By Christine Carr <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted November 1999
Summary: On a cold February night in 1936, H.G. Wells receives an unexpected visitor. What will he and Tempus find to talk about?
FEEDBACK: Comments welcome privately or via the fanfic mailing list. Actually, in this case, I'm begging for feedback. This isn't a typical Lois and Clark story, and I'm curious to know what people make of it. Love it or hate it, please let me know.
These characters aren't mine, and I mean no harm by their use. (Hey, this is for fun guys, despite the story matter!) The H G Wells who appears in this story isn't the H G Wells of our world, but a fictional creation who lives in that other wonderful reality, the world of Lois and Clark.
Thanks to Irene for reading this through for me.
Monday, 3 February, 1936
The fire in the grate had finally managed to make some headway against the atypically chilly night, and H G Wells sighed with contentment as, for the first time in hours, his toes, fingers and nose thawed to something approaching a comfortable temperature. As he listened to the Home Service on the wireless, he leaned back in his wing chair, and stretched his slippered feet out across a footstool. A snifter of brandy in one hand, he decided that a quiet evening at home had a lot to recommend itself as an idea.
Not five minutes later, however, the distant sound of the doorbell drew him out of his idle reverie. With a sigh, he put aside his glass, switched off the radio, and forced himself to make his way down the cold corridor to the front door.
Standing on the doorstep was an old man who was certainly not dressed for the weather. Indeed, he was not even clothed for outdoors. His bare feet were tucked into slippers, and, below a light-weight robe, he seemed to be wearing pyjamas. His hands were pushed deep into the robe's pockets, and his breath plumed out in great white clouds as he exhaled.
It fleetingly crossed Wells's mind that his visitor must be some refugee from a local hospital or nursing home: Wells wondered how he was going to return the fugitive back to where he belonged. One thing was certain, though: he could not stay where he was.
"You'd better come in," Wells said, pulling the door open wide enough to let the unknown in.
"Thank you." The stranger forced the words out through chattering teeth.
"This way." Wells led his visitor back up to his apartment. The stranger's pace was slower than Wells's own, and Wells had to pause several times to allow him to catch up. As he watched the stranger, Wells noted the way he shuffled his feet, and how his spine was curved with age.
When Wells guided him into the parlour, and invited him to take the chair next to the fire that Wells, himself, had so recently vacated, his visitor didn't waste any time in making himself comfortable. Wells watched as, with relief, he gave up the effort needed to keep himself mobile.
"Would you like some tea?" Wells invited. "A hot drink would probably do you some good."
The visitor nodded, apparently too exhausted to make the effort to form the words necessary to reply.
Wells exited the room, pausing on the threshold to glance backwards at the enfeebled man, who had tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
When Wells returned, minutes later, the visitor appeared to have rallied his strength somewhat, and he was glancing around the room, absorbing the details of its heavy furniture, dim lighting and heavy drapes.
Wells handed over the cup and saucer, making sure that his visitor held them securely in his trembling hands before he let go and stood back. Then he pulled a second armchair closer to the fire, and sat down.
Tilting his head slightly to one side, he said, "Who are you?"
"Don't you recognise me, Herb?"
Wells's eyes widened in astonishment at the words. The voice lacked the strength that it had once had, but, no longer distorted by the shuddering cold, it was recognisable. It was hard to believe, though, that this was Tempus. His once luxuriant hair had mostly gone, and the little that was left was a wispy white. Wells could clearly see Tempus's veins through his unnaturally pale, almost translucent skin. There were sagging pouches of flesh under his eyes and chin, and a myriad of wrinkles criss- crossed his emaciated face. Only the bright intelligent eyes remained of the man Wells had once known.
"Tempus?" Wells breathed, trying to absorb the revelation.
"In the flesh," Tempus replied.
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm dying. I would have thought that would have been obvious."
