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  1. Daylight was already falling through the window when I woke up. I leaned on my elbow and looked around. Alexios was no longer to be seen, but Gregory was still lying on his bed snoring. Thalis was also still lying next to me in bed. All of a sudden, the intense and anything but G-rated dream came back to me. I carefully lifted my waistband. Judging by the sticky nature of the fabric, the dream had led to a real outcome. Had it been just a dream though? I looked over to Thalis, who still had his eyes closed, and tried to recall the events. That damn wine! I simply couldn’t tell whether the escapade with the naked Greek had been real or not. A moment later I found the solution. I just had to ask Elisa. Although I knew she was only a computer, the question cost me quite an effort to ask. "Elisa, did any sexual activity occur between my bedmate and me tonight?" "No, Dr. Marten, I have not recorded such actions." I exhaled with relief. Although – it actually was a pity, I thought, glancing at the still peacefully slumbering Thalis. He was cute. I winced because at that moment the door was ripped open. Helena was standing on the threshold. "Let's go, doctors!" she proclaimed in a cheerful tone, "A practice does not run itself!" Sighing, I let myself sink back onto the bed. Since I wasn't a doctor, I didn't feel I was being addressed. Wait a minute - that wasn't true at all. I was a doctor! A doctor of physics. I couldn't help laughing out loud. The thoughts you have when you're not quite awake yet. "That goes for you too!" Helena was pointing in my direction. "He who sleeps late shall soon be put to sleep." After proclaiming this questionable piece of wisdom, she went off again, leaving the door open. Well, it was to no avail. Time to get up. A while later we found ourselves in the dining room where a small breakfast had been prepared. There was some kind of porridge, as well as bread and honey. The brothers had a lively discussion as they were planning the next steps. "We need a new door sign with our names on it," Gregory said. Alexios nodded thoughtfully. "Sure, but more importantly, we must do house calls. We have to split up and go to all our uncle's wealthier customers. If no one knows the practice is open again, no one will come." "Right," Thalis agreed, "we need to revive our uncle’s contacts. Didn’t he offer treatments at the Trajan Baths as well? We should drop in there, perhaps we can resume those." "Yes, he did. Every Tuesday and Saturday," Helena replied. Alexios turned to me. "So, let's get to your part. Thalis already said that you would like to work with us.” I nodded. I didn't know anyone else here. And I certainly didn't want to be on my own in this city. "You wouldn't happen to have any medical experience by chance?" Alexios asked. I thought about it for a moment. Actually, it was absurd. My medical knowledge, or more precisely the knowledge contained in Elisa's database, was much more extensive than the brothers'. But I really didn’t want to go down that route. It was not my place to interfere with this world in such a way. I shook my head. "No, I'm afraid I don’t." And that wasn't even a lie, because I had no actual medical experience. "I thought so," Alexios replied, "It doesn't matter though. You can come and learn with us. We'll teach you everything you need to know for an assistant position." I nodded in agreement. Although I wasn't too happy about the thought of spending the rest of my years as an assistant quack, it was the only option for the time being. Apart from sleeping under the bridge. The conversation continued and after a while, we made our way downstairs to the actual practice rooms. It still looked desolate here, since all the boxes we had dragged in yesterday were still unopened. Helena accompanied us downstairs and then said goodbye for now. Alexios closed the door behind her. He turned around, addressing us in a low voice. "There is something else we should take care of." The other two gave him a questioning look. Involuntarily I took a step closer to understand him better. "That story stinks to high heaven," he continued. "The one about our uncle's death. Stumbled and fell out of the window? Who'd believe that?" "I've seen white mothers giving birth to black children!" Gregory threw in. Thalis giggled, but immediately straightened up again. "Alex is right, it's not a very common cause of death." Alexios nodded. "It's possible there's more to this than Helena knows or tells us." "You mean she's hiding something from us?", Thalis asked. I thