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by Harriet Lowe

Simultaneously, the students awoke from their dreams. All the students had the same dream- a white void,

an overwhelming sense of blankness, a refreshing purity of mind, followed by distant memories. Memories

of a time that was theirs, but inaccessible. It made them feel sad, to have no knowledge of their past, and

yet to be so close to it. Only one did not sleep. He was always too hungry. Instead, he settled for extremely

lucid hallucinations.

This was the Big Day. Each of them rose, shook their head and began to dress. Student quarters were

minimalist to the point of mysticism. Plain white walls and a soothing daylight bulb.

The only furniture was a bed, a clock and a wind chime. The students were allowed to add their own

possessions, from the first day that they had left their homes. Many had forgotten the significance of these-

one student, for instance, owned only a handheld computer game, a pot plant and a poyozo doll. Another

owned several animal skins and a collection of ruby jewelry. To even the students who remembered what

they were supposed to do with their possessions, life was incredibly simple. Simple to the point of

confusion, Time did not seem to pass at all. But today was the big Day. Today, of all the days in the

Universe, was different.

* * *

A man of indeterminate age leaned, reflected in the light of the antique lamppost. Blowing a large pink

bubble from his chewing gum, he watched it pop with detached interest. There were important things on his

mind, very important things that just happened to occur today. In his brown leather briefcase were

documents that reflected just how important these things were. Involuntarily, his hand shot to the catch of

his briefcase. One more check. The spelling, grammar and, most importantly, the maths had to be

absolutely precise in such an important document. The door, annoyingly, distracted him from his

proofreading. It opened.


"Oh, for Doolos' sake, call me Master Guru!" he snapped, glaring from beneath his hat, "You're a bad

example for the students!"

The Kilwala gulped, shocked by his boss' outburst. It was difficult to tell whether he felt guilty or not. A

Kilwala was a creature that looked like a monkey wearing a sheep costume. It was difficult to imagine this

comical creature being known as Spekkio, the Master of Warfare. He never took his true form in battle.

"Talking of students, Master Guru." he emphasized the title sarcastically, "They've arrived."

"Well let them in then!"

"Master Guru... do you mind if I... you know.." he made a strange Kilwala-gesture, one that Gaspar had

learnt from experience.

"Oh, okay, but only three... and choose wisely!" warned the old man.

"You're not the only one who knows how to teach, you old goat!" complained the Kilwala. Grumbling to

himself, he left through the same door as he came in. Gaspar looked at his watch. It had stopped again.

"Oh, well." He mused, winding it up, "That's what you get for living in the year infinite."

He could hear footsteps and excited whispers. Yes, it was the Big Day. It would be interesting to see how

the students behaved, he thought to himself. Very interesting. What kind of adults will they become? I

erased all knowledge of their previous time zones, so that they would not suffer from time-shock here in the

End of Time. I can't remember where most of them are from myself. Maybe Spekkio is right, and I'm losing

my memory. A condition forgivable in an infinite-year-old man.

* * *

Whispering among themselves, the students poured into the Meeting Place. They sat in order of rank. The

new initiates, nervously adjusting their white robes, sat in front. Behind them were those who had mastered

the First Order of Understanding, and wore green robes. The Second Order wore blue robes, and the Third

Order wore what the hell they liked, because they were too big to tell what to do. One student, Gaspar,

noticed, was unconscious, and was being dragged in by two helpful friends. Had he fainted from suspense?

Gaspar made a mental note to take an interest in that student.

"Students!" he began, thumping his lamppost. Instantly, they all woke up. "Today is a big day for all of us.

As you probably know, it is the day for newcomers to be welcomed among us. I hope you have already

shown them around and introduced them to Spekkio. It is also the day when some of you will learn that

they have progressed to the next Order!"

Instantly, excited student banter filled Gaspar's ears, languages from all over the world, spatially and

temporally. Some had decided they were going to pass, others that they would fail, others stated confidently

that a) they were all going to turn into bananas and b) they were the prophetesses of Nu.

"Third Order students!" he continued, raising his voice, "For some of you, this will be a great day indeed.

Today, you will find out whether you have completed your education."

* * *

"Welcome to the Academy of Time." Gaspar addressed his audience of wide-eyed acolytes; "This is a place

of learning, a place of understanding. It may seem strange to some. Even our oldest students feel odd

sometimes. You will not remember your past. Do not worry, this is normal. You volunteered to come here

with prior warning of this. Possibly, one of your relatives is a pupil or ex-pupil here."

