bright flashing lights and loud, unrelenting music pulsating to the same rhythm. He made his way past several gyrating couples as his eyes scanned the room, trying to make out the dark shapes beyond. While he couldn't pinpoint the exact person he was looking for, he instinctively knew where to find him.

Finally he reached the most remote corner in the entire club. It was a small booth situated in a sheltered spot where one could almost hear themselves think over the blaring music. Already he could see the person he was looking for seated at this booth, and quickly joined him.

"You're late," the huge man hissed, his voice low but stern enough to be audible.

"It couldn't be helped, C.D.," he insisted, feeling he didn't deserve a lecture.... not after all he'd done. He looked up at the pretty waitress who had approached their table, setting down a drink in front of his companion.

"What can I get you?" she asked her new customer nicely.

"Oh, um.... nothing just yet."

"Party on," she replied absent-mindedly, accepting the money for the drink, and a very small tip, from DeNomolos before walking away.

DeNomolos pulled the drink closer, eyeing it with disgust. "Damn beer, Pepsi or...." he shuddered visibly, "....Frosty Slushes. That's all you can get at these places." With a sudden movement, he dumped the contents of the glass into the nearest planter before hastily refilling it with whiskey from a flask he had concealed in his coat. "Want some?"

"No thanks."

DeNomolos nodded. "Good. All the more for me. What were you able to find out, Harker?"

Harker shook his head. "Not too much. The Halls of Excellence are enforcing top security.... even I don't have immediate clearance to the Great Ones' area."

The bald man's eyes glowed furiously from their dark, baggy sockets. "You told me you had top security clearance!" he growled.

"Apparently not in this matter. I'm only the head of the maintenance department. It seems only medical and scientific personnel are allowed personal contact with them."

Taking a long sip of whiskey, DeNomolos sat in brooding thought. "So...." he said at last, "you could learn nothing?"

"Only that both of them are in our time.... and that they're working on finding a cure for Ted."

DeNomolos' fingers curled angrily into a fist; his face twisting with rage. "Those imbeciles.... letting him escape!" He closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down. "No.... I will have my revenge yet. They'll suffer..... oh how they'll suffer!"

Harker listened to this with mild interest. DeNomolos' ranting about seeking revenge on the Two Great Ones was nothing new. In fact it was old.... very old....

"So you're of no help to me at all," DeNomolos surmised nastily.

"Now hold it, C.D.," Harker insisted, holding his hands up. "I didn't say that. It's just that it might take time. But if you're willing to be patient, I think I can get your people in.... if our deal still stands and if the price is right, that is."

DeNomolos' sneer was a combination of disgust and respect. "Do not worry. I think you'll find our offer quite reasonable." He scribbled something down on one of the cocktail napkins, which he slid toward Harker discreetly. He smiled at the way his contact tried, unsuccessfully, to cover up his amazement at the number scribbled there. "Plus the fulfillment of your wishes will be arranged once it's done. We have an agreement?"

Harker nodded somewhat excitedly, although still trying to remain composed. "Yes. Yes, we do." He coughed slightly, loosening up his collar a tad after he had crumpled the napkin. "I think I'll have some of that whiskey now."

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

Bill held the door open wider as a man dressed in what would have been a traditional white chef's uniform, if it weren't for the white baseball cap cocked backwards on his head, pushed a lightweight, metallic cart into the room. He wheeled the cart next to a table where two plates were set and began to organize what he had brought.

Rufus stepped over as the chef proceeded to open a package of long buns, taking out a few and setting them aside before arranging several bottles of condiments on the table. Rufus then turned to Bill, who approached them after closing the door. "Does this look all right?"

Bill made a quick assessment of the food being arranged and nodded. "Looks most excellent, Rufus. I'm amazed they still have hot dogs in your time."

"We have retained all of your favorite edibles in our daily diets, Bill."

Andrea appeared from the bathroom, leading Ted alongside her. "Hands all washed and ready to eat," she announced to no one in particular. "Are you ready for us?"

"Most assuredly," Rufus replied, pulling a chair from the table so Andrea could direct Ted to sit down. "Bill?"

"Yeah, let me just wash my hands, too, and I'll join him."

After Ted settled into the chair, he began exploring the table in front of him carefully, fingering the plate with some interest. As Ted became familiar with the setting, the chef opened a small door on the top of the cart, reaching in with tongs to pull out a warm hot dog and drop it into a bun, which he then set on the plate in front of Ted.

Sensing this movement, Ted reached out to feel the hot dog, then picked it up, checking to see how hot it was before taking a bite, unaware of the six eyes watching him intently to see what his reaction would be.

It was with some disappointment they observed the smirk of dissatisfaction cross Ted's face as he set the hot dog back onto the plate and sat, slowly chewing the mouthful.

Andrea gave the chef's arm a pat. "Don't take it personally. He isn't used to not being able to taste, that's all."

Bill approached the table, wiping his hands on his flannel shirt. He stopped before sitting down, noting the bitten into hot dog and the unhappy look on Ted's face. "Oh man, that'll never do!" he sighed, reaching over to take the plate from Ted. They watched with some surprise as Bill began piling relish, onions, ketchup and mustard onto the hot dog.

"Um, Bill.... you know Ted can't taste anything," Rufus reminded him.

"I know, but it doesn't matter. A hot dog just isn't the same without all the stuff on it. And Ted likes lots of stuff on his."

Once finished, Bill slid the plate back over to Ted, who once again took a bite, trying very hard not to let everything spill all over. His expression was much more satisfied this time, so Bill sat down at the table to join him. The chef handed him another hot dog, which he began to garnish as well. "You guys joining us?"

Rufus was still watching Ted in amazement, thinking how glad he was that Bill was there to advise them. "Oh, um.... no thank you, William. I had a quick bite before I came back over."


She smiled politely. "Naw, that's okay."

"Oh come on," Bill coaxed. "You must be hungry."

"Well...." She looked up at Rufus, who nodded and motioned to the table with approval. "All right."

"Chef dude?"

The chef laughed slightly, handing Andrea a hot dog. "Naw. I had my share already, tasting them to make sure they were just right."

Bill took a bite of his hot dog, nodding vigorously. "Most delectable," he smacked, which made the chef smile broadly, quietly giving himself a little air guitar while no one was looking.

Rufus pulled up a nearby chair and sat down as the chef leaned against his cart and watched everyone eat in silence for a moment. Ted was already finishing his hot dog, apparently quite hungry after his ordeal. After he finished the last bite, he sat back, looking somewhat content. Andrea picked up a napkin from the table and handed it to him, which he used to wipe his mouth before setting it down next to his plate and holding up an index finger in Andrea's direction.

Understanding, Andrea squeezed his hand a moment before looking to the chef. "I think he'd like another one."

"Coming right up," the chef happily obliged, this time handing it directly to Bill who, in turn, began fixing it up as before.

"At least Ted has an appetite," Andrea said hopefully. "Perhaps when we finish eating we can get him a little cleaned up. Maybe even find some fresh clothes for him."

"Yah," Bill agreed, leaning over to set the hot dog on Ted's plate and nudge him slightly. He watched as Ted began on the second one, almost studying him. "Then what?"

Rufus leaned in slightly, noting the tone of Bill's voice. "Bill.... it might take the lab dudes some time before they can figure out what needs to be done."

"I know," Bill sighed. "But what do we do in the meantime?"

Rufus sat back again, thinking this over. "I guess we try to figure out a way to communicate with Ted. Maybe he can tell us something that will help us."

Bill set his elbows on the table, looking across at Ted worriedly. Andrea placed a hand on his arm in support. "We'll take it one step at a time, Bill. Try not to worry."

"Okay. One step at a time, then."

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

Taking a deep breath, he allowed his body to completely relax, leaning back slowly until he was lying down with only his head and upper body elevated. Slowly he allowed his arms to rise in the warmth until he felt them come in contact with the cold air above the surface, then lowered them again, sensing the slight ripples this tiny movement had caused as they lapped ever so slightly against his neck. With each breath he was aware of the slight warmth of steam which was still rising from the heated water.

Ted had never appreciated a bath as much as he did at this time. The water provided him with an environment suitable enough to be enjoyed despite his limited perception. To be engulfed in warmth was just so comforting, and up until a few minutes ago he'd felt as if the dinginess and filth of that dark sewer had constantly been with him. At last he had rid himself of the sticky grime he felt covered in, even though he suspected it was mostly his imagination. He was grateful that Bill has been kind enough to indicate where he could find both soap and a washrag beside the tub's rim. He knew Bill was still sitting in the bathroom, but he didn't feel at all rushed. There wasn't a whole lot else he was going to be able to do, anyway.

He spent the next few minutes just soaking, using the time to explore the contours of the bathtub's smooth porcelain shape; if indeed it was porcelain. It bothered him not to be able to ask such a simple question when he really was curious to know. Finally he could feel his fingers becoming pruny, and decided he had spent enough time being immersed.

No sooner had he thought this, than he felt a soft tap on his shoulder. Thinking perhaps Bill had been waiting for him to finish, he moved to get up, but felt Bill's hand pushing him back down as if telling him to stay put. After another moment he felt a small trickle of water run down through his already somewhat wet hair. He reached up and could feel another dousing before realizing what Bill was probably doing. Wanting to oblige, Ted dropped his head under the water for a little while, coming up again and shaking out his hair. Sure enough, he felt Bill pull his arm out of the water, turning his hand so it faced palm up, then felt a cold, viscous liquid poured into it. Wanting to be absolutely certain of what he was supposed to do, Ted waited until Bill directed his hand to his head, then proceeded to run the stuff vigorously through his hair in compliance. As he scrubbed, he couldn't help but notice the spot where a huge section of his hair was much shorter than the rest, but he tried to ignore it, not wishing to recount any more of those terrifying incidents.

Once he'd finished dipping his head a few more times he felt as if the stuff was completely rinsed out, although he was aware of Bill continuing to pour water over his head to make sure. Finally he decided it was time to get out, and moved to stand up. With Bill guiding him, he stepped out of the tub onto a soft bathmat and stood as Bill handed him a towel and directed him to sit on the closed toilet seat, which had been covered with another towel. He sat drying himself, running the soft towel all around his body quickly to keep from getting cold. He soon realized that wasn't necessary, as warmth emanated from somewhere nearby from what he guessed were heat lamps.

Suddenly he felt another towel land on top of his head as Bill vigorously rubbed it through his wet hair. Ted couldn't help but kind of laugh.... after all, he was perfectly capable of drying his own hair, but he didn't mind. Bill always was one to take control in a situation.

When he felt adequately dry, he dropped the towel at his feet and waited for whatever would happen next. Something soft came in contact with his hands, and he reached up to feel what Bill was holding in front of him. It was definitely a shirt.... he could make out the sleeves on both sides.... but it wasn't his shirt. He accepted it anyway, grateful for a change of clothes. He was amazed that when he slipped it on it seemed to be a perfect fit. Soon after that came clean underwear, socks and comfortable pants. In no time he was again fully dressed and felt very much refreshed. But already he missed the bath and wondered if he'd be able to take one whenever he wished.

Once Ted was dressed, Bill opened the door of the bathroom, grateful to be able to step out of that steam-filled area and into some fresh air. He could see that Rufus was waiting for them, so he took Ted by the arm and led him over to a large reclining easy chair. Ted sat down carefully, then leaned back, running his fingers casually through his still damp hair.

"How did it go?" Rufus asked.

"Okay," Bill reported. "I think it helped him relax a lot."

"Excellent," Rufus sighed, reaching over to pick something up from the table. "It took a bit of searching, but I did manage to find these." He handed Bill a ball point pen and a pad of paper.

"Rufus, this is outstanding! I thought you said they didn't make these any more!"

"They don't. These days everything is done on computer. But it would take some time to teach Ted to communicate with a system he's not even familiar with. I asked the historians to locate these. I just hope the pen still works."

"Well, let's find out," Bill suggested, setting the paper back on the table and shaking the pen several times. He clicked it open and then began scratching the tip back and forth and in circles, trying to coax the ink out. After getting no results, he began shaking it again with a great fervor, then tried again until finally a thin line appeared on the page. "Yes! We got it!" He was about to hand the items over to Ted, then stopped. "Wait.... how're we gonna answer him? I mean, if I couldn't see or hear or anything, and I was handed a pen and paper, I'd start asking a whole lotta questions."

Rufus gave a slight shrug. "It'll have to be yes and no answers. I think he'll get the idea after a while."

"You mean, like in that movie with that famous girl? With the nodding and all?"

"Well, it worked back then. No reason it shouldn't work now. Helen Keller had a lot on the ball."

Ted rubbed his palms against the material of his pants to dry them after messing with his hair. All at once he felt something being shoved into his hands, and accepted it curiously. One side felt flat and smooth, like paper. It was thick, so he felt around the edges until he found a side where pages flipped. A moment later, something was being placed in his left hand which he immediately recognized as a pen. Thrilled with this sudden possibility, he ran a hand across the pad, recognizing the rough cardboard side and quickly turned it over to the smooth paper side. Making sure he had the tip side down, he began scribbling frantically, having so much to tell them.

Bill and Rufus leaned over as the words began taking shape on the paper. Although it was fairly sloppy, they could already make out "DeNomolos did this to me. He used an Evil Robot Rufus to...."

Bill couldn't stand to see Ted spend all this time writing out what they already knew, so he reached down and grabbed Ted's right hand, pulling it up to his face and nodding in an exaggerated manner.

Feeling Bill nod, Ted stopped writing. They knew about DeNomolos? Well, Rufus had found him in that area. It then struck him that Bill could answer questions in that way, and began writing quickly again. There were so many questions he had bottled up inside that he felt he could keep writing forever. "Where are the babes?" "How are the babies?" "Did Rufus bring you here?" He scribbled frantically nonstop until he felt Bill grab his hand, pulling it away from the paper in what felt like a frustrated move. He sat, confused, wondering what he'd done wrong. Finally he realized.... he was writing so quickly that probably everything was coming out as a garbled mess. Wanting to do better, he flipped the page over to start fresh and began writing very slowly and, hopefully, neatly. "Where are the babes?" "How...."

Once again Bill stopped him, and he now realized he was going too fast. They wanted to handle one question at a time. He felt stupid for not being more considerate. His hand was pulled up to Bill's face and he became puzzled again when he felt Bill systematically shake and nod his head. He thought about this intently, wanting to understand. "Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No." It didn't make any sense. "Where are the babes? Yes. No." Then he realized, "Yes or no." Bill could only answer yes or no, like when they played twenty questions. Now he understood.

Once again he began writing. "Are the babes okay?"

Bill read the question and sighed. He had been wondering the same thing himself. Realizing that he didn't know otherwise, he nodded his answer.

"And the babies?"


"Can we go to them?"


"Can they come here?"


"Why...." Ted stopped, attempting to scribble that out. "Do they know we're here?"

Bill hesitated before answering this time. "No."

"We can't get back to them?"

He could almost feel the emotion behind Bill's answers. "No."

"Will we ever get back to them?"

This time the answer was a little more heartening, as Bill very seriously nodded "Yes."

Ted paused, gathering his thoughts. He missed his wife and baby so much. He had wondered why they weren't there with Bill. He wanted to go home, then realized that they probably had to stay there until he could be cured. This brought on a whole new line of questions he had been wondering about. Again he started writing, reaching the end of the page.

"Can they cure me?"

There was a lengthy pause, as if Bill weren't quite sure how to answer this. He feared the worst.... that perhaps Bill couldn't bring himself to tell him the truth. But then his hand was lowered to Bill's shoulder where he felt Bill shrug. This gave him a little hope.

"Are they trying?"

This time he again felt the intent nodding, which made him feel better. He then wondered if there was something he could tell them that might hurry up the process. Again he started writing. "Do they know what DeNomolos gave me?"

When the answer was no, he began to write out what DeNomolos had told him about the chemical warfare and all that heinous stuff about taking out entire cities and conquering the world, straining to remember every detail he could. Once done, he leaned back, giving Rufus and Bill a chance to read this over.

"Whoa," Bill sighed after reading the lengthy scribbling. "DeNomolos sure is one twisted individual."

Rufus slowly nodded, still studying Ted's writing. "I fear so, Bill."

"What happened to make him so crazy, Rufus?"

When Rufus looked up, Bill noticed a thoughtful, sad look in his eyes. "It's a long story. Remind me to tell you sometime. Sad, really. He was a brilliant teacher...." He shook his head, snapping out of his thoughts. "Well, this information will be of great help to the scientists. I'd better inform them right away." He reached down and took hold of the pad, which Ted allowed him to take. He turned it toward him, ripping off the page Ted had just written on, then returned the pad to its proper position. "Please continue, William. I'll be back shortly."

Bill continued to answer Ted's questions for a good twenty minutes before Rufus returned, informing Bill that the scientists and historians were going to do massive research into what chemical DeNomolos had discovered.

They sat there for another half hour, using up several pages of the writing pad as Ted continued to ask question after question. Finally Ted seemed to be getting tired, and wrote down in a weary hand, "I guess that's all for now."

Rufus took the paper and pen from him, and no sooner did he turn away than Ted reached out for them again. He immediately handed them back, and waited as Ted wrote down one last thing before handing the pad back. Rufus read it quickly, then looked to Ted with surprise. Without saying a word, he pulled Ted's hand up to his face and nodded. Ted leaned back in the chair with a contented smile on his face.

Stretching, Bill sat up as Rufus set the paper and pen aside. "What did Ted just write?" he asked.

Rufus turned around with a puzzled expression. "He wanted to know if the bathtub was made of porcelain."