"Dying?" repeated Wells. Despite verbally conveying a doubt, he found it all too easy to believe. When they had first met, Tempus had been young. Now, though, he was old: he had evidently aged by more than the thirty-seven years that had passed for Wells since that fateful first encounter. Wells wondered how long it had been for Tempus since they had met.
Tempus's lips curled into a shape that was reminiscent of the cruel condescending expression that he had perfected as a younger man. "The doctors told me that I had only a matter of days, or possibly even hours left to me. I didn't fancy staying in that prison hospital while I shuffled off my mortal coil," he said, "so I thought I'd come look you up, instead."
"You escaped? Again?" Wells asked.
"Of course," Tempus said. "I always escape. You should know that by now."
Wells acknowledged the comment with a faint nod, and said, "But, why did you want to come here?"
"I wanted some company."
"And you chose me." Wells sounded faintly sceptical. "Why?"
"Why not? You probably know me as well as anyone. All through my career, everywhere I went, you would be there, undoing whatever damage I tried to do. I can't imagine what my life would have been like without you." Tempus's eyes flicked in Wells's direction as he tilted the teacup to drain the last dregs of the strong brew.
Wells watched as Tempus placed the cup back in its saucer, and held them out. Half standing, Wells took them from him and asked, "Would you like another cup?" He took refuge in the mundane act of playing the part of a good host. It was easier to do that than to address the more fundamental questions raised by Tempus's presence.
"I'd rather have some of the brandy you have over there," Tempus replied, pointing a gnarled finger at a sideboard.
"Do you think, in your current state, that would be advisable?" asked Wells as he straightened to his full height, the cup and saucer in one hand, and his feet pointing vaguely in the direction of the kitchen.
Tempus snorted then. "Herb, I'm dying. Brandy isn't going to change that fact, one way or the other. But it might make the waiting easier to bear. Just give me the brandy, okay?"
Wells shrugged, abandoned the cup and saucer on a side table, and commented, "Well, I suppose there can be no harm in it." He crossed the room, retrieved a clean glass and a decanter, and carried both back. He poured Tempus a drink, carefully placed both items on a small table that lay within reach of the two chairs, picked up the glass he'd abandoned earlier, and then sat down again.
The only sounds in the room were the crackling of the fire, the slow ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece, and the occasional distant sound of a car passing on the road outside as the two old enemies sat in a slightly uncomfortable silence, working their way through their warming drinks.
Now that the fact of Tempus's presence had belatedly sunk in, Wells wondered what on earth was he going to do with him. Wells's thoughts meandered around inside his head, skittering this way and that, as he contemplated his guest. Whatever were they going to talk about? He vaguely considered the idea of trying to engage Tempus in a conversation about books or music, then dismissed the idea as faintly ludicrous. For all their history together, the only common ground shared by the two men was their interest in the future. However, given the adversarial roles in which they had been cast in the past, it was hardly an appealing topic of conversation. All the same, there were questions Wells had long wanted to ask and, if what Tempus had said was true, and he was dying, Wells was never going to get another opportunity to do so. Would it be polite to ask his questions, though? Wells decided that it probably would not be, not when he had, however unwittingly, invited Tempus into his home and offered him hospitality.
Wells took another sip of the brandy, delaying his need to take some sort of action by a few more precious seconds.
Only when he reached the bottom of his glass, and when the alcohol had started to loosen his inhibitions, did he finally break the silence, his curiosity overcoming his sense of propriety. He said abruptly, "Didn't you ever get tired of trying to destroy Utopia?"
If Tempus objected to, or even noticed, Wells's use of the past tense, he gave no sign. He simply shook his head fractionally. "No."
"But you must have been aware of the futility of your task. You tried a multitude of schemes, and none of them had any lasting effect. It seems almost as though the universe was determined to follow the path that it chose for itself, irrespective of what you did, or tried to do. Any other man would have, in short order, given up the attempt to change history."
Tempus's lips edged into a smile, and for once, there was no hint of malice or sarcasm in it. "Has it never occurred to you, Herb, that I might have continued doing what I did because I enjoyed doing it?"
