Considering the Alternative . . .

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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The weather was quite warm despite the gentle breeze blowing down the street, scattering leaves ahead of them, almost as if the dried, brittle pieces were trying to avoid being stepped on. Bill paused a moment, having noticed one of his shoelaces was untied and swinging wildly around his foot with each step. As he hoisted his leg up onto a nearby fire hydrant and reached down past his tattered jeans to fumble with the tattered strands, Ted stopped walking and turned around, waiting for his friend to finish.

"C'mon, Bill!" Ted urged impatiently. "We only got about an hour to rehearse before I've got to get home."

"I'm coming," Bill assured him, clumsily finishing the loose knot on the laces, fully aware they would probably come untied again but not really caring. He quickly caught up to Ted and they continued toward his house. "It's totally sad we got so little time to rehearse any more."

"Most definitely," Ted sighed, readjusting the way his bookbag was hanging on his back just slightly. "I forgot how time consuming school can be. And then my Dad wants me home so early. Guess he'll hope I'll spend the time doing my homework or something."

"We had lots of time over the summer," Bill lamented. "We should'na spent so much of it at the Circle K."

"It's okay, Bill," Ted assured him. "We'll just have to work harder after school and on weekends to make Wyld Stallyns the best band ever!"

Bill shook his head slightly. "I know. But it is senior year. It's supposed to be really tough. And after all, we do wanna graduate so we don't have to go to school at all any more!"

"Oh yeah," Ted sighed, thinking this over. "But then after this year, we'll have all the time in the world to rehearse!"

"Not if we don't pass our courses," Bill said with a smirk. "So we gotta fit in some time to study."

Ted raised his head with a start, looking as if he would almost come to a stop. "You don't mean you wanna study this afternoon?"

Bill gave Ted a disgusted look. "No way! Not today anyway. I've had that song you hummed in class running through my head all day and I wanna try to figure out how to play it before I forget it."

"I wasn't paying attention to what I was humming. I didn't even know I was doing it until the teacher yelled at me!"

"Well, I was paying attention, and it wasn't half bad. I think I can even figure out a way to make it longer and maybe even into a real song."

Ted smiled at Bill with awe. He could never figure out how Bill could be so smart as to put things together like that. And from something he wasn't even paying attention to!

"Yeah, Ted," Bill said confidently. "This is gonna be a great year for us! We're gonna get out of school, we're gonna get the band together, and you and I are . . . "

Bill stopped mid-sentence, but wasn't sure why. A strange feeling coursed through him which he couldn't explain, and he felt slightly nauseous and dizzy, but as soon as he was aware of it, the feeling was gone.

Looking around, Bill halfway expected to see someone, but there was no one there. That was strange. Now why did he think there was someone nearby? Slowly he turned to continue toward his home, trying to put his thoughts together. Maybe he was getting the flu or something. He'd never had a spell like that before, only the more he walked the less its impact seemed. He'd just had a bizarre spell of deja vu, he concluded.

But as he continued home he felt sad. He had no idea why, but he realized he was thinking about Ted. That was strange, because he hadn't really thought about Ted for a while. Or when he had, he'd tried not to think about him.

Turning the corner into the driveway of his house, he noted that Missy-Mom's car wasn't in the driveway and knew he'd find an empty house. At least he wouldn't be asked to test taste any of her attempts at dinner. And his dad couldn't bother him about being such a recluse. If he could escape to his room, he would be left alone at least until dinnertime.

Once in his room, Bill closed the door behind him and dropped his books onto his bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed himself, almost knocking his books off but catching them in time. He sat for a moment, still mulling over his thoughts. After a moment, he reached down to open the drawer of his bedside stand and fumbled through some CDs and miscellaneous items, digging down until he'd found what he was looking for, somehow knowing it was still there.

He pulled out the worn, folded piece of blue paper and sat looking at its rough edges, hesitating before opening it. He hadn't bothered to look at it for years and even now wondered why he'd kept it. But as soon as he unfolded it, he knew why. The somewhat poorly photocopied face smiled at him, and he felt a pang of loss, wondering for the millionth time what had happened. He didn't want to dredge up these feelings again, but it was too late.

He remembered the last time he'd seen Ted. They had gone to the Circle K after school as they'd done so many times before. It was the second semester of seventh grade . . . had it really been that long ago? He felt so guilty . . . was there something he could have done? After they'd said goodbye and gone their separate ways, Ted having to go straight home because it was already late, he'd paused at the garbage can at the end of the store to finish off his drink so he could throw the cup away. That noise. That slight sound he instinctively knew was Ted's voice. He still could hear it, clear as day, but still not completely identify what it said or if it was Ted at all. All he knew was it was enough to make him throw his drink in the can and run to the other end of the store to check, only there was nothing. He didn't even see Ted walking away from the store, which seemed a little strange but not enough to make him worry.

He'd gone over it in his mind time and time again, and with the police, trying to piece something together. By that evening when Ted hadn't come home, and the call had come to the Preston household to see if he was there, Bill knew something was terribly wrong. Something inside told him so. But it wasn't until the next day that everyone else seemed to reach his level of worry.

