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Birth of the Nation

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Stephen couldn't sleep.

It was one in the morning; Evie and the baby were sleeping peacefully, and Stephen knew he should try to do the same, but instead he was in the kitchen staring bleakly at the wall. He'd left the lights off so as not to wake anyone else up, and the pale moonlight cast everything in shades of grey.

He had woken up that morning to find Evie crouched over the toilet, and they couldn't afford to cut into the grocery budget to get a home pregnancy test, but she assured him that it would have been positive, and he had kissed her and gone off to spend the day looking for a job and come back to find another bill on the table, and knew he wasn't going to get any sleep that night.

Maybe it was time to give up acting and get a real job. His child - his children - deserved better than this.

He had almost resolved to look into accounting, when there was a flash of light from the foyer and a noise that sounded like it had been lifted straight from a cheap sci-fi flick.

 

*

 

"Is this it?" asked Otto.

The robot next to him, Larry 3000, checked the sensors in its forearm. "Yes. This is the time and place where history is going off course."

"Well, what're we waiting for?" demanded the buff and burly time cop who officially led the team, striding forward. "Let's find this Steven Col-burt fellow!"

"Tuddrussel, no! He's probably sleeping!" protested the skinny, bespectacled kid, grabbing the officer's sleeve.

"Why would history change while he's asleep?" pointed out Larry.

"Well . . . his wife's probably asleep, anyway," amended Otto. "C'mon, just don't be so loud . . ."

And then a man whose face they all knew entered the room, glaring at them sternly despite the bags under his eyes. "Who are you and what are you doing in my apartment?"

"Ohmigosh!" squeaked Otto, feeling his voice crack and finding he didn't much care. "It's Stephen Colbert! It's such an honor to meet you, sir."

Stephen's face twisted in confusion. "How-? I know I'm not famous enough to have stalkers."

"Not yet," said Tuddrussel encouragingly. "But you will be."

"Trust us," added Larry. "We're from the future."

 

*

 

Otto spent nearly an hour explaining things to this young Stephen. How he would be a beloved satirist on The Daily Show, and get sent a set of chocolate Lord of the Rings figures by the actor who would play Aragorn. How he would eventually land his own show, with millions of viewers. How he would become a household name, not to mention a Hungarian citizen and the inspiration for a hockey mascot, and then a comic book, and then an ice cream...

Otto didn't tell him everything. Larry's analysis had revealed that it would probably be too intimidating to bring up how Colbert would speak truth to power; at the moment he thought of himself as a simple entertainer. And even Tuddrussel was bright enough not to mention the presidential run.

Larry inadvertenly let slip that the next three Star Wars movies would be a big disappointment. "But don't worry," added Otto quickly, seeing Stephen's dismay. "You'll get to have a lightsaber duel with George Lucas. On television. It'll be fantastic."

At last Larry's sensors indicated that the timeline was righted, and Otto said, "Now, do you see why you need to stay in acting?"

Stephen was almost too stunned to speak, but managed a nod. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

"Good." Otto looked around one more time at the gloomy surroundings, then smiled encouragingly at Stephen. "You're gonna make it out of here. I promise."

And with another flash of light and cheesy sci-fi sound effect, the Time Squad team vanished.

 

*

 

Evelyn felt her husband climb into bed next to her, and opened her eyes a fraction to see the clock. "Honey," she murmured nervously, "have you slept yet?"

Stephen's arm wrapped soothingly over her shoulder, and when he spoke he sounded truly at peace for the first time in months. "No, but it's okay," he murmured. "I'm going to get lots of sleep from now on. Promise."

"Why, what happened?"

"Visitors from the future."

Evelyn thought he must be joking, but was too sleepy to do anything but play along. "Good news?"

"Oh, yes," murmured her husband, and she felt his breath warm on her ear before drifting off to sleep again. "They're going to make Lord of the Rings movies."