By Christine Carr <email@example.com>
Submitted September 1999
Summary: When H.G. Wells visits Alt-Clark and his Lois, he tells them the story of how Tempus escaped from 1866 and offers them the chance to change history.
FEEDBACK: Comments welcome privately or via the fanfic mailing list
I'm sure that I don't need to remind anyone that Lois, Clark, Tempus and Wells are not mine (though I do lay claim to Rachelle, Prof Carrington, Clarice, Sylvie, Sinead and Monro), and no harm is meant by their use. This is for fun, and no attempt is being made to infringe any existing copyrights held by December 3rd Productions, Warner Bros, D C Comics, or any one else.
In addition to the usual disclaimers, I would like to say that none of my characters is based on anyone real, living or dead, and this applies particularly to H G Wells <g>. I am very uneasy about writing about 'real' people, but since the series did it first, I hope that I may be forgiven in this one instance. Besides, I think it is widely accepted that the world in which Lois and Clark live is not our own, so it is not our world's H G about whom I'm writing. I have, however, made use of a few facts about "our" H G Wells's life for the purpose of this tale. First, he did live in Hanover Terrace, second, he destroyed a lot of personal correspondence in 1940, fearing a Nazi invasion of Britain, and third, he gave a lecture in San Francisco on 8 November of that year. Any other details about the man, not established in the show's canon, come from my own fevered imagination.
My fevered imagination is also responsible for dreaming up the mechanics of the time travel used in this story. I claim no expertise in this field whatsoever! I hope that they make some sort of sense.
Thanks Irene for reading this through for me and saying nice things!
Oh, and a final comment. I have written about Alt Clark and his Lois. There is already a fine body of fanfic detailing how they might have met, so this story doesn't even attempt to cover that ground. I did want to see them together and happy, though, so please just take it as read that they have triumphed over all obstacles, and have found each other at last, okay?
Enough from me. Now on with the story!
Saturday, 17 April, 1999
Alternative Metropolis, New Troy
Clark Kent, better known to the world at large as Superman, sprawled across the couch in a semi-recumbent position. Snuggled against his chest, engrossed in the final pages of a copy of The Count Of Monte Cristo, was his wife of eleven months, Lois Lane. Clark was content to watch Lois as she read, finding his own pleasure in the feel of her as she lay in his arms. He absentmindedly stroked her abdomen with one hand, thinking of the new life that was growing there. Her pregnancy didn't show yet, and, until it did, it would remain their secret. There would be time enough in the future for them to deal with the inevitable interest that would follow any announcement. He remembered all too clearly the media frenzy that had accompanied first their engagement, and, subsequently, their wedding and honeymoon: the longer they could hold off its sequel, the better.
The affectionate gesture distracted Lois's attention away from Alexandre Dumas and she glanced up at Clark. She smiled as she said, "You're pleased about the baby, aren't you."
It was not a question, but he answered it anyway. "You know I am. I love you, you know, Mrs Kent." He leaned forward and lightly kissed the top of her head.
She batted playfully at his chest with the hand that wasn't holding the book and said lightly, "Ms Lane," as she turned her gaze back to the text. For the benefit of the world, they had agreed that Lois should keep her maiden name on the grounds that it offered a small measure of protection against the attention that was sometimes lavished upon the human half of the famous couple.
"Ms Lane," he agreed, a smile in his voice.
"That's better," she said absently, her thoughts already back on the story.
They lapsed back into a companionable silence that Lois broke five minutes later. With a satisfying thump of paper, she closed the book and said, "Done!"
"You finished it?"
"Well, finally!" A teasing note crept into Clark's words.
"And what do you mean by that?" demanded Lois.
"Oh, nothing," he replied, the teasing note growing louder. "It's just, I thought that we were never going to have a conversation again!"
"Clark! It took me one week, in amongst everything else. That's pretty fast for a book this size. And I have been talking to you."
"Really." The word was said indulgently, but it nonetheless conveyed his scepticism.
Lois guiltily recognised that she had indeed been absorbed in the trials and tribulations of the tale's eponymous hero. She'd started it originally for wont of something to do when Clark had left to help with some earthquake relief work in Asia, but the book had been so compulsive that she had been loath to put it aside after his return. Her guilt at having ignored Clark translated into a faint defensiveness. "Just because you could read it in five seconds flat!"
"Can I help it if I'm fast?"
She suddenly laughed, her momentary anger dissipating like an early morning mist burned away by the sun. "I guess you can't, at that. But, Clark, you must remember to make allowances for us mere humans, you know."
"'Mere'?" he queried. "I have never, not even for one moment, thought that there was anything 'mere' about you!"
Lois recognised the truth of the statement. "Tell me again," she said, "how I was so special, that you hunted to the ends of the Earth to find me."
"Don't you ever get tired of hearing that story?" he asked.
"No," she said coquettishly.
"All right, then," he said, thinking to himself that he never tired of telling it, either. He paused, gathering the words he wanted together. Then, softly, he began. "Lois," he said, "you are the other half of my soul. Without you, I was alone, and lonely. I needed to find you, the other half of myself, so I hunted for you. I looked everywhere, and even after my hope had died, I kept on looking."
Lois shifted her position, turning in his embrace so that she could see his face and the soft sincerity in his eyes.
"And then, one day—"
The doorbell cut through Clark's recitation, wrecking the intimate mood they had been creating.
Fleetingly, Clark wondered if they could ignore the disturbance, but decided that the idea was unworthy of Superman. Sometimes living up to the image he wanted to portray was very trying. He pulled down his glasses and raised his eyebrows as he saw who his guest was. No matter that the man was always closely followed by chaos, Clark owed him several debts of gratitude. More importantly, he actually liked him.
Clark eased himself out from beneath his wife, saying, "I'll get it," as he did so.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"You'll see," he answered mysteriously.
She mock scowled at him in return. "Oh, come on, Clark! Give me a clue."
"Okay," he said. "Who brought us together?"
Her eyes widened in pleased astonishment as the implications of his statement sank in. He knew that, like him, she would always welcome this particular visitor into their home.
Clark smiled broadly in welcome as he opened the front door and invited H G Wells to enter. Wells was noticeably older than Clark remembered, but the self-deprecating half-smile and the twinkling eyes were just the same as they had been on the other occasions when they had met. "Mr Wells! How are you? What brings you here? Come in!"
"Mr Kent," said Wells. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
Clark stood back to allow Wells to pass.
Wells's eyes lit upon Lois who had belatedly followed Clark into the hall, and who was now hovering near the entrance to the living room. "My dear!" he exclaimed. "You look positively radiant! Pregnancy evidently suits you."
Lois opened her mouth to ask how Wells knew about the child, but closed it again as she realised that being a time traveller undoubtedly had its advantages. Instead she just said, "Thank you. Won't you come on through?"
Wells made small talk, asking how life had been treating them over the last year or so, while Clark made coffee. Only when they were all settled comfortably, and when he was certain that he had their full attention, did he finally get around to telling them of the reason for his visit.
"I wish to talk to you about Tempus. You see, I have recently ascertained certain facts of a rather disquieting nature."
Lois sighed, a long and drawn-out exhalation that clearly conveyed her resignation that her husband was about to be called away on business. She spoke for both of them when she asked, "What's Tempus done now? What do you want Clark to do this time?"
"Why, nothing, my dear. That's not what I meant at all."
Lois and Clark both raised their eyebrows in surprise. "Go on, Mr Wells," prompted Lois.
"You are, I believe, familiar with Tempus's history, in as much as you know how I was foolish enough to bring him back from the future, and how he hijacked my time machine, forcing me to take it to Smallville, 1966, so that he could try to kill the young Clark Kent of my world?"
Clark nodded. "Yes. Lois — the other Lois — told me about it. As I recall, you stranded Tempus somewhere in the past."
"Kansas City, 1866, to be precise. The next time I encountered Tempus was when I first met you, Mr Kent. I wondered at the time how it was that a man I had left in an insane asylum had achieved so much in what, for him, was a very short space of time. He had escaped, clearly received some education, and he had built his own time machine. I have recently come to understand, however, how this unfortunate sequence of events came about, and I realise that my responsibility for Tempus's actions extends far beyond our original encounter.
"You see, I wrote it all down in this manuscript." Wells held up a bundle of papers, bound together with cardboard and string. "I recently rediscovered it as I was destroying some personal papers, and as I looked through it, I found myself wondering … I did some investigating, and I now realise that this is the key that unlocked — will unlock — the door to Tempus's cell. Yet, from my point of view, the manuscript is as yet undiscovered, and that event lies in my future. I am consequently forced to wonder if its destruction will prevent the events which occurred subsequent to his imprisonment."
Clark and Lois exchanged glances. "But those things have already happened, at least from our point of view, so … Are you talking about changing our history, Mr Wells?" asked Clark. "Can you do that?"
"To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. At the moment, what I wish to determine is whether or not the attempt should be made. Tempus is, as you have learned to your cost, a monster in human form. If he can be stopped, would it not be advisable to make the attempt?"
Clark did not have a ready answer to that question: the ramifications of tampering with time were unclear. Before he could make an informed decision, he needed more information.
Meanwhile, Lois was asking, "Wouldn't the simplest thing be for you to go back in time and stop yourself from bringing Tempus back in the first place?"
