Beat The Clock

"So why'd you call me here?"

The study of Ancillia Manor was spacious and lush, the kind of place 80s Wall Street bankers had wet dreams about. Ostentatious paintings littered the walls like feather dusters, while the marble floors and slick decor oozed professionalism in a way that not even the Foundation could, mainly because the Foundation didn't spend untold millions on their office furniture.

The perenially sinister Emsay Adonai steepled his fingers and tilted his head to stare at Riley Graham. The MTFO had been sent here on request of Security, not that she even knew who the man was aside from "Local Intelligence Officer". She was expecting a noir detective in a vest and pants – instead, she found a psychopath with a handshake like sticking your arm in a sockful of jelly.

As Emsay began to speak, Riley tried very hard not to look at the woman in the corner with the bandoliers and the gun. "I asked for you because you seemed like the most personable member of your team, you understand? The bookish girl would've looked down on me for the rest of the interview, and I make it a habit to not get involved with temporal criminals like… the boy, but you seemed relatively talkative."

"Right. Because–" (oh god don't look at her don't look don't look) "–you just bought me here for tea and a chat. Nice cookies, by the way."

Emsay cracked a fractional smirk. "See, that's what I'm talking about. The archivist would've sneered, but no, you take the time to properly make banter." He smiled to himself for a moment, before the stockbroker mask slipped back onto his face. "But I suppose we do have to get down to business, and I'll be entirely blunt with you here. Miss Graham, I want your team to guard my mansion."

"With all due respect, Mr. Adonai, y'all seem like you have a pretty good setup without us." The woman in the corner seemed to radiate hatred a little more intensely. "Why do you need us in particular?"

"Well. Again, being entirely frank, this setup certainly attracts plenty of attention from both legitimate organisations like the one you belong to, as well as thieves looking to acquire some of the goods I keep here. This particular band of thieves publicly announced that they were going to try and raid me, which – let's be clear – has never succeeded. You understand the value of reputation, correct?"

"I'm aware."

"A businesswoman after my own heart. If I allowed myself to be an open target for thieves, I'd lose all value to the eyes of your Foundation almost immediately. So I do some digging, as you expect – my informants tell me that they're a group known as the Journeymen, a group of… what you might call 'artisanal thieves', if you'll allow me to use that expression."

Riley smiled briefly. "Do they steal coffee beans?"

"Ha. No, it's a colloquial term they use to say that they're open for hire. You give them the money and they'll take whatever, from whoever. The fact that they decided to do this of their own volition is certainly outside their M.O., but I suppose it happens when you get my reputation.

"Of course, I didn't take them seriously at first – that was when three of my informants in the Alabama area were killed, within the space of twenty seconds. As you might guess, I have reason to believe this is the result of their use of temporal anomalies – while I was already aware they used the anomalous in their activities, my informant's last communique has given me some further cause for alarm.

"There are some risks even I'm not willing to waste my… rather prodigious resources on, Miss Graham. Underestimating these men is one of them. I dispatched teams last week in an attempt to intercept them, but I'm afraid they didn't quite make it." He tossed the photographs on the desk in front of Riley and got up, beginning to pace the study.

It was almost like a before-and-after slideshow for chainsaw killers: one moment the team was there, posing in full tactical gear, and the next the leader was lacking a head and several other limbs, as were the rest of the group.

"So what makes you think we can handle it, then?" Riley tried not to gag.

"Well now, I wouldn't underestimate you. You have resources – or at least I'll convince the higher-ups to get you some. You've dealt with temporal anomalies before. My teams, as expert as they are, can only be so skilled in everything before they start being outpaced by you."

Emsay chuckled dryly, the sound making a rasping noise like knives on glass. "It's really quite a simple deal, Ms. Graham. I'm friendly with the Foundation and I'd like to ensure that whatever anomalous things they'd like to take from my house don't get taken. In return, I'll give you the intelligence I've gathered on who they are, and I'll even let you do whatever you want with the artifacts they've got."

Riley swallowed.

"There couldn't be anything simpler. Now, run along back home and give this to your friends." He spread his palms wide and pulled a thin manila folder from thin air, before handing it to her. "Good luck, Miss Graham."


The Setup

This isn't exactly a housesitting job.

MTF Phi-12 ("Time Bandits") have been hired by semi-Foundation contractor Emsay Adonai to stay and watch over Ancillia Manor, a sprawling mansion that serves as his home as well as a repository for a dangerously large number of dubiously legal anomalous objects. Their objective is to defend the house against the Journeymen – a group of occult thieves who worship the god of doorways and make it their personal goal to rise to the challenge of anyone with enough goodies and a sharp enough security system.

The Goal

Don't let anybody steal his shit. Simple enough, correct?

The Twist

Well, not really.

The Journeymen are armed with a device they stole from a former Prometheus Labs offshoot specialising in advanced physics: known as a CORVUS device, they believe the widget is going to be enough to guarantee their victory over anything in their wake.

The CORVUS is a pocket-sized supercomputer that uses time-loops to give the illusion of

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