The following days were really a blur. Interviews with the police and even Ted's dad, his own parents offering little, if no, support since they were on the brink of a divorce, and days stretching on with no word, no clues, nothing.

Looking down at the hastily composed missing person's sign in his hand, Bill wished he knew what had happened to Ted. It was as if he'd disappeared into thin air. They'd been so close, they'd shared everything, and then he was gone, just like that. And there was no one who really understood how he felt. It was a sadness he'd carried alone all this time, and knew he would continue to carry with him, probably for the rest of his life.

Folding the paper again, Bill lifted the items in the drawer to place it underneath again. It was amazing how much things had changed since then. It was only two years ago that he'd heard on the news that Ted's mom had been killed in that terrible drunk driving accident. And Captain Logan, apparently unable to bear yet another tragedy in his life, had, upon arriving on the scene, gone into what the lawyers later said was a fit of rage and shot and killed the driver of the other car on the spot. That trial had gone on forever, one of the biggest stories to happen in San Dimas since, well, since Ted's disappearance. Ted's little brother, Deacon, had gone to live with his grandmother when their father went to jail. Ted's old house had been sitting empty with a for sale sign on it for the past year. But Bill didn't walk by it very often any more.

Shutting the drawer, Bill sighed, realizing that he'd been down this same road of thought countless times before. It never did any good to drive himself crazy with it all. It was just the way things were, and there was nothing he could do about it. Getting up, he walked over to his computer and switched it on, glancing briefly at the corner where his guitar sat in its case. He hadn't touched that in years, either. After taking off his brand new Nikes while the machine warmed up, Bill sat down at his desk to begin working on his homework. He'd get through it as quickly as possible. It never mattered how hard he worked, he knew he wouldn't get a good grade anyway, so why bother trying? He just wanted to graduate so he could get out of school and on with his life . . . whatever that was going to be.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Fidgeting slightly, Rufus pretended to be admiring a painting on the wall of the outer office, hoping the secretary to his left wouldn't notice how nervous he was. It wasn't a frightened-nervous as much as an excited-nervous. While he had been working at the Great Hall since graduating from university some ten years earlier, it wasn't very often he was able to have a one-on-one encounter with the Great One himself, although he was considered by most in the complex to be one of the most respected workers there. His ability to understand the complexities of time, including time travel and its effects, as well as his extensive mapping of the Circuits of Time, had earned him great favor with His Supremeness, and Rufus took deep pride in this.

Realizing he had spent a little too much time on this one picture, he moved to one of the nearby chairs and sat down, hoping it wouldn't be much longer. He was very lucky this meeting had even been arranged, as the Great One was usually very busy, but he did need to discuss this clearance to carry on with his work, and his beloved leader had expressed an interest in learning more about it before granting him the permission to proceed. He'd never been turned down from doing experimental work before, and he was certain this time would be no exception. In fact, he probably could have convinced his superior of its validity over the phone, but no one in their right mind would ever pass up a chance of actually having a face-to-face encounter with . . . Him.

A buzzer on the desk sounded and the secretary flipped a switch, activating an almost undetectable communication device she was wearing. "Yes, sir? Right, sir. Immediately." She flipped the switch back again and looked up at Rufus. "He will see you now."

Rufus got to his feet, straightening his long, black coat. "Thank you." He stepped forward as the secretary pressed a button to open the thick, metal doors separating the outer office from the inner one. Rufus felt his heart pound quickly within his chest as he stepped, for the first time, into the grandiose office.

The walk to the huge desk on the other side of the room was a substantial one. He could see his leader sitting in an enormous, lush cushioned chair, watching his subordinate's approach with a smile. He leaned forward slightly as Rufus stopped on the other side of the desk and bowed with heartfelt respect.

"Thank you for granting me audience with you, DeNomolos, my leader."

"I was intrigued by this talk of an experimental journey," DeNomolos smiled. "You have done much to help me utilize the luxury of time travel to my benefit in the past."

Rufus bowed again slightly. "It is my honor to aid your regime in any way possible. After all, yours is the one true way, the path of all honorable men."

DeNomolos smiled even broader. Normally he would sneer at such a statement, seeing it as sycophantic dribble on the part of the speaker, and usually only as a means to get something they wanted. But not Rufus. He was loyal through and through and meant every word he said. But DeNomolos still would not break that leader/servant bond between him and any of his followers. They were, after all, there to serve him. "So, in what way will this experiment benefit me?"

Rufus' face dropped just slightly, as he suddenly realized he would have to admit to something normally unthinkable. "Oh, well, I'm not really sure."

DeNomolos' face also dropped as he eyed Rufus skeptically. "Then why waste my time with it?"

"Sir," Rufus began humbly. "I would not ask for permission to use the Circuits of Time if it were not of some significance, but I cannot, as yet, explain what that might be."

When DeNomolos said nothing but continued to eye him with growing impatience, Rufus continued his explanation a little faster.

"In my continued work of mapping the vast Circuits of Time for your use and benefit, I have discovered something I have not encountered before. A kind of . . . anomaly."

"What kind, exactly?"