"Oh no," said Wells. "That would never do. You see, in the other dimension, Jonathan and Martha Kent found the baby Kal-El in the evening. However, in actual fact, the craft landed in the afternoon. If Tempus had not tried to kill the child, we would not have discovered the historical discrepancy, and the adult Clark would not have been able to alert them to the child's arrival."
"So, you're saying that if Tempus had not tampered with history, the Kents would not have found the child?" Lois asked sceptically.
Wells nodded. "Correct, my dear. History demands Tempus's arrival in that place and time."
Clark frowned and said, "And in this dimension? Did Tempus tamper here, too?"
"Not in that particular instance. Apparently, the time of the craft's arrival is one of the slight variations that serve to differentiate the two dimensions. However, he did tamper in other ways — as you well know."
Lois and Clark nodded.
Wells continued, "And that is why I have come to you now. Perhaps it is merely selfishness that prompts me to unburden myself to you, although I hope that I have some nobler motives than that. You see, of all the people whose lives Tempus touched, you have been the most innocent and the most wronged. The history he changed in this dimension was not even his own. He experimented with your lives to see if he could determine the most efficacious manner in which to harm your counterparts. Yet, in comparison to what he did to your lives, he merely inconvenienced them."
"How do you mean?" Lois asked.
"In my dimension, Tempus first sought to destroy Superman by killing him. In this world however, he sought to destroy the hero through more insidious and indirect means. He attacked those closest to you, those who might have offered support and encouragement."
"My parents … " breathed Clark as the implications of Wells's words sank in. "Tempus … killed them?"
"I'm afraid so, my boy," replied Wells, compassion writ large on his face.
"I … I had wondered, but … " he trailed off.
Lois walked over and put her arms around him, offering her support. "It's okay, Clark," she said, offering the platitude more to comfort him than because she believed it.
"After everything he did to you, how can you say that?" Clark asked.
Lois shrugged slightly, and shifted the conversation away >from the sensitive subject area. "Go on, Mr Wells," she said.
He nodded. "My story begins with a young woman named Rachelle."
Thursday, 29 May, 2273
Rachelle was tall and slender. She had hair so dark that it was almost black, and brown eyes that could shift from laughter to anger in a moment. Other people variously described her as beautiful, brilliant, stubborn, wayward, and opinionated. Rachelle, herself, would have said that she was the black sheep of an illustrious family, were it not for the fact that she found living up to their reputation to be a rather daunting task. She did her best to make sure that the connection was not noticed in the first place.
She was much given to enthusiasms, jumping from one interest to another at regular intervals, but never sticking to any for long. It was the pursuit of one such enthusiasm that, on a hot day in early summer, imbued her with enough energy to run across campus when the other students could barely find enough energy to walk. For Rachelle, the combination of the charismatic Professor Carrington and the lure of twenty- second century history had proved irresistible enough to persuade her to enrol for summer school, and she was determined not to be late for class.
If that combination was not heady enough, today's lecture, more than any other on the course, fired her imagination. For as long as she could remember, she had been taught the history of the Kent dynasty. Most of it was fairly straightforward — a string of dates and events to be memorised — but there was one aspect of the story that she found fascinating, and one character above all others who intrigued her.
Tempus. He was a colourful man of mystery. An adventurer, he had travelled through time on a whim.
To hear about him from Professor Carrington was almost too good to be true. Carrington wasn't like the other members of the faculty. He brought the past to vivid life when he talked. Listening to him was not like study at all. It was pleasure.
All this ran through Rachelle's mind as she reached the entrance of the main teaching block and waited for the automatic doors to sense her presence before she passed through into the shaded corridor beyond. The cooler air there was pleasant after the searing sun outside, and she took the briefest of rests to savour its feel as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimmer lighting levels of the building's interior. Then she headed down the corridor to the main auditorium, and entered.
The lecture theatre was light and airy, with a frosted glass ceiling that diffused the harsh sunlight as it entered. She made her way down the steps to the front row of desks and chose one which would provide her with the best view. She set up her small holographic recorder, then she sat down to wait for the lecture to begin.
Spellbound, Rachelle sat through the class, leaning forward in her seat, hanging on to every word that Carrington spoke. He began by giving a straightforward summary of Tempus's life — or as straightforward as any tale could be when its hero jumped in and out of time. Pacing across the auditorium's stage, he said, "Tempus, born Warren Tempus, in the year 2158, was a bright individual. As a student, he excelled at history, and he was channelled into pursuing a career as a teacher in that field, though only because he lacked any self- direction, drive, or interest of his own … At the age of twenty-seven, he met and married Alicia Jones. He was thirty-two when his daughter Clarice Tempus-Jones was born. He left his family some seven or eight years later: the final separation following an attempt at reconciliation which lasted for a period of six weeks … "
As Rachelle listened, she suddenly experienced a huge sense of kinship with Tempus. She, too, lacked direction, and found losing herself in earlier eras more fun than living in her own. It was ironic, however, that, while Tempus had dismissed his own century as being of little or no interest, to her it was the source of enormous fascination.
"Tempus's favourite periods were the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and he taught courses in the social and cultural history of North America. It has been suggested that his choice of periods to study was influenced by his dissatisfaction with society in the twenty-second century, which he found to be dull. At least, he would say, things happened in the latter part of the second millennium. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that, when presented with an opportunity to travel into the past with H G Wells, Tempus volunteered with very little persuasion."
Turning to face the assembly, Carrington then said, "It is unclear at what precise point Tempus formulated his plan to try to kill the infant Clark Kent. Did he devise his plan after receiving Wells's invitation, before agreeing to travel back in time with him? Or was it a plan conceived during their voyage together? It is unlikely that we will ever know. What is clear, however, is that Tempus held Clark Kent and Lois Lane directly responsible for the societal changes which led to the creation of a universal lifestyle that was, to him, deeply dissatisfying. It was that dissatisfaction which, in turn, led to his varied attempts to destroy their life together, and with it, all hopes for the founding of Utopia."
Then he moved on to consider areas of doubt and ambiguity in the story.
"The first mystery," he said, as he resumed his pacing across the stage, talking with his hands, "is how Tempus managed to escape from wherever it was that Wells had stranded him in the past. Wells, himself, was not forthcoming, when asked what he had done with Tempus. All he would admit to was leaving him in what he described as a 'violent, hellish dystopia.' The next mystery is how he managed to build a second time machine. No-one knows how he achieved that, and, unless H G Wells aided him — which is most unlikely, given that he'd chosen to abandon Tempus in the first place — no one of that period had the expertise to help him. To have these gaps in our knowledge is both humbling and enticing for a historian. Humbling because it reminds us that we cannot know everything, and enticing because it reminds us that there is always something new to learn — new frontiers to conquer, if you will."
Then he went on to consider how history saw Tempus. "There are," he said, "two major schools of thought with which you should be familiar. The first is, simply put, that Tempus was an evil monster. The second is that Tempus was a tool of history, and that he was used by powers greater than himself to see that certain events came to pass. To a large extent, how we view Tempus and his actions is determined by our own views and beliefs with regard to how the universe operates. Those who claim that we have free will see Tempus as a villain, whereas those who believe all of human history has been preordained by forces greater than ourselves are more inclined to believe that Tempus was simply a tool, used to ensure that certain events came to pass. Perhaps the reality lies somewhere between the two. However, unless we build our own time machines — which is most unlikely — and go and ask him ourselves, it is doubtful that we shall ever know the truth."
Finally, of course, the class ended. As the majority of the class rose to leave, Carrington called over the noise to say to them, "Remember, I want the titles of your course papers submitted, and on my desk, no later that by Monday June 9th!"
Rachelle didn't need to wait until then to tell him what she wanted to write about, though. She already knew, a vague idea having, in the last hour, crystallised into a firm resolve. Instead of following the rest of her peers out of the room, she waited until they were gone, then she made her way to the front of the hall where she hovered irresolutely, waiting for Carrington to notice her.
Finally he turned in her direction. Rachelle fidgeted under his intimidating gaze as he eyed her up and down. She could imagine the thoughts that were going through his mind. He was undoubtedly recalling that she was not one of his most diligent students, and he was probably wondering what could possibly have caused her to stay behind after class on such a beautiful day. In fact, given her reputation amongst the faculty, he was probably surprised that she had even bothered to turn up in the first place.
Less than enthusiastically, he said, "So, what can I do for you?"
"I, uh … " she stuttered, uncharacteristically tongue-tied. She cleared her throat, then with an effort she made herself try again. "I know what I want to write about for my paper," she said. "Tempus."
"You don't have to decide now," he said.
"I know. But I was thinking about it even before today's class, and now I'm sure that's what I want to do. The only thing is … " She glanced down, not sure how to proceed.
"Yes?" he prompted her.
"I don't know what angle I should take. I mean, I thought that you would give us more answers than you did. That we'd learn why Tempus did the things he did." Then, hurriedly, she added, "I don't mean to criticise."
To her surprise, Carrington laughed. "I'm sure you don't. But, as I've tried to convey to you, I can't give you all the answers. I wish I could. But, instead, all I can do is to help you ask the right questions. Then, hopefully, you will find the answers that you seek, yourself."
"How? If you don't know the answers, how am I supposed to find them?"
Carrington smiled. "That's a good question. To my mind, a good student is one who can surpass the teacher, and a good teacher is one who can guide a student to do precisely that."
Rachelle frowned. Just how good a student was she, she wondered. Could she live up to Carrington's ideals? Somehow she doubted it, but it might be fun to try. "Could you at least give me a few pointers as to how I might start?" she answered.
