Disclaimer: Marvel's characters belong to Marvel, and
anyone reading this probably knows which ones those
are. ;) Amy is my doing, random stray characters are
probably also my doing, and Hatshupet belongs to
Redhawk. The Shadowlands are Alicia's variant universe
or melange thereof, and the Oasis mentioned is the one
from her story "Oasis." (Just in case that wasn't
clear.) She's letting me use both setting and
character-versions, which is very nice of her, and I
am doing strange things with them, such as planting
kudzu and making other contributions to the food
supply. Please contact me if you
want to Pop-Up, MST, or just comment.
"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"
"You always say that, Franklin."
"I always have to," Franklin retorted. "This is you
I'm talking to."
"And Nur," Cable muttered a bit rebelliously.
Nur turned his head from staring out through the
boundary, a curving curtain that didn't look quite
like the shiftlines. "Thank you. We will take care,
Domino shook her head and grinned. "We're talking
about me, and Nathan, and an immortal guy, and you
think anybody will believe that?"
Franklin buried his face in his hands for a long
moment before looking up at them again. "I want all
three of you coming back, you hear me?" He sighed,
eyes moving from a flippant Domino to a rather dubious
Cable to Nur, who appeared to be the most reassuring
presence at the moment. Even if he didn't look any
older than Franklin himself. "All right, go on." His
mouth quirked. "Good hunting."
The three stepped through the boundary of Oasis, hands
clasped (with Nathan in the middle because his
objection to Domino being next to Nur outweighed the
one to being there himself) to avert the possibility
of exiting into separate shifts, leaving the
sanctuary's young protector to squint after them
briefly and then head back to a more central location
to await them.
There wasn't really any distinctive change.
Occasionally there was a hostile shift or even a
shiftline abutting the boundary, but for the most part
there was a certain level of safety nearby. Here, the
ground was flat and smooth, didn't try to swallow
them, and even looked as if it might have been
contemplating grass at some point or another.
"So, which way, Nate?" Domino asked him.
He let go with both hands and turned his head slowly,
as if listening. "This way." He started off at an
angle to the right. "There might be somebody -- I
can't tell yet." Domino and Nur both kept pace. They
walked through a shiftline and ended up knee-deep in
water, whereupon there was much splashing.
Nathan looked over his shoulder and grinned slightly.
"Nothing wrong with the bank yet. Nests in it if you
go far enough along. Better footing on the streambed
anyway, though." It was, really; the dry ground was
spongy and tiring to walk on. Nur, who did not tire
easily, opted to stay on it until Nathan told him they
were approaching the nests and even if HE didn't mind
stirring up the inhabitants by walking over them,
nobody else wanted it happening. He never said what
they were nests of.
Nathan told himself it wasn't spite, but a perfectly
reasonable and efficient route choice and maybe an
interest in seeing whether Nur would complain or
cooperate or what, that led him to take them through
swamps in the next three shifts. Nur gave him a
sidelong look when they entered the third, but kept
walking without comment, except for a quiet inquiry to
Domino regarding which of the Twelve was a
Domino replied that one never knew, and gave Nathan an
annoyed glance before striking up a bit more of a
conversation. A passing mention of "Egypt's western
coastline" on Nur's part livened things up
considerably and finished by revealing that when Nur
referred to "Egypt," he meant an entity somewhat
larger in area than they had thought.
It seemed that within several decades, Egypt under Nur
had covered much of Northern Africa, extended past the
Reed Sea, and included portions of what they
considered Italy. Later on it had acquired much of the
rest of Africa as well, and spread slightly farther
north and east.
Cable was half expecting Nur to say he'd created his
own dynasty in China, but if he had, he didn't mention
it. The Roman and British Empires had arisen in
something approximating their respective eras, though
Rome had found it necessary to work around Egypt.
Domino finally shook her head over the vagaries of
history and empire, and changed the subject. "Nate
tells me you got married. Who was it, Cleopatra?"
"...Who?" Nur blinked at her and then shook his head,
concluding this was some joke based on events in
timelines he was unfamiliar with. "Her name was
Domino waited a few moments. When elaboration did not
appear to be forthcoming, she tried a verbal nudge.