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

For just a few precious moments, Bill lingered in the blissfully peaceful state of existence between sleep and consciousness, when he was still asleep enough to not care where he was and awake enough to enjoy it. But all too soon he was slipping away from the sleep into the real world and finally stopped fighting it, struggling to open his eyes. The room was dark and at first he didn't remember where he was. There was a soft light coming from his right, and he looked over to realize it was the nightlight in the bathroom. Then he remembered, immediately reaching over to make sure Ted was lying next to him. Ted didn't seem to be able to go to sleep unless he was right there with him, so he saved Rufus the bother of having a second bed brought in. He didn't get much sleep anyway; perhaps a few restless hours tossing and turning on top of the covers. Only when he reached for Ted, the space beside him was empty.

A slight bumping sound caught his ear, and he reached up to turn on the light next to the bed. When he did, he saw Ted standing beside the dining table, running his hand over its smooth surface. He watched as Ted turned around very deliberately, then began walking, one foot in front of the other, toward the chair, moving his mouth as if he were counting his steps silently as he walked. Upon reaching the chair, he turned and headed toward the bathroom, again carefully counting each step.

Bill pushed himself up into a sitting position, glancing at the clock on the bedside stand. It was after three in the morning, but time had meant nothing since he'd been there. Ted didn't know about time any more, although he still insisted on wearing his watch as always. Bill sat back and observed the concentration Ted was putting into counting and memorizing steps. Every once in a while he'd bump into something, obviously frustrated with himself when he did so. But he'd start all over again, following the same pattern around the room, step by step by step....

The repetition caused Bill to drift off into his own thoughts. He was so tired; tired of sitting, tired of waiting, tired of worrying.... tired of everything. He wished they could go home and be with their wives and babies and get back to their lives. There was so much to be done. They'd only gotten started. It wasn't fair. This happening to Ted, the person he cared more about than anyone in the world.... the kindest person he had ever known. His first and only best friend. If only he hadn't gone out that night, maybe this never would have happened. He thought about the way they had studied guitar together, determined to become masters of their craft before returning to the Battle of the Bands. Now Ted had to concentrate even harder just to get around a room.

Exhausted, he pressed his hands against his head, derailing his own train of thought. It was going to drive him crazy if he kept thinking about it all. He let his mind go blank, sinking into the propped up pillow with all his weight. He wanted to just sink away from the world. Eyes drooping, he watched Ted continue to walk back and forth, back and forth, until finally the consistent movement lulled him back to sleep.

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

A rapid, soft knocking awoke him again. He sat up, not sure if he'd really heard the noise or not until it repeated itself. The light was still on, and he noted that it was now close to nine in the morning. He pushed himself to the edge of the bed, wishing he could take his time waking up, but the urgent knocking was persistent. He could see Ted sitting in the easy chair on the other side of the room, and wondered why he didn't get up and answer the door since he was obviously awake. Then he remembered. Sighing, he got up and crossed the room as the knocking started again.

"Bill? Are you awake?" Rufus' muffled voice called from the other side.

Bill pulled the door open. "I am now," he answered, stepping back to let Rufus enter.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"No, it's okay. I should have been up already. Poor Ted's been sitting here alone with nothing to do."

Rufus crossed to the chair, setting a hand upon Ted's arm. "How's he doing?" Rufus asked as Ted took his hand in way of greeting.

"About the same, I guess," Bill answered.

Rufus leaned down in front of Ted, studying him. "He looks tired."

"Yah? Well, I think he was up all night walking around."

"Walking around?"

"Memorizing the room. Guess he couldn't sleep. I should've stayed up with him."

"No, Bill, you need sleep, too. I think Ted's days and nights are probably just mixed up." He stood up straight again. "I took the liberty of ordering some breakfast for you."

"Thanks, Rufus." Bill walked over to Ted and reached down, clutching his friend's knee for a second to let him know he was awake. Ted immediately brightened, reaching out for Bill eagerly. Sitting down on the arm of the chair, Bill hooked an elbow around Ted's neck and pulled him closer. "I wish he would just wake me up instead of sitting around like this."

There was another knock at the door, only this one sounded strangely low. Rufus cautiously opened the door to reveal Andrea, who was holding a tray of various pastries and muffins. "You ordered breakfast?"

"Why are you bringing the food?" Rufus asked as she walked to the table to set the tray down.

"Oh, well, I was on the way over here and I came across the waiter and said I'd bring it in." She approached Ted, gently brushing the hair out of his eyes. "Good morning, Ted." As always, he gave her a big smile, which she just loved seeing. "Morning, Bill."

"Morning," Bill replied politely, getting up to examine the breakfast foods. "This looks pretty good."

"I'm glad it's all right," Rufus admitted. "I asked the chef to come up with something that wouldn't be too messy."

"Good idea," Bill agreed.

Andrea took Ted's arm and directed him to sit at the table, where Bill had already selected the things he knew Ted would enjoy most and set it on a plate which he pushed in front of him. As Ted began eating, Bill sat down to begin as well. "Has there been any news?"

"Actually, yes. The scientists have been working around the clock, and they've managed to locate the specific chemical that Ted described in our historical records. Turns out the stuff barely entered the experimental phase, so there's very little documentation on it. It was banned pretty quickly. Thank goodness the countries of the world signed that all-encompassing warfare ban when they did!"

"Is there any cure?"

"Not on record, but they're breaking down the formula and can hopefully come up with a chemical to reverse it. The way they're going, they may have an answer in the next day or two."

Bill sighed. "I can't believe that all these people are working so hard just for us!"

A look of worry crossed Rufus' face. "I just wish things were going as well with the Circuits of Time."

"They were that severely damaged?" Andrea asked.

"Most heinously so. It's hard to say when they might finally be repaired."

"Hey, Rufus, it's okay! We're not expecting miracles of anyone."

"I know," Rufus nodded. "But we could sure use some about this time."

After breakfast, they followed the same routine as the day before. Ted indicated he wanted to take a bath, so Andrea left and Rufus oversaw the cleaning of the room as Bill watched over Ted in the bathroom. An hour later they emerged, and Ted immediately retrieved the notepad from the bedside stand, where they'd decided it would always be easily accessible. He began asking questions about how the scientists were progressing and if there were anything else he could do to assist them. He wrote in a much more abbreviated form, cutting down on the time between questions. But after a while he slowed down, sitting quietly between scribblings as he tried to think of more things to ask. After one particularly long pause, he looked as if he'd made the decision to finally ask something and wrote it down.

"Can we go outside?"

Bill eyed the question with surprise. "Can we, Rufus? I mean, it's really comfortable in here and everything but it is a bit confining, what with no windows or anything."

Rufus shook his head in a self-chastising manner. "It never occurred to me.... of course you can go outside! We have an outdoor area completely within the confines of the building. Come on."

Bill nodded in answer and Ted immediately set the notepad aside to get up, following them out the door.

As they walked along the corridor, Bill felt so relieved to be going somewhere. He had been so stifled in that one room he thought he would explode, but it did make sense to just stay there since it was all Ted knew. Actually he understood exactly how Rufus felt, as the notion hadn't really occurred to him, either, that Ted might want to go outside.

After travelling down several corridors they reached two large glass double doors. Stepping through, Bill gasped in wonder at the beautiful sight which surrounded them. Everywhere he looked there were trees of all shapes, plants and flowers of every imaginable variety and vast expanses of the greenest grass he had ever seen in his life. Small, twisting paths blended into the environment perfectly.

As soon as they had stepped through the doors, Ted felt the warmth on his face which he immediately recognized as sunshine. It was so refreshing, he dropped his head back and just enjoyed it for a moment.

"Rufus, this is totally awesome, dude! And this is all within the complex?"

"That is correct, William," Rufus answered as they began walking again. "There are trees and flowers and plants from all over the world here."

"And the ponds!" Bill noted, spotting the crystal blue water not far from the path they were walking on. "They're so clear!"

"Ecologically balanced. Everything here supports everything else. It kind of represents what we strive for in our civilization."

"I wish Ted could see this," Bill sighed under his breath.

When they had walked for a little while, Rufus led them off the path to a sunny spot overlooking a stream which connected the many ponds. Together they sat on the grassy area. Ted felt all around him, running his fingers through the blades of grass. Finally he flopped down, stretching out comfortably in the sun in a contented manner as Bill sat scanning the landscape, quietly taking in the view.

Seeing the relaxing effect the environment had on his charges, Rufus leaned back onto his hands, obviously enjoying the chance to take it easy as well.

After sitting in silence a while, Rufus reluctantly stood. "I'd better check on the progress being made with the Circuits of Time. You'll be all right here?"

"Oh yes, Rufus. Most definitely."

Rufus smiled. "I'll be back shortly. There are usually people walking through here all the time, so if you need anything just ask. Everyone would be most pleased to help you."

"Thanks, dude."

Rufus patted Ted's shoulder before walking away. Ted rolled over onto his stomach and waved goodbye in the direction he believed Rufus was going. Then Bill watched as Ted began crawling along the grass, exploring this new area. Slowly he got to his feet, stepping forward carefully until he came across one of the many trees lining the clearing. He ran his hands up and down the smooth bark, pressing his face against its coolness. Slowly he made his way back around, fingering the leaves and branches of plants and trees as if it were a whole new world to him.

It wasn't until Ted wandered past him and started heading straight for the pond did Bill jump up to intervene. He dashed forward, catching Ted around the waist just a step or two away from the water's edge. "Whoa, hold on, dude!" Bill laughed, pulling Ted back. "You said you wanted to go outside! You didn't say anything about wanting to go for a swim!"

Confused, Ted craned his head around to Bill, wondering why he'd stopped him. Then he felt Bill directing him to get down on his knees. Once done, Bill guided his hand downward until he felt the cool water below. He sighed gratefully, squeezing Bill's arm for a moment in thanks, then laid down on his stomach, dangling his hands playfully into the water. He could feel small plants just under the surface and wondered if there were any fish swimming around in there.

Bill got down onto his stomach as well, watching curiously as Ted very carefully placed the tip of his index finger barely onto the water's surface, holding it there patiently. After about a minute, a long, orange and white fish appeared from between some of the fuzzy green plants, slowly approaching until finally it lunged forward, barely nipping the end of Ted's finger. Ted jerked his finger back with surprise, then let out a silent laugh, which Bill accompanied with an audible one.

Looking over the water, Bill suddenly got an idea. He fished into his back pocket searchingly, managing to produce two coins. He grabbed Ted's hand and put one of the coins into his palm, which Ted accepted happily. He clutched it tightly in both hands, holding it up to his chin with his eyes closed, concentrating fiercely. Finally he moved the coin to one fist, stretched his arm out in front of him and felt for the water with his free hand, then dropped the coin straight down into the pond.

Bill smiled. He had a pretty good idea what Ted had wished for, and understood why his friend didn't want to take a chance on missing the water. Silently he decided to double their chances by making the same wish, and tossed his coin out, watching the ripples circle outward from its splash.

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

It was impossible to find his way through the darkness. Whichever way he turned he came upon smooth walls and unfamiliar furniture. Everything was foreign to his touch, yet he kept searching and searching, trying desperately to find something he knew.....

All at once he was in another world, but one of similar darkness. He sat up; a cold sweat forming on his brow. With a sigh he wiped his forehead with both hands. He hated the way his dreams were becoming more like the dark world that made up his waking hours. He couldn't even escape in sleep any more.

Carefully he reached over, feeling Bill's sleeping form next to him. He wondered how long it would be before his friend woke up. It was such a temptation to wake him, but he'd already gotten him up once to eat up some time playing twenty questions. He hated sitting there alone, but Bill needed his sleep, too.

Climbing out of bed, Ted counted the steps to the bathroom, locating his glass in its usual place on the counter and getting himself a drink of water before making his way to the easy chair where he sat down. He felt really tired, but didn't seem to be able to sleep as much as he'd like to. He thought about taking a bath, but even that was getting old, although he considered the fact that it might soothe his aching muscles. He'd been sitting around so much it felt like his body was freezing up on him, and he hated that sensation.

He wished Bill would hurry and wake up so they could do something. Then again he didn't know if Bill had been asleep for a few hours or a few minutes since they'd last been up. It was so hard to depend on everyone for everything.... he wanted to be able to do things for himself again. If he were able to get around on his own, he'd probably go outside right now. He didn't care if it were day or night.... he just couldn't stand sitting in that chair any more.

Suddenly he realized there wasn't anything really stopping him from going outside. They'd been at that grassy area for two days in a row, so he should have retained some sense of where it was. If not, at least trying would keep him busy for a while. That way he wouldn't have to bother anyone.

Deciding this, Ted got up and walked to the door of the room, opening it and stepping out before slowly closing it again. Once he felt it securely closed, he turned in the direction they walked whenever going outside and began following the wall, moving somewhat slowly in case there were any sudden obstructions. Sure enough, he bumped into a small, padded bench after only a short while, cursing silently for not being more careful. Maneuvering around the furniture, he continued until he came to a corner. He remembered they always turned left, and figured this was probably where they turned. Rounding the corner, he again followed the wall, crossing the corridor at one point to begin looking for the glass double doors.

After some time he came to another corner to his right, and decided since they didn't turn right anywhere that he must continue down the corridor. Only when he crossed the distance he came upon another wall on the other side. Following it to his left, he found it connected with the perpendicular wall on that side, meaning a person could only turn right there. Thinking about this, he wondered if perhaps he had forgotten another right turn they took to get there. Since it was the only way he could go, he again crossed to the right side and began following this new passageway, still looking for the glass doors.

It wasn't until he had made several more turns and began getting really tired did he wonder if he hadn't made a big mistake in trying this himself. He decided it might be smart to turn around and go back, only then he realized he didn't really remember which way he'd come. There had been so many corridors branching off in ways he didn't expect that he had lost track. He wondered if he wasn't still in that horrible dream and would again awaken in a cold sweat. Fighting back his nervousness, he turned another corner and began down what seemed like another corridor until he bumped into something strange. Reaching down, he located what seemed to be some kind of thick cord covered with felt. It connected to the wall with a hook, apparently to keep people from walking that way. He turned to walk in the direction of the cord, finding it connected with a short pole on the other end then veered off in another direction. It did this again a ways down, then connected back with the wall. He began following the wall again until the same thing happened. This time when he was able to make his way back to the wall he bumped into yet another bench.

Feeling very worn out, Ted sat down on the bench in defeat. No matter how much he tried to deny it, it was true; he was completely helpless. He wished now he hadn't left the room at all. There was nothing left to do but sit there and wait for somebody to find him.

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

As she hurried down the corridor, she found herself nervously wringing her hands and tried to stop doing so before entering the domed room. She wanted to appear as calm as possible.

Crossing the busy room, she quickly located Rufus, who was sitting in a chair watching the huge computer simulation of the slow repairs going on throughout the Circuits of Time. He spun in his chair when he saw her approaching, and she could tell he hadn't gotten much, if any, sleep that night.

"Andrea! Don't tell me.... you've been up all night, too."

"Yes," she nodded. "How is it going here?"

"Slowly," Rufus sighed. "It's taking a lot longer than we thought...." He stopped, noticing the expression on her face. "Andrea.... what is it?"

She looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to their conversation, but the people nearby were deeply involved in their work. "I need to talk to you," she said quietly.

Immediately Rufus got to his feet, following her from the room. They walked down the corridor some distance until they were in a secluded spot. "Now what is it?" Rufus asked worriedly.

Andrea sighed before beginning. "We got the results back from the lab, and.... there's a problem."


She continued with a frustrated tone in her voice. "We came up with an antidote that should counter the effects of the chemicals in his system, but there's one important material we need for it to work."

"Well, what is it? I'm sure anyone who may have it will be willing to...."

She held her hand up to stop him, a sad look in her eyes. "Bronze."

Rufus stared at her in disbelief. "Bronze?"

She nodded slowly. "That's the only thing that will do it."

Rufus stepped away, scratching his head in aggravation. "Of all things.... Are you sure there's no viable substitute?"

Andrea shook her head.

"But.... but there hasn't been any bronze in known existence for.... for at least two hundred years!"

"I know," Andrea sighed. "Not since the space program used every last bit for those exploration satellites."

"Of all things," Rufus moaned. "The one thing we don't have and can't get until the Circuits are repaired."

"We can try creating some in the laboratory, but it may take some time," Andrea announced hopefully, although she didn't sound too hopeful.

Rufus noticed the sad tone in her voice and turned to her, taking her shoulders. "Hey, come on! It's okay! Look, it's not like we can't ever find any bronze! There's a whole resource of it in the past! We'll have the Circuits fixed in two weeks at the most, and then everything will be fine!"

"I know," Andrea almost cried. "It's just that...." She looked up to see the hopeful look in his eyes and stopped herself, trying to force a smile. "It's just that I wanted to help him now. You know?"

"I understand," Rufus said softly, releasing his grip. "I feel the same way. But we have to be strong. Okay?"

She nodded, still fighting back her emotions. "Okay."

Rufus checked his watch, noting it was almost eight thirty in the morning. "I wonder if Bill would be up now."

"Why?" Andrea asked as Rufus headed for the suites.

"I think we should let him know. You did find a cure, and that's good news. I think they could use some."

Andrea hurried after Rufus as they walked through the still fairly empty corridors. Most people usually reported to work later in the day, as sleeping schedules were pretty much left up to the individual. Only when they were working on an emergency such as this were people up and about so early in the morning.

Arriving at the room, Rufus began knocking softly, hoping perhaps this time he wouldn't catch Bill asleep.

After a few moments the door cracked open and Bill's sleepy face appeared. "Morning already?"

"I did it again, didn't I?" Rufus said, embarrassed.

"Hey, dude, it's okay," Bill replied, stepping back to let them in. "Morning, Andrea."

"Good morning, Bill. How's Ted?"

"I dunno," Bill yawned. "He must be in the bathroom."

"The door's open," Rufus noted, walking over to investigate.