Carrington nodded. "If you come along to my office now, I'll give you a few references to get you going. Okay?"
Rachelle smiled. "Okay, that'd be great. Thanks!"
Saturday, 7 June, 2273
The knock on her door pulled Rachelle's attention away from the latest treatise she was perusing. Reluctantly she called out, "Who is it?"
"It's me!" came an answering voice. "Sinead!"
"Come on in! It's open!" Rachelle might not have appreciated the disturbance, but she would tolerate a visit >from Sinead, her closest friend, more willingly than from anyone else.
The door opened, and Sinead entered, clearly dressed for a night on the town. "You're not ready yet?" she asked, spotting Rachelle's casual attire immediately.
"Ready?" queried Rachelle, puzzled.
"Yeah. Ready. You. Me. Monro. A visit to Bellamy's Bar? Don't tell me you forgot!" Sinead took a closer look at her friend and said, "You did forget, didn't you?"
Rachelle couldn't deny the accusation. Instead she tried to apologise. "I'm sorry. I just got so into this stuff that I—"
Sinead held up her hands, scepticism writ large in her stance and in her voice. "Rachelle, the class underachiever, got carried away with work. Now, why do I find that so hard to believe?"
"Because it's true."
"It's Saturday night!"
"So … it's an unwritten rule that only geeks and nerds work on Saturday night, and that's only because they can't get dates. Now, you've never had that problem, so what's your excuse?"
Rachelle looked at Sinead, a slightly perplexed frown on her face, wondering how she could begin to make her friend understand. "It's fascinating, all right?"
Sinead shook her head in disbelief. "Anyone would think," she said, "that you were researching a PhD, not writing a simple little course paper. I mean, look at this stuff!" She threw out her arm in a gesture that encompassed Rachelle's desk and shelves. Just three weeks ago, this room had been almost Spartan in its simplicity. Now tapes, books, holograms and recording chips filled every available storage space, and the overflow lay stacked, higgledy-piggledy, on every available surface. "Don't you think that you are going a little over the top?"
Rachelle shrugged the implied criticism away. "Can I help it if I find this stuff interesting?"
"This isn't an interest," Sinead snapped. "This is an obsession! You've got to get a sense of proportion here, Rachelle. You're putting so much effort into this that you're neglecting your other subjects. You're going to fail something if you're not careful."
Rachelle bit back the automatic retort of, "Who do you think you are — my mother?" Instead she settled on saying, rather sulkily, "Then I'll have to make sure that this is good enough to pull the rest of my grades up, won't I?"
Sinead inhaled deeply, held her breath, and counted to ten. "Okay," she said, "I give up. But don't say that I didn't warn you."
"I won't," Rachelle promised. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd really like to get back to my reading."
Sinead shook her head again, then left Rachelle to her research.
Monday, 16 June, 2273
Rachelle paused in front of Carrington's office, then raised her fist to knock.
Obeying his imperious command, she opened the door and poked her head around it.
Looking up from his desk, Carrington said, "Well, come on in, Rachelle. Sit down."
Reassured by his invitation, she entered the room, closing the door behind her, then perched on the edge of his visitor's chair.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"Um, well. I've read just about everything I can about Tempus, but I still don't know what angle I want to take with the essay."
Carrington nodded. "Do you have any ideas?"
"One or two," Rachelle admitted. "But before I go into them, I was wondering … "
"Well, I discovered that Tempus's daughter lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was wondering if I could get in touch with her. One of the books I was reading indicated that she has some documents, and I was wondering if they mightn't shed some light onto Tempus's character."
"An interesting idea. How do you plan to approach her?"
"Well, that's just it. I was wondering if you could write me a letter of introduction." Rachelle's inflection turned the sentence into a question. "I thought it might sound more … official … if it came from you."
Carrington smiled slightly. "Yes," he said. "I could do that for you."
If he read the signs correctly, unlikely as it seemed, this student was about to exceed his wildest expectations, and was about to surpass the teacher. For him, there could be little else more satisfying.
Tuesday, 1 July, 2273
Rachelle checked the address, then pulled her vehicle off the highway, and onto the drive of a little family dwelling on the southern edge of downtown. The house wasn't what she had expected. For some reason she had imagined Tempus's daughter would live in a large gothic mansion, set back from the main road, imposing to any casual passers-by. Instead, the reality was rather different. True, the house was old — probably about three hundred years, she guessed — but it was small and friendly looking, with white adobe walls and a wide shaded deck.
She eased her stiff body out of the air-conditioned comfort of the rental, and gasped as the full impact of the desert heat hit her. Then she walked along the path, up the steps, and gratefully sighed as she hit the shade.
The doorbell rang sonorously in the depths of the house. Rachelle turned her back on the front door as she turned to look around the neatly manicured lawn, and she squinted against the painfully white walls of the compound. As she waited for her ring to be answered, she wiped a hand across her forehead, clearing the perspiration from her brow that even the few yards from the rental had caused.
How could anyone bear to live in this climate, she wondered.
The sound of the door opening made her spin around. An elderly woman stood there, eyeing her slightly warily. "Yes?" she asked in a businesslike tone. It was hardly inviting.
"Oh, hello," said Rachelle, putting on what she thought of as her polite voice. "My name is Rachelle Aston-Kent. I believe you're expecting me?"
The woman stared back at her, clearly knowing nothing about Rachelle's visit.
"Professor Carrington wrote to you about me?" she prompted slightly anxiously.
A voice from the hidden recesses of the property called out, "It's all right! Show her in!"
The woman raised her head slowly and nodded, once up, then down, acknowledging the unseen's command.
"Come on in, then. The mistress is expecting you."
The mistress? Rachelle thought, intrigued. "Oh, I thought that you … " She left her words hanging.
The woman's eyes opened, and suddenly her suspicion was replaced with amusement, and Rachelle suddenly decided that, first impressions notwithstanding, she liked this old lady. "Oh, lordie, no, child! I'm a neighbour, that's all. Come on, then, this way." Then, tossing the words carelessly over her shoulder, she added, "I'm Sylvie, by the way."
Rachelle followed Sylvie into the house. The walls inside were rendered white, and the floor of the hallway was tiled. She was led into a large kitchen where another woman was seated in front of a large table, sipping iced coffee.
Her hostess struggled to stand, and held out a gnarled hand in greeting. Rachelle noticed the liver spots that discoloured the skin. "I don't often agree to see anyone, you know. But I made an exception for you. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms Aston-Kent," she said. "I'm Clarice Tempus-Jones. Come. Sit down. Have a drink."
Rachelle did as she was bade, and waited as Clarice moved slowly around her kitchen, gathering up another glass for her guest. Then she waited patiently as Clarice poured it and handed it to her.
"Professor Carrington says you want to write about my papa. That right, dear?"
"Um, well, yes." Then, more confidently, she asked, "What was he like?"
"Well, dear, I'm not really sure what I can tell you. I never really knew him, you see. I mean, he was always out and doing, if you know what I mean."
Rachelle didn't know, but she could guess. After all, Tempus had spent a great deal of time in the past: it was hard to imagine him doing anything as normal as raising a family. Besides, Carrington had told them that Tempus had deserted the family when Clarice was about eight years old.
As if attuned to Rachelle's thoughts, Clarice was saying, "Now, my mama, she was heartbroken when my papa upped and left with that Wells character, and with me just a child. Papa came back a year later, of course, and he promised solemnly that he would stay for good that time. But it wasn't long before he was off again. And after that, my mother said she wouldn't have him in the house, from that day on. And she didn't."
"Did she love him?" Rachelle asked.
The old ladies laughed at the question and exchanged glances. "We can tell that you are a true Kent, if that is the first question that you ask. Your lot always did have a thing about true love, you know."
Rachelle blushed a little, embarrassed that these strangers should see any hint of a family trait in her.
"Yes," Clarice affirmed, "she loved him. At least she always said so. She just couldn't live with him. Not when she didn't know from one week to the next if he'd stick around. Do you see?"
Rachelle nodded. "It must have been difficult for her. And for you."
Clarice shrugged her shoulders stiffly. "For her, maybe. But she never spoke an ill word about him, leastways not to me. All she'd ever say was, 'When all is said and done, dear, he's your father.' Maybe he was a bad father, but my mother never tried to make me think so. And when you're a kid, and you don't know any different, you don't judge."
"Still, I daresay that you didn't come here to hear an old woman reminisce about her childhood. And since I can't tell you much that will be of use, perhaps I should just show you what I've found for you."
"Thank you. That's very kind."
"See that box there?"
Clarice pointed at something on the floor, just out of Rachelle's line of sight. Rachelle half-stood up, and leaned over the table so that she could follow the line of Clarice's finger. "Yes," she said.
"Bring it over here, dear."
Rachelle did as she was instructed.
"In there are all the documents that I have from my father. You are welcome to take them through to the den and go through them at your leisure. All right, dear?"
Rachelle rummaged through the top few inches of the box's contents, eyes shining as though she had just been presented with the holy grail. Then, following Sylvie, who once again took on the role of guide, she carried her trophies into another part of the house.
Alone in the quiet of her kitchen, Clarice said softly to the empty air, "It's all coming together, Papa. Just like you promised."