"Well, what was she like?"
"Kind. Very kind, very strong, and very determined...
"Kind." Domino blinked at that. It didn't seem like
the sort of thing she'd have expected Apocalypse to
look for in a woman. Then again, this Nur was a lot...
nicer... than she generally expected of Apocalypse.
Not that that was saying a lot, in itself, but he
seemed fairly nice. Nice. She was starting to sound
like Nathan when Franklin proposed sending Nur along
"She hated to watch people suffer, as a rule. She was,
I might add, born into a singularly inappropriate
tribe. Yes, she was kind." He turned his head and
pushed back his hood to look at her. "This comes as a
surprise to you?"
Domino laughed shortly. "Makes as much sense as
anything else. Your timeline's really weird by
comparison to most of the ones you seem to exist in,
"It obviously split off further back," Cable cut in
pointedly. It was the first thing he'd said in the
past few miles. He tramped over a footbridge whose
users seemed to have a taste for garish pink. Then
again, maybe it had been supposed to blend in with the
Unfortunately, indulging in conversation must have
broken his concentration. A twinge warned him barely
in time to look up as a shiftline formed in front of
them, and he had no chance to push at it before they
were through. If it turned out hostile they could all
three be dead --
It was quite anticlimactic when they found themselves
somewhere with no initially obvious difference except
plants that were a normal color of green, instead of
pink or luminescent.
"Lovely," Nur remarked. Cable listened very hard for a
trace of sarcasm. There wasn't one.
Furthermore... there didn't seem to be any hidden
hostility either. Oh, the transition itself had been
as cringeworthy as ever, but there didn't seem to be
anything poisonous or explosive or hungry in the
It was entirely too pleasant. Something was wrong.
None of the worst sort of shifts had come after them
at all yet. It was only a matter of time -- but time
had broken down so it was a matter of the shifts --
but that was right where he'd started.
Nathan dropped the train of thought in some disgust
and turned to Domino and Nur -- or rather to Domino.
Nur, he saw, had stepped off to investigate the flora,
and picked a few berries to chew as Cable watched.
"Look, I know poison isn't likely to do you in, but
what do you think you're doing?"
Nur turned, an odd smile playing on the blue lips.
"I'm told," he rumbled amusedly, "that you have a
certain fondness for products of this tree." He held
out a handful of red berries, picking a glossy green
leaf out and tossing it away. "It won't poison you, I
can assure you."
Cable looked at the tree suspiciously as the wind
shifted. It was warm, and the blooming tree smelled
It finally clicked. Coffee. Coffee? They'd found a
*coffee* tree?! He finally accepted the berries and
started chewing. Oath, he'd missed coffee. Franklin
managed to generate it occasionally out of thin air
but it just wasn't the same. Well, it probably was
technically, but it still wasn't.
Not that this was the same either, but still....
"There seems to be something resembling wintergreen
growing on its branches. I never saw an aerophytic
wintergreen before, much less a tropical one...." Nur
mused from under a branch.
"Oh, you're a botanist now?" Cable quipped. All right,
the coffee berries were having *much* too good an
effect on his mood.
"Not much of one, but I *have* had time to develop a
number of hobbies," Nur replied calmly. "And this is
"We had glowing pink ferns in the last shift and you
call it exotic when wintergreen starts climbing
"Completely alien isn't exotic. Familiar with
unexpected alterations or juxtapositions is exotic,"
Nur replied, still absorbed in botanical
investigations. "Here, look at this; I'm informed you
have an unusual sense of the properties and conditions
of different shifts."
Nathan stared at him, then succumbed and ducked under
the branches to examine the little plants perched on
them and mingling in places with the leaves of the
tree itself. "Seems like wintergreen to me...
obviously adapted differently, but it's wintergreen."
He ducked back out and then looked back wistfully. "We
should go. But I wonder if we couldn't take a tree
It wasn't as if they'd be hurting anything. There were
several trees in a grove, and thinning it out just a
little wouldn't hurt, and there was no way it was a
tended planting -- not anymore, if it ever had been. A
nice little coffee tree would be good to have around,
even if having wintergreen in the branches was a
little on the strange side. He picked another berry
and chewed on it, the bean inside bitter but
Domino, he noted, was giggling at him.