"You will be given the best education, a school life that will never be dull for a moment. I will train you

mentally, and Spekkio will train you physically. You will pass through the Orders of Understanding, which

will require more than just good study skills. You will need to unlock every area of your mind. You will

need to understand the true nature of time. Some of you will not pass your exams, but do not see this as a

failure. Your mind is simply insufficiently prepared to reach the next level of understanding. You can

retake the exam. If at any time you wish to return to your home, I will return you. Whatever stage you

reach, you will have attained knowledge far beyond the comprehension of your time period. You will be

able to impress people with your knowledge. Those who pass... may become the next guardians and

caretakers of time itself.

"If you would prefer a more practical education, sign on with Spekkio. He is known as the Master of

Warfare, and wants to teach the ancient arts of combat. You will also learn how to use your skills

responsibly, in self-defense or dungeoneering. He does not wish to turn you into killers, but protectors of

the weak and battle-mates of imps and goblins. Do you have any questions?"

"What are these things in my bag?" asked a particularly brave girl.

"Those are your most treasured possessions. You chose to take them with you when you left your home.

They are proof that I am not lying when I promise to return you to your home."

The questions began one after the other, as a stream of youngster suddenly found the courage to speak of

the things that were worrying them about this bewildering place. When they finally left the room, Gaspar

gave the next batch of students a quick ceremony and finally got down to the important business.

* * *

"Realize now that only the most gifted among you will undergo the Transition. Not everyone has even

opted in for this... you may end up somewhere where you can't access your home again. It is fate that a few

are drawn to, from the Beginning of Time itself, deep within the primordial source code of the Universe. If

you are chosen, I will speak your name, and you will come forward and accept my judgement of your

character. It will determine which time zone you are given responsibility for."

He began.

"Munga Meeple."

With a wild cry of 'BOBONGA!', the teenage girl in question leapt into the air, a few seconds ahead of the

announcement, and swung by her feet from the lamppost. She was tall and lithe, with electrifyingly

luminous orange hair.

"You are an untamed force of nature." the teacher told her, "You are, though wild and impulsive, cunning

and physically undefeatable. These qualities will suit you most in prehistoric times."

With a whoop of delight, the potential cave-girl stopped to pose in front of the boys and propelled herself

through the waiting time-gate.

"Godfrey Alfredsson."

Rising from his seat, the handsome boy with the hint of a golden moustache walked across the room,

somehow managing to look regal and modest at the same time. He bowed respectfully before his tutor.

"You have won many a girl's heart with your deep sense of chivalry and honor. Cynics call you a

traditionalist and label you obsolete, but your stories of dragons and knights still leave them spellbound.

You would have a great contribution to make in 600 AD, the Middle Ages."

Bowing again, the boy bid his classmates farewell and left through a time gate.

"Doki Pen Dolf."

Cheers erupted from a gang of dark-skinned youths. They patted their friend on the back and hugged him.

Grinning, he strode proudly across the room.

"You have an astounding business sense. You even tried to bribe me during a certain exam resit." The boy

blushed at Gaspar's stern words, "There is a society, called 'capitalist' by those that inhabit it, where trade

means everything. Even the king is not as rich or influential as a successful merchant could be. It exists in

1000 AD, and because it included the first working time machine, I call it the 'Present'."

The room began to darken as young Pen Dolf left the room. It shouldn't. There is no such thing as day and

night in a timeless realm. A shiver ran down Gaspar's spine. The next few announcements were going to be

cataclysmically important.

* * *

"Magus Mageden."

His cynical eyes mocked the other students as he stood with a dramatic sweep of his blue cloak. As far as

they were concerned, he was nobody's friend, and as far as he was concerned, they were less important than

a frog. At least you can experiment on a frog. He dismissed them with a toss of his soft, flowing purple


"You are a powerful mage." Gaspar flinched as the dark soul watched him in amusement, "In the time zone

I have chosen for you, powerful mages are respected and feared. Your magic, shadow magic, is seen as

evil, though. You will be an outcast, though a powerful outcast."

"It matters not. I am an outcast anyway." the boy told him, "Where am I bound?"

"12,000 BC"

"Known as the Dark Ages." Magus finished softly. Stretching out his arms, he poured of all his

concentration into making a time himself, and floated through it. Shuddering, Gaspar distracted himself

from his fears by announcing the next candidate.


As far as Gaspar could remember, the boy didn't have a surname. The old man tried to spot him in the

crowd. Finally, he emerged, wrapped in his tattered brown clothes. He had packed his bags. Inside his

travelworn brown rucksack were his three possessions, along with a week's worth of food (seven dead rats)

and, hopefully, his homework. He brushed his straggly brown hair from eyes and fixed the teacher an

apathetic stare.