Wednesday, 28 February, 2198
Eight year old Clarrie sat in the swing chair and kicked her short legs in an attempt to set it in motion. She was a pretty child with long blond hair, and straight pearly teeth that were set in a mouth made for smiling. It didn't smile very often, however. Instead, she was a solemn child, and introspective, just as she had been for the last year, ever since her Papa had left the family home without so much as a word of explanation. In the weeks before Papa had left, he had often chastised her for meddling in his den, or for making noise as she played, or for making a mess in the house. Was that what had driven Papa away? She thought it must be: certainly whenever she had asked Mama where Papa was, or why had he left, or when was he coming back, Mama simply said that she didn't know. Clarrie wondered how she could ever make it up to Mama. Meanwhile she did her best, trying to be as quiet and good as Papa had wanted, fearful that Mama might leave her, too.
A sound from across the garden made her look up just in time to see a tall man with short brown hair close the gate behind him. As he straightened up and turned to face the house, she felt her eyes grow to the size of saucers.
"Papa!" she screamed, then realising her error, she clamped a hand over her mouth, trapping any further screams of joy before they could drive him away again. When she was certain that no further outbursts were forthcoming, she dropped her hand to her side and moved hesitantly over towards the top of the stoop.
Tempus ignored the path, instead preferring to jump over a flower bed, and jog across the lawn, running in a straight line towards her with his arms outstretched. "Hello, Clarrie!" he said, grinning as he scooped her up into his arms.
Reassured by this gesture of affection, Clarrie returned the hug, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, and burying her face into his neck. "Papa, Papa, Papa," she murmured as she clung on for dear life.
"You missed me?" he asked.
Clarrie didn't answer out loud. Instead she simply nodded her head up and down. Tempus twisted his head far enough that he could see her movement, and understand what it meant. "I missed you, too," he said.
"I missed you more," Clarrie said, finding her voice again.
"No, you didn't," he said.
"Yes, I did!"
He laughed, and put her back onto the ground.
And so began the happiest weeks of her young life.
Sunday, 15 April, 2198
The arguments had been echoing from inside the house on and off all morning, frightening Clarrie more than she thought possible. She had tried so hard to be good for Papa, and she thought that she had succeeded. However, he was arguing with her mother again, just as he had done before he left them last time.
Clarrie hunkered down in the flower bed beneath the open dining room window and listened. Her eyes were screwed up with concentration and a determination not to cry, and she chewed on her fist, pressing it hard against her mouth to keep her sobs locked firmly inside. She cringed against the onslaught from above, feeling the bitter words as though they were physical blows.
"That's it? You're *bored*, so you're running out on us again?" It was her mother's voice, this time, that was raised in anger, the words being hurled like weapons at her husband.
"Yes, I'm bored! And, yes, I'm running out on you again! If you're so happy with your life here, well, you're welcome to it, but I'm going to do my damnedest to make something different for our future." Papa defended himself, apparently impervious to his wife's pain.
"What's wrong with the one we have? I thought we were happy and comfortable, and Clarrie likes having you around again. How could you do this!?"
Now Mama had got beyond pleading and moral blackmail. The angry venom that spouted from her mouth was so unlike the woman that Clarrie loved so much that Clarrie wondered if she knew her at all. Clarrie curled even tighter in on herself, and continued to listen as Mama yelled at Papa, "If you leave this time, you're not coming back. You understand me?"
And Papa replied, perhaps with less anger, but with no less venom, "And what makes you think that I'd want to come back to you? To … to … *this*! This life of boredom, and emptiness. Of—"
The slamming of a door and the abrupt silence told Clarrie that Mama had finally had enough of the arguments and had stormed off. A quieter sound just moments later told her that Papa had left the room, too, so she scuttled out of her hiding place before either of them could catch her at her listening post. She ran around the side of the house and up the steps to the back door, only to collide with Papa as he descended.
"Hi, Clarrie!" he said, sweeping her up into his arms.
She did not respond to his hug. The joy she had found before in his arms was suddenly gone, and all she felt was betrayal at his decision to go. Did he not love her anymore? Did he not love Mama?
The smile slid off Tempus's face, and he put his stoney-faced daughter back on the ground.
"What's wrong, Clarrie?" he asked.
"You're going away again." Clarrie's lower lip trembled and her eyes threatened to flood tears down her cheeks.
He did not ask how she knew that. Instead he just said, "Yes, Clarrie, I am," and he managed to put just a hint of regret in his tone.
"But, why? You said you'd stay this time. You promised!"
"I know I did, but … Things change, Clarrie, love."
"I did something wrong, didn't I? Tell me what it was! I promise I won't do it again. I promise I'll be good!"
"You haven't done anything wrong, Clarrie. And I'm not leaving because of you. You have to believe that."
Clarrie lowered her head and stared at the decking beneath her feet. "You did before."
"I did what before?"
"Left. Because of me."
"Oh, Clarrie! No, I didn't. My leaving had nothing to do with you, at all. It was just that Mr Wells invited me to take a trip with him, and I couldn't refuse."
With a child's logic, Clarrie said, "Mr Wells isn't here now, so that means you don't have to go."
"Yes, I do."
"Why? Don't you love us anymore?"
"I'll always love you. You have to believe that."
"I don't understand."
"You don't need to understand. Just believe it, okay?"
But she didn't. Her lower lip jutted out with the grief and anger she seemed unable to make him understand.
Then suddenly he was squatting down next to her, his big hands resting on her shoulders. "You're Papa's favourite girl, you know that, don't you?"
It was a ritual they had developed over the last few weeks, and she found herself nodding, just as she had been taught.
"And you'd do anything for Papa, right?"
Again, she nodded, this time with a little more reluctance.
"So, if I told you to keep something special for me, you'd do it?"
"And if I told you my life depended upon it?"
Again a nod, this time with a spark of interest reflecting in her blue eyes.
"I'm going to tell you a story, Clarrie, and you have to listen really carefully, because the time we've had together depends on what you will do a long time in the future. You understand me?"
Clarrie stuck a finger in her mouth and shook her head. No, she did not understand at all.
Tempus picked her up then made himself comfortable on the bottom step. He settled Clarrie on his knee then began to tell her a story. "Once upon a time … "
A while later, Tempus said, "So what must you do?"
Clarrie concentrated hard, then said, "A long time in the future, I must give one of two pieces of paper you're going to give me to a lady called … " She screwed up her face with concentration.
"Rach … " he prompted.
"Rach … elle Aston-Kent."
He nodded his approval.
"And she will use it to build a time machine so that she can rescue you from your prison in the past, and then you will be able to come back and see me!"
"Right. Good girl. And then?"
"And then I give this other piece of paper to you."
Tempus nodded his approval. "You're a smart girl, you know that?"
Clarrie nodded, dimpling at Papa's unexpected approval.
Tuesday, 1 July, 2273
After he had left, and as she learned more and more about him >from her history classes at school, Clarrie wondered what she would do when the future he had promised came. For a long time she was too angry with him to want to help him, but, as she got older, her anger waned. Instead, as the years caught up with her, she began to feel a curious mixture of nostalgia, thankfulness and regret. Nostalgia for the long lost time when she had been part of a "normal" family, thankfulness that they had had that brief time together, and regret that the time she had spent with her father could not have lasted longer.
Now, with Rachelle working away in the other room, Clarice smiled softly, knowing that soon Papa would come back to her, and, just as she was nudging Rachelle along a path that had been first mapped out seventy-five years before, she too would do just as Tempus had wanted her to do, all that time ago.
She was not doing it for him, though. She could not care less about what he wanted. She was going to do it for herself. She was going to give the child that she had been the gift of a few treasured weeks, and consequently, she was going to safeguard her own bittersweet memories.
To heck with the rest of the world, and history. No matter what Tempus had done to them, he was her father, and she loved him.
The shadows were lengthening as Rachelle looked up from her work. She arched her back, hearing her bones crack as she did so. She had been sitting hunched over the papers for longer than she had realised, and her body was protesting at the inactivity. And, she realised, she had barely touched the surface of the wealth of information that she had been offered.
She stood, sighed, and stretched some more. She padded into the hallway, looked both ways, making sure that her hostess was still in the kitchen, then she headed in that direction. She knocked tentatively on the open door, before sticking her head inside.
Sylvie and Clarice looked up at the interruption, then both faces eased into a welcoming smile, inviting her in.
"So, how have you got on?" Clarice asked.
"Fine, thank you. The material you gave me is a great help, but … " She hesitated, reluctant to ask what she feared would be a huge favour.
"But?" prompted Clarice.
"But, I'm afraid I haven't got nearly as far as I would have liked to have done, and I was wondering if … would you mind very much … if I came back again in a few days?"
"Why, child, no of course not! But, if you have so much work still to do, why don't you take the box with you? You can send it back to me when you're done with it."
Rachelle could not believe her luck. "You wouldn't mind?"
"Mind? No, dear. Why would I mind? That box has been up in the attic gathering dust for years. Ever since that last academic came by, in fact. I'm not going to miss it anytime soon." She nodded thoughtfully. "You'll make good use of it, I daresay."
"Well, if you're sure, that would be great!"
"In that case, if you don't mind, I really ought to be leaving. It's getting late, and I've got classes tomorrow."
"It's been a pleasure to meet you, my dear." Clarice struggled to stand up, but Rachelle forestalled her movement with a gesture of her hand.
"It's okay," Rachelle said. "I'll show myself out. And thank you again, for everything."
"You're very welcome, dear."
As she heard the slamming of the front door, Clarice Tempus- Jones sank back in her chair and sighed. "Well, that's done at last," she said, more to herself than to her companion.