Nur emerged and gave Nathan an intent look, then
walked around the grove to inspect the trees. "They
require a great deal of water," he pointed out
dubiously. "If that can be provided and you consider
transportation feasible, I see no reason why not --
barring, of course, the possibility that the trees are
sentient and might take issue, I suppose."
Cable shook his head. "I don't sense anything from
them." He no longer sensed a member of the Twelve in
anything approaching the vicinity, either. This damped
his mood, especially since this was supposed to be a
short mission. Maybe they should just go back. With a
coffee tree so it wouldn't be a total loss. He said as
Hence, Nathan Summers, Domino, and En Sabah Nur came
to be proceeding determinedly through shifts with two
intermediately-sized coffee trees (decked in an
unfamiliar yet attractive form of wintergreen) in tow,
when a familiar mind registered on Cable's. It was not
a hostile mind, but nevertheless he ducked.
There was a reason for this. It was approaching at a
high velocity and seemed to be experiencing some lack
of control regarding such things as how to turn and
stop. A hasty warning to Domino and Nur came just in
time for them to jump aside as a blond projectile
zoomed past, narrowly missing them.
#SAM!# he sent in astonishment. #Come back here!#
He did. And flew past almost as quickly, dipping
toward them and then veering away with a sense of
"Hey!" Nathan blurted. Cannonball made a wide turn and
started another approach, with little apparent hope of
success. He still hadn't slackened his speed.
"I'm not sure he can stop," Nur observed. "The
atmosphere we are passing through is somewhat peculiar
in texture; it may affect his powers. We could try to
Nathan stopped to think. It was strange air. No
excessive toxins, plenty of oxygen -- an unusually
high amount, in fact, enough that it was probably the
most dangerous thing in the air -- but very high
humidity and a strange slippery feeling when he
breathed and moved. #Sam, see if you can slow down,
we're going to try to catch you -- your blast field
won't shut down at that speed in this air, I don't
On the young man's next pass he grabbed hold
telekinetically and applied brakes. Not fast enough;
Sam was still going to overshoot -- or so he thought
until Nur *grew* tall and massive enough to reach up
and snatch the slowing boy out of the air. As he
didn't give himself time to brace properly, the
collision knocked both of them sprawling on the
They untangled themselves and stood up, Nur returning
to his normal size and brushing at scorch marks on his
garments. Sam climbed slowly to his feet as Nathan
walked over to him, fighting down a mixture of
emotions almost as intense as those when he first met
this Domino. She came up and squeezed his hand, then
patted Sam on the arm. "You all right?"
Sam nodded. "Ah'm fine now Ah've stopped," he assured
her a little breathlessly. "Good to see you again. And
you too, sir -- and thanks." He turned to Nur. "Thank
you too -- um, do I know you?"
His eyes widened as Nur pushed back the hood of his
cloak, brushed hair out of his face, and smiled.
"Under the circumstances, I wouldn't care to venture a
guess. I am En Sabah Nur, and I know *a* you, or knew
him, as a very fine young man."
Sam blinked, three times, very slowly, and tried to
evaluate the situation. Cable. Apocalypse. Cable and
Apocalypse conspiring to check his involuntarily
careering flight. Cable and Apocalypse NOT trying to
kill each other. Cable seeming a lot calmer than most
of the Cables Sam had encountered recently. Domino not
seeming at all concerned about any of this. Apocalypse
claiming politely to know and respect another Samuel
"Ah think," he said carefully, "that you're preferable
to the version of you Ah'm most familiar with."
Nur laughed quietly, in a bass that sounded as if it
should have shook the ground even at the low volume.
"Thank you. You've provided one among the calmest
greetings I have yet received from people who are
familiar with versions of me to whom I might be
Sam grinned, a twinkle of mischief lighting his face.
"Come on. Ah blasted into you and you call it calm?"
"You should have seen the introductions I experienced
to Nathan and certain of his compatriots."
"Ah can imagine." He could, too.
"We're on our way back to Oasis," Nathan inserted. At
Sam's slightly blank look, he continued. "It's a place
Franklin Richards stabilized so it doesn't get torn
apart by the shifts. We're trying to do something
about them, too. You're welcome to come if you want."