"I only woke up just now," Bill explained. "Ted's probably been up all night again."

Rufus entered the room again with a puzzled look on his face. "He's not in the bathroom."

The three looked around, thinking they had perhaps overlooked him somehow. When they realized he was nowhere to be seen, the anxiety level began to rise. "Well, where is he?" Andrea asked.

Looking at one another, they realized the same thing and headed for the door. "We'll send out teams to search the entire complex," Rufus announced urgently.

"But Rufus," Andrea gasped. "What if he isn't in the building? What if....?"

"He's got to be in the building," Rufus insisted as they hurried into the hallway.

"But what if....?"

"Don't even think about it!" Rufus interrupted her. "We'll find him! Come on!"

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

After sitting for what felt like forever, Ted began to get restless. He wondered if anyone had even noticed him missing yet. He decided that maybe he could at least explore wherever he was while he waited. He was kind of curious about those ropes.

Getting to his feet, he followed the wall further and sure enough he came across another roped off area. Very cautiously he stepped over one of them, checking to make sure there was solid floor on the other side. He didn't want to take the chance of there being some kind of construction or danger within the area, but he just had to know if he was in a bank or a movie theater or what.

Once inside the roped area, he stretched his hands out in front of him and found what felt like a flat, glass surface. Outlining it with his hands, he realized it was a long case with a latch on the front. He wondered if by trying to open it he wouldn't set off some kind of alarm, then realized that wouldn't be such a bad idea. He fumbled with the latch, which suddenly came open. He was surprised it wasn't locked.

Carefully making sure he had a tight grip on the lid, he lifted it slowly, holding on to it as he pushed it back until he felt it catch on something that held it up. Letting go, he decided he couldn't stop now. Slowly he reached down into the case, first finding a soft, velvet padding and then the object that it cushioned. He outlined the object with his fingers, immediately recognizing the shape but then realizing there was also something oddly familiar about it. Scarcely able to believe it, he gently lifted it from its home, feeling its familiar weight in his hands with a gasp of amazement. Now he knew he had to be dreaming. It wasn't just the same make or model, this was his old acoustic guitar.... the one with the scratches on the back and the nick in the side where Deacon had run into it with his skateboard.

Sitting down on the floor, Ted held the instrument, enjoying the way it fit like an old friend. He placed his fingers around the neck, testing the tautness of the strings. It had seemed like a million years since he'd last held a guitar. He didn't realize how much he'd missed it.

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

Reaching the end of another corridor, Rufus opened the last door and quickly looked around inside the room before closing it again.

"Where can he be?" Bill asked. "We've looked everywhere!"

"Not everywhere, Bill," Andrea assured him. "There are hundreds of rooms in the complex, and everyone's looking. We'll find him."

"I can't believe he went off by himself," Bill sighed angrily. "He knew we'd be worried about him!"

"I'm sure Ted was restless and went exploring," Rufus said sincerely. "He's probably just lost within the complex. It's easy to do, even with a sense of direction."

"Hold it," Andrea urged, demanding their silence. They stood, listening, and pretty soon Bill and Rufus heard what had caught her ear; a very soft melody on a lone guitar wafting gently from a distance.

"That's Ted, all right," Bill confirmed. "Where is it coming from?"

"I think I have a pretty good idea," Rufus said, leading the way.

As they approached a section of the complex Bill was unfamiliar with, the music grew louder and louder. Pretty soon they reached a large archway with a sign above it reading "Archives of Excellence". Several people were already standing near the doorway, looking relieved when they saw Rufus, who stopped just inside the arch, reaching to turn on a series of lights in the museum-like area. Bill and Andrea followed him inside as the rest of the people remained outside, craning their necks around the entryway to see what was happening.

Reaching the corner of the room, Rufus and Andrea stayed back somewhat as Bill walked toward Ted, who was sitting on the floor next to the open display case playing his old guitar. Amazingly enough, he was playing one of his favorite songs perfectly, swinging in rhythm with the music.

Suddenly Ted stopped, plucking a few random notes before strumming the strings as hard as he could, producing a loud cacophony of sound from the instrument. As soon as he'd done this, he pressed his face against the smooth wooden curve of the guitar as if he were desperately trying to sense the vibrations it was making.

As the strains of this last chord diminished, Bill observed with great pain as Ted hugged his guitar close to him, clutching the neck with both hands as he dropped his head and began crying. Bill stepped forward, ducking underneath the display ropes, and knelt down next to Ted, placing a hand on his shoulder. Ted lifted his head somewhat, acknowledging Bill's presence, but continued to sob, unable to control himself. Sharing his friend's anguish, Bill sat down next to him and pulled Ted's head to his shoulder, letting him know it was okay to let out his emotions.

Unable to hold back her tears any longer, Andrea turned and walked hurriedly from the room, ignoring the people who watched with concern as she passed. She didn't have the courage earlier to tell Rufus everything she had discovered when reading through what little documentation the historians had uncovered, and now she realized it was going to be even more difficult to break the news to them. She just prayed that somehow the warfare department's past research had been wrong.

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

The second he learned of the messenger's arrival, DeNomolos was marching down the dank corridors, sweeping past everyone without a word. When he reached the central chamber, he spotted the small, inconsequential man standing to one side and stormed up to him.

"I brought you this....."

DeNomolos snatched the paper from the man's hand viciously, turning to read its contents. He had been awaiting word from Harker since their meeting in the club, and had been growing more impatient as time dragged on with no news.

Quickly ripping open the seal, he unfolded the page and read eagerly:

"Sir -

I regret not writing before this, but news regarding your subject has been difficult to obtain. I can now tell you that I have learned for certain that the matter of interest to you, for the time being, remains the same. No immediate progress is being made in either situation. As for the plan, I'm afraid you will have to be patient. I am still working on the schedules to ensure we can carry it out without any interference. Your people have been placed but will not act until I am certain it is safe. In case you are angry about this decision, let me remind you that I will not jeopardize being caught to carry out your wishes, so we either play by my rules or not at all. I promise you all will be accomplished as soon as is possible.



P.S. - If it is any consolation, I can report first hand that they are both suffering greatly."

DeNomolos crumpled the paper in frustration. As angry as he was at this man's gaul in taking complete control of the situation, he realized at this point he had no other choice. This person was his only hope of getting that miserable Theodore Logan back, and after all the time he had put into concocting his scheme and carrying it out, he wasn't about to sit back and let those insufferable good samaritans undo all of his brilliantly evil work.

Heading back to his personal office, he tossed the paper down a nearby open drain.

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

".... and Belle was so excited! She just couldn't wait to get home and show me the 'A'!"

"I knew she would do well on that test," Rufus smiled, leaning back in his chair as he eyed the screen longingly. "And how's Tess?"

"Oh, she's most excellent," the attractive woman reported, leaning down to pick up a stray toy then popping back up into view. "She started air guitar lessons today and I think she really enjoyed the class." She sighed, looking into the video-telephone monitor longingly. "You know, they almost didn't go to that birthday party tonight because they didn't want to miss your call."

Rufus dropped his head slightly. "I wish I didn't have to be away for so long."

"But your work is so important!" his wife reminded him. "The kids understand."

"Even Joe?"

She laughed heartily, lifting the baby boy from his crib. "Even Joe." She pointed him toward the large wall-screen. "Look, there's daddy!"

Rufus waved at the tiny image as the baby's eyes beamed with recognition and the child let out a happy squeal. "Hey, Joey dude! How's it hangin'?" Rufus cooed playfully.

His wife hugged the child close and laughed. "Yes, it's daddy! And daddy's coming home soon, isn't he?" She looked to the screen and her expression dropped when she saw the look on her husband's face. "It's not going well, is it?"

Rufus sat forward, sighing. "Everything's taking so long. I just feel so.... helpless."

"You're doing everything you can," she reminded him. "No one expects more than that."

Rufus smiled at her, grateful for her never-ending support. "I'll come home as soon as I'm able."

"We'll be waiting," she promised. "Oh, and give Bill and Ted our love. You know we're all thinking about them."

"I'll pass it along," Rufus nodded. "I miss you."

"I miss you, too. Remember to call if you need anything."

"I will."

The baby let out a hungry cry, tugging at his mother's hair. "Uh oh, looks like someone wants to be fed. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Love you always!"

"Love you always," Rufus repeated sincerely. "Party on."

"Party on." She reached forward and a moment later the screen went to blue with the words "Party On, Dude!" flashing in white letters.

Standing up, Rufus turned off the monitor and walked across the room to the bed, sitting down roughly. He knew he needed to get some sleep, but it had been so difficult lately. The image of Ted sitting with his guitar in the Archives of Excellence was still fresh in his mind from that morning, and he wondered how much longer he could stand to see two people he truly cared for endure such hardship without being able to do something about it.

Kicking his shoes off, Rufus fell back across the bed to attempt to get what little amount of sleep he could.

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

Carefully opening the oven door, Missy peeked inside, pulling her head back immediately as a wave of heat slammed into her face. After rubbing her irritated eyes, she ventured another look to see the casserole was bubbling nicely. Much to her relief there was no sign of black anywhere on the surface of the meal. She wanted everything to be perfect when the girls arrived. Even if it was little consolation, a nice meal would at least take their minds off their troubles for a little while.

Consulting the cookbook next to the stove, she realized there were still two minutes left to go and closed the oven door, making a mental note to remove the casserole from the oven in precisely two minutes. She tossed the oven mit she had been wearing aside and walked into the living room to find her emery board, which she'd left on the coffee table. Absent-mindedly she flipped on the television set, which happened to be turned to the evening news.

"....well into the night. The candlelight vigil was only one of hundreds which took place around the world for the third night in a row. Strangers comforted one another in all kinds of weather, wondering, as is the rest of the world, what has happened to Bill and Ted? As time passes with no clues to their whereabouts, some wonder if they are destined to become another of the world's great mysteries, gaining so much fame only to vanish without a trace. Not since Amelia Earhart and the Lindburgh baby have so many been left to wonder.... and wait. Reporting from San Dimas, California, this is Tom Brokaw for NBC Nightly News."

As the pictures of thousands of bright spots of light surrounded by darkness changed to similar gatherings in daylight, Missy watched intently. She barely noticed when Captain Logan entered the house, stepping over to her. "Hi, honey."

When he didn't receive a response, he sat down beside her to watch the reports about the President's plea for Bill & Ted's safe return. After a short time he heard a tiny sniff, and realized Missy was on the verge of crying. Placing an arm around her shoulder, he tried to head off an outburst.

"Come now, Missy. Crying won't help anything."

"I know," Missy breathed heavily. "But I can't help it. I'm so worried about them."

Captain Logan patted her leg. "You don't want the girls to see you like this, now do you?"

Missy quickly wiped her eyes. "No.... of course not. In fact I'm cooking them a nice.... oh no!"

She jumped up so quickly that it took her husband a moment to respond. He walked into the kitchen to find her pulling a smoking, charred casserole from the oven and dropping it onto the stovetop.

"Oh.... just look at it! And it was going to be so perfect!" She sighed in frustration. "I guess we'll have to have Spaghettios instead. Oh, but that's not very cheery, is it?"

Captain Logan approached her with a sympathetic smile. "You could always serve the circus shaped ones," he suggested, attempting to make a joke.

Missy turned to him with wide eyes. "That's a terrific idea! Thank you, sweetie!"

Much to Captain Logan's dismay, she busied herself with the can opener. Leaving her to her work, he walked back into the living room as a commercial announced a two hour Geraldo special, "The Truth Behind the Bill & Ted Disappearance". He quickly turned off the television with disgust.

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

Lying on his back, he debated for what seemed like the hundredth time whether or not to get up. He knew he had to go to the bathroom, but he kept hoping maybe he'd be able to drift back to sleep. It became apparent, however, that the more he debated about it in his own mind the less likely sleep seemed. Finally he realized he wouldn't be able to relieve his mind until he relieved his bladder.

Making the decision, Ted moved carefully so as not to awaken Bill, who was lying beside him as usual, apparently sound asleep. His legs seemed unusually heavy and uncooperative as he dragged them over the side of the bed, his feet feeling for the carpeted floor beneath. He sat for a moment on the edge of the mattress, running over the debate again quickly in his mind before gently pushing himself up and walking slowly to the bathroom, unconsciously counting his steps as always.

Suddenly, and without warning, he found himself pitching forward. Automatically he threw his arms out in front of himself, cushioning his fall. He lay, stunned, on the floor for a moment, trying to figure out what had happened. He was sure he hadn't tripped on anything, as he would have felt something against his foot or leg. No, it was more like his leg had just locked up on him, refusing to move forward. He then wondered if the noise he'd made had awakened Bill, and waited on the floor for a minute to see if Bill would come over.

With a sigh, Ted realized he had not disturbed his friend and began to get to his feet. This time he moved forward a little more cautiously, stretching his legs to see if there was any sensation of a pulled muscle. But they felt fine, as if nothing were wrong, until a few steps later when the same thing happened. It was so sudden he almost didn't catch himself again, but he managed to keep from falling on his face nonetheless.

Not wishing to repeat the incident, Ted traveled the remaining distance to the bathroom on his hands and knees, finding it a laborious effort just to get a few feet. Once in the bathroom he pulled himself up to the toilet, testing his legs carefully before allowing them the weight of his body so he could proceed with business. They held up fine as he stood there, and once finished he lowered the lid and turned around, sitting down tiredly. It felt like the short walk to the bathroom had exhausted him unnecessarily, and he needed just to sit down and rest for a moment.

Realizing he wanted to go back to bed and just collapse, he got down on the floor to crawl back into the other room. It didn't seem worth the effort to try walking when he could sense he wouldn't be able to keep his feet. Once he'd finally reached the bedside, he sat down beside it, wanting to wait a moment before spending the energy to climb in. Leaning his back against the soft material of the mattress, he tried to understand why his body felt so strange to him. A feeling of grave apprehension had settled over him in the last few minutes, and he wished he could ask someone what was happening to him. Then again, maybe they didn't know, either. Maybe no one knew. There had been talk of a cure, but all he'd been able to ascertain from Bill was that something was holding it up. It was somewhat disconcerting, seeing they were in a supposedly advanced civilization. He thought the people of Rufus' time had figured out the answer to just about everything. Then again, he realized, that was expecting an awful lot of anyone.

The feeling of darkness which had surrounded him still remained, and he suddenly thought of something, reaching up to retrieve the notepad and pen from its usual spot on the bedside stand. Flipping the top pages back, he began writing with great urgency, finding even the simple task of moving a pen across paper to be more difficult than it should have been.

After he had worked for some time, determined to finish the task at hand, he pulled the top pages back down and set the notepad and pen back into its proper place before dragging himself as gently as he could back into the bed. It felt good just to go limp and not try to exert any energy at all. Although his mind didn't settle quite as easily as his body, he did manage to drift back to sleep, attempting to assure himself that he would feel better when he woke up, although somehow he couldn't quite convince himself of that.

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

Rufus raised his hand to knock on the door, then stopped himself, lowering it again. He turned and paced a moment, checking his watch. It was later than he had usually been calling on the Two Great Ones the past few days, yet every time he had knocked he'd accidentally awakened Bill, and he didn't want to do it again.

Finally he decided he couldn't wait any longer and walked back to the door, softly rapping upon it with one knuckle. He was surprised when the door opened almost immediately.

"Hey, Rufus," Bill greeted, stepping back. "C'mon in."

"You mean I didn't wake you up for a change?" Rufus asked as Bill closed the door behind him.

"Naw, I've been up for a while. But Ted's still in bed."

Rufus looked over to the bed to confirm Bill's report. He could see Ted lying on one side, but his eyes seemed to be open. "Is he awake?"

Bill walked over to Rufus and likewise looked at Ted. "I dunno. It's kinda hard to tell. He's been sleeping with his eyes open sometimes."

"Ted's usually up before you, isn't he?"

"Yah," Bill replied, moving to the bed. "He must've been tired though, 'cause we went to bed early."

"Yesterday was pretty trying," Rufus pointed out.

Bill sat down carefully on the edge of the bed. No sooner was he settled than Ted reached over and lightly squeezed his arm. "Oh, he is awake," Bill announced.

"I can order the breakfast if you like," Rufus suggested.

"That would be most excellent, Rufus."

"What do you want this morning?" Rufus asked, moving to a communication pad on the wall near the door.

"Could we have those pastries they brought up the day before yesterday? They were totally excellent!"

"Most assuredly," Rufus confirmed, punching in the order then pressing the enter key.

Bill gently nudged Ted's shoulder, prodding him to get up, but Ted only shifted slightly, showing no interest. Bill tried shaking Ted a little, only to receive pretty much the same response.

"Rufus?" When Rufus stepped over, Bill got up from the bed. "I think something's the matter with Ted."

"What is it?"

"I dunno. He doesn't seem to want to get up." He looked down at his friend worriedly.

"Maybe he's still depressed from yesterday," Rufus suggested.

"Yeah," Bill sighed. "You know, he hasn't been the same since then. He didn't want to do much of anything after we got back in the room."

"This has to be very difficult for him. He may be at the point where he thinks 'What's the use?'."

"So what do we do? Just let him be depressed for a while?"

Rufus walked around the bed to the call button on the wall. "I'll summon Andrea. Perhaps she can advise us properly."

Bill sat back down on the bed and tried to solicit a more energetic response from Ted as they waited. After a very short time they heard a knock on the door and Rufus called for the person to enter. The attendant who peeked into the room looked eager to help. "You needed something?"

"Could you please tell Andrea we require her assistance immediately?" Rufus asked politely.

"Most assuredly!" the attendant answered before disappearing again.