"How do you mean?" Sylvie asked. "You could have refused to see her, if her visit displeased you that much."
Clarice shook her head. "No," she said. "I couldn't. I promised Papa, a long, long time ago, that if she ever came calling that I would give her some information. I just hope that I did the right thing."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, like I told her, I never really knew my papa. But there was a time when I was little when I loved him dearly, and she holds the key to giving me those few weeks of his love. I couldn't deny myself the memory of knowing him for even that short a space of time."
"I don't understand."
Clarice shook her head. "It's not important. Don't listen to me. I'm just an old woman rambling."
Sylvie nodded. Then she said, "Let me get us another drink."
Friday, 4 July, 2273
Rachelle had read extensively about Tempus, and she had learned a lot. Unfortunately, to her mind, she had not learned enough.
The earliest history books depicted him as being a villain, but Rachelle wasn't altogether sure that she believed them. After all, history was written from the perspective of the victor, and, whatever else Tempus might have been, he hadn't been that. More recently, over the last twenty or thirty years, his reputation had received something of a reassessment, but opinions about his motivations remained so varied that she hadn't managed to get a handle on the man. She wanted to know him, and she wanted to understand what had driven him to do all the things that he had done.
Rachelle still wanted answers.
And there seemed only one way in which she was likely to get them.
She leaned across her desk, and switched on the holographic recording of Carrington's lecture. She didn't need to hear his words — she could more or less recite them off by heart now — but she wanted to hear him say once more, "However, unless we build our own time machines — which is most unlikely — and go and ask him ourselves, it is doubtful that we shall ever know the truth."
Not for the first time, Rachelle asked herself, why was it unlikely that anyone would built a time machine? Certainly the knowledge wasn't widespread, but if H G Wells had managed to built a machine at the turn of the twentieth century, then, in the far more advanced world of the twenty- third, surely something similar could be achieved. Besides, knowledge didn't really die — the piece of paper she had found in Clarice Tempus-Jones's box of documents was proof of that. It merely slumbered, waiting for someone to reuse it at a later date.
Monday, 7 July, 2273
Rachelle wiped a hand across her face, took a couple of steps back, and gazed at her handiwork with a critical eye. She nodded thoughtfully, and decided that she was pleased with what she saw. The machine she had built, and which now stood in the centre of one of the university's storage bays, was not a mirror image of the one in the drawing, but she did not think that her improvisations would have affected anything more than the external detailing of the craft.
She yawned cavernously, and realised that she had barely slept in the last forty-eight hours. Her excitement made her want to jump into the machine and try it out immediately, but prudence, allied to exhaustion and hunger, demanded a brief delay. After all, the machine wasn't going anywhere, and, with all of time at her command, a few hours difference in her departure time seemed irrelevant.
Rachelle glanced back at the time machine and smiled as she reached the door which she then locked securely behind her.
Once back at her room, she decided that rest was more appealing in the short term than food, and she flopped on to her bed. She was asleep in moments.
Hammering on her door dragged her out of a deep sleep a mere two hours later. Groggily she dragged her eyes open, swung her legs off the bed, and padded over to the door. Yawning, she opened it just wide enough to allow her to see who her visitor was. Recognising Monro, and sounding bleary, she said, "Yeah, what do you want?"
Monro didn't reply. Instead he simply pushed the door inward. Rachelle yielded to the pressure, letting him enter.
"Where were you?" he demanded.
Rachelle eyed her visitor with distaste. His manners were normally more polished that this. He didn't usually ignore pleasantries, and she had never known him to barge into a room uninvited before. "And a good morning to you, too, Monro," she said, sarcasm dripping from her words.
"Morning, Rachelle," he said grudgingly. "Now, where the heck were you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Saturday night. We rescheduled our trip to Bellamy's remember? And you stood Sinead and me up again."
"Oh … yeah. Right. The bar." Rachelle scrubbed the heels of her palms against her eyes, trying to dispel the last of her sleepiness by force. She yawned again, and said, "Look, Monro, I'm really sorry, but I … I guess I forgot. Something came up, you know?"
Monro scowled. "No, I don't know. And, to be honest, Rachelle, Sinead and I have had about as much of this as we can stand from you."
It suddenly crossed Rachelle's mind that Monro wasn't the only one who had been behaving uncharacteristically badly recently. If she had let them down again, and it appeared that she had, then he had ever reason to be annoyed. "So you're angry with me. I guess I deserve that."
Monro shook his head. "We're not *angry* with you," he said. "We're *worried*. Ever since you started this Tempus project thing, it's like you've become a whole different person. It's not healthy, Rachelle." He looked at her intently, focusing on the remains of the two day old make-up on her face, and the grey pouches under her eyes. "And pardon me for saying it, but it looks like you've been sleeping in your clothes."
Rachelle glanced down at herself, then, slightly sheepishly, she said, "Well, yeah, I have."
Monro sighed. "Rachelle … " He shook his head, concern finally overcoming irritation, and he said, "When did you last eat?"
"Hm?" Rachelle blinked at the unexpected question. "I'm not sure."
"Right," Monro said, taking control of the situation. "You go freshen up, and I'll be back in ten minutes with food, okay?"
"Okay," agreed Rachelle, suddenly realising that she was ravenous.
When Monro, this time accompanied by Sinead, returned fifteen minutes later, Rachelle looked much better. Her face, scrubbed of make-up, looked fresh and clean. She'd also taken the time to shower and dress. Her damp hair dripped, leaving a wet patch on her shirt.
"The cafeteria's finished serving breakfast," Monro said, "but we managed to rustle up some coffee and toast. Hope that'll do you for now."
"Hey, guys. No problem. That's great. Really." Sinead and Monro swapped glances as Rachelle tucked in with enthusiasm. Around a mouthful of toast, she reiterated, "Really great."
"So," said Sinead, "what have you been up to lately? What's so important that it makes you forget your friends?" Then, under her breath, she muttered, "As if I couldn't guess."
Rachelle's eyes narrowed at Sinead's tone.
Trying to be more conciliatory, Sinead said, in response to Rachelle's stubborn silence, "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for." Trying a different tack, she said, "How's the project going, anyway?"
Rachelle swallowed, paused with the toast poised half-way to her mouth, and decided that Sinead's overture should be matched with an equally friendly one of her own. She said, "You'll never believe it, but, you know that box of stuff I brought back with me on Friday?" She waited until they both nodded before she continued. "Well, it contained the most amazing things, including the blueprints for a time machine!"
Sinead and Monro looked at each other, twin frowns marring their foreheads. "So, you've been trying to build a time machine?" asked Monro doubtfully.
"Not just trying! I have built one!"
"You've got to be kidding!" Sinead's disbelief was mixed in an equal proportion with a strange sort of muted horror. "Where is it?"
"What do you intend to do with it?" Monro asked, his words overlapping with Sinead's.
Slightly puzzled by her friends' lack of enthusiasm, some of Rachelle's own joy left her voice. "It's in one of the storage bays. And, as to what I intend to do with it, I'm going to use it, of course."
"Why?" Monro asked.
"What do you mean, why?"
"Just that. Why are you going to use it? What for? Where will you go?"
"To begin with, I'm going to find Tempus. I'm going to interview him, and I'm going to write my course-"
"You're what?!" exclaimed Sinead. "You can't do that!"
"Of course I can!"
"But he's evil! *I* wouldn't want to meet him!"
"Me neither," interjected Monro.
"That's the whole reason that I want to find him, don't you see? I don't think that he was the villain that most people make out he was. No-one really knows what he was like, and I want to find out for sure." She leaned forward, her body language and facial expression conveying her earnest desire that they should understand and support her.
Sinead shook her head, refusing to even consider Rachelle's unspoken plea. Appalled by her friend's proposal, Sinead said, "You can't do this Rachelle."
"At the very least you should clear it with the faculty first." Monro's stance was slightly more appeasing than Sinead's, but nonetheless fell on deaf ears.
"No way! How long to you reckon it would take for them to approve the project? If ever?"
Monro's eyebrows arched as he said sarcastically, "Oh, so you *do* realise that this is a controversial thing you're talking about? And that it could be dangerous?"
Rachelle shook her head, not because she didn't believe Monro, but because she refused to acknowledge any risk in her endeavours.
Again Sinead and Monro exchanged glances, and some form of non-verbal communication must have passed between them because they rose as one and left the room with only the sketchiest of good-byes.
They left the door ajar behind them, and as they disappeared down the corridor, Rachelle heard Sinead saying, "I knew that this Tempus thing had got out of hand, but I'd no idea she'd go this far!"
Monro's answering, "We've got to do something. We could go to … " was cut off as they walked around a corner.
Certain that they were going to try to find some way to, at the very least, delay her, and knowing that this conversation had lent a new urgency to her project, she threw a few things randomly into a bag. Not even bothering to close her door behind her, she ran back to her machine.
The door of the storage bay swung open.
Rachelle looked up to see Carrington, followed closely by Sinead and Monro, rush into the bay. She looked down again, determinedly ignoring the intrusion, choosing instead to concentrate on what she was doing. With nimble fingers, she keyed in a date somewhere in the past, loaded gold into the fuel shoot, and put her hand on the lever that would set her upon her journey.
"Rachelle!" It was Carrington's voice. "You can't do this! You mustn't!"