"I do not know. All I know is I've never come across anything like it before. And if I could now look into this phenomenon while it has presented itself, then perhaps when future ones appear I will understand better what they are about, if they pose any possible threat, and what can be done about them."

DeNomolos seemed somewhat unconvinced, but sat back as if thinking it over. "Will it take up much of your time?"

"It needn't take any of my time from my other work, if you wish. I can return to the exact time I leave."

DeNomolos eyed Rufus' eager face and smiled slyly. "Well, if you think it would be useful to me in future time travel . . . "

Rufus leaned forward excitedly. "Oh, I'm certain it would!"

DeNomolos rocked in his chair once, then leaned forward again. "Very well. Go check into it. I'll expect a full report on my desk when you return."

"Thank you, sir! Oh, thank you very much, sir!" Rufus began to back away, bowing as he left. "I'll be sure to report to you thoroughly upon my return!"

"Very well," DeNomolos said absent-mindedly, already returning to his work, mulling over his latest declaration of war with some intensity.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The oblong, black cylinder travelled silently along the time circuit as Rufus checked his handheld computer to reconfirm his calculations. He entered in a brief message using the shorthand keys, as he intended to log this entire expedition. It wasn't very often when he time travelled to an unchartered region, and he wanted to be sure he landed far enough away from the anomaly to avoid any extreme incidents which may have taken place at it.

Realizing he had a little more of a ride ahead of him, he looked up through the one small window in the contraption and watched as time literally flew by. Such a delicate fabric woven throughout space in this strange dimension. He loved everything about it. Mapping the Circuits made him feel like the great explorers of old must have felt, and he knew DeNomolos also respected his feelings about time travel and its misuse. His findings would only be for the benefit of everyone and he was certain DeNomolos would never do anything to harm this intricate balance of time.

The vehicle slowed as it approached its destination, and Rufus braced himself in his seat for the landing. He could be assured of a safe landing regardless of the environment, as this time machine had been built with an adequately protective hull, but he would have to be prepared to enter another time circuit quickly if circumstances were beyond his control wherever he ended up.

At last he could see blue sky through the window above and he descended quickly to the ground below. With a thump the machine came to a sudden stop, and Rufus shook himself slightly to relieve the tension that had built during the freefall. Checking his gauges on the panel in front of him, he quickly took temperature readings and atmosphere tests. Everything responded positively . . . temperate a hot but safe 95 degrees, air suitable for breathing.

Taking a quick look through the window, he didn't immediately spot anything, so he opened the door of the machine and stepped out onto the hard, cracked earth beneath, his boots cracking the dry surface even more. After taking a few steps from the booth and looking around, Rufus came to the conclusion that there was absolutely nothing to be seen. Apart from a high ridge about 200 feet away, the land was flat and barren, dry and dead. It was a seemingly endless dry desert.

The first thought that entered Rufus' mind was that there was been some kind of nuclear explosion which had destroyed everything. That would certainly cause an anomaly, he figured. Quickly he checked his computer to see what, if anything, had been mapped previous to the anomaly. No, he concluded, this was always a desert, at least 3000 years before the anomaly. He also checked to see if there was any detectable radiation in the area but the computer reported back that there was none. He was a good 10 years after the anomaly, so whatever had happened here was not immediately apparent.

Making a note of these things in his log, Rufus stepped out into the wasteland to see if he could find anything. The land being flat and empty, he assumed one quick glance would be enough to assess the possibility of any evidence being here at all. After ten minutes of wandering around the immediate vicinity, he decided to return to the shade of the time machine to plan his next strategy.

It was on his way back to the time machine that he finally spotted something, not far away. Changing direction, he walked over to the low-lying object, at first thinking it was an oddly misplaced group of rocks. When he reached it, however, he was somewhat surprised.

"Well, now, I suppose this might be something," Rufus hummed to himself, quickly making notes on his computer. "It certainly is unusual, to say the least." He squatted down, taking a closer look and assessing what he could. The bones were definitely human, but what puzzled him was they weren't the size of a full-grown human being. Young, he thought. A teenager, or possibly younger. "Now what would a young person be doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?" Not being a squeamish person, having been in his share of warfare before college, he noted that there had been obvious trauma. The shattered ribs on the left side were obviously a big factor in this person's death, plus a rather notable fracturing of the skull. But how did it happen?

As Rufus stood, the glint of something flickering in the sunlight caught his eye. He walked over to investigate and found several pieces of metal laying around haphazardly. Looking around, he noticed even more pieces lying farther away. In fact, there were pieces strewn over a wide area, and they were in such small fragments he somehow knew there would be no large piece anywhere to be found.

"Something crashed," Rufus thought, then looked back to the skeletal remains and pondered this new evidence. "But why would someone that age be travelling in a vehicle way out here . . . in the middle of nowhere? And how could it have been destroyed so completely?"

Once again Rufus made notes to himself, then stood in wonderment. He couldn't make sense of any of it. Was this even part of the anomaly he was exploring, or was this just some other occurrence he had stumbled upon?