"You going to throw me out." he inquired, "Give us some food first."

"No, Doan, you are not going to be expelled." Gaspar sighed patiently. He had expected a conversation

along these lines. Discreetly, he rummaged around in his pockets for some food for the lad, while

explaining to him why he was stood there.

"I imagine a boy of your intelligence has already worked out where you're going. It's a special place, Doan.

A place that only a person like you could make a lot of difference to. Among all the students here... all the

wondrous places they come from, the miracles we've seen. It all means nothing if we can't understand that

place. This world I dying, but it's spirit is strong enough to keep it alive... maybe a better quality of life than


"Oh." A light shone in Doan's eyes, but was quickly extinguished again. "Is there much food there?"

"Not much, but there won't be many people around to share it with." Gaspar laughed, but his humor was

wasted on the blank face, "But seriously, you can survive. That's partly why I chose you. The only thing

that can kill you is this despair that follows you around. Also, you're no stranger to the kind of life you can

expect there."

A faint smile seemed to appear on his face, "What's this place called?"

"Its' the Future."

Doan nodded. From the look of wonder in his eyes, the tutor knew that he was thinking deeply, thoughts

that Gaspar would never understand.

The clock stopped again.

There was one further announcement, and Gaspar suddenly realized who it was that had fainted.

* * *

"Frank Forgevoucher."

Before, he had felt like a quiz show host giving out prizes to contestants. Now, he felt like he was

performing a funereal rite. The healers had managed to resuscitate the poor boy, who stared at his teacher,

eyes wide with terror. Normally, Frank was quite a plain, nondescript boy, whom nobody really noticed.

His only remarkable characteristic was his fascination with Doan. He shared his food with the boy, quoted

him in essays, wore a more intact version of his clothes and told the other students that they were brothers.

Frank, at twenty years old, was really a man. To Gaspar, who was as old as time, everyone was a child.

Now, his face frozen in a white mask, Frank looked more like a ghost.

"Come on, Frankie, it okay." soothed a friend, one of Pen Dolf's gang. He felt the boy shiver.

"NO!" pleaded Frank as he forced himself, with all his will, to stand before the podium. The teacher placed

a hand upon the boy's shoulder.

"I am sorry." Gaspar told him sincerely, "This is too much to bear. I wish I could have given the role to

someone like Doan." Doan wouldn't have cared even if the old man had thrown him in a black hole. "But

he's got a life waiting for him in the Future. You're the only one, Frank. There are some things even I have

no control over. A computer does it- a computer with much more authority than me. The computer IS time,

like a universal clock. There'll be a good reason... but I understand that I can't justify it to you."

"I'll die!" yelled the boy.

"No, Frank, you won't die. Not that way, anyway. You'll die if you don't eat or breathe, just like every other

human. Time won't kill you. It needs you."

Stepping from behind his podium, Gaspar put an arm around the boy and led him to the waiting time gate,

green and slightly unstable due to the sheer magnitude of the resistance, gaping like the mouth of some

huge beast. The students couldn't really tell, but a few of them thought they could hear Gaspar whispering

something in Frank's ear.

"Beyond this door is 1999 AD" he told the boy, "Otherwise known as... the Apocalypse."

* * *

"What were you whispering to that student?" asked Spekkio, dancing a happy Kilwala-dance around the

room, "It sounded like something you haven't told me yet, and you know you're not allowed to keep secrets

from me!"

"Oh, I just told him to expect visits from the Future." The Guru of Time told him cryptically.

"Is this something the Computer predicted? Is it?" Spekkio jumped up and down. He loved hearing stories

from the Computer.

"Yes. But it's possible, if you think about it." Gaspar said, "They have all the time in the world to play in

the ruins of laboratories, and every reason to do it. They're going to be very scientifically advanced, and

very fast. Time travel... is definitely a possibility we cannot rule out."


"Yes, my brother lives there somewhere. I wouldn't put it past him to make a time machine." He laughed, "I

hope he pays me a visit."

"But why would they want to visit the Apocalypse, of all places?" Spekkio scratched his head in confusion.

"I don't know. I guess their history books don't take them back much further."

Gaspar laughed and fell asleep, leaving Spekkio to ponder the real answer to the question by himself. He

was glad he chose to live here, even though the Stone Age looked fun. There was so much he had yet to

understand, and he needed infinite years to think about it.

* * *



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