"I have to confess that it hasn't, no." Wells sounded vaguely scandalised at the idea.
Tempus said reflectively, "I decided a long time ago that it wasn't the destination that was important, but the journey one takes to get there."
Wells raised his eyebrows. Such philosophical musings were not something that he had ever associated with Tempus. "I'm not quite sure that I understand what you mean," he admitted.
"Simple. Do you remember, I once told Lois Lane that, in a world with no Superman, there would be no Utopia? That, in such a world there would just be sex and violence, and a lot of me?"
Wells nodded. "It saddens me to say that I do remember, yes."
"Back then, I had only one ambition — to escape my mundane existence. I thought the best way to do that would be to destroy Utopia. Of course, I failed. But I soon came to realise that, although not in the way I'd originally envisaged, I had nonetheless managed to fulfil my ambition. My existence was no longer boring, because I had managed to leave Utopia behind me. Changing the future didn't seem to matter so much any more, because I had managed to change *me*.
"I don't expect you to understand me, Herb. Even less do I expect you to approve, but I enjoyed what I did. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure that I would have been so happy if I'd actually succeeded in destroying Utopia. I had too much fun trying."
Wells pursed his lips and said censoriously, "Did it never occur to you that that is, essentially, a very selfish attitude? The other people you involved in your schemes didn't derive any satisfaction from your actions. What you did to them, even if it had no lasting effect, was morally wrong. It was cruel. And quite indefensible."
Tempus shrugged his curved shoulders and said dismissively, "It's not something that I choose to dwell on."
"You are no better than a school-yard bully. You give no thought to your victims, seeing only your own self- gratification as important."
"So?" Tempus asked.
Exasperated, Wells asked, "Do you never regret your actions? The evil you have done?"
Tempus laughed at that. "Herb, I didn't come here seeking absolution. Believe me, the priests at the hospital would have been more than happy to give me that."
"Then, what did you come here for?"
"As I said, companionship. I didn't want to die alone, and I didn't want to be surrounded by strangers, which amounts to pretty much the same thing." His inhibitions had also, apparently, been lowered by the alcohol, and his response was more forthcoming than earlier. "Strange as it may sound, Herb, after all that we've been through, you are probably the closest thing that I have to a friend."
Wells smiled wryly at the unexpected admission. "I wish that I could say the same thing about you, but as you are aware, it wouldn't be true. I can, in all honesty however, say that you have made my life interesting."
"And that's almost as good, isn't it?"
Wells didn't deign to answer.
Tempus pushed his point. "We are bound together, you and I, Herb. Maybe you won't admit to friendship, but I defy you to say that you have no feelings for me. We've been through too much together for you to feel nothing for me."
Wells shook his head fractionally.
"Come on, Herb! If you truly hated me, you would have turned me out by now."
"I wouldn't do that even to my worst enemy on a night like this."
"And am I your worst enemy?"
The silence that stretched between them then was almost painful in its intensity. First Tempus, then Wells, reached out for the decanter, and refilled their glasses. Wells watched Tempus watch the dancing flames in the grate.
Finally, when his second glass was empty, and he was reaching to fill a third, Tempus said thoughtfully, "I suppose I do have some regrets." The admission was grudging.
"Oh?" said Wells blandly, inviting Tempus to continue.
"It says something about my life that the human being I find to be my closest companion is my enemy, and lived centuries before I was born. I've moved around time, and even dimensions. I've probably seen more than any other human being in history, except perhaps for yourself. I've met more people than most. I've had cronies. Occasionally I've even had friends. Once I even had a wife and daughter. Did you know that? But nothing has ever lasted. When it comes right down to it, my life has been pretty lonely, especially in recent years."
"And that bothers you?"