He hesitated. "Please do."
He truly hoped Sam would -- he didn't think he could
bear to leave the boy out here. A spark of hope dawned
in weary blue eyes. "That sounds good," Sam answered
They had been walking in companionable or
nigh-companionable silence ever since Sam nearly
laughed himself sick at the explanation of why they
were being accompanied by floating trees. Actually,
Domino had never gotten farther than, "They're coffee
trees." This information was sufficient in itself.
Anything more might have caused the young man to
Cable was trying to pretend to sulk, and not fooling
anyone. At all. Not even a smidgen. He finally gave up
on it and pricked up his ears when Nur inquired of Sam
in the most ordinary of tones, "I have been wondering.
You have almost surely become aware by some means or
another that you are an External -- have you ever
"Uh -- yes," Sam replied cautiously. "Why?"
"I was curious. Your alternate in my timeline had not
yet, as of the last time I spoke with him. There seems
to be some variation in the experience each time an
External comes back to life for the first time, and I
would be interested in knowing yours. I, for instance,
saw a vision of Isis, rose into the air, glowed
brightly -- or so I'm told -- and passed out shortly
afterwards," he admitted.
Sam looked slightly dazed. "Ah don't think Ah did
anything nearly that dramatic. Mostly it was just
confusing. Ah got up and asked what had happened."
This had occasioned considerable amusement along with
the relief from his friends, too. Nur had seen...
Isis? Somehow he'd never thought of Apocalypse as the
type to have a religious experience, if you could call
it that. Sam wondered suddenly whether Norse
Externals, if there were any, had ever seen Thor or
Loki. Having met both, he found the image a little
odd. "It was a boring death, Ah guess." He hesitated.
"If you don't mind my asking, how do you know my
alternate? Ah've never really been on polite speaking
terms with yours."
"Why," Nur asked rhetorically, "does this fail to
surprise me?" He shook his head. A wind picked up
suddenly, tossing Domino's hair wildly until she
squelched it into a ponytail. Nur's flew as well, but
never into his face. "I know Samuel Guthrie in my
timeline because I have made it a point to find ways
of seeking out other Externals, especially new ones.
He's probably the most honorable as well as the most
interesting one I've encountered so far; a number of
the others rather disdain or -- alternatively -- fear
the thought of associating extensively with people who
will die in only a few decades, but frankly, he's one
of very few immortals I've met whom I wouldn't expect
to pall well within a normal human lifespan." He
smiled faintly. "You can imagine restricting myself to
their company would prove somewhat wearisome."
"You prove wearisome in most timelines a LOT faster
than that," Cable muttered. Domino swatted him.
"Franklin? Franklin!" Nathan shouted. He paused and
contemplated the probability of Franklin having heard
him at all over the extraordinary volume being emitted
from the piano and what he could only assume was
supposed to be a sing-along. It was low.
"FRANKLIN," Nur bellowed conversationally (a useful
skill, so far apparently unique to him, as the
majority of those adept at bellowing could not do so
without incorporating any tone of command, warning, or
hostility). The windows rattled. The voices stopped as
most of the singers gasped, and the piano stopped as
Franklin clapped his hands over his ears. "We have
returned," Nur continued, at a far more moderate
"Good," the reality-warper managed into the sudden
silence, tapping lightly on one of his ears to see if
it was still working. "How'd it go?" He spun around
and hopped off the piano stool.
"We didn't get any of the Twelve, but we have a Sam
and two coffee trees," Nathan began.
"Oath, not you too."
"Come on, Nate, you can't *not* have expected this
kind of a reaction," Domino pointed out, laughing
"It was HIS idea," Cable muttered, with a baleful
glance at Nur.
"Mine? I merely drew your attention to them, Nathan.
Transplanting them was your own suggestion."
Franklin reached up to Nathan's forehead for a moment,
not in the least put off when Nathan ducked (which,
from his height, was ineffective anyway), and then
stepped past the three he'd sent out to shake the new
arrival's hand. "Good to have you here, Sam. Welcome
"Thanks." Sam looked around. "Anything Ah can do to
help? Plant trees, for instance?"