There was a brief moment of expectancy when another knock came to the door shortly afterward, but it turned out only to be the waiter with the breakfast, which he set on the dining table before leaving. But it wasn't long after that when yet another knock heralded Andrea's arrival. Upon entering, she walked over to the bed. "What's happening?"

"We think Ted is despondent over his situation," Rufus explained calmly. "He doesn't want to get out of bed this morning."

Andrea took this news with obvious concern and stepped over to where Bill was sitting. "Has he been up at all during the night?"

"I dunno," Bill answered. "If he was, he didn't wake me."

Bill got off the bed to allow Andrea to sit in his place. She automatically brushed the hair out of Ted's eyes, as she always did, and studied his face. The big smile she was accustomed to seeing didn't materialize; a small, seemingly half-hearted one was in its place. But there was something unusual about it.... it wasn't the type of smile that someone gave when they didn't really feel like smiling. She could see the complete smile in his eyes. This and the fact that one of Ted's eyelids seemed to droop just slightly lower than the other one led her to believe it wasn't depression that was causing his apathy.

To verify her fears, she lifted Ted's hand into hers, squeezing it tightly. She released her grip but continued to hold his hand. After a long moment, she felt his fingers squeeze lightly in return. She repeated the action, and received the same results, only this time it took him even longer to respond. He then closed his eyes, shifting onto his back with some effort, and lifted his arms slightly.

"What do you think, Andrea?" Bill asked. "Should we make him get up if he doesn't want to?"

"He wants to get up," Andrea announced.

"Huh?" Bill asked, confused.

Andrea got up from the bed, pulling the covers off Ted. "He wants to get up. He just can't, that's all." Before anyone could ask for an explanation, she looked up at them. "Can you move him over to the chair?"

"Certainly," Rufus agreed as he and Bill walked over to lift Ted and carry him to the easy chair where they carefully set him down. Ted simply sank into the chair, letting his head drop into the cushioned back as if his neck was too tired to support it.

"I don't understand," Bill announced, sitting on the arm of the chair. "What's going on?"

Andrea walked over to them with her head in her hand, as if she were trying to collect her thoughts. "I was afraid of this," she sighed, almost inaudibly.

"Afraid of what?" Bill prodded, not at all sure he really wanted to know.

Andrea pulled a chair from the dining table and motioned for Rufus to do the same. "I don't know everything about what Ted is experiencing, but I did read over what little documentation was made on the chemical which DeNomolos gave him, and some of it was pretty obscure.... the historians almost didn't uncover it because it was filed under chemical testing rather than in the warfare records. You see, this particular chemical was created to affect the brain. It infiltrates the brain and shuts down the impulses that come and go to and from the senses. It literally reprograms the brain not to accept any input from the senses or send any output into speech."

"So he can think what he wants to say, he just can't say it," Bill asked, wanting to make sure he understood.

"That's correct, William. The people who were going to use the chemical in warfare were really only concerned with its short term affects, as they simply wanted to be able to debilitate their enemies and conquer them. So not much documentation was recorded on its long term affects, but there were a few tests made and it seems they were consistent with what's happening now."

"What is happening now?" Rufus asked.

Andrea sighed sadly. "Well, the chemical apparently doesn't weaken with time. It continues to infiltrate more and more of the brain, shutting down different impulses as it goes. As you can see, it is presently affecting his motor functions. His brain tells his body to do something, but he has to concentrate very hard to make his body react. Pretty soon he may not be able to override the chemical's influence at all."

"You mean he's going to be completely paralyzed?" Bill asked in horror.

"In a way. But it's just in his brain. Nothing's wrong with his muscles, eyes, ears or anything.... if we reverse the chemical there's a good chance we could, at least, stop this process. But we need the antidote to do that."

"So it's just a matter of waiting, like before?" Rufus asked hopefully.

Andrea looked at him sadly. "I'm afraid not. There's more...." She paused before continuing. "Apparently the lab tests showed that the chemical didn't necessarily stop with the brain. There's a possibility it could affect other vital organs."

"What do you mean?" Bill asked, trying hard not to show his fear.

"It's highly unpredictable. It could tell his kidneys to stop functioning or his immune system to shut down." She looked away a moment, trying to compose herself. "Or it could pose a more immediate threat."

"How?" Rufus asked, gulping slightly as if he already knew.

She looked up at them seriously, trying unsuccessfully to detach herself from the situation. "It could, conceivably, tell his lungs to stop breathing or his heart to stop beating. And if that happens.... there's nothing I can do without that antidote."

Rufus and Bill sat back in silence, allowing this news to sink in. Bill pulled Ted close to him, and as Ted leaned into his side gratefully he wished more than anything that there were something he could do.

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

It had been the most difficult day of his life.

Bill realized this as he thought back on the events of the last twelve hours. After Andrea had explained the reason behind Ted's lethargy, things had gotten progressively worse at an alarming rate. Ted's body had been affected more thoroughly than they had at first believed, and they fully realized this when his first attempt at eating resulted in severe choking. Apparently he was unable to swallow, and drinking proved to be equally impossible.

They tried to follow their normal routine for the day, even entertaining the idea of taking Ted outside for a while, but just getting through his daily shave and grooming seemed to drain Ted's energy, and eventually the slightest amount of movement caused him to become short of breath, which worried them.

In the short space of half of a day Bill had watched as his best friend deteriorated into a state of complete helplessness. By late afternoon, Andrea and Rufus had called in several doctors and professionals to discuss possible courses of action. The debate had arisen that past medical technology should be brought into play to keep Ted's body functioning until a cure could be found. Such devices had been determined inhumane in the twenty third century when holistic medicine became standard, but no one had been faced with a situation such as this for centuries, since disease had been eliminated and violent acts and accidents were all but non-existent. Another specialist suggested placing Ted into some kind of suspended animation instead, but again there had not been a need for this service in some time and several cases of brain damage had resulted from the practice, although there was never any medical explanation for how or why these incidents occurred. Bill listened to this debate with tired interest as it was finally agreed that the matter should be decided by the Three Most Important People in the Universe. With that, the group had withdrawn to the Great Hall.

Now Bill was trying to put all of this into perspective as he sat in what had become his usual position on the bed; with his back against the headboard and Ted lying in his arms with his face pressed against Bill's chest. Bill had found that one of his only links to Ted was through his breathing, which Ted appeared to enjoy feeling; his breath often matching Bill's perfectly. At times Bill felt like he was breathing for the both of them, setting the pace whenever Ted's breathing slowed down noticeably.

For the most part, Andrea and Rufus had stayed with them constantly. Rufus had finally taken his leave earlier to attend the conference regarding Ted's care, and Andrea had stepped out for a moment to help answer a question one of the chemists had about the bronze substitute they were attempting to create. This was the first snatch of solitude Bill experienced all day, and he didn't like it at all. He felt so lost without everyone there to advise him.

Andrea was taking somewhat longer than Bill thought she would, and so finally he reached down and placed the back of his hand against Ted's forehead, as he had seen her do several times that evening. She had explained to him that Ted's body was trying to fight the chemical, treating it as a virus, and that he could experience sweating and chills alternately as his antibodies struggled to attack the foreign materials coursing through his blood. Bill could feel the heat on the back of his hand and realized Ted was going through another one of these spells.

Unsure of when Andrea would return, Bill decided he would have to take care of it this time, and reached over for the damp rag which was sitting next to a small bowl of water. He found it to be warm, and realized that the water in the bowl had probably reached room temperature as well. Slowly he pushed himself out from under Ted, making sure his friend was comfortable before lifting the bowl and carrying it into the bathroom, where he refilled it with cold water from the tap and some ice from a dispenser in the wall.

When he returned to the bedside he set the bowl down on the table and sat upon the edge of the bed, reaching over to feel Ted's forehead again, only this time he found it to be unusually cold and he could see that Ted was shivering slightly. Setting the rag aside, he pulled the covers up around Ted's body and gently rubbed his face in an attempt to warm him. Once the shivering stopped, Bill turned away, finding it too painful to face the despondent look in Ted's eyes.

Bill sat, staring at nothing in particular, when he noticed the somewhat disheveled pages of the notebook sitting on the other side of the bedstand. It looked as if a page or two somewhere within the pad were slightly dog-eared, as if someone had let the pages fall back clumsily out of place. He picked it up and flipped to the bent pages, surprised to find at least a full page of awkward handwriting. He recognized Ted's penmanship, even though it was more rigid than Ted's usual writing, indicating that it had been a struggle for him to write it. Making sure he was at the beginning, he began reading.

"Bill, my most excellent compadre:

Dude, it's been so hard to have all these thoughts stuck inside my head for so long. This whole thing must be so totally bogus for you and Rufus and the outstanding babes and dudes here in the future trying to help me when I'm so completely dependent on everyone. I don't know what's gonna happen to me. Even now I can feel my body becoming this most foreign thing over which I have no control. I hope I'm totally wrong, but I think maybe I'm not gonna make it. I don't want to die, dude, not after all that everyone's had to go through for me. I feel totally heinous for doing this to everyone, and maybe I'm wrong. Then maybe you'll never have to read this.

If I'm right, and you are reading this, I just wanted to thank you for being the most excellent, triumphant and non-egregious friend ever. I couldna gotten through this without you being here. In fact, I couldna gotten through anything without you! No matter what, I'm the luckiest dude ever just to have said I was in Wyld Stallyns with Bill S. Preston, Esq. I only wish we coulda done all the things we planned."

Tears in his eyes, Bill flipped to the next page, noting that this one was only half written upon.

"Please thank Rufus and everyone in the future for saving me from DeNomolos and doing everything they could to make me better. I dunno the name of that babe who was always here, but I sure wish I coulda met her. And I wish I coulda seen Rufus one last time. What would we have ever done without him, dude? I know you'll pass along my greetings to him.

I only have one last favor to ask, dude. Please, no matter what, get back to the past and take care of the babes and babies for me. I can't believe I may never see my precious Elizabeth or Little Bill again. I hate to think of them waiting for me. Bill, you gotta get back to them, and you gotta tell. . . . . . ."

Bill shook his head, unable to believe his eyes. "No way," he gasped softly, pulling the page closer to his face. The ink had slowly become lighter and lighter until, on that last line, it disappeared altogether. Tilting the pad to the light, he could see that the scratch marks continued, but they were all but indiscernible to him. He frantically turned to the following page and saw the scratches continued there as well.

Breathing heavily, Bill let the empty pages fall back over the hidden letter and sat, staring blankly for a moment. Finally he stood up, dropping the pad back onto the table and pacing somewhat. He felt as if he would explode, wanting so much to kick or hit or throw something. He couldn't sit down next to Ted again. His chest was heaving with dry sobs and he knew Ted would sense something was wrong. He couldn't let Ted get upset.... not now.

Suddenly the door opened and Andrea stepped in, stopping short when she saw the expression on Bill's face. "Bill! Are you okay?"

Not wanting to alarm her, Bill straightened himself as best he could. "Yeah, um...." he fumbled with his thoughts. "Do you.... d'ya think you could maybe sit with Ted for a little while? I, um.... I need to get some fresh air.... y'know?"

Andrea eyed Bill sympathetically. "Of course. Go right ahead." As she crossed to the bed and Bill headed for the door, she added, "Take your time."

Bill stopped before exiting, looking back at her. "You'll call me if anything happens, won't you? I'll just be out in the garden a moment."

Andrea smiled at him supportively. "Of course we will."

With that, Bill nodded and stepped into the hall, pulling the door shut behind him.

Andrea sat down on the edge of the bed and checked Ted's pulse, which appeared to be steady and regular. She pressed her hand against the side of his face, brushing her thumb across his cheek lightly. Ted turned his head just slightly in the direction of her hand, blinking slowly, almost one eyelid at a time.

When she thought about it, she realized how ironic this situation really was. What little girl didn't at one time or another fantasize about having been a princess babe, whisked away to another world by Bill or Ted? She had been no different, playing Elizabeth to her best friend's Joanne and dreaming about romantic adventures through time in which they would be rescued countless times by their most excellent heroes.

Now here she was, thirty years older and almost twice Ted's age; the roles oddly reversed. The childhood romanticism was no longer there, replaced instead by motherly instinct. She loved Bill and Ted.... she always would. Only now it was a different kind of love; full of respect and appreciation. They had given her a future worth living in; a future where she could nurture a family that would be allowed to live with complete peace of mind. Now this perfect world was in jeopardy and she found herself playing a leading part in trying to save it, and the idols she had revered.

In a way she really envied Rufus. He had the fortune of meeting them during happier times, and had gotten to know them well. She wished she'd had the privilege of making their acquaintances under happier circumstances. It was so frustrating that all her expertise seemed so useless right when it was needed the most.

She was tenderly massaging Ted's shoulder when the door of the room opened and Rufus stepped in, looking worn. "How's he doing?" he asked automatically.

"He's holding on," Andrea answered truthfully.

"Where's Bill?"

Andrea sat up with a worried expression. "He stepped outside for some air. I think it's all getting to be too much for him."

Rufus sighed, running a hand over his head. "I have to speak with him anyway. Maybe there's something I can do."

"I think he'd appreciate that. I'll watch over Ted."

Rufus turned to leave the room, then stopped at the doorway as if he were about to say something.

"I'll call you if anything happens," she answered, anticipating the question.

Rufus smiled and stepped into the hallway, closing the door behind him.

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

The lights lining the paths sparkled playfully in the still, black water below, but Bill couldn't enjoy the surrounding beauty. Instead he noted how the pitch blackness of the pond reflected the darkness he felt in his heart. He stood, leaning against the railing of the simple, wooden bridge, trying to push down the overwhelming sense of dread which relentlessly continued to build. The moment he'd decided upon this location to stop he had broken down and cried, but it had been intense and short lived. He found he didn't have the strength to cry any more, but wished he did. There were so many emotions welling inside him with no way out.

The sound of footsteps slowly approaching became hollow and wooden as they reached the bridge. They stopped a short distance away, and Bill lifted his head, not needing to turn around to know who it was. He stood in silence, not immediately acknowledging the other person's presence until he felt he could speak without his voice cracking.

"Why, Rufus?"

"Why what?" Rufus asked quietly.

Bill kept his gaze on the water below. "Why us?"

Rufus stood where he was, not answering right away. "I don't know." When Bill turned to look at him, he added, "Honestly. It just happened.... you are what you are."

"But we're not!" Bill protested earnestly, sparking a look of surprise from Rufus. "You've made us out to be these great heroes."

"We only call them as we see them," Rufus said in a light but sincere tone.

Bill dropped his head as if embarrassed. "It isn't true, though. Ted may be brave and heroic, but I'm not."

Rufus stepped forward slightly. "What do you mean, William?"

Bill shook his head slowly back and forth, fighting back the tears which had found their way back to his eyes. "I can't do it. I can't go back having to tell Elizabeth...." His voice trailed off, replaced by a choking sob. "I don't know what I'd do without him, Rufus. I can't stand losing him.... I just can't...."

Rufus approached from behind, clutching Bill's shoulders supportively. "Hey, it's okay, Bill. I know you're scared.... we're all scared. But we haven't lost yet."

"See?" Bill whined, pulling free of Rufus' grip to turn to him. "You're always so stoic! And everyone is doing everything they can without any complaints.... and here I am, crying and carrying on." He looked up desperately, wanting Rufus to agree with him, only to find a small, sympathetic smile on the man's face. Unable to help himself, Bill found the smirk contagious and laughed through his tears. "Well, you have to admit you sure made a funny choice for someone to base a society on, dude!"

Rufus' laugh wasn't large or mocking. He understood how Bill felt, and hooked an arm around his shoulder. "Most leaders don't have to face the generations which resulted from their actions. I mean, Abraham Lincoln never had to...." He stopped himself, noting the look on Bill's face that wouldn't let him get away with it. "I stand corrected," he smiled.

Bill laughed slightly before looking out over the water a moment. "One step at a time...." he sighed, quoting the philosophy which Rufus and Andrea had instilled in him over the last few days. "So.... what is the next step?"

Rufus unhooked his arm, leaning against the railing next to Bill. "That's what I needed to talk to you about. We discussed Ted's condition with the Three Most Important People in the Universe."

"Yeah? What did they decide?"

Rufus hesitated, not knowing what the reaction would be. Finally he spoke.

"To let you decide."

"Me?" Bill asked, not believing his ears.

Rufus nodded. "We have the technology to keep Ted's body going without input from his brain, as the doctors of your time would probably do if someone was in a coma. It isn't right to force such measures on someone from our time, as it's generally believed to be inhumane, but because you're familiar with such techniques in your time we thought it wouldn't be as inappropriate. But it's a moral decision, and that decision used to be made by the closest living relative. We don't have one of those, but we have you."

"So I have to make the decision whether or not to keep Ted alive by artificial means.... is that what you're saying?"

Rufus leaned into the railing with more of his weight. "The logic is this.... you know Ted better than anyone. The question is, would Ted want to be kept alive by any means possible?"

Bill thought about this a moment. "We never really discussed it, Rufus."

Rufus looked at him solemnly. "What do you think?"

Bill looked back over the water, wondering how he could possibly make such a decision. He really didn't feel like it was his place to determine Ted's fate. If only Ted had given him some idea of what to do....

Suddenly it came back to him.... the letter which Ted had written. One line in particular. "I don't want to die...." Ted had been fighting so hard.... it didn't seem right just to give up on him now. If there was any chance of saving him, he had to go for it. He believed that with all his heart.

"Do it, Rufus," Bill said seriously.

"Are you sure?" Rufus asked.

"You said it yourself, dude. We haven't lost yet. And we can't give up."

Rufus nodded. "And we won't give up." He patted Bill's shoulder warmly, standing a moment in silence before pulling back. "Guess we'd better let Andrea know about your decision."

"Yeah, and I'd better get back to Ted," Bill added, turning away from the railing. "How soon will they put Ted on life support?"