On his way back to the time machine, Rufus made a decision. There was no apparent long-term damage here. No radiation was detectable, there were no signs of a major explosion . . . no craters or masses of debris. He decided the only way he would find out what the anomaly was about would be to travel right into the heart of it and hope he would somehow find the answers.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Once again Rufus braced himself as the machine came to a rough stop. He held his breath a moment, wanting to make sure the world was intact beneath the vehicle. When everything seemed all right, he stood up carefully, checking outside the window before checking the instruments to make sure everything was okay for him to leave the enclosure.

Opening the door, Rufus stepped out and checked his position. The machine landed as he had hoped, on top of the ridge overlooking the vast expanse of dry, cracked earth. Everything looked pretty much the same as it had when he had been there ten years later. He checked his computer quickly to note the location of the bones and debris and checked those coordinates but could see nothing. Apparently that event had not taken place yet.

Rufus checked his watch then laughed at himself briefly at the absurdity of such an act. He stood, as if expecting something to happen, then checked his computer to make sure he had arrived at the right time. Having never dealt with an anomaly before, he didn't know at all what to expect. He just hoped there wouldn't be some kind of cosmic shock wave from which he wouldn't have time to escape.

After waiting some time, Rufus leaned against his time machine and sighed. He didn't know much about anomalies, but he was fast coming to the conclusion that they weren't necessarily on time. But with the vast expanse of time he figured it wasn't impossible to have made a mistake. One wrong calculation and he could be waiting anywhere from ten minutes to a week for something to happen.

Rufus had just decided to go back into the machine to use the main computer to refigure his math when a loud, cracking sound could be heard from above. Scrambling back from the door of the machine he looked around anxiously, trying to pinpoint the source. What to the untrained eye might look to be a lightning storm, but which Rufus recognized as a definite time travel occurrence, appeared above him, and before he had much time to react an object dropped from the sky, shooting past the ridge and into the desert below.

Hurrying to the edge of the ridge, Rufus sprawled down on the ground to observe without being seen, gawking with surprise at the strange-looking contraption below. He scoffed at its shoddy construction . . . the devise was made mostly of glass! What a foolish material to make a time machine out of! The way it still sputtered and sparked with orange offshoots made Rufus realize it was indeed a primitive form of time travel transportation, but nothing he recognized from his past.

In the short moment it took Rufus to notice these facts, the door of the machine opened and instantly a small form burst from it, apparently running as fast as it could away from the contraption. Rufus could see it was a young boy, and he was yelling out in what could only be described as terror but was saying nothing really comprehensible. Another figure then stepped out of the machine slowly as if it had no interest in catching up with the child at all. It was a full grown man, thin but muscular in build, wearing all black and a strange hood which covered most of his face.

About fifty feet from the machine the boy came to a sudden stop, as if realizing for the first time he was in the middle of nowhere. He'd stopped screaming and stood, turning one way and then the other in complete confusion. Rufus was so intrigued with the bafflement of the boy that he didn't notice the weapon which the hooded man had produced until a second before the man fired it. Even from the distance the man was from the boy, his aim was dead on as the bright flash of light from the end of the barrel stretched the distance between the two and caught the young man in the lower chest, spinning him around violently before he fell to the ground with a cry of pain.

Rufus cringed slightly, imagining how horrible a direct hit from a laser weapon must feel. Much to his surprise, the boy was struggling to get up, making it almost to his hands and knees before another blast of light caught the side of his head, throwing him back to the ground where he didn't move.

Too caught up in this strange event playing before him, Rufus didn't bother taking notes, instead watching the actions of the hooded man intently. The man didn't even bother to check to see if the boy was dead. Instead he placed the weapon back into his holster and stood as if catching his breath. Suddenly the man stumbled slightly for no apparent reason, reaching back to steady himself against the glass machine. Rufus blinked, thinking the heat from the ground must be playing tricks with his eyes, as it almost appeared as if the man were fading in and out slightly, but when Rufus rubbed his eyes and looked again the man in black was as clear as day, heading back into the booth.

As Rufus got to his feet, he was nearly thrown backwards by a sudden explosion which all but disintegrated the glass time machine, sending tiny fragments in all directions. Rufus threw himself to the ground again, covering his head, as a few pieces of glass and metal landed around him. When all was quiet again, he slowly looked up, thinking at first that the world had exploded. But it had just been the machine, leaving nothing behind but a black explosion imprint and pieces of glass and metal glistening in the bright sunlight for yards around.

Rufus stood stunned, unable to understand what had happened. Surely an anomaly wouldn't explode a time machine exclusively. It had to have been either a terrible malfunction of the machine or some kind of explosive device within to cause that kind of destruction.

When nothing else seemed to happen, Rufus finally left the ridge and walked down cautiously to the scene of the destruction. This time he took notes diligently, circling the blackened spot where the time machine had stood, trying to describe it as best as he could remember, and noting the size of the fragments, the projection of the explosion, etc.

He then walked the distance to the motionless figure lying on the parched dirt, checking the readings with those he'd taken ten years afterward. Sure enough the figures matched up perfectly . . . this was the same boy whose bones he'd found at that time.