Rachelle, without moving her hand away from the lever, looked up at him, stung by his words. Eyes narrowed with a defensive anger, she demanded, "Why not? You're the one who said that I had to find my own answers. Are you saying that you didn't mean it?" The sense of betrayal she felt was as painful as it was unexpected. After her conversation with Sinead and Monro, she had expected some sort of opposition to her plans, but that it would come from Carrington was a shock.
"It's dangerous! You don't know — *we* don't know — enough about Tempus to let the genie out of the bottle. It's better to leave things as they are!" Carrington's eyes were wide and fearful.
"So," said Rachelle, her mouth set in a hard line, "now I know which camp you're in. You believe that Tempus was a criminal, don't you? A monster. Right?"
Reluctantly, Carrington nodded. "That's what my instincts tell me, yes."
"And if I don't agree with you? If I think that he was a tool of history?"
"Then that's your prerogative, I suppose."
"Yes. It is. *You* told me to question. And that's just what I'm doing! You can't stop me. I won't let you."
"Rachelle! Think carefully about this!"
"What do you think I've been doing these last few weeks? I've been reading. And researching. And thinking. And this is the solution I've come up with. I want my answers, and, if going back in time to find Tempus is the only way to get them, then so be it!" She eased the lever back. Time and space bent in on themselves, and the world around her vanished in flash of light.
"No, Rachelle!" screamed Carrington.
But Rachelle did not hear his words.
Saturday, 17 April, 1999
Alternative Metropolis, New Troy
The daylight was waning fast, and Wells's face was getting lost in the shadows. Lois reluctantly shifted away from her position leaning comfortably against Clark's side, and stood up. "Just a moment, Mr Wells," she said by way of apology. Then she asked, "Anyone for more coffee?" as she padded around the living room, switching on several lamps, and letting their soft glow warm the room.
Clark, too, eased himself up from the couch, and said, "I'll get it."
Wells watched the couple as they worked together to make both themselves and their guest more comfortable, and he smiled slightly, thinking that they looked happy together. This was, he decided, particularly true of Clark, who had completely lost the lonely look and the timidity that had characterised him when they had first met. Becoming Superman, and finding a niche in this world, undoubtedly accounted for some of the change in his demeanour, but most of it, he decided, as he watched the couple glance and smile at each other as they carried out their domestic tasks, was because he had found his Lois.
Had Tempus not captured Lois in the Congo, Wells supposed that they would have met sooner, in much the same way as their counterparts had done. Besides inflicting physical pain on Lois, his actions in Africa had effectively robbed the couple of several years of shared history. That thought bothered him, and he fretted at the unfairness of it all.
Still, looking at the way they worked together, Wells could only marvel at the accord the couple shared. Unlike their counterparts, they had grown together quickly, and had managed to avoid many of the misunderstandings that his own dimension's couple had experienced. Wells wondered, was he right to give them the chance to rewrite history? If history was righted — at least according to his notion of what was correct — would they be forced to suffer different pains that the ones they had experienced already. Was it worth the trade? Was the choice his, or even theirs, to make?
He sighed. He did not like the feeling of responsibility he had, and that was, of course, why he had come here, to see them, now. He wanted to off-load his burden onto them.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee jolted him out of his reverie as Lois passed him a steaming mug, and proffered a plate of cookies. Then, picking up her own mug, she returned to her position on the couch, alongside Clark.
Wells, interspersing his words, with sips of his drink, recommenced his narrative. "Rachelle searched high and low for Tempus, and eventually her quest took her to London," he said.
Friday, 8 November, 1940 London, England
Rachelle levered herself out of the time machine. She stretched, easing the kinks out of her back as she took in her surroundings, then she huddled in on herself as she realised that she was outside, and exposed to a raw and biting wind. She had visited London before, but no amount of prior knowledge could have prepared her for the reality of the city during World War II. The twilight of a late autumn dusk lent a gloomy air to the city that was exacerbated by the blackout, and the sight of anti-aircraft guns on street corners was disconcerting. However, she'd had good reasons for choosing this particular time and place for her visit. Thanks to her research, she was secure in the knowledge that Wells would not be at home. In fact, she knew that he was currently half a world away, in San Francisco, where he was due to present a lecture entitled, "The Immediate Future Of Mankind".
Rachelle shivered as she scuttled from the place where she had secreted the time machine in amongst the shrubs of Regent's Park, towards the building in Hanover Terrace where, according to her information, Wells currently resided. As she hurried, wrapping her jacket tightly around her body, she decided that, if this latest idea came to nothing, she would abandon her quest, once and for all. She had spent what amounted to near enough three months of her life looking for Tempus. However, Wells had done a fine job of hiding him in the past, and, as yet, she had found no trace of him. She was running out of places to look.
Enough was enough, she decided. If she could find no leads as to his whereabouts at Wells's home, she would cut her losses and go back to her own time. It would grieve her sorely to do so — she had set her heart on finding Tempus, and writing the definitive course paper about him — but, if nothing else, she had a fully functional time machine to show for her pains. That, at least, had to be worth something.
By the time Rachelle reached her destination, her ears were aching with the cold, her cheeks were pinched, and her fingers were almost numb. It took her a few fumbling moments to jimmie the front door open, and it was with no small amount of relief that she entered the shelter of the entrance hall. In truth, it wasn't much warmer than the building's exterior, but at least she was out of the wind. Then she made her way to Wells's apartment where she repeated her lock-picking feat.
After checking that the black-out curtains in the flat were tightly closed to ensure that no-one outside would be aware of her activities within, she began her search. Her first — and as it turned out — only object of attention was his desk. Again, using slightly dubious means, she managed to open the drawers, and began to sift through his papers. Most of them held little interest for her, but there, down at the bottom of the third drawer she tried, was a bundle of papers held in a cardboard cover, held closed by a piece of string. Quickly, but carefully, she untied its knot, then began to flick through the pages.
An unfamiliar wailing sound came from outside. For a moment she wondered what it was, then tuned it out. The drone of engines above, the sound of distant explosions, and the chatter of anti-aircraft fire went unheeded as she concentrated on her research.
To begin with, the bundle looked like any other manuscript, but suddenly the names Smallville and Metropolis jumped out at her. She began to read more carefully, and when she found the name Tempus, she knew that she had finally found the clue for which she had been searching.
Finally, putting the manuscript aside for a moment, she rearranged the other contents of the drawers as best she could, disguising her activities. Then she locked up the desk, picked up the papers and sneaked out of the house.
As she turned the corner from Hanover Terrace onto the next street, a man's voice stopped her in her tracks. "Hey! You!"
No, she thought, she couldn't be caught now! Not when she was so close to her goal, at last!
She turned slowly towards the voice's owner, wondering if she wouldn't do better to simply bolt. Had he seen her acting suspiciously?
"Didn't you hear the sirens?" he asked.
"S … sirens?" she stuttered, wondering what he was talking about.
"The air raid," he said. "You should be in a shelter, you know."
"Oh … Yes … right. The air raid. I was just going … "
He looked at her more carefully. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "I'm fine. Really."
He listened to her voice, then said, "Hey, you a Yank?"
"Oh," she said, suddenly understanding. "Yes. From Texas."
"Well, that explains it, I suppose. It must be a bit of a culture shock for you, being here, like this. But you really must be more careful, you know, and get to a shelter as soon as you hear the sirens sound."
"Okay. Thanks," she said.
"And next time," he said, "remember to bring your gas mask with you. Now, get along with you."
She nodded, turned on her heel, and ran, her heart pounding in her chest in her relief that she hadn't been caught, after all.
The time machine was safe, just where she left it. She climbed in, keyed in a new date, and pulled the lever.
As the space around her began to warp her out of London's existence, she thought she saw planes directly overhead.
Sunday, 23 September, 1866 Kansas City, Kansas
The time machine came to rest in a darkened alley between two buildings. Unobserved, Rachelle climbed out then edged her way up to the alley's junction with a main road.
Kansas City was a relief after London. True, the unsurfaced roads were muddier, and some of the shouts and arguments of the locals were discordant, but lights shone from the windows of the clapboard buildings, and, instead of the sounds of aircraft, bombs and anti-aircraft guns, she could hear cheerful piano music and singing emanating from a nearby saloon.
Laughter from close by caused her to duck back into the shadows. A man and a woman, arms entwined, were leaning against the railings edging a boardwalk, whispering words of endearment to one another. Eyeing them, then eyeing her own clothes, Rachelle realised that her current attire was at odds with the long and full skirts demanded by nineteenth century fashions. If she was to go out into the town, looking for the asylum where, if the manuscript was to be believed, Wells had left Tempus, she was going to have to do something to blend in rather more effectively. And what about him? After all, she suspected that prison attire would stand out, too.
Rachelle retreated back down the alleyway, then jumped up, grabbing hold of a fence, so that she could peer into the backyards of neighbouring properties.
As luck would have it, there, two houses down, hung a dress alongside a man's shirt and trousers. Although dry, their owners clearly had not yet got around to taking them in. Rachelle gave silent thanks for the way that fortune was smiling down on her.
Dropping to the ground again, she backed up a few paces, then ran forward, using her momentum, aided by a kick of her legs, to propel herself to the top of the fence. For a moment she lay atop it, then she levered herself over. A repeat performance at the next fence brought her to her prize.
After retracing her steps, she quickly pulled the stolen dress on. Lengthwise, it was a couple of inches shorter than was strictly fashionable, and width-wise it was a little loose. However, Rachelle wasn't inclined to be choosy about that.