"They're setting it up now, so whenever he needs it," Rufus answered, stepping ahead of Bill.

"I just wish there were some way of getting that cure so we wouldn't have to do this," Bill sighed under his breath, then stopped suddenly at the foot of the bridge. "Hold up, dude!" he said, running back onto the bridge and fishing into his pocket. Rufus followed him, watching with curiosity as Bill clutched something tightly in his hand, standing with his eyes closed in deep concentration. A moment later he tossed whatever it was into the water.

"What are you doing?" Rufus asked.

Bill turned back to him. "Huh? Oh, just making a wish." He could see that Rufus didn't understand what he meant at all. "You see, in our time you make a wish and then throw a coin into a well or a pond or something and supposedly your wish comes true."

"Really?" Rufus asked. "Does it work?"

"It doesn't hurt," Bill shrugged, reaching in his back pocket to pull out his last coin. "Here.... give it a try." Rufus accepted the coin, studying it in the somewhat dim light. "It's strange you never heard of that before."

"Well, we don't have money in the future, Bill," Rufus said absent-mindedly, still studying the penny in his hand. Without warning he turned away, raising the coin to a nearby light. "Isn't this what you called a penny?" he asked with a strange sense of urgency.

"Yeah, but they aren't really worth anything."

Rufus spun wildly, a desperate look in his eyes. "How many of these have you thrown in there?"

Bill backed up a step, startled. "A few, I guess.... maybe a nickel or two....."

"Do you realize what this is?"

"Hey, Rufus, don't worry.... it totally won't harm the water or anything, dude!" Bill assured him, not understanding the reason for Rufus' sudden burst of emotion.

"It's bronze!" Rufus announced excitedly.

"No, dude," Bill corrected. "Pennies are made out of copper."

"Exactly, William, and bronze is copper that includes no more than eleven percent tin, which is what pennies are actually composed of! This is precisely what we need, Bill!"

Bill watched as Rufus ran off excitedly, then stared out over the water. "Whoa.... I guess the wishing does work, then."

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

As Bill sat in his usual position with Ted resting against him, he tried his best to be patient, but it was getting difficult. To keep his mind occupied while he waited, he thought about everything that had happened. Ted's disappearance, Rufus' arrival, first seeing Ted like this, the days of watching, caring and worrying about his friend, and then having to watch him deteriorate. He didn't dwell on these things, instead thinking over Rufus' discovery of the pennies and the sudden renewed enthusiasm which had followed. After that he had gone back to be with Ted for a while, but ventured out into the garden briefly at Rufus' urging. There Bill witnessed one of the most unusual sights he had ever seen.... and he had seen a lot of unusual sights in his lifetime.

The entire pond where he had tossed the coins was illuminated with bright underwater lights, giving it the appearance of something other-worldly. The few fish that ventured out from the reeds skittered about nervously, unsure of what had changed night into day. If that weren't enough, there were six or seven important and respected scientists, doctors and liaisons wading around in the murky water, meticulously searching for the elusive pennies. Bill naturally offered to help, but everyone insisted he go inside and stay with Ted.... that was where he was needed. Rufus explained to him then that they were only telling a very limited number of people about the possible cure, as they didn't want to raise everyone's hopes at that point.

It seemed like an amazingly short amount of time.... possibly three or four hours, he thought incredulously.... when the male scientist who had initially drawn Ted's blood entered with a syringe filled with an odd, yellowish colored liquid. By this time Ted had been motionless for hours, so they quickly gave him the injection, then everyone sat back to wait and see what would happen.

That had been almost an hour and a half ago, and while Bill felt his legs protesting somewhat from the position he was sitting in, he had no intention of moving. He'd sit there forever if he had to. No one had any idea how the chemical would affect Ted, and he wasn't about to let his best friend face the unknown alone.

Bill looked up to see Rufus and Andrea across from him, slumped down in the chairs where they had seated themselves to wait, only both of them were now sound asleep. Bill didn't blame them. He knew they were exhausted. All of them had been up for over thirty hours, and Bill found himself struggling to stay awake as well.

Shifting slightly, he managed to get rid of a cramp that was beginning to form in his left leg. The movement caused Ted's head to fall back somewhat, so Bill gently nudged it up to rest against his chest again and sighed. He started thinking about everything from the beginning again. It was all so unbelievable. He was halfway through the events of the past twenty four hours when his mind gave up on consciousness and he nodded off to sleep.

When he first opened his eyes again, he thought he'd only been asleep a short time, but the knots throughout his body told him otherwise. Urgent voices had forced him awake, and he looked up sleepily to see Rufus and Andrea leaning over him.

"Bill! Bill, wake up!"

Forgetting where he was for a moment, Bill tried to push himself up from his position, but the weight on his chest wouldn't allow it. He looked down to see Ted still sleeping against him, and wondered why there was such urgency in Rufus and Andrea's voices.

In his sleepy state, it was a few moments before Bill realized that Ted wasn't in exactly the same position as before. Now Ted's arms were up around him, and every so often they moved to a more comfortable spot as he cuddled in closer.

"He's moving!" Hardly daring to believe it, Bill leaned over, shifting his hands to just barely shake Ted. "Ted?"

After a few more slight shakes, Ted lifted his head somewhat and sleepily opened his eyes. Rufus and Andrea leaned in even more, observing him very carefully.

"Ted?" Bill repeated. "Dude, you awake?"

Ted didn't respond to Bill's question, apparently just waking up enough now to move his legs and arms as if it were something completely new to him.

"Ted?" Rufus asked, hoping Ted would respond. But Ted didn't even turn his head.

Bill looked at the expressions on Rufus' and Andrea's faces as they drew back slightly, noting the slight disappointment there. "He still can't see or hear, huh?"

Rufus shook his head. "It appears that way," he sighed.

Andrea looked at Bill with genuine concern. "Bill.... there is a possibility that the chemical may have done permanent damage to Ted's senses. He may never be able to regain them."

Bill looked down as Ted wrapped his arms around him and hugged tightly, then returned the gesture. "That's okay," he told Andrea. "Ted's alive.... that's all that matters." He pressed his cheek against the top of Ted's head, holding him tighter than he ever had before.

And judging from the smile on Ted's face, Andrea and Rufus figured that Bill was probably right.

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

Harker's mind was still not fully awake when he walked into the cafeteria in search of coffee. He'd found it difficult to sleep the last few days, as his mind refused to let him forget what he was about to do. In a way he felt guilty about it. After all, was it really anyone else's fault that he hadn't been born with any musical talent? He'd tried playing guitar, but it had never come naturally to him, and in frustration he'd given it up. His teacher had encouraged him, saying he had to keep at it, but he'd always felt that if something didn't happen right away it wasn't meant to be. And although he'd made it to the top of his field.... after all, being the head of maintenance at the Halls of Excellence was about as far as you could go.... it had never seemed like enough. Somehow he felt he'd always missed his chance at greatness, and all because their Society was based so much on music.

Realizing he was about to overfill his cup, he shut off the dispenser and walked to a nearby table, unintentionally overhearing a snippet of conversation between two women who had been standing behind him.

"I don't know. Later this afternoon was all I heard."

"I wonder what they found out."

Reaching the table, Harker found a similar conversation going on at the table next to his.

"I just hope it's good news for a change," the man sighed.

"Have you seen him?" asked his female companion.

"Not since the other day in the Archives. He looked pretty bad then, and I've heard he's gotten worse."

"Oh, dear. And we have to wait until later today to find out what's happening?"

"Excuse me, but what's everyone talking about?" Harker interrupted. "What's happening today?"

"There's going to be some kind of announcement about the Two Great Ones!" the woman said eagerly. "We think maybe they have some important news!"

"Important news?" Harker asked quietly.

"Perhaps they've found a cure," the man offered optimistically. "I heard that most of the scientists and researchers were up all night again."

"A cure?" Harker sighed, trying to keep his true emotions to himself.

"We can only hope," the woman sighed tiredly.

"Yes...." Harker pushed himself up from his chair. "Excuse me." Wide awake now, he forgot about the coffee and left the cafeteria.

Hurrying down the hallways, he whizzed by similar conversations about the upcoming announcement. He quickened his steps as he approached a door marked "Maintenance Dudes and Babes Only" and entered the narrow passageway that provided access to all energy and environment control panels for every room in the complex.

He didn't need to give it any conscious thought as he made his way down the dimly lit passage to the correct panel. He'd gone over it so much in his mind that this time seemed almost like a dream as well. He thought everything through again, justifying it in his mind. It was worth it. He'd take the money and then borrow one of the time travel booths to go into the past where he'd be able to buy his way into the entertainment industry, as was possible before money became obsolete. Then he could have the career he'd always wanted. It was what DeNomolos had promised when he first approached him. Up until then he'd felt like nobody would ever understand how he felt. He had to do it.... he couldn't blow his big chance. And he knew how angry DeNomolos would be if he waited until after they cured the Great One.

By now he had opened the door to the correct panel and was facing several very familiar wires and switches. Sighing, he pulled the wire cutters from his utility belt and, after a moment spent finding the exact ones he wanted, he snipped three of the wires in half, closing them off with protective coverings so there would be no chance of fire. Once finished, he closed the panel and rubbed his head, then straightened with a look of determination. He quickly made his way back to the main corridor to put the call through to his contacts and say the plan was a go.

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

He wasn't sure how much time had passed. It could easily have been a lifetime. He found that everything was different to him now; he had a greater sense of appreciation for so many things he'd unknowingly always taken for granted. Just the ability to sit up in bed and eat breakfast was something to be exceedingly grateful for. And while he found he still couldn't taste the food, it was such a relief to finally quell the aching hunger that had been plaguing the pit of his stomach.

Ted took great pleasure in everything that morning. He'd even managed to walk to the bathroom with some help from Rufus and Bill, and he couldn't remember ever feeling so relieved at being able to bathe and be shaved and groomed. He had the irrepressible urge to be active all the time, and although his mobility was still a bit shaky, it felt wonderful after the terrifying experience of being trapped in his own body.

Now dressed in fresh clothing, he was led to the easy chair where he sat, waiting to see what would be next on the agenda. He hoped that perhaps they could go outside, even if he was too weak to walk. He was longing for some fresh air. The room felt unusually warm to him, but he wasn't sure whether it was really his environment or if he was running a fever from being so ill.

The sudden movement next to him told him that Bill had taken a seat on the arm of the chair, and he reached up to find his friend's hand, which was offered without any hesitance. Ted felt even closer to Bill now than ever before. After all, Bill had been there for him throughout his horrendous ordeal. It meant more to him than anything that now he could at least let Bill know through his gestures how much he appreciated his constant support.

After taking Ted's hand, Bill watched as Rufus entered from the bathroom. "What do we do now, Rufus?"

Stopping to wipe his brow, Rufus sighed in thought. "Looks like we're back to where we started."

"Maybe we shouldn't try to do too much today," Bill thought aloud. "Ted's still pretty weak."

"I think that's most advisable," Andrea agreed. "I suspect Ted's probably got a lot of questions about what's happened to him."

"Yeah. But we don't have a pen," Bill sighed.

"What do you mean?" Rufus asked with some surprise.

"Oh right, I guess you don't know. It ran out of ink, Rufus."

"I'd better have the researchers try to locate another one then," Rufus sighed. "I'll contact them now."

"And while you're at it, see if you can get maintenance to check the environment settings," Andrea added. "It seems unusually warm in here."

A knock on the door caused Rufus to change direction halfway across the room. Opening the door a crack, he spoke briefly to someone outside, but Bill couldn't make out what they were saying. He only caught the end when Rufus raised his voice to tell the person to have the head of maintenance check on the room temperature. With that, Rufus closed the door and turned to them.

"What was that all about?" Andrea asked.

"That was a message from the Three Most Important People. They requested permission to hold audience with you, Bill."

"Huh?" Bill asked, confused.

Rufus smiled understandingly. "They want to see you."

Bill sat up, looking slightly nervous. "Me? Why?"

"I'm sure it has something to do with the announcement they plan to make about Ted's condition this afternoon," Rufus explained calmly. "I can go with you, if you like."

Bill nodded vigorously. "Please, Rufus. I wouldn't know what to say!"

"There's no need to worry, William. I'm sure you'll do just fine."

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

It felt strange to enter the dome from the outside.... something he'd never done before. Once they had stepped through the arched doorway, Rufus slowed his step, allowing Bill to approach the three suspended figures ahead of him. Bill automatically slowed his step as well, feeling awed in their presence, although the expressions on their faces were extremely welcoming.

After waiting a moment, Bill realized the three were waiting for him to speak first. "Um.... how's it hangin'?"

"Most outstandingly," the Supreme One replied. "Greetings to you, William."

Bill bowed slightly in response, waiting for them to continue.

"How is Ted?"

"He's doing so much better," Bill answered excitedly. "I mean, I can't thank you enough for saving his life. You guys.... are so...." He tried desperately to think of the right term that would sum up his feelings, finally deciding upon "....excellent!"

This brought wide smiles to the floating ones' faces, and they nodded to each other before turning back to Bill. "We are most pleased to hear Ted is better," the Female Important Person stated.

The Supreme Important Person leaned forward slightly. "We wish to discuss the situation with you, in private if we could please, Bill."

Bill turned to look at Rufus, who eyed him supportively. "Uh, well.... sure. I guess so. Rufus? Do you mind?"

"Not at all," Rufus smiled. "I'll go assist Andrea with Ted. I'm sure someone can escort you back to the suite when you're finished."

"Most definitely, Rufus," the Third Most Important Person promised.

Rufus patted Bill's shoulder lightly. "I'll see you later then." He turned and left the room.

A little more relaxed now, Bill turned back to the Important People. "What exactly do you want to discuss?"

"There are some decisions to be made," the Supreme One began. "The scientists have explained the situation to us. We understand that so far Ted shows no sign of recovering his senses."

Bill nodded sadly. "That is most true, I'm afraid."

"We can help rehabilitate him here," the Third Most Important Person announced. "But we're faced with a dilemma. The longer we keep you from your true time period, the more damage we could cause to the timelines. Ideally, you should be returned to your own time to deal with Ted's recovery."

"However," the Female continued, "We are worried that the experts of your time may not be able to help Ted as thoroughly as we could. You see our dilemma?"

"Whoa," Bill sighed, taking this in as a problem he had not foreseen. "I dunno. I want Ted to get the best help he can, but if we're gonna screw up time...."

"This is why we felt the need to speak with you," the Supreme Important Person sighed.

Realizing this was not a problem that would be easily solved, Bill sat down on the lighted, glass floor and pulled his legs up to get comfortable. "Okay, dudes. Let's get some sodas and cheeseballs and discuss our options."

Standing just outside the door, Rufus smiled and walked away, satisfied that Bill would handle the situation just fine. He quickly returned to the Most Excellent Suite, where he stopped when he saw Andrea at the door talking with two men. As he approached, he recognized the one man as Harker, the head of maintenance for the Halls of Excellence.

"Gentlemen? May I be of service?" Rufus asked as he approached.

"You called for maintenance?" Harker asked politely. "Something about the environment controls?"

"Right," Rufus nodded, eyeing the smaller man next to Harker. "But who is this?"

"He's my apprentice, Cummings. We've already checked the main circuitry and there's no problem there, so it has to be something in the room, and I need Cummings to keep an eye on the controls as I work to see what's causing the problem."

Rufus stepped past them into the room, nodding to Andrea. "It's okay," he assured her, allowing them to enter behind him. He watched as they immediately crossed to the wall on the other side of the room and began to remove the panel covering the complex circuitry of the environmental control system. At first he was skeptical, thinking that perhaps Harker had only brought along a co-worker so he could get a good look at the Great Ones, but the two got right down to work without even giving Ted a second glance.

Andrea had already taken a seat at the dining table, pulling her chair just far enough away so she could take Ted's hand in hers. Rufus picked up an apple from a basket of fruit on the table and took a bite, watching the men work. "Any idea what the problem is, gentleman?" he asked once he'd finished chewing.

"Not sure," Harker answered, even though his head was partially inside the wall. "Probably just a clogged fluid line. We'll have it sorted out in a moment."

Suddenly there was another knock on the door and Rufus turned from the workers to answer it. An unfamiliar woman in a maid's uniform stood behind a large laundry basket, smiling at him. "I'm here to pick up the dirty laundry and tidy up."

Rufus eyed the woman in confusion. Usually the head of housekeeping came to do the room, and he had never seen this girl before. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I don't...."

"Oh, hello, Ellen!" Harker called out. "How's it hangin', love?"

Ellen craned around the doorway to see who was addressing her. "Hi, Harker. Fine, thanks."

"Getting settled in okay?" Harker asked pleasantly.

"Oh yes, just fine. Everyone's been most outstanding so far."

"You know her?" Rufus asked Harker.

"We've met once or twice in the cafeteria," Harker explained. "That's Ellen. She just started working here recently. I'm surprised the two of you haven't met, Rufus."

Rufus looked back at the pretty face and stepped back. "Okay then. But be quick about it."

"Yes, sir, Rufus, sir." She curtsied slightly before pushing the cart into the room and leaving it beside the bed as she began to strip the sheets.

Andrea looked up at Rufus once this exchange was done. "How was Bill doing?" she asked quietly.

"He was just fine," Rufus assured her. "He just hasn't spent enough time with the Three Most Important People. I think they're still a little awe-inspiring to him."

"Well, that's understandable," Andrea smiled, squeezing Ted's hand tighter.

Andrea and Rufus continued talking, not realizing that across the room Harker was busy attaching a small cylinder to one of the hoses he had cut into. He motioned to his partner, who quickly dug into their toolkit to pull out two small masks. Glancing over his shoulder, he made eye contact with Ellen, who dropped the pile of dirty sheets onto the bed and crouched down, reaching into the compartment containing fresh sheets to locate a similar mask.