He approached the figure in hopes of finding the boy's fatal wounds would match those he'd found on the remains. Rufus brought up his previous findings on his computer, studying them carefully for a few moments before looking up, then he froze. He hadn't realized until that moment that the boy was still breathing, and was now lying on his side and looking right at him with a desperate stare.

Rufus stood, unsure of what to do. He knew he couldn't possibly get involved in what was happening, and with a sudden surge of duty he went back to typing in data on his machine, even though he was typing utter nonsense.

"Who . . . wha . . . " The boy was gasping for breath, apparently unable to speak for the pain. Glancing up quickly, Rufus noted the amount of blood already forming on the ground, not to mention the blood running in small streams from his mouth and nose, and knew he didn't have long to go. That only gave him some comfort.

Realizing he wasn't at all comfortable being there, Rufus turned and walked away, making quick notes to the effect that the wounds did match up and the boy was killed almost instantly. Almost . . . .

"Wait . . . please . . . !" The words faded into an agonized moan, but Rufus didn't turn back. He was determined not to let it get to him. He'd seen worse before. The wars he'd been a part of on Mars . . . if they could be called wars. The Martians hadn't been able to put up much of a fight. It had felt good to kill off those disgusting, annoying creatures, clearing the way for DeNomolos to spread his true doctrines and purify the galaxy. He'd always tried to be as humane as possible to the little life forms, although his fellow recruits had done unspeakable things to those creatures. Much worse than this. But, after all, this was a human being.

"Bill . . . . "

Rufus almost didn't hear the word, and he wasn't sure he had heard it at all. It was almost whispered, not spoken . . . a low, gaspy sound filled with sadness. Rufus continued to walk away, but it bothered him more than anything else the boy had said. Who was this Bill? Was that the man who'd shot him? Had he been betrayed?

Rufus stopped when he reached the center of the remains of the machine, trying to focus once again on the work at hand. He was just beginning to detach from reality when he heard another sound behind him, one like he'd never heard before. A low, guttural kind of sound, not a scream, not a word, not even a moan. It was indescribable but extremely haunting. For some reason he pictured his daughters, and suddenly a pang of fatherly intuition hit him. He turned and ran back to the boy, not knowing what he would do but feeling he had to do something.

He stopped a short distance from the figure, realizing with some hurt that he was too late. The boy was lying motionless. His eyes were partially open but there was no light in them except for the slight sparkle of sunlight reflecting in the tears which were still there, a small stream of them running down one dusty cheek. It was then he realized just how young this boy really was . . . he couldn't have been much more than ten.

Rufus walked back to his own time machine, pocketing his computer as he tried to put his thoughts and feelings in order.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Growing aggravated, Rufus slammed his hand down on his desk after reading the brief reply to his e-mail on the computer in his office. A simple two word message, "Permission Denied" was the only response to the long, explanatory letter he had spent an hour writing. He debated about sending back a two word reply, "Why Not?", when he thought better of it and pushed himself back in his chair to let his frustration work through.

It had been four months since he'd explored the anomaly, and he hadn't been able to get it out of his mind. Upon his return he kept his promise and had written up a report, but it had been a glib and totally incomplete one. He'd said nothing about the other time machine or the murder of the young boy. It was the first time he'd ever held back information from his superiors, but for some reason he just couldn't bring himself to tell anyone about it. Partially because he didn't think he could recount it in great detail without dredging up those terrible feelings of compassion he'd had. Compassion was not an emotion you were supposed to give in to . . . it was a fatal flaw in one's armor, DeNomolos had always said. Compassion causes weakness. And apparently his leader had been correct, as it had made Rufus a nervous wreck and a less than perfect employee. He'd deliberately withheld information, something he would never have dreamed of doing before, and the worst part was he didn't even know why he wouldn't tell anyone about what he'd seen.

He'd spent countless hours going over the events in his mind, and had gone back to his mapping of the Circuits to trace the entire anomaly to see if he'd missed anything. As he had discovered, the anomaly wasn't one fixed point in time, but a stream, with a beginning and an end. He had been toward the end of the anomaly, which left him wondering what could possibly have been at the beginning.

Since his discovery of the anomaly's starting point he had debated about going back to try to learn the whole story, if for no other reason than to give himself peace of mind. But shortly after his return DeNomolos had suddenly banned all time travel, stating something about Rufus' findings as due cause for worry and a need for further research to ensure safe travel for all employees in the future. Oddly enough, though, Rufus had never been asked to write up any other reports on the phenomenon, or investigate it any further. He couldn't imagine who else could be working on the problem.

Now even when he requested use of a time booth for even a simple operation he was always denied with no explanation. It was frustrating him greatly, as he couldn't continue his mapping and exploration without use of the machines, and moreso because of this anxiousness to finish exploring the anomaly.

He sat up straight in his chair again, pulling it back to his small desk to resume the menial computer filing work he'd been given. This worrying over an occurrence which happened 700 years ago had nothing to do with him, and he was faltering in his position. He could not afford to let his emotions run away with him like this.

But that face . . . that poor boy's face . . . .

He shook his head roughly, coughing slightly and continuing with his work. Okay, so he'd hugged his kids a little tighter, which they complained about numerous times, and carried on as best he could. He just had to face the fact that he may never know the whole story behind what he'd seen, and that was just too bad.