Emboldened by her borrowed outfit, Rachelle ventured once more towards the thoroughfare, then went out along it.
A mere three blocks away from where she'd left the machine, she found what she was looking for — a low-rise building, helpfully bearing the legend "Kansas City Asylum".
Metal bars barricaded an otherwise open window, and, gathering courage in both hands, she crept up to peer through it. Inside, using the light of a single candle, a man sat at a rough wooden table, writing in a book. Dressed in attire reminiscent of pyjamas, he was facing away from her, and she caught her breath, wondering how she could get him to glance her way.
She need not have worried.
He heard her involuntary gasp, and he rose from his chair, a snarl catching in his throat. "Why can't you all just leave me alone!" he cried. Then he turned to face her, and she watched as the anger slipped off his face and was replaced by surprise. "Wait," he said. "I haven't seen *you* before." He walked a few paces closer, and his face was suddenly illuminated by a shaft of moonlight.
His hair was shaggy, and his beard was longer than she'd envisaged, but there was no doubt as to his identity.
She had found him at last.
Rachelle managed to find her voice after a few moments. Responding to his last comment, she said, "No, you haven't."
His gaze turned wary as he said, "So … What do you want?"
"Want?" she asked.
"Yes, want. You curious? Is that it? You want to see the madman in his cage?"
"No," said Rachelle, quick to try to reassure him. "Actually, I came to get you out."
His eyes widened. "Oh, really?" he said, his words heavy with doubtful sarcasm. "And why would you want to do that?"
"Like you," Rachelle began, "I'm from the future."
Rachelle suddenly found herself the object of Tempus's undivided attention. His intense scrutiny was unnerving, but she struggled to maintain her composure as she continued her explanation. "I'm actually from the twenty-third century. I was researching a course paper for school — about you — when I stumbled across the plans to build a time machine. And so, well, here I am." She shrugged infinitesimally.
Tempus eyed her warily. "After all the taunts I've had to put up with, you really expect me to believe that?"
"How about I just show you?" Rachelle asked. With that, she disappeared from the window.
One picked lock later, Rachelle stood in front of him. "Do you know where the keys to the cell are?" she asked.
"You've just broken in to the asylum, and you want to know where the keys are?" he asked, disbelieving.
Rachelle shrugged again. "Well, if I need to, I guess I could pick the cell lock, too. But using the keys would be a whole sight easier."
Tempus nodded thoughtfully, then jerked his head sideways, indicating a desk nearby. "Top drawer," he said.
Rachelle explored and came back moments later with an impressively weighty key chain. After a few abortive attempts, she finally found a key that would turn in the heavy lock. She swung the door inwards.
Tempus was free.
"How about," he said, "we get out of here?"
"Good idea. But you'd better put these on first. Here." She thrust the bundle of clothes into his arms, then she turned her back, giving him the privacy to change.
Then they left, disappearing into the night.
When the asylum's personnel came back on duty the next day the cell was empty, and there was no sign of its occupant. Were it not for a leather-bound diary lying abandoned on the table, there would have been no sign that he had even ever been there.
Saturday, 17 April, 1999
Alternative Metropolis, New Troy
"So then what happened?" asked Clark.
"Rachelle had bounced around in time, searching for some clue as to the whereabouts of Tempus, for so long that, by the time she found it, and him, she was several months older than her chronological age."
"How do you mean, 'older than her chronological age'?" asked Lois.
"People lead linear lives, but the times in which they live them need not be linear," explained Wells.
Lois and Clark exchanged glances.
"You don't believe me, I see."
"Believe you?" cried Lois, throwing out her hands in irritation. "Mr Wells, it's not a question of not believing you. We don't even understand you!"
"Ah. Well, let me try to explain."
Lois rolled her eyes and said, "Please do."
Wells paused for a moment while he decided on the best way to approach the topic, then finally he said, "Every hour that we live, we age."
Lois and Clark both nodded. That much was obvious.
"I am ageing as I stand here. Nothing can change that. Even if I arrive back in my own time only one minute after I left, I will have aged by the number of hours that I spend with you. I cannot grow younger: I can only grow older, and I do that at a constant rate, no matter when I am. Now do you understand?"
Lois said, "I think so."
Clark merely nodded, but then his brow furrowed as a thought crossed his mind. "Lois — the other Lois — told me that, after the first time she met you, she and Clark had no memory of travelling back in time because you dropped them off before they'd ever left. That never seemed to make much sense to me, and it makes even less sense now that you've told me that they were ageing all that time."
Wells chuckled faintly in the back of his throat. "Ah, well, that's quite another issue, Mr Kent. You see, their amnesia stemmed from the simple fact that their brains couldn't cope with the paradox of having two sets of memories for the same period of time. It therefore blanked out the first set of memories, as a defence mechanism, if you will. The memories still existed, but they just needed some help in accessing them."
"Oh." Clark thought about that for a moment. He still was not sure he understood, but he did not feel inclined to pursue the matter further at the moment. Instead he said, "I'm sorry. I've interrupted your story. Please go on."
"Very well. When Rachelle returned to her own time, questions were asked because it was obvious to Carrington, Sinead and Monro that a great deal more time had passed for Rachelle than it had for themselves … "
Monday, 7 July, 2273
"So, where exactly are we?" Tempus demanded, glancing around at his surroundings.
"Houston, Texas," said Rachelle. "And, in case you're wondering, the year is 2273."
"And these people?"
Rachelle looked up from the control panel. She blinked as she recognised Carrington, Sinead and Monro. The events leading up to her departure, which had begun to blur over time, suddenly came back to her with alarming clarity. Suddenly she realised that she had never dared think beyond this point. How was she supposed to handle the mess that she had come back to?
Her momentary confusion was matched by theirs. As far as Carrington, Sinead and Monro were concerned, only a matter of minutes had passed since Rachelle had vanished into thin air. Now, here she was, back again, and looking completely different. The dress she was wearing was old fashioned and her hair looked in need of a trim.
Moreover, she was not alone.
"So, are you going to tell me who these people are?" the stranger sitting next to her demanded impatiently. Of the five of them, he seemed to be the only one who was not fazed by the situation in which he found himself.
"Oh … Yes," said Rachelle, sotto voce, drawing her straying wits together. "Sorry … " She cleared her throat. "Tempus, these are Professor Carrington. Sinead. Monro." She gestured to them each in turn, then, inclining her head towards her companion and, shrugging slightly, she said to them, "This is Warren Tempus."
They must have known that Rachelle's returning with Tempus had always been a possibility. Had it not, they would not have tried to prevent her departure. However, now that this moment had come, their disbelief seemed to be boundless. Carrington's jaw sagged open. He looked so absurd that Rachelle suddenly found her confidence renewed and she had to stifle a giggle.
Tempus raised quizzical eyebrows and said, "Come now, Professor. That is a quite unbecoming look."
Stung by the remark, Carrington snapped his mouth closed. He stared back at Tempus with his misgivings writ large across his countenance.
Without waiting for an invitation to do so, Tempus climbed down from the machine. He glanced back at Rachelle and said, "So, are you going to show me this brave new world of yours?"
"Of course." Rachelle hurried to obey.
Carrington, Sinead and Monro watched as together the couple, ignoring them, left the storage area, and headed out into the midday sun.
Thursday, 10 July, 2273
The extraordinary meeting of the university's senate, convened three days after Tempus's arrival in the twenty-third century, did not go at all the way Carrington hoped.
Perhaps it was because none of the senate's members were historians so did not know of his duplicity, but, for whatever reason, they refused to see beyond Tempus's plausible and amenable exterior. When Tempus said he was misunderstood, they believed him. When he said he'd learned the error of his ways, they congratulated him. When he expressed a desire to remain at the university as a student, they accommodated him. When they were faced with the choice of taking Carrington's expert advice or Rachelle's, they chose to believe the student over the teacher on the grounds that she had spent more time with Tempus, and therefore knew him better.
It was enough to make a body sick, Carrington thought. Could no-one see the dangers in giving Tempus free run of the campus?
At the end of a three hour session, the only concession that Carrington had won was that Rachelle's time machine be dismantled and the plans destroyed to prevent the construction of another. Time, the senate conceded, was too delicate to be tampered with further.
When the meeting adjourned, Tempus left, a free man, a satisfied smirk on his face as he looked down his nose at Carrington, and his arm wrapped around Rachelle's.
Wednesday, 25 February, 2274
Tempus's charisma carried Rachelle on a wave of euphoria until December. She took a certain pride in being romantically linked to the most interesting man on campus, and the status she was thus accorded blinded her for the longest time to his failings. However, gradually, even she could see that his interest in her was waning as he began to learn his way around the twenty-third century, and as her usefulness to him diminished.
Tempus chose to spend Christmas with his daughter and, thus abandoned, Rachelle reluctantly went home to her family.
In January, they both returned to school, but their time apart seemed to have given Rachelle a new perspective on their relationship, and she admitted to herself that his confidence increasingly had an unpleasant and self-centred arrogance to it that no-one — not even she — found appealing.
Still officially an item, the couple nonetheless began to drift apart. Yet it was only at the end of February that their final separation took place.
"Come with me," Tempus said, having called for Rachelle at her dorm room, and he held out his hand. The words were an invitation, not a command, and the smile on his face was warm.