Harker finished connecting the cylinder to the hose and quickly turned a nozzle on the top of it several times. The soft hissing sound was initially covered by Harker's assistant coughing at the appropriate moment. Making sure their backs were turned to Rufus and Andrea, the two quickly slipped the masks over their noses and mouths, pretending to continue with their work.

Ellen glanced briefly around the side of her cart to make sure that she, likewise, was not being watched, then similarly positioned her mask over her face, keeping crouched down to act as if she were trying to locate sheets which were the correct size.

Finishing another bite of apple, Rufus headed for the bathroom, then stopped, looking around curiously. Turning his head back to Andrea, he saw a similar puzzled expression on her face.

"What's that smell?" she asked, sniffing at the air.

"I don't know," Rufus confessed. As he turned around, the first wave of tiredness hit him, and he braced himself against the sudden dizziness by grabbing onto the table.

Seeing Rufus waver, Andrea became alarmed and jumped up, only to be overcome by the same sensation. "Rufus! What is it?"

"I don't know," Rufus repeated, struggling to keep his eyes open against the intense exhaustion. He moved away from the table toward the bed. "Harker! Are you guys all....?" He stopped suddenly as he reached the maid's cart, looking down through sleepy eyes to see the woman crouched down, looking up at him from behind the clear, plastic mask.

Rufus backed away a step, unable to believe his eyes. "No.... way!" he gasped, turning in time to see Andrea slump to the floor. Immediately he moved to the easy chair, quickly losing his battle against sleep as he stumbled forward, desperately trying to reach Ted.

Ted noticed that he was feeling inexplicably tired when he felt the chair shake as if someone had bumped against it. A hand brushed against his arm lightly then fell away. Startled, Ted reached out to whoever was there, unable to find them at first. Groggily, he reached over the side of the chair and felt someone lying on the ground. He could tell it was Rufus, and became alarmed, pushing himself forward to get up. He barely lifted himself up when he fell back, too tired to fight the overwhelming fatigue which had come over him. Oddly enough, somewhere in the back of his mind was the faint memory of a distinctive odor, but he couldn't quite grasp its familiarity before he lost consciousness.

For a strange moment the room was completely still. Then the three masked figures stood up, approaching carefully. Seeing that the gas had produced the desired results, Harker motioned to the man and woman, directing them to hurry with the next part of their plan.

Making sure the masks were firmly fastened to their faces, Harker and Cummings moved to the easy chair, lifting Ted by his chest and legs and carrying his limp body to the laundry cart where they roughly dropped him in. Ellen gathered the loose sheets she had left on the bed as the men pushed Ted's legs down into the cart, then threw the bundle on top of him, making sure that he was completely covered.

"Where's the other one?" Harker asked angrily. "I was hoping for a bonus on this deal!"

"Well, we can't just sit around and wait for him!" Cummings pointed out, picking up the bedspread from the floor and throwing it into the cart for good measure. "We've gotta get out of here while we can!"

"Right," Harker sadly agreed as he moved to the door and Cummings retrieved their tools before helping Ellen push the cart across the floor. Carefully Harker peered into the deserted hallway before opening the door completely and removing his mask at the same moment. "Go," he ordered Ellen quietly, and she removed her mask and slipped past him into the hallway, acting as nonchalantly as possible. "The laundry truck is at the east loading ramp. We'll see you back at headquarters."

"Right," she whispered, then pushed the cart ahead of her as she casually strolled down the corridor.

Cummings removed his mask and stepped out into the hallway with Harker. "So far so good," he sighed.

"Yeah," Harker nodded, motioning that they should start walking in the opposite direction that Ellen had gone, which they did. "No reason for us to hang around here, now is there?"

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

The Supreme Important Person balanced the cheeseball in mid-air above his palm, then tossed it up high in slow motion, directing it in a loop-the-loop before neatly catching it in his mouth. The other two Important People and Bill eagerly applauded this feat.

"Not bad," Bill nodded. "Wish I could do stuff like that."

"Ah, but you have many other admirable talents, William," the Female Most Important Person pointed out.

"I guess," Bill shrugged, shifting slightly. He still wasn't used to sitting this way; cross-legged and suspended several feet above the ground. They'd found it more comfortable to talk at eye level, so the Supreme One had focused enough of his power to keep Bill levitated during their meeting.

"Now then," the Supreme One began in a serious tone, bringing the conversation back to the matter at hand, "Do you find our plan satisfactory, Bill?"

"Yeah, sure," Bill answered. "I mean, if we can work out a certain time each week when we can come here for a sort of therapy session, that would be most outstanding."

"Our techniques for dealing with the blind and deaf would be far too advanced for Ted to use in your society," the Third Most Important Person explained. "However, the emotional therapy he could receive here would most likely prove to be greatly beneficial on top of whatever therapy he can receive in the past."

Bill sighed, dropping his head slightly. "Ted's gonna have a lot of adjusting to do.... we all are. I just wish...." He stopped himself, looking up at them. "I really appreciate your offer to help. You know.... you guys in the future are like the only ones who ever understood what it was we wanted to do." He looked away, somewhat embarrassed. Hearing that thought out loud made him feel stupid for saying it.

"I guess we have the benefit of hindsight," the Supreme Important Person laughed.

"Not beneficial enough," the Female Important Person sighed sadly. "We certainly didn't predict any of this would happen."

"It just shows you how fragile the time lines can...."

The Third Most Important Person didn't get a chance to finish his sentence, as a messenger suddenly dashed into the room, looking frantic. "Your Importances!" he cried, then stopped short when he saw Bill floating in front of them.

"What is it?" the Supreme Important Person asked calmly.

"It's.... um...." He looked hesitant to continue. "I don't know if I should...."

"Give it to me telepathically," the Supreme One suggested.

Complying, the messenger closed his eyes, concentrating with some energy. A moment later a look of horror crossed the Supreme One's face.


Without warning, Bill fell to the floor with a thump, landing in the same sitting position he had been in when floating.

"Oh, Bill! I do apologize!" the Supreme One gasped, realizing what he'd done.

"S'okay," Bill assured him, still somewhat dazed.

The Supreme One immediately turned his attention back to the messenger. "When did this happen?"

The man shrugged. "Within the last twenty minutes, we would guess."

"What happened?" Bill asked. He got to his feet as the Supreme One whispered something to each of his companions, producing a similar look of horror on their faces. The Three looked down at Bill with expressions that made him extremely nervous.

"Bill...." the Supreme One began. "Ted's been abducted."

Bill stood, shaking his head as if he hadn't heard right. "No way," he gasped, taking a step back.


Before anyone could say anything else, Bill pushed past the messenger and ran from the room, calling out Ted's name. The messenger stood, stunned.

"Don't let him out of your sight!" the Supreme One urged the messenger, suddenly fearful for Bill's safety.

The messenger quickly turned and dashed from the room, turning in the direction Bill had gone, which was toward the Suites. While Bill was ahead of him and occasionally out of sight around certain corners, the messenger could hear him ahead and was at least able to make sure he got to the room all right.

Screeching to a halt in the open doorway, Bill took in the buzzing scene in front of him. Rufus and Andrea were sitting up on the floor, taking oxygen from masks which some doctors were offering. Other people were looking over an open panel in the far wall and still others were standing around, urgently discussing the situation.

The messenger had just arrived behind him when Bill stepped into the room, squatting down next to Rufus, who still looked somewhat stunned. "Rufus?"

Rufus looked up at Bill with the saddest eyes. "Bill.... I'm sorry."

"What happened? Are you okay?"

Rufus struggled to push the mask away even though he was still slightly incoherent. "I should have suspected.... I let them walk right in...."

"Rufus, it wasn't your fault!" Bill insisted, not needing to know the whole story to know that was true. He had a million questions to ask, but could tell that Rufus wasn't in any shape to answer them, and Andrea looked to be just as bad. He stood up as the doctor insisted that Rufus put the oxygen mask back on.

Walking to the doorway, Bill was about to run out when the messenger put a hand on his arm to stop him. "Bill, I'm sorry, but you should stay here."

"But I gotta find Ted!" Bill said desperately, once again pushing past the man.

"Bill, wait!" Rufus suddenly yelled out behind him.

Bill stopped, unable to ignore the desperation in that muffled voice. He turned back to the doorway, only to find Rufus already there when he reached it. It was apparent that it was taking Rufus a great deal of energy just to remain standing.

"Please, don't leave," Rufus implored, leaning against the doorway weakly.

Bill looked at the man in earnest. "Ted needs me! I can't just let them.... Rufus, I gotta go." Determined, he turned to leave.

"Go where?"

Bill stopped, realizing that Rufus was right. He had no idea where to begin looking; he didn't even know what the world was like outside the Halls of Excellence. As much as he wanted to help Ted, he was not in a position where he could actually do anything for him. He needed Rufus' help, and looking back at the man he realized Rufus also needed his help. He walked back and hooked an arm around Rufus' waist, helping him into the room where he could sit down and regain his strength.

"Rufus, we gotta do something!"

"Believe me, Bill.... we'll do everything within our power to get Ted back," Rufus promised with as much conviction as he could muster.

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

His first conscious thought was one of dread. He didn't immediately understand why, but then it dawned on him. It was that smell.... the stench that hung heavy in the air, threatening to smother him completely. He knew that smell, and he knew where he'd smelled it before, only now it was stronger than he had remembered. Opening his eyes, he found his surroundings to be completely black and nonexistent as well as silent, yet there was that unmistakable odor....

Pushing himself up slightly, he prayed it was all a bad dream, but after feeling around him he knew in his heart that it wasn't. The uneven, hard surface was as familiar and foreboding as the stench of raw sewage. Carefully he explored farther, feeling his way across the floor until he reached a wall. Steadying himself, he pushed his body into a standing position, waiting a moment for the slight dizziness which had come over him to pass.

Moving slowly, he began making his way along the damp wall, being careful not to cut himself against the occasional sharp stones. He'd only gone a few feet when he lightly bumped into someone. Jumping back with a start, he waited nervously for the person to approach him. After a few moments when nothing happened, he reached out again, thinking perhaps he had mistaken something for a human being.

Reaching out again, he found the figure standing in exactly the same spot. It was definitely a person, but whoever it was still refused to acknowledge his presence. As he felt the smooth leather surrounding the tremendous frame, his heart slowly began to sink with recognition. It probably would have sunk faster if he could have seen the hatred burning in the eyes that were glaring down at him.

Ted had barely pulled his hands away when a sudden, smashing blow across his face sent him sprawling backwards against the hard floor. Instinctively, he pushed himself away from where the figure was standing until he reached the far wall, pulling his legs up around him and shivering uncontrollably. He couldn't believe he was back in that horrible place. He even began to wonder if perhaps he had never left.... could that whole episode in the Halls of Excellence have been a dream? Or perhaps an induced fantasy? But it had seemed so real....

DeNomolos brushed at his clothing with great disdain, sneering at his cowering prisoner with disgust. With a superior air, he walked slowly toward Ted. "You disgustingly worthless excuse for a so-called hero. Did you seriously think you could escape from me?" He kicked at Ted bitterly, catching him in the left thigh. "Well, my friend, we still have some unfinished business to attend to." He grabbed Ted's hair, lifting his head to speak fiercely into his face, even though he knew Ted couldn't hear him. "I'll just let you sit here and imagine what kind of things are in store for you, 'ey?"

Ted tried to turn his head away from the hot, pungent breath, but the thick fingers held his hair tightly. Finally they let go and the body pulled away, much to his relief. He stayed where he was, afraid of possibly provoking another confrontation.

After DeNomolos exited the cell, he made sure the guard locked it tightly behind him. Looking back into the enclosure, he sighed thoughtfully. "I really should have his quarters redecorated with broken glass one of these days." He then turned to Harker, who had been waiting patiently nearby, and directed him to follow.

As they made their way down the dimly lit corridors, DeNomolos walked a few steps ahead, not looking back at Harker as he addressed him. "You did well, my friend. I was fearful that they might actually be able to come up with a cure of some kind."

"Yes, well, I had hoped to be able to capture the other one at the same time. Unfortunately, things didn't work out in our favor," Harker sighed.

"It would have been.... convenient," DeNomolos confessed in an amused tone. "However, I think we will be able to take care of that little problem ourselves."

Harker nodded, quickening his step to keep up with DeNomolos. "So, um.... I don't want to be pushy or anything, but I'd kind of like to finish up our little business so I can be on my way."

"Certainly," DeNomolos cooed, turning a bend to walk down a narrower corridor.

Harker hesitated before asking the next question. "The price is, well.... still the same.... isn't it? After all, I did take quite a risk for you."

The corridor ended with a doorway, where DeNomolos stopped and turned to Harker. "Don't worry. You'll get everything you deserve." He motioned for Harker to step through ahead of him.

Harker sighed with relief and walked through the doorway into a place he had never been before. It was more like a silo than a room; circular in shape and not very large around. However, the floor only extended partially into the room, which stretched an incredible distance both above and below their level like a large well. Amazed, Harker peered over the edge into the swirling blackness below. Water ran down the walls from many different openings into this spillway, which drained down a giant whirlpool at the bottom. He was suddenly aware of DeNomolos standing directly behind him.

"Once again I must thank you for your services," DeNomolos said sincerely, then lunged forward, shoving Harker, screaming, into the cesspool below. Glaring down after his unsuspecting colleague, he smirked wickedly. "Don't call us.... we'll call you."

Turning to leave the room, DeNomolos laughed slightly, pleased with himself. Everything was finally going his way.

"Now to see about extending an invitation to our other moronic guest-to-be."

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

The air was filled with tension as some of the greatest minds of the century gathered in the Great Hall to discuss what had taken place.

"Please settle, everyone," the Supreme One urged. "It is time. We must address this most non-non-non-non-heinous situation immediately."

"Is the Great One all right, Rufus?" the Female Important Person asked.

"He is under guard," Rufus answered. "He wanted very much to attend this meeting, but I explained it was for his own safety to stay in a room nearby instead."

"Very well," the Supreme One nodded. "Now then.... how should we best deal with this egregious turn of events?"

"Can't we just infiltrate DeNomolos' lair?" someone asked.

"We don't know for certain that DeNomolos was behind it," Andrea pointed out.

Rufus shook his head. "I have a strong suspicion it must have been," he sighed. "It was most typical of the kind of thing he'd do."

"We mustn't act in haste," the Supreme One reminded them. "It would be most heinous of us to rush into a decision and possibly jeopardize Ted farther. And if we should learn that it was not DeNomolos who was responsible, we would be wasting valuable time."

"I fear we may be wasting valuable time as it is," Rufus said under his breath. He never could make the Important Ones understand how evil some people could be, and he grew more fearful with every minute, trying not to imagine the unthinkable things that DeNomolos could be putting Ted through.

Before Rufus could comment further, the worn out messenger raced into the room, looking as if he had just run a marathon. "Most important news! Harker's been found!"

"Where is he?" asked the Supreme One.

"He was found nearly drowned on the banks of the river! He's being treated now."

"Was he conscious?" Rufus asked.

"Barely. All he said to the medical team was 'DeNomolos. Stop him.'"

"You see?" Rufus exclaimed. "The man is so mad he would even kill one of his own! Do you understand now what he could be doing to someone he hates, like Ted?"

"Rufus.... we understand how this may seem to you, but we simply cannot rush into a decision. Trust us. We will devise a plan that will work and not put anyone in any more danger."

Rufus fidgeted, feeling like he wouldn't be able to wait much longer.

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

The chair was undeniably comfortable, but Bill found he could only sit in it for a few minutes at a time. He was too anxious to remain seated for any length of time. Instead he paced the small room repeatedly, wondering what was happening outside his confines.

He was happy that both Rufus and Andrea had recovered from the effects of the gas without any apparent after-affects, but things had moved so quickly since then. He was annoyed to find out that it had been decided, without his consent, that he would be placed under tight security in case there was any further threat present in the Halls. As much as he begged and pleaded to be allowed to participate in the search for Ted, Rufus had insisted he cooperate with them and stay in this guarded room located close to the Great Hall. He understood how they all felt, but couldn't believe that Rufus wouldn't allow him to help them in some way. And while Rufus had continued to check in on him every so often, it was getting harder for Bill to be patient. It had already been six hours since Ted had been taken.

He was debating about sitting down again when the door of the room opened and the guard ushered in Rufus, then closed the door behind him. "What's happening?" Bill asked eagerly.

Rufus sighed, shaking his head. "They are coming to no decisions. I fear if we wait much longer, it may be too late for Ted."

"No way," Bill gasped, deciding he would sit down after all. "Rufus.... isn't there anything we can do?"

Rufus looked thoughtful, as if he were making an important decision. "I'm going to try to infiltrate DeNomolos' hideout. I think that by working alone I'll be able to get Ted out."

Bill stared at him in shock. "But, Rufus! You can't go by yourself! Let me come with you!"

Rufus laughed somewhat, but not maliciously. "Bill, I could certainly use the help, but I wouldn't think of placing you in danger."

Bill stood up again, determined. "C'mon, Rufus! You can't really expect me to sit here and just wait, do you? You gotta let me come with you! I can't let you go in there alone, and I can't just sit back and let DeNomolos hurt Ted again!"

Rufus still looked skeptical, so Bill put on his best pleading look. "Dude.... please?"

Eyeing Bill with a smile, Rufus finally sighed in capitulation. "All right. But we can't let anyone know what we're going to do. They'd never allow either of us to go if they found out."

"Sure thing, Rufus," Bill agreed eagerly, following him to the door. "What d'ya want me to do?"