Franklin grinned. "Now there's a nice spirit to have
around. You want to help out and you haven't lost your
sense of humor yet. Man, we do have to find a spot for
those trees, don't we?"
"Somewhere warm, where they can be well-watered," Nur
specified. "They are tropical plants."
The trees were duly planted in reasonably moist ground
near the vent from the main laundry room. Examination
of the aerophytic wintergreen set a recently-arrived
botanist to wandering around muttering anxiously to
himself for several hours. Eventually, everyone else
stopped paying attention.
Well, almost everyone. He got on Domino's nerves to
such an extent that she first threatened to clout him
over the head with a branch, and subsequently dragged
him indoors and poured warm milk down his throat until
he settled down.
Nathan woke up, somewhat reluctantly, and felt a
thought puff up inside his brain. Coffee, it said
plaintively. There wasn't coffee, he told it. Shut up.
Coffee berries? It sounded hopeful. It took him a few
minutes to make sense of this.
Coffee berries for breakfast. That sounded good. A
little strange, maybe, but good. "Hey, Dom," he began.
"I heard you thinking," she informed him from the
depths of a pillow. "Has somebody been nagging you
about how you should eat more fruit again?"
"You should know. It was you."
Going outside confirmed that the coffee trees were, in
fact, real. He did, however, doubt the evidence of his
eyes on this point at first, because they were also
telling him there was a camel browsing from them.
It turned its head toward him and moaned.
Nathan decided that he was not yet up to coping with a
Especially a moaning one.
Accordingly, he went in search of Franklin to report
it. Franklin turned out to be deep in literary
conversation with En Sabah Nur, who either was an
early riser or didn't need to sleep. "You don't like
Poe, I gather," Franklin was saying.
"I fairly emphatically dislike his stories. I never
actually met the man."
"What's wrong with them?"
"The characters disturb me," Nur explained. "They are
all insane, helpless, deathly ill, or some combination
of the three. I am aware that an author does wield
ultimate power over his creations, but really, must he
flaunt it so?"
Franklin laughed. "You forgot dead. Some of them are
Nathan decided this was as good a time as any to jump
in. "Franklin, there's a dromedary out by the coffee
trees making unearthly noises."
Franklin and Nur both turned and gave him a long look.
"Go over that again?" Franklin suggested carefully.
"There's a dromedary out by the coffee trees making
"That's what I thought you said. Did I forget to --
no, I didn't, because you tried to duck."
Nathan glowered. Franklin appeared unimpressed. Nur
also appeared unimpressed, but that was normal.
"There's no real reason to assume he is hallucinating,
Franklin," Nur pointed out. "A camel could wander into
Oasis as readily as any other organism, correct?"
"I guess so. More easily than some.... At least it's
not the eye of a needle, right?"
By the time they made it out to investigate, the camel
had gathered a substantial but wary audience, which it
was keeping at bay with evil looks. It turned its gaze
toward the three latest arrivals and emitted another
plaintive and bizarre noise.
Nur shook his head, muttered under his breath in
Egyptian, and strode forward to make an inspection,
shoving the camel's head aside with impeccable timing
as it tried to spit on him. "A container would be
appreciated," he announced. "She should be milked."
Franklin, wordlessly, materialized one.
Nur adjusted it and proceeded to fulfil his
pronouncement, commenting in tones audible to the
crowd -- albeit ostensibly directed to the camel --
about "city-dwellers who can't even tell when a camel
needs milking, much less remedy the situation." This
did not precisely endear him to anyone, except
possibly the camel.
"A camel?" Sam asked, just to make sure his ears had
not deceived him.
Nur confirmed that they had not.
Sam grinned. "Can ya milk a cow, too?"
Nur grimaced. "Not as reliably. While most of them I
have encountered seem to be more cooperative than the
majority of camels, their objections tend to involve
the tail and be somewhat less hygienic."
"Camel spit is hygienic?"
"It seems so by comparison. Then again, I have more
experience with camels."
"Any other talents in husbandry we ought to be aware
of?" the younger External inquired, still amused.
"I can also milk mares," Nur deadpanned, then smiled.
"If it's a camel or a horse, I should be able to
manage; they're my specialties among livestock."