Puzzled by the charming behaviour that reminded her so strongly of the first months of their acquaintance, but which had been noticeably lacking of late, she allowed him to take her hand in his. Promising her a big surprise, he led her across the university grounds. They walked in an almost- companionable silence until they reached the storage bay Rachelle had rented the summer before. She raised her eyebrows in a silent question as they stopped in front of it and Tempus slid the key into the lock.
"Now close your eyes, my love," he whispered, "and don't open them until I tell you."
The soft words caressed her. "All right," she said, responding automatically to his silky voice and the endearment.
He grasped her elbow lightly and guided her into the bay. Then he whispered in her ear, "Now, wait here. And remember, no peeking."
Rachelle nodded, and, thus assured of her compliance, he moved away from her. His footsteps echoed hollowly on the concrete floor. Then she heard a slight scuffing sound. She wondered what he was doing: all she could tell for sure was that he wasn't walking around any more.
Just as she was about to give into temptation and sneak a glance from under her lashes anyway, he said, "It's all right. You can look now."
Rachelle opened her eyes fully and blinked at the sight before her. It was hard to say what shocked her most — the time machine in which Tempus was seated, or the gun he held levelled at her chest.
"What are you doing?!" she cried, her voice rising in pitch in response to the unexpected danger.
Tempus smiled. There was no hint of charm in him now, just self-satisfaction. "I would think that was obvious," he said. "I'm going to take a ride, and you're going to watch me go."
Rachelle's gaze switched from his face to the gun and back again. "It won't be the first time, will it," she said, knowing that no-one in her time had guns anymore.
"Of course not, my dear. I've been on quite a few trips already. I even spent a few weeks with my dear Alicia." That the words were designed to hurt was obvious. His smile widened as Rachelle's mouth opened in mute shock at his revelation.
Rachelle knew she and Tempus had been drifting apart, but she'd had no idea that he'd been cheating on her … with his wife! Or had he been cheating on his wife with her? Rachelle felt faintly sick at the thought.
Given that he'd left his wife some seventy-seven years before, Rachelle had not considered her to be a factor in their relationship. To Rachelle, Alicia Tempus-Jones was dead and existed only in the past, and she'd naively presumed Tempus had felt the same way.
Rachelle stared at him and paled at the harshness of his expression, unable to reconcile it with the man she'd known, or thought she'd known, for the last seven months. How could it be that, one moment, her lover had been whispering sweetly in her ear, yet the next he was coldly cruel, his words making little sense to her? With her composure slipping, and taking an involuntary step backwards, she nonetheless managed to speak. "Why? I mean, what do you need me here for? You've obviously managed quite well on your own, up to now." Even to her own ears, her voice sounded wounded and bitter.
"Need you? My dear, I don't *need* you for anything. But I want you here because I want you to know what you've done. As I once told your ancestor, 'God, I love irony!' And the best irony of all is that you, a direct descendant of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, helped me to escape from their prison, come to the future, and learn how to make things like this wonderful machine work. So, now, I can go back in time and destroy them. And, believe me, this time I *will* destroy them, one way or another!"
"You can't!" cried Rachelle.
"Oh? Why not? Who's going to stop me? Not you, I fancy. Not so long as I have this gun pointed at you."
Rachelle had to admit that he was right about that.
"And once I'm gone, of course, no-one else will come after me. Your machine, and your copy of the plans, were destroyed, remember?" He threw back his head and roared with laughter.
She watched with horror as he keyed the necessary commands into his time machine and disappeared.
History had been set in motion, and it was all her fault. She realised that, now. She slumped back on the ground against the wall, and she wept. She wept for her shattered love, for his betrayal, and for her own reckless stupidity. Carrington had been right, after all. Tempus was a monster, and she had, however unwittingly, released him onto history's stage.
She wailed at the empty room, not knowing just who she was appealing to, "I'm sorry! Forgive me, please! I'm so sorry!"
Saturday, 17 April, 1999
Alternative Metropolis, New Troy
"And the rest of the story you know," said Wells.
Lois and Clark nodded, thinking of all the things Tempus had done subsequently, both to them, and to their counterparts.
"The question is, what would you like to do now?" Wells raised his hand, palm outwards, using the gesture to forestall their answers. "No, no, my dears. I realise that I can't expect you to make any decisions without giving you at least a little time to think things over, so I'll leave you alone for an hour. You can talk things over between you, and you can let me know what you have decided upon my return."
Clark escorted Wells to the front door, then he returned to Lois. They sat together in a loose embrace on the sofa.
Neither spoke immediately. The enormity of Wells's story, and the opportunity he'd offered them, seemed to have taken their very breath away, and they were so overwhelmed that it was hard to articulate their thoughts immediately.
Clark thought of the chance Wells was giving them, and he thought of the life he now had. His instinct was to leave things as they were, and to tell Wells to put the manuscript where Rachelle could find it far into their future, or past, or whatever. But Clark also recognised the importance of thinking things through. A decision made in haste could very easily turn out to be the wrong one.
Tempus's changes to history had already cost at least two people Clark had loved dearly their very existences. Should Clark give his parents the chance to live out their full life- spans? If history changed to allow his parents to survive, could he still end up with Lois? He had seen how history had worked itself out in the other dimension, and he supposed it was possible, even perhaps probable, that that was the model history would follow here, given the chance.
But, what if it didn't?
If they destroyed Wells's manuscript, history would reshape itself before he met either Lois. He wouldn't know the pain of losing her, because he would never have met her. Now that he had found her, he couldn't bear the thought of being forced to live his life without her by his side. She was a part of him, and he needed her, just as he as he needed the sun to furnish his strength, or the air he breathed …
Wells had talked about the tiny differences that differentiated the two dimensions, any one of which could prevent history following a pattern that Clark would be happy with. The pain of losing his parents was an old one, but still one that he carried around with him. Changing the past might alter that, but it might not. There were no guarantees that things would have worked out any differently. There were only possibilities.
Could he risk all that he had now for a mountain of maybes?
In any case, the decision was not his to make alone. It was hers, too, because they were equals in everything, even down to the hurt that Tempus had inflicted in their lives. Knowing what Lois had gone through in the Congo, and in the several pain-filled years following, when everyone who knew her had believed her dead, he knew that she had just as much right to decide what action they should take as he did.
Lois shifted slightly in his arms and rested her hand on top of Clark's.
"Lois," Clark asked, "Do you believe in predestination?"
"I've always tried not to," she answered. "I always wanted to believe that I had control over my actions. That I had freedom of choice. I mean, I know that we can't control everything. Other people's actions will always influence our own, but … " She shrugged. "I guess that's why I never had much time for astrology. Either it's nonsense, and not worth wasting your time over, or else you can predict the future. And in that case, I really don't want to know." She twisted to look at him. "You?"
"I … don't know. It's all so confusing! Mr Wells seemed so sure that Tempus had to go back in time for history to work out correctly in the other dimension, but then he's given us the chance to change our lives."
"And you're wondering if it would all work out the same, no matter what we do?"
"Would that be so very bad if it did?"
"Probably not," he said, moving to stroke her arm gently.
"Definitely not," said Lois firmly. "I see us now, and I really don't regret any of it."
"Don't you? I do. I regret the fact that my parents died. I regret that I didn't meet you sooner. That you had to go through-"
"Hush," she said, placing her hand on his lips to still them. "It's all in the past. We're here now, together. Nothing matters more than that."
His prolonged silence troubled her, and she asked, a hint of worry in her voice, "It doesn't, does it?"
"No. You're right. Every thing worked out all right in the end."
"So you think we should leave well alone?"
"Only if you do, too."
"I do," she said, and she kissed him.
Tuesday, 18 June, 1940 London, England
Wells returned to his own era just as the air-raid sirens began their nightly wail. Hurrying, he put his manuscript into the drawer of the heavy desk in his study. He gave it a last glance before he covered it with other papers, pushed the drawer closed, and locked it. Then he placed the key in a small pot on the top of the desk. He hadn't chosen good hiding places for either the manuscript or the key, but then they didn't need to be well hidden. He didn't know when Rachelle would come looking for them, but come she would. That was her destiny.
Satisfied with his arrangements, he hustled down to the air- raid shelter, and he spent the night thinking of his two friends who would not trade the happiness they had found, even for the fate of two worlds.
Saturday, 17 April, 1999
Alternative Metropolis, New Troy
"Do you think we did the right thing?" Clark asked much later, after Wells had vanished.
Lois sighed. "I guess we'll always wonder, but I'm happy with the decision we made. Besides, if Dumas is right, then we must be as happy as any two people can be in this life. I suspect that we're even happier than our counterparts."
"They seemed happy enough when I met them, honey."
"Perhaps, but Mr Wells did say that we had suffered more."
"You sound positively pleased about that. I don't get it."
Lois reached across for the copy of The Count of Monte Cristo and opened it to the very last page. She read, "'There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.'"
"You're kidding," he said. "It actually says that?"
"Uh huh. Right here. Look." Lois held out the book, pointing with her finger.
"And you believe it?"
"Well … not really. But there's a grain of truth in the argument. I do love you, more than I ever believed I could love anyone. When I compare how I feel now with everything that's gone before, I do feel happy. And grateful."
"Me, too," said Clark, gathering her closer.
"Maybe we were wrong not to take Mr Wells's chance, but I don't think so. He offered us the chance of something better than what we have, but, Clark, I don't believe that anything could be better than this." She leaned in towards him.
And, as their lips met, Clark agreed. Wholeheartedly.