"Just follow me, and play along," Rufus winked before opening the door. The guard turned around, obviously surprised when he saw Bill walking out of the room with Rufus. "We're going to the Great Hall. The Important Ones wish to speak with Bill."

"Most certainly," the guard nodded, stepping aside as they passed him and headed in the direction of the Great Hall. He watched until they had disappeared around a corner, then reached back and closed the door behind him.

Not knowing what else to do, the guard leaned against the wall for several minutes before realizing that there wasn't any reason for him to guard an empty room. He decided to grab a cup of coffee before they returned, and casually headed down the hallway.

As he passed the corridor leading to the Great Hall, he saw people mill in the hallways as if the meeting had adjourned. He said hello to several of the familiar faces walking by before being startled by a surprised voice behind him.


Hearing his name, he spun quickly to face Rufus. "Yes?"

"What are you doing here? Did someone relieve you of guard duty?"

"Of course not, Rufus. I just figured that while you and Bill were over here I would...."

"While Bill and I were over here?" Rufus interrupted, looking extremely confused.

"Yeah. You just came over not more than five minutes ago and said the Important Ones wanted to see Bill and that you...." He let his voice trail off as Rufus' eyes opened wide in horror. He was startled even more when Rufus roughly grabbed his shoulders in near panic.

"Which way did we go? I mean, which way did they go?"

"They headed this way, but...."

Rufus had turned, looking frantically around at the people who were beginning to gather, alerted by the commotion. "No way....! We've got to find them before.... oh man! This can't be happening!"

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

Casually he strolled to the other side, standing a moment as Ted waited nervously, facing away from him. With great calm, DeNomolos lifted his right foot and nudged Ted sharply in the ribs, stepping back as Ted regained his balance and spun in his direction. Once again he moved to a new position, slapping Ted across the head and laughing quietly when it produced the same reaction. It was giving him great pleasure to take advantage of Ted's helplessness. He further amused himself while he poked and prodded and kicked by mulling over various ideas which were swimming through his mind about what other things he could do to give his prisoner a hard time during his stay. Once again he walked behind Ted, reaching down slowly.

As difficult as it was not to react, Ted played along with DeNomolos' little game as best as he could, even though he could now tell where the man was at all times. Since first waking up in the cell, Ted realized that his senses were returning, and while it had been intermittent at first it had finally gotten to the point where he could smell, taste and hear. Oddly enough, these senses had returned so strongly that his sight seemed almost unnecessary, still he hoped that it, too, would return soon. He had been too afraid to try to speak, fearing that he might be overheard by someone. So far no one seemed to realize he had been given a cure, and he wasn't about to let DeNomolos know. He certainly didn't want another dose of that horrible chemical.

He had heard DeNomolos walk behind him, but patiently sat facing the direction where the man had been just seconds before. It was no use trying to escape from this torture. Earlier he had tried backing himself into a corner, but DeNomolos had simply thrown him out into the center of the cell again, so he simply had no choice but to sit there wondering what was going to happen next.

A sudden hard yank on his hair painfully answered his question. Folding his arms around his head, he tried bending down into a protective ball, but DeNomolos simply kicked him sharply, this time in the back. Falling onto his side, he could hear the man's shoes scuffle as he prepared to deliver another blow, yet he forced himself to lay motionless as if not expecting anything.

It was with great relief that Ted heard a voice call DeNomolos' name from somewhere out in the corridor. DeNomolos' stood quietly, then his shoes thankfully squeaked away.

"What?" DeNomolos' asked, the anger of being interrupted apparent in his voice.

A second pair of feet approached, stopping just outside the cell. "He's here, sir."

There was a pause. "He's here?"

"We've spotted them just outside the parameters of the sewers. They should be arriving within ten minutes."

"Yesss....!" DeNomolos hissed eagerly. "I knew that dimwitted Bill would follow our robot imposter! Ha! That sap is so eager to help his poor, helpless pal he would fall for anything!"

Ted's eyes opened wide and he almost shot up into a sitting position, but stopped himself just in time.

"Once I have the other one there'll be no saving them! Besides, torture's more fun with two!"

Slowly Ted sat up, trying to act like he knew nothing about their conversation. He heard the door of the cell open and DeNomolos exit.

"Shall we go prepare to greet our.... 'visitor'?" DeNomolos cooed viciously.

Suddenly the door of the cell slammed shut with a large bang that made Ted jump. After the initial shock he sat still, praying he hadn't been noticed.

"Say...." the other person's voice said suspiciously. "Did you see....?"

"Let's go," DeNomolos interrupted. "I can hardly wait to see the expression on his face when he...."

"Yeah, but I could've sworn I just saw him...."

"Hurry up!" DeNomolos called, already some distance down the corridor.

"Yeah, but sir.... I...."

Ted heard the guard scuffling away, hurrying after DeNomolos. And there was another noise. The unmistakable sound of keys landing on a wooden table somewhere outside the cell.

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

Bill craned his neck to look up at all the tall, dark buildings around them. "Whoa, Rufus! This place is most unpleasant. It doesn't look like anyone's been around here for ages!"

"They haven't," Rufus explained. "This whole area was abandoned years ago."

"Why, Rufus?" Bill asked, having to take several fast steps to catch up, since Rufus was walking so quickly in front of him.

"It is not such an easy story to explain..... and one DeNomolos would rather forget."

Bill ran to catch up again. "When're you gonna tell us what the deal is with DeNomolos? Y'know, I don't really know anything about him."

"Don't worry," Rufus assured him with a sly smile he kept hidden. "You'll learn more about him soon, I'm sure."

They continued along in silence a moment, moving farther into the isolated area. Even in the daylight it seemed dark, and Bill was feeling more nervous as they walked. He didn't understand how Rufus could be so brave, unless the man had a plan.

"What're we gonna do when we get there, Rufus?"

"Don't worry, William," Rufus assured him, starting down a long cement stairway. "Trust me.... we'll know when we get there."

"Right," Bill nodded, reaching the stairs. "One step at a time, right?"

Rufus looked back at him strangely. "Oh no, we can take them two or three at a time if you want."

As Rufus continued downward, Bill stood at the top of the steps, confused. While the statement itself was a bit odd, the way that it was said seemed totally uncharacteristic. There wasn't any humor behind it at all. The more he thought about their conversation since leaving the Halls of Excellence, the more he began to suspect that he had been duped.

Just before he reached the bottom of the stairs, Rufus turned to see Bill hadn't started down. "Coming?"

Bill thought fast, trying to decide what to do. There was probably no way he could outrun an evil robot. And if he continued to play along it would most likely take him to wherever Ted was. Seeing there was no other obvious choice, Bill decided he would willingly walk into DeNomolos' trap.... for Ted's sake.

"Yeah, I'm coming."

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

Pressing his shoulder as tightly against the bars as he could, Ted stretched his arm out, desperately feeling for the table he knew was there. Finally the tips of his fingers hit something hard, and he groped for it, trying to find its flat surface. Reaching again, he could just touch the top of the smooth wood, but he couldn't feel any keys. Yet he knew they had to be there!

Praying that no one would walk by and see him, he tried again. Now he wished he had his sight, but so far he could only make out very vague hints of light. The table surface was still beyond his reach, and he let his exhausted arm drop and pressed his face against the bars, wishing the table could have been placed just a little closer.

A sudden thought crossed his mind and he dropped down to one knee, painfully pushing his whole body between the bars and stone wall. This time he was searching with his palm up, not down, and found the edge of the underside of the table, which thankfully had a small ridge he could hook his fingers around. Gripping as tightly as he could, he pulled desperately, slowly dragging the heavy table closer. After several desperate tugs, he'd managed to move it at least a foot.

Getting back to his feet, he extended his arm out again, feeling along the top of the table. His fingers brushed against something this time, knocking it almost out of reach. Quickly he backtracked, wrapping his fingers around the cold metal ring and pulling it in.

Sighing with relief, he clutched the keys close to him, feeling to see how many he'd have to go through to try to find the right one. There were at least eight, so he moved down the bars to the door, feeling to find the lock on the outside and started trying the different ones, hoping he wouldn't be too late to stop DeNomolos from capturing Bill.

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

As they walked further into the labyrinth of sewer tunnels, Bill began to realize that he was getting himself in too deep, in more ways than one. The dark tunnels were dimly lit every few feet by a naked bulb sticking awkwardly out of the wall; all passageways looking pretty much the same. They had already made so many twists and turns he knew there was no way he'd be able to find his way out of there, even if he were able to outrun the evil robot Rufus. Suddenly he remembered he was supposed to be playing along and walked closer behind the robot. "Are we almost there yet?"

"Sshhhh!" Rufus hissed, slowing as they neared an archway. "Stay close now."

A moment later they had stepped into a huge open area, almost domelike in shape but composed of jagged stones and gaping doorways leading to dark tunnels on all sides. Rufus suddenly stopped in the middle of the room, and Bill braced himself for whatever was about to happen.

Suddenly a bright light shone down on a slightly raised platform on one side of the room, making the rest of the area appear darker than it actually was. Bill was now aware of the black-clad figures entering from various doorways, stopping inside the room to surround them. Keeping his composure, Bill turned his attention back to the platform, assuming that was where DeNomolos would make his grand entrance. He was right.

"Well," the deep voice growled from the shadows before the huge figure emerged. "This is a pleasant surprise."

"Yeah, right, DeNomolos," Bill jumped in before the man could continue. "Some surprise. Like I totally didn't know this was the evil robot Rufus."

"Perhaps," DeNomolos sneered, "you are smarter than you appear to be."

"Not!" the armed soldiers replied in unison.

"I'm so glad you could join us," DeNomolos smiled. "I hope your stay here will be an.... unpleasant one."

"Where's Ted?" Bill asked sharply.

"Oh he's settled into his cell.... I mean, quarters. You'll see him shortly. Too bad he won't be able to see you. I was so hoping you could share in each other's misery, but unfortunately your friend isn't capable of witnessing your suffering. Such a pity."

"And I suppose you plan to do the same to me now?" Bill guessed, keeping his voice as calm as possible.

DeNomolos moved to the edge of the platform, towering over the room with complete domination in his stance. "No, my friend. I wouldn't feel I had done my duty unless one of you witnesses the other one's death." A gleam came to his eye. "Have you ever seen somebody scream who can't scream?"

Bill pushed himself past the evil robot Rufus and walked below DeNomolos, unable to contain his fury any longer. "You are a totally sick, twisted and non-non-non-non-evil dickweed!"

A huge smile crossed DeNomolos' face. "I know."

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

Unable to make out anything but an occasional light flashing past, Ted felt along the damp walls as he hurried down the corridors, listening intently for any sound to give him direction. Finally he did catch a noise, one that sounded oddly enough like a chorus of voices yelling "Not!" Fortunately they came from somewhere ahead, and he continued even more quickly when he began to hear the far-off ramblings he recognized as DeNomolos'.

After passing through a narrow corridor without light for a few seconds, he began to make out a fuzzy brightness ahead. The voices were clearer now, and he could distinctly hear Bill, too. His heart beat more intently as he approached the glow, moving slowly so he wouldn't be heard.

As he approached the opening at the end of the passageway, his hand knocked against a hard, metal box on the wall, and he had to stifle a yelp of pain. Carefully avoiding the object, he peered out into the lit area, just barely making out the semi-recognizable shadows; the big, dark blotch that could only be DeNomolos and the small, defiant outline he knew was Bill.

"But enough of this!" DeNomolos' voice echoed throughout the chamber. "I think it is time you got settled in."

Squinting, Ted could see DeNomolos lifting something as he stepped toward Bill. He couldn't make out the long object clearly, but he knew what it was. The memory of that painful jolt that had first knocked him out was still as clear as the day it happened, and he couldn't stand to see his best friend suffer through it, too. Already another figure was stepping up behind Bill to grab him.

Without any thought, Ted leaned forward into the room. "NO! BILL!!!" His voice shot painfully through his head, almost as if he had put on a pair of stereo headphones without realizing the volume was all the way up.

The movement he was focused on stopped. Both DeNomolos and the evil robot stood, facing his direction as if in disbelief. Suddenly there was a simultaneous flurry of motion as the gunmen all swung their weapons around toward him. Instinctively, Ted ducked back, crouching down low as a volley of gunfire exploded all around him. Bullets ricocheted everywhere, zinging past him down the corridor and striking the metal box above his head with hard cracks and thuds. Suddenly there was another loud popping noise, and the corridor where he was became a waterfall of sparks shooting down from above, accompanied by the sickening smell of something burning. At the same time all of the lights he could see began to sputter and finally died, leaving only the quickly fading sparks that were landing at his feet.

Everyone in the huge area froze, suddenly engulfed in complete darkness. There was the sound of anxious voices and the slight scuffling of confused feet, but no one attempted to make any sudden moves.

"You fools!" DeNomolos screamed. "Did I give you the order to fire? Imbeciles! You've completely shot up our electrical circuit boards! Idiots, morons......!"

Bill was standing still, too stunned by this turn of events to even react. As DeNomolos' voice rambled on, he started thinking of what he could do when suddenly someone grabbed his arm. Before he could begin to protest, a soft voice spoke earnestly.

"C'mon, dude! Let's bail!"

Without question, Bill allowed Ted to pull him through the darkness, somehow making their way around the angry voices and scuffling that was all around them. Before he knew it, the voices were behind them and they were hurrying down a black corridor at a pace which seemed extremely unnerving in an unfamiliar place without lights. But Ted seemed to be able to make his way around without much difficulty, so Bill simply put his complete faith in him.

Back in the main hall, the panic was only building. Suddenly DeNomolos' voice shot out harshly. "Where are the prisoners?" he shouted.

When there was no answer, he grew more irate. "Evil robot! You were guarding the one! Where is he?"

"How should I know? It's dark in here!" the evil robot Rufus whined.

"You simple-minded bucket of bolts! You have infra-red sight built in! Switch it on, stupid!"

"Oh." A moment later the robot hummed slightly and its eyes glowed red. "They're not here."

DeNomolos let out an audible growl of anger. "You let them sneak out right from under your own nose! Well, don't just stand there! After them, you fool! Don't let them escape! Kill them if you have to! Get going!!!"

"Yes, sir, master, sir!" the robot saluted, hurrying off in the direction where it could sense heat had been present only moments before.

"As for the rest of you, spread out! I want them found!"

"But, sir, how are we supposed to....?"

"Don't ask questions, just go!!!"

The guards scurried in various directions, filling the room with the sound of people bumping into each other and the walls.

"Fools," DeNomolos hissed under his breath, fed up with his incompetent henchmen. "I'll find them myself!" He turned and made his way to the closest corridor, finding it without much trouble. He knew the entire sewer system pretty much inside and out, and was determined to catch up with his prisoners before they could escape.

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

Having moved some distance through what seemed like endless passageways, Bill realized that Ted was slowing his pace as if he were unsure of where they were going. Finally they slowed to a stop, and Bill stood, trying to get a sense of where he was.

"Are you okay, Bill?" Ted asked worriedly.

"Yeah," Bill answered absent-mindedly. He was about to continue when a sudden sharp voice rang out.

"Over here!"

Bill jumped nervously, grabbing onto Ted as Ted grabbed onto him, equally concerned. Another voice followed, only this one seemed to be above them.

"This way!"

Confused, they stood listening to the voices all around them. It sounded as if the guards were on every side, closing in! After there was no immediate attack, Ted reached out to the wall where he felt a sizable opening next to them. Exploring the round opening with his hands, he sighed. "It's the pipes."

"You mean we're hearing the guards voices through the....?"

"Shhh!" Ted suddenly urged, and they both stood silent in anticipation. Listening intently, Ted could make out the distinct sound of footsteps.... only these were heavier than normal footsteps.

As hard as Bill strained to listen he just couldn't figure out what had caused Ted to shush him. "What're you....?"

Ted grabbed his arm again and started pulling him away. "The robot's coming, dude!"

Not questioning Ted's statement, Bill followed him through another series of turns, each more complicated than the last, until finally they both stopped, too exhausted to continue.

In the darkness, Bill could hear Ted's heavy breathing, gasping in rhythm with his. "It's still coming," Ted panted nervously.

"There's gotta be some way we can ditch him," Bill replied, trying desperately to come up with something himself.

They gasped quietly as they tried to think a moment, then Ted moved away, scuffling somewhere in the darkness. After a short time he stopped, then his voice suddenly cut through the stillness. "We're over here, dudes!"

Startled, Bill reached out in Ted's direction to stop him. "Have you lost it, Ted? Do you want them to find us?"

"Yell into the pipes, Bill!" Ted answered excitedly. "It confused us.... maybe it'll confuse the robot!"

Smiling at Ted's ingenuity, Bill reached out awkwardly to find a wall, locating an opening himself. "Yo, ugly robot dude! You can't catch us!"

Ted, in the meantime, had moved to another opening. "We're too fast for a rusty ol' machine made o' second hand parts!"

The evil robot Rufus was following the vague trail of heat which told him two living bodies had passed that way earlier. It quickened its pace as the heat grew stronger, and it felt certain that its targets would soon be in range. Its metal hands clasped together eagerly, as it anticipated the sound of bones crushing and skulls shattering, which had been programmed to be its favorite noises. All its life it had been waiting for the order to kill, and now it was carrying out what was sure to be its greatest fulfillment.

No sooner had the mechanoid turned a corner when an unexpected voice rang out from behind. "Why don't you turn yourself in for scrap, bogus robot replica?"

Spinning, the evil robot scanned the room with its infra-red vision, but could not pinpoint the voice's source.

"Yeah!" an equally unexpected voice directed its attention yet elsewhere. "A lube job is most definitely in order! You're beginning to run like an old jalopy!"