"Gotcha." Sam took another careful sip of the camel's
milk he had gamely agreed to try. Nur was quite fond
of it, but had warned him that it seemed to be
something of an acquired taste, based on previous
observations of those more accustomed to cattle. It
was, Sam thought, growing on him. He hadn't decided
yet whether this was a good thing. "What did you do
with her anyway? The camel," he added, in case that
had been unclear.
"She's tethered by the kudzu patch."
Sam laughed. "You know what they say about kudzu --
you might not ever see that camel again."
"She'll be fine. She was quite hungry; I believe it's
actually good for the kudzu -- it appeared to be
The kudzu had been planted some time back, with great
caution. Franklin had constrained it to grow only
within narrowly specified bounds, wherein it proceeded
to do so with enthusiasm disproportionate to the
amount of space it had to fill. It had a habit of
piling up on top of itself and nearly choking to death
despite periodic harvests. The camel had taken one
look at the green mass and deemed it lunch.
"Have you named her yet?"
"I have not. Why, do you have a suggestion?"
He thought. "Ah didn't, but... um... how about
Nur shrugged. "Why not?"
Sam looked taken aback. "You're really gonna use
"I might as well. Nelly it is. I suppose I should
mention, however, that there is no guarantee of her
answering to it. Camels are like that."
As it happened, however, Nur was a sufficiently
determined trainer and Nelly a sufficiently docile --
or perhaps grateful -- camel that she did learn her
name. Sam turned out, after some days of practice, to
be one of the few people whose voice she would attend
to, though this result might be better attributed to
the amount of time he spent in the vicinity than to
any sort of personal affinity. Then again, his
willingness to learn about the proper care of a camel
had contributed to the time he spent where Nelly could
hear his voice.
Nelly would also respond to Cable's voice, but only if
he snarled at her immediately prior to issuing a
command. Nur could offer no explanation for this
phenomenon except that orneriness was an inherent
trait of most camels, though Nelly, he assured the
curious (if skeptical) was relatively sweet-tempered.
The first time Cable had snarled in Nelly's hearing
had in fact had nothing to do with her at all. She had
been following Nur around, perhaps under the
impression that he ought to be going somewhere
significant and that it would not do to mislay him,
while Nathan tried to recount the origin of the
present state of affairs. As this undertaking involved
summarizing events that spanned approximately seven
thousand years, with key ones frequently occurring out
of chronological order, it was perhaps fortunate that
Nur was a patient man. What was not fortunate was that
his alternates had played the roles they had in so
many timelines, a situation that tended to shorten
Cable's temper. Hence, of course, the snarling.
Nur had listened very attentively. One of the early
points on which he wanted clarification regarded what,
exactly, Apocalypse had wanted with someone else's
body in the first place, whether the person was a
Summers or not.
"I don't believe I quite follow the entire line of
events," he had rumbled thoughtfully. "Trying to
take... a host? Are you quite certain you are not
confounding me with Farouk?"
Cable had turned purple around the gills and gold
around the eye, and breathed rather heavily for some
minutes while attempting to master his temper. Nelly
had pricked up her ears at the initial huff, and when
the snarl escaped him, she wandered over to
investigate. This took the form of smelling him
inquisitively, which surprised Nathan very much. He
did calm down. Domino had been kidding him about the
therapeutic properties of camels ever since.
Conversations such as the below were... typical.
"Cool down, babe. Do I have to go get Nelly to snuffle
you again? Bet she'd do tricks."
"Shut up, Dom."
"Her tendency to respond to him so readily -- and
apparently fearlessly -- only after noises one might
ordinarily consider threatening really does perplex
me. I've entertained the hypothesis that she was
previously in service to one or more classic
feral-type mutants, and the form of vocalization --"
"You shut up too, Apocalypse."
"My name is not Apocalypse, Nate. The form of
vocalization," Nur continued imperturbably, "might
resemble their command signal. She does, however, obey
others -- within limits -- without that preface, so
"I said shut up! And don't call me Nate."
"(I heard you the first time, Nathan; I simply am not
finished. In that case, do not call me Apocalypse.)
--The evidence could aptly be termed scant."
"Oath," Cable groaned, and considered burying his face
in the squid.