Tempus stared down into his glass for a moment, then took a gulp of the fiery liquid. Thoughtfully, his voice barely above a whisper, he said, "Yes. I suppose it does. To begin with, it didn't seem important; I thought that there would be time for friends and a personal life later on. But the years went past, and suddenly it was all too late. If I'd made different choices, maybe …" He drifted into silence again. When he spoke again, his voice was stronger, and filled with self-mockery. "Let's face it, Herb. I'm a villain, with a genuinely evil streak. Totally irredeemable. If I'm honest, I don't suppose that I would do anything differently if I had my time over again." The sad smile on Tempus's face as he turned to meet Wells's gaze took some of the sting out of his words.
"I don't believe that anyone is totally irredeemable," Wells said.
"Then, that's where we differ," answered Tempus. "As you said, I've lived a selfish life. Even my regrets are essentially selfish ones. For example, I regret that no one will mourn my passing. Why would I wish that kind of pain on anyone, if I wasn't selfish?" He sighed. "I wish I could tell you that I feel some remorse for the evil I've done, but I can't."
"Surely, if you wish you could tell me you feel remorse, you are half way to doing so," observed Wells.
Tempus shook his head.
Wells wished he could say something to help, but he could think of nothing.
The silence lingered. Finally, as the clock chimed ten o'clock, and the now-dying embers of the fire dimmed to a dull red, Wells decided that it was time he and his guest headed off to bed.
As Tempus tried to stand up, it rapidly became obvious that he had weakened noticeably in just the short time he had been with Wells. He clutched at the back of the chair as he fought to overcome a wave of dizziness, and it was all he could do to force his legs to hold him upright.
It was only with difficulty, once Tempus had recovered enough of his equilibrium, that Wells managed to manoeuvre him into the spare room and settle him under the bed covers. Wells straightened the eider-down, headed to the door and switched off the room's overhead light. "Good night," he said as he moved to pull the door closed behind him.
Wells paused on the threshold, the bedroom now illuminated only by the dull light coming in from the landing behind him, and turned to face Tempus.
Tempus suddenly looked very unsure of himself. He said desperately, "Please … Don't leave me."
Wells found himself mesmerised by the beseeching eyes, and he found himself drawn back into the bedroom. He perched on the edge of the bedside chair, and waited for Tempus to explain himself.
"I can feel the darkness closing in. I don't want to be alone when … You understand."
Wells smiled a tiny pitying smile. "I understand," he said.
They stayed like that, frozen in a tableau, for several minutes. Then Tempus whispered, "Thank you."
"What for?" Wells asked.
"For staying with me."
Wells considered Tempus. He didn't like the man he had given hospitality to. There was so much evil that he had done in his life, and Wells was not even sure that his battle against Tempus's schemes would end with his death. Did he still have things that the younger versions of the man in his bed had done to discover?
Yet, when it came right down to it, Wells couldn't turn away from Tempus in his hour of need. Tempus had been right about that, just as he had been right to suggest that their shared past bound them together in a way that was somehow akin to the ties of friendship or blood. Moreover, Wells realised that he would actually miss him once he was gone, and that, despite all his wickedness, Wells would grieve for him.
Maybe Tempus hadn't managed to ask for his forgiveness, but Wells found himself compelled to give it nonetheless, secure in the knowledge that Tempus had not succeeded in — would never succeed in — destroying Utopia.
Without giving it conscious thought, Wells found himself reaching out and encasing Tempus's hand in his own.
As if stung into total honesty by the contact, Tempus whispered, "I couldn't admit it earlier, but I am sorry, you know. I do regret the things I've done."
"I know," Wells said.
"How?" Tempus asked.
"You wouldn't have felt able to come here otherwise," said Wells. "Nor would you have felt the need to do so."
Tempus looked up at Wells, a look of infinite gratitude at the other man's understanding on his face as he allowed his eyes to drift shut. Unseen, Wells answered Tempus's smile with a slight tilt of his head. Then he settled himself back as comfortably as he could in the chair.
Sometime during the quiet hours before dawn, Tempus passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was not alone, for H G Wells dozed lightly in the chair next to his bed, his warm hand still clasped around Tempus's rapidly cooling one.