Sighing, Rufus pushed himself away from his desk again and looked around his cubicle. The blank walls, stark and naked, stared back at him, and there was nothing to divert his attention, which made him realize all the more he was faced with a grim reality. He would never be able to carry on with his daily life without knowing what was at the start of that gruesome event. And even though his conscience told him otherwise, he knew he would do anything he had to do to find out.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The halls were empty and dark as he walked along, glancing around him to make sure no one was still working late. He knew he could easily explain that he was working late himself and just make like he was heading in another direction, but ideally he didn't want to encounter anyone, lest they detect the hint of untruthfulness in his expression and start asking questions.

He soon arrived at Time Travel Central, a surprisingly unguarded area which lay beyond a huge security door. There wasn't much worry of anyone breaking in and commandeering any time machines, as the complexity of the program they used to initiate activation was something it would take an outsider days if not weeks to decipher. Fortunately, Rufus wasn't an outsider, and had been instrumental in creating many of the programs himself.

He used his handprint and security password to get through the outer door and quietly shut it behind him. He switched on only the very basic lights needed to see what he was doing, and headed toward the control panels to initiate a program. He hoped to be able to start one of the machines, go on his mission, return a second or two after he'd left and get out within a four minute period. He could then erase the program from the computer's memory and leave without anyone ever knowing he had been there. If DeNomolos ever found out he was using one of the machines without permission . . . he didn't care to think about what would happen.

Quickly he logged on to the main computer and pressed the commands to initiate a time travel sequence. The program came up, dutifully listing all recent time travel journeys before stopping at a blank space at the bottom of the screen where a new program could be entered. This was all so standard Rufus could do it with his eyes closed.

He was about to enter in a sequence of numbers when he glanced at one of the previous missions, thinking to himself how long it had been since the machines had been used. His glance, however, turned into a hard stare when he realized the last sequence logged indicated it had been only a few hours before. Running up the list, he realized the none of the previous entries were any earlier than a week before, and there had been several trips a day, something completely unusual for their station, which usually only saw one or two time trips a week at the most.

Curious, Rufus sat down and began reading the entries more carefully. They were to locations he had never visited but many of them he had logged. Some locations were immediately recognizable, but others were more obscure, and he couldn't see any link between any of them.

The program was set up as a spreadsheet so that all information contained on one form was not visible on the screen all at once. He knew they usually added a brief description of each trip at the far right of the form, and cursored over to see what these journeys had been about. The brief descriptions he found written there left him agog, and he had to re-read some of them, gasping the words aloud as if not to mistake what he saw.

"Observe nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Retrieve copies of outlines for Nazi concentration camps circa World War II. Bring back Tutenkamen's treasure, leave pyramid impenetrable. Extract 2 bars of gold, Fort Knox - 25th trip. What is this??"

With a shudder, Rufus suddenly realized what had been happening. Time travel hadn't been banned at all. DeNomolos was using it himself in his own way, doing the one thing they had agreed could never be done. Surely this pilfering was having a harmful effect on the delicate weave of time. He just couldn't believe DeNomolos would do this . . . behind his back . . . and using the research he'd provided in good faith!

Rufus stood up and began to pace, picturing the whole picture of DeNomolos' plans. He could just see the man amassing a great wealth and unbeatable arsenal, utilizing history to take advantage of every unspeakable strength and power available. He knew his leader was a determined man when he set his sights on something, but this was something he'd never counted on.

Feeling completely drained, Rufus sat down once again to contemplate what he should do. He could just ignore it . . . go on with his life and say nothing to anyone about it. Then again, could he just sit back and watch time itself unravel. Didn't DeNomolos know about the potential harm he was putting the universe in? Did he care? No, of course he didn't care. DeNomolos had no feelings, nor did any of his followers. It had been bred out of them.

Knowing how he'd been unable to suppress his emotions about a boy he didn't even know some 700 years ago, Rufus knew full well he wouldn't be able to go on from here. He just couldn't sit in his little cubicle and work on meaningless filing, knowing at any time DeNomolos would launch a vicious attack on some other unsuspecting planet or perhaps even his own people. It was too late to go back to being the way he was. He'd found his emotions and he couldn't suppress them if he wanted to. He was weak, yes it was true. And when it was discovered that he wasn't thinking rationally he would be put away, or perhaps even put to death. This was going to be his destiny now, no matter what happened. He had to resign himself to it.

But before the truth was revealed about him, at least he could possibly do something to stop the thefts now taking place. It wouldn't take too much work to destroy the time travel system, if not permanently at least long enough to cause them real grief. No one would suspect him of doing it at first, at least not until they traced the security clearance codes on the door and realized he'd been there. If he could destroy the time machines and corrode the computer files, he might have time to escape from the city and travel to a corner of the world where he'd be unknown on the off chance he could escape being executed. He knew his chances weren't good, but he also knew he couldn't just give himself up knowing what would happen to him. He couldn't remain that collected any more.