Incensed, the robot threw a punch in the direction of the voice, only to smash a huge hole in one of the stone walls. Realizing no one was standing there, the robot stood, listening as these taunts continued. Its heat sensors indicated that the prisoners had passed through this area already, yet these voices were clearly here. Utterly confused, the robot stood, trying to process this information in its computer-like brain.

"That oughta confuse him, dude!" Bill announced happily, then stopped, having spotted something. "Ted! I see light over there, dude!"

Ted turned to see that Bill was right. Before he could move, Bill ran past him, heading toward it. He hurried to catch up, already aware of a strange noise ahead.

Approaching a doorway, it was fairly obvious that the light within was not artificial. It was extremely dull, but there nonetheless. Apprehensive of the rushing noise within the room, Ted managed a few extra long strides to catch Bill before he could proceed much further inside.

"Wait, dude!"

They screeched to a halt at the edge of the floor, both peering down into the swirling black mass below, lit only by the dim amount of daylight which filtered down from somewhere far above.

"Whoa!" Bill gasped, grateful that Ted had stopped him from going over. "What is this place?"

"It is your final resting place, my friends."

Startled, Bill and Ted turned to see the huge, black silhouette of DeNomolos enter behind them. "No way!" they gasped simultaneously.

"Yes way," DeNomolos sneered. "So.... I see you have regained your senses after all. A pity they will be of use to you for so little time." He lifted a large weapon, pointed straight at them. "At least you will fully be able to experience your death."

"No way, DeNomolos!" Bill shouted, stepping forward. "You know that your heinous plot to kill us won't succeed!"

"And why not?" DeNomolos humored him.

Ted leaned forward, unsure of Bill's analysis. "Yeah, why not, dude?"

Bill didn't have an immediate answer. "Because.... well.... because it would be most heinous if it did! I mean, wouldn't it be better if we could find a way to be happy and co-exist and all? Forget about all this bogus hatred and war and stuff?"

"Whoa, Bill," Ted sighed in awe. "That was totally 'Star Trek'. Most excellent speech, dude."

"Excellent only because it is your last," DeNomolos pointed out, aiming the weapon at Bill. "I'm getting rid of you first!"

All at once Ted rushed forward, grabbing at the gun desperately, only to be knocked aside.

"Don't be in such a rush!" DeNomolos chuckled evilly. "It will be your turn soon enough!"

Bill took advantage of this distraction to lunge toward DeNomolos, managing to knock the weapon from his hands. It clattered to the floor noisily, sliding over the edge into the swirling water below. Unfortunately, DeNomolos didn't seem to care about the loss, instead swinging a fist at Bill and knocking him to the floor.

"Ha! I don't need a weapon to do away with you two pathetic fools!" Stepping toward Bill, who was still stunned from the blow, he delivered a sharp kick which pushed Bill even closer to the edge.

As Ted watched in horror, DeNomolos stepped closer to Bill, preparing to push him into the whirlpool far below. "Watch carefully," he addressed Ted over his shoulder. "This will be the last thing you will ever see!"

At that moment Ted heard the slight clicking sound of metal and looked toward the doorway, where he could barely make out two glowing, red spots of light hovering just outside. Without another thought, he jumped up, standing directly behind DeNomolos.

"I'm over here, dude!!"

Zeroing in, the evil robot Rufus identified a large area of heat ahead. Too big to be just one person, it had to be both of the escaped prisoners. The voice only confirmed it, and with a motorized hummed it rushed forward eagerly.

DeNomolos turned with rage as Ted dove to one side, revealing the figure moving toward him too quickly. "No, wait, you fool! It's me, DeNomol....."

The statement was never finished, as the robot ambushed DeNomolos fiercely, knocking him backwards. Bill cowered, clinging to the edge of the floor for all he was worth as a flurry of feet crashed into him, knocking them off balance. In the next instant they were falling over him, and a loud and long scream of aggravation grew fainter until it was silenced by an unmistakable splash.

Too stunned to move, Bill lay motionless, trying to piece together what had just happened. He'd heard Ted directly behind DeNomolos. Had he gone over, too? Not wanting to believe it, Bill peered over the edge, hoping not to see anything he didn't want to. All he could see was the continuing flow of water in a downward spiral.

"Ted?" he called out quietly, surprised when he thought he heard his own name echoed at the exact same moment.

A moment later Ted crawled over to him tiredly. "Dude, I thought you'd gone over."

"I thought you did, dude."

Together they peered over the edge, shaking their heads.

"Most tragic incident," Ted sighed. "He shoulda listened to your speech."

When Bill didn't answer, Ted looked over at him with concern, only to be confronted by a stare he couldn't quite identify in the dim light. He returned the gaze for a long moment, then smiled a broad smile. "Say something, Bill."

Bill shook his head, smiling slightly. "I.... dunno what to say."

"It doesn't matter!" Ted laughed, throwing his head back. "Everything sounds most triumphant!"

"Oh Ted.... I never thought I'd hear you laugh again, dude."

Ted studied Bill's face intently. "Bill...." He wanted to express so much but couldn't find the words. Finally he leaned over and hugged Bill tightly. "Thank you.... for everything."

Surprised, Bill hugged Ted back, grateful beyond words to have the Ted he knew and loved back again.

A sudden flash of light behind them made them part quickly. "We weren't doing anything!" they insisted earnestly.

Several figures stepped forward, silhouetted behind the bright lights which hid their identity. Bill and Ted cowered nervously until one of the lights stepped forward.

"Are you dudes all right?" a familiar, concerned voice asked.

"Rufus!" Bill and Ted sighed gratefully.

Dropping the light to his side, Rufus exhaled an audible sigh of relief.

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

As they walked down the bright, spotless hallway, Ted couldn't help but think how strange it was that everything seemed so different to him now. After so much darkness, the input from his senses bombarded him to the point of dizziness. In every direction there were sights and smells and sounds, each so demanding it made his head spin. The world had been one big blur since they'd left the sewers and were driven back to the Halls of Excellence, and he wished they would stop long enough so he could sit down and take some time to adjust to his senses again.

As if in answer to his thoughts, they arrived at a door marked "Most Excellent Suite". Rufus ushered them inside, and Bill automatically crossed to the bed, collapsing into a sitting position on its edge.

Ted glanced around the room curiously, noting the simple yet pleasant decor. A plush, mauve easy chair looked too inviting to pass up, and so he walked over and sat down tiredly, sinking into it with a slight gasp of surprise at its familiarity. Running his hands up and down the arms, he studied the way the material changed to a deeper color with one sweep, then back to normal with the return sweep to accompany the alternating rough and smooth textures he had entertained himself with over the last several days. Realizing where he was, he got up to study everything in the room, at last putting pictures to what was in his mind. He found he had to touch each object as he looked at it to make sure it was really what he remembered.

Rufus was standing near the still open door watching Ted move around the room when three people appeared in the doorway. Ted turned to see a very attractive woman and two men in white coats enter.

"Ted? Is it all right if the doctors check to make sure you're all right?" Rufus asked.

"Sure, I guess so," Ted shrugged, waiting to see where they wanted him. The woman stepped forward with an odd yet pleasant expression on her face. He stood patiently as she stopped in front of him, reaching up to brush his bangs aside with a soft gesture.

Immediately Ted smiled broadly, reaching down to take her hands, his eyes wide with excitement. "It's you!" he gasped.

Andrea giggled shyly, dropping her eyes for just a moment before looking back up at him. Rufus moved forward slightly. "Ted, I'd like to formerly introduce you to Andrea."

"Andrea...." Ted repeated quietly.

Andrea gave him a gentle smile. "It's nice to meet you, Ted."

Fighting back tears, Ted pulled Andrea into a grateful embrace. They stood for a long moment, holding each other warmly until they finally parted with a slight laugh.

"Whoa...." Ted gasped, holding her hands at arms length to look at her again. "You're even prettier than I imagined!"

After a short laugh of embarrassment, Andrea motioned to the chair. "Would you like to have a seat?"

Ted complied with Andrea's request and soon afterward the scientists had drawn some of his blood to analyze, just to make sure that the chemical had been fully neutralized. Andrea then went through a simple series of tests to check Ted's reflexes and senses.

"Well, everything seems to be progressing very well!" Andrea announced happily. "By tomorrow you should have adjusted to having your senses back and the dizziness will pass."

"That's most relieving news," Bill sighed.

Bill's tired voice caught Andrea's attention. "Are you all right, Bill? DeNomolos didn't....."

"I'm fine," Bill answered with assurance. "Thanks to Ted."

"I think they both just need some food and sleep," Rufus commented. "It'll still be a few days before the Circuits of Time can be repaired, and I think that amount of time is just right for a well-deserved rest."

"Most definitely," Bill and Ted concurred.

Andrea smiled, having noted the way the Great One's voices spoke as one. "I'll have the kitchen send something up," she announced as she walked to the door.

"Oh!" Ted called out, stopping her. "D'ya think, maybe, we could have those hot dogs like we had that one day? They were totally the most juicy hot dogs I ever had!"

"Most assuredly," Andrea answered happily, exiting the room.

Once Andrea was gone, Ted sank back into the chair as Bill stretched across the bed. Rufus eyed them sympathetically. "Perhaps you should lie down, Ted," he suggested.

"Naw, it's okay, Rufus," Ted answered with a smile. "I think I'd like to just sit here and.... experience everything."

Rufus nodded, exchanging a smile with Bill. "This experience has really changed your outlook on things, hasn't it, Theodore?"

Ted thought about this a moment. "Well, I do know one thing."

"What?" asked Bill.

"I'll sure never listen to 'Tommy' the same way again."

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

The air of excitement was building to an incredible level within the Great Hall where everyone had gathered. The quiet murmuring echoing around the dome quieted down as the Supreme Important Person raised his hand, having spotted a signal from one of the men outside the entrance.

Every person in the room simultaneously straightened, focusing their eager gazes upon the arched entrance. As if responding to their actions, Rufus immediately appeared, stepping just inside the dome and stopping. For a suspenseful moment he stood, then stepped aside, motioning with his arms toward the doorway in presentation.

A sigh of contentment and happiness accompanied the entrance of Bill and Ted, who crossed to the Three Most Important People, stopping to air guitar to them in respect. The Three returned the gesture, as did everyone in the area. Once this formality was finished, the Supreme Important Person lifted his chin in a dignified manner.

"Gentlemen.... the Circuits of Time are again in perfect working order. Upon your word, Rufus is ready to accompany you back to your time."

Bill and Ted looked at each other with some sadness. The last three days had been among the most relaxing they had ever spent. Everyone had been so kind to them during their stay, seeing their every wish was answered to, often before they even had to ask. Ted had finally been able to fully enjoy the gardens, which Bill accurately guessed he would love, and they had even spent time going over artifacts in the Archives of Excellence with the most noted historians of the time, setting the record straight about the real story behind the possessions, although some of the pieces were not yet familiar to them.

But regardless of how much they enjoyed being in the future, they knew what they both really wanted, and that was to return home to their families as soon as possible.

"Babe and dudes," Bill addressed the Three. "We have truly enjoyed your most resplendent hospitality."

"Yeah," Ted agreed. "And there's no way we could possibly ever pay you back for everything you've gone through for us."

"Except...." Bill continued, "....to go back and do everything we can to assure this most excellent future."

Everyone in the dome smiled and nodded, pleased with this announcement.

"So," Bill began again when the murmuring died down, "We really must return to our babes and babies."

The Supreme One held his hands out as if giving them leave. "Then it is time for you to go."

Rufus stepped forward as the Supreme One summoned the phone booth, which materialized before them. Opening the door of the booth, Rufus motioned for them to enter.

After bowing respectfully to the Supreme Importances, which the Three subtly returned, Bill and Ted walked to the booth, pausing a moment to each hug Andrea goodbye.

"Thanks for everything, Andrea," Bill offered.

"Take care, William," she replied.

"How can we ever thank you?" Ted asked sadly.

She reached up and brushed the hair out of his eyes, delighting in the smile it produced. "You already have. Perhaps we'll see each other again someday."

"I hope so," Ted said sincerely.

"Gentlemen?" Rufus called gently.

Moving to the booth, Bill and Ted stopped, looking around at the sea of happy faces. "Thanks again, everyone!" Ted called out. "You are all most outstanding and excellent friends, and we'll never forget you!"

"Station!" everyone replied with a hang loose sign.

Finally they entered the booth, stepping toward the side as Rufus entered, quickly donning his dark glasses before dialing the numbers. Bill swung the door shut behind them as the booth began to glow and they managed a last wave out the windows before the booth dropped down in the time circuit.

"The Circuits of Time look the same as ever," Bill commented, gazing through the glass. "It's hard to believe they were so badly damaged."

"We were lucky DeNomolos didn't destroy them permanently," Rufus sighed.

"Well, at least he won't be doing it again," Ted sighed.

Bill noted the look of skepticism on Rufus' face and became worried. "What is it, Rufus? DeNomolos is gone, isn't he?"

Rufus turned his worried gaze to an inexact spot in the distance. "I don't know.... they only found the short-circuited remains of the robot in the river.... and we've mistaken DeNomolos as being deceased before."

Looking to Bill and Ted, Rufus noticed the worried look on their faces and forced a smile. "Don't worry. His forces have now scattered, so I doubt he'll be causing much trouble any time soon."

"What'll happen to Harker?" Bill asked.

"Harker was a misdirected soul manipulated by broken promises regarding a dream of his," Rufus explained. "We'll do everything we can to help him achieve his goal of becoming a musician through hard work and perseverance, which he will ultimately find more fulfilling anyway."

"That is a most refreshing means of dealing with malcontents, Rufus," Bill said with respect.

"Thank you, William." He checked his watch briefly. "We should be arriving soon."

"Rufus," Ted began, gulping slightly as he tried to handle his emotions. "I really owe you the most thanks. If it wasn't for you...."

Rufus held up his hand to stop him. "It's all right, Ted. You were both most responsible and excellent in the face of a very dire situation. You'll make most triumphant leaders for the future."

"I dunno," Bill sighed. "It all still sounds so.... so...."

"Overwhelming?" Rufus tried.

"Yeah," Bill and Ted nodded.

"Don't worry about it," Rufus assured them. "Just keep being yourselves."

Suddenly the booth dropped out of the circuit and landed roughly in the familiar surroundings of a back yard. Stepping out of the booth, Bill and Ted turned around to face Rufus, who remained inside.

"Aren't you coming in, Rufus?" Bill asked.

"Yeah," Ted nodded. "The least we could do to repay you for bringing us home is offer you a soda."

"Thank you, gentlemen, but I think you'll find you have a lot of catching up to do once you get inside."

"I guess you're right, Rufus," Bill thought aloud.

"When will we see you again, Rufus?" Ted asked.

Rufus smiled. "Only time will tell, dudes. Until then.... be excellent to each other."

"Party on, Rufus!"

They stepped back as Rufus closed the door of the booth and it disappeared in a cloud of dust.

When there was no more light shooting around the space where the booth had been, Bill and Ted turned and walked to the back door, which they found was unlocked.

Upon entering the house they stood, shocked by their surroundings. There were no cardboard boxes to be seen anywhere. Instead they had been replaced by furniture, decorations and even a few plants.

"Bill...." Ted gasped in amazement. "It's..... it's a home!"

"It's our home," Bill corrected him.

"Who the hell....?" A booming voice preceded Captain Logan's appearance from the hallway, where he stopped dead in his tracks, his mouth hanging open.

"How's it hangin', dad?" Ted asked.

"What is it, sweetie?" Missy asked, appearing next to him. Spotting the pair she let out a squeal of delight and ran forward hugging them both at the same time. "Oh, you're back! You're back! The girls kept insisting you would come back!"

"Where the hell have you been?" Captain Logan bellowed, although some relief was notable in his voice as well. "Do you know you caused a national panic?"

"It's a long story," Ted sighed. "Where're the babes?"

Missy led the way into the living room. "They went out to hang more missing persons posters. We're watching the babies for them." She motioned to the playpen on the floor where the two babies sat, gurgling excitedly as they gazed up at the approaching people.

Without a word, Bill and Ted hurried to the pen, reaching down to scoop up their sons, who giggled and squealed in response. They spent a long moment holding the babies, both overwhelmed with the pure joy of holding their children again.

"You realize what your poor wives have been through, trying to handle these children on their own?" Captain Logan continued to scold, although it fell on deaf ears.

"Oh Little Bill.... I missed you so much," Ted said softly in his son's ear. The baby let out a tiny laugh at the sound, cuddling closer to his daddy's chest.

"They're just fine," Missy informed them. "Chet and I have been helping the girls whenever we could."

"Did I tell you what your wives have been through since you've been gone....?" Captain Logan began again.

Before he could get any farther, the front doorknob rattled and finally the door swung open. Joanna and Elizabeth were about the say hello when they stopped, staring in disbelief.

"William!" Joanna exclaimed.

"Theodore!" Elizabeth gasped.

During the moment it took Bill and Ted to set their sons down in the playpen, Joanna and Elizabeth raced across the room, throwing their arms around their husbands.

"I knew you'd come back!" Joanna laughed through her tears. "I just knew it!"

After a long hug, Ted stepped back from Elizabeth, holding her face gently in front of him to study. She eyed him questioningly as he continued to gaze at her, tears welling in his eyes. "Just.... let me look at you," he attempted to explain, leaning closer to breath deeply, taking in every bit of her that he could.


Ted struggled to speak through his sobs. "I will never.... ever..... leave you again!"

Missy grabbed hold of her husband's arm as the two couples lost themselves in sobbing, laughing, kissing embraces. Quietly she led him to the front door. "I think we should leave them alone," she suggested.

"Yes, but they.....!"

Missy motioned for him to be quiet, which he reluctantly did. As they reached the front door, Captain Logan stopped and turned, eyeing his son with a shake of his head.

"You know.... that boy never did have any sense."