His mind quickly devised a plan which would render the entire system useless, but then stopped himself. Once it was done, he himself wouldn't be able to time travel any more. He'd almost forgotten his original reason for being there. Quickly he punched in the coordinates he'd meant to enter in the first place and hurried to the machine he'd chosen, climbing in and closing the door securely behind him. Once he'd learned the secrets of the anomaly, then he'd destroy the system. At least that would be one less thing haunting his mind during his life as a fugitive.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The time machine landed smoothly and after a quick check of the readings, Rufus opened the door and stepped out. He was somewhat surprised to find himself not in a desert but in a city. He smiled, realizing from his calculations it was his hometown, although it was some 700 years before he was born. San Dimas sure was a charming place back then. Nowhere near as dark and grimy as the San Dimas he grew up in.

He had landed in an alley of some kind and walked to the end to see where he was exactly. Before he reached the end he stopped short, unable to believe his eyes. A line of time machines like the one he'd seen before were standing near the sidewalk. He walked over to them, looking at them with confusion. Stepping into one of them, he spotted a bone shaped thing dangling from a hook and reached to pick it up. It so obviously conformed to his mouth and ear that he lifted it up to listen, hearing a strange humming sound. He pushed a few buttons, only to hear a mechanical voice sternly say, "That number is not a working number. Please dial again."

Confused, Rufus replaced the receiver and stepped away from the booths, eyeing them with curiosity. These weren't time travel machines by any stretch of the imagination. These three machines were attached to the ground firmly and weren't going anywhere. Shrugging, Rufus headed to the end of the alley.

A small parking lot was in front of him, and he turned around to look at the establishment where he'd landed. There was a design above the door which looked like a circle with the letter K inside. There were signs hanging in the windows announcing the low prices. He had to smile at its quaint look. Everything was so bright and colorful!

The glass doors swung open with a small bell sounding and two boys stepped out of the store, each carrying a bright colored cup in their hands. The one he immediately recognized as the boy he'd seen in the desert, but he was so different here. So cheerful and alive. He could scarcely believe it was the same person. The blonde haired boy with him was equally exuberant, and he couldn't quite explain it but he liked them both immediately.

Realizing he was being a little obvious standing in the parking lot looking at them, Rufus moved back toward the alley, leaning against the wall and acting as if he were waiting for someone in an attempt to blend in.

"Aw, c'mon, Ted! Can't you come over for a little while anyway?"

So his name is Ted, Rufus thought. He hadn't even known his name before. He strained to listen as a truck rolled by on the street in front of them. Rufus then realized there was another sound behind him at the same time and turned around. He noticed a lot of dust and wondered if it had been a vehicle passing through without his noticing it. The four booths stood where they had been before and not a person was in sight. Realizing he was missing the boys' conversation, he turned his attention back in their direction.

Ted had been finishing off his drink, and when he was finished he shook his head sadly. "'Fraid not. My dad says I gotta get home and do the chores before mom gets back from her PTA meeting."

"No way," Bill sighed, taking a moment to suck earnestly at his drink. "I wanted to show you the new banner I did up for the group."

Ted nodded happily. "I wish I could see it. Hey, why don't you bring it to school tomorrow?"

"Sure! No problem!"

"Excellent. We got a lot of resplendent banners now. . . . "

"Yeah," Bill agreed. "Now if we could only get some instruments."

"Just keep asking for Christmas and birthdays and stuff," Ted reminded him. "Our parents gotta give in one of these days."

Bill nodded in agreement. "The band will happen, dude."

"Yeah!" They gave each other a quick air guitar before Ted crossed to the garbage can and deposited his empty cup. He then checked his watch quickly and looked startled. "Whoa, Bill. I gotta go. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Most definitely."

"Okay, see ya."

"See ya." Bill turned and headed to the other end of the building as Ted walked past Rufus, smiling and saying hi as he passed.

Rufus glanced down at Bill, who had stopped at the other end of the building to finish his drink. "So that's Bill," he thought to himself before turning and walking into the alley after Ted, wondering what this was all about. "That kid wouldn't have betrayed him. They're best friends!"

Almost before he'd turned the corner into the alley, there was a sudden flurry of movement as the doors of one of the booths suddenly flew open and the lean man in black he'd seen before literally leaped out as Ted passed, grabbing the boy by the arm roughly. Ted let out a short exclamation of surprise and struggled to pull away, but the man was pulling him into the booth, obviously too strong for him.

All at once Rufus felt a wave of anger course through him. He couldn't see that this boy had done anyone wrong or deserved what awaited him. He couldn't bear to think of him being forced into that machine and taken to that desolate place to be brutally murdered. Before he knew what he was doing, he ran forward. "Hey you! Stop! Let that boy go!"

The lean man froze, looking completely shocked. Ted managed to pull free of the man's grasp and run to Rufus, hiding behind him as the lean man ran back into the booth and after a moment it glowed with a bright light and with a loud crackling it disappeared into the ground.

Stepping around Rufus, Ted surprised to see the man was now gone, and he looked up at Rufus. "Where'd he go?"

Rufus didn't hear the question, as he had suddenly become nauseous. He looked down as his head cleared for a moment and suddenly for a brief second he was overcome with complete recognition. "Ted!"

Ted gawked at this man, wondering how he could possibly know his name. But at that same moment he heard another loud "Ted!" behind him and turned around in time to see Bill come racing around the corner.

"What was that noise? Are you okay?" Bill asked worriedly.

"Huh? Oh yeah, I'm fine. It's just this guy grabbed me . . . . "

"What guy?" Bill asked in a startled voice, running forward while glancing around angrily.

"Well he's gone now, but this nice man helped me!"

"What man?" Bill demanded impatiently.

Ted turned around only to find the man was now also gone. "But . . . he was here just a minute ago!" He looked around, feeling completely uneasy. The man was gone, the guy who grabbed him was gone, and he could have sworn the man had said his name, but then Bill had said it at the same time. And wasn't there some big black thing at the end of the alley that was gone now, too?

Bill looked around then shook his head. "Ted, I dunno, I think you drank your Frosty Slush a little too fast."

"But they were here, Bill. I mean, I thought they were."

"Ted, my friend, go home and get your chores done. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Yeah, sure." Ted headed toward home, still confused but deciding it wasn't worth worrying about. Nothing bad had happened anyway.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Are you all right, Rufus?" the Supreme Most Important Person asked.

"Oh, yes. I'm fine, thank you. I just felt a little dizzy there for a moment."

"You have been working very hard mapping the Circuits of Time," the female Important Person reminded him. "I think you deserve a rest."

"I'm fine now," Rufus assured them, feeling quite himself again. "Whatever it was has passed."

"Excellent," the Supreme one stated. "Now then, returning to the business at hand . . . . "

"Excuse me, your Exalted Importances," a small page interrupted, peeking in the door. "But I've been sent to tell you that there has been some unauthorized time travel which has just taken place."

"I'll check into it right away," Rufus announced, heading for the door. "I just hope it hasn't cause any damage anywhere."

* * * * * * * * * * *

DeNomolos checked the clock above the large circle where the time booth had disappeared only moments before, then smiled wickedly. "It should be happening any time now," he chuckled. "Oh I only wish I could have been there to witness it!"

"I think we should have felt some effects by now," the scientist announced nervously.

"This plan is foolproof," DeNomolos assured him. "He is my best assassin. He knows what he's doing."

"Too bad he doesn't realize this was a kami-kazi mission," the scientist said under his breath, but DeNomolos had heard him anyway.

"Would you have volunteered to do it if you knew there was a bomb on board?" DeNomolos growled at the small man.

The scientist shivered slightly. "I only suggested the possibility of a time disturbance should this man be left in the middle of nowhere when the time change takes place. I didn't mean . . . . "

"Yes, well, we've come this far with this plan and I wasn't about to take any chances! So he dies at the end of his mission. A small price to pay for having the pleasure of doing away with one of those annoying goody-two-shoes."

"Yes, sir. You're correct as always, sir."

DeNomolos glanced at the clock again, this time clearly agitated. "Well why on earth hasn't it happened yet?"

"There's movement in the time circuits now!" the scientist announced.

"Where is it? Is it leaving San Dimas?"

"Well, I can't tell exactly sir, but it seems to be . . . . "

He was interrupted by a loud crackling sound and suddenly the booth dropped in from above, landing with a loud bang on the metal circle in the center of the room."

" . . . heading here, sir," the scientist finished with a cough, waving the smoke away from his face.

The door of the booth opened and the assassin stepped out, bowing low to DeNomolos. "My Lord . . . . "

"What is the meaning of this???" DeNomolos stood before letting the man finish, shaking angrily.

"I . . . I couldn't accomplish the mission." Before DeNomolos could fly into a complete rage, the man added hastily. "Rufus was there!"

DeNomolos looked stunned. "Rufus? Impossible! There's been no indication of any other time travel taking place, has there been?" He turned to the scientist violently.

"No sir!" the scientist assured him firmly.

"I don't know, sir. He was dressed in black, but it was definitely Rufus. No doubt about it. He protected the boy."

"No! This cannot be!" DeNomolos screamed. "How . . . how could this happen? How could he?"

"Um, sir . . . " the scientist meekly tried to interrupt.

"How?" DeNomolos screamed, turning on the scientist. "You! Explain to me how this could have happened!"

"Um . . . yes, sir, I will try. But first, may I remind you of . . . um, a small matter."


"The bomb, sir?"

DeNomolos threw a glance to the time machine, then dove underneath a nearby metal desk with the scientist quickly behind him.

"What bomb?" asked the assassin just as the booth exploded into a million pieces, bringing down half of the building with it.

When the smoke and dust finally began to settle, DeNomolos lifted his debris covered head and looked around in disgust. "Why? Why does this always happen to me? How do those annoying little bastards always end up getting out of it?"

The little scientist likewise emerged from the rubble, punching numbers on a small calculator. "I don't know, sir. The possibility of them escaping so many times is so astronomical, the entire number won't even print on the LED here. See?"

DeNomolos slapped the scientist sharply, then returned to his brooding. "So even with my time meddling Rufus still managed to show up and save the day. I guess I just have to come up with some other way of getting rid of those Two Annoying Ones. Now let me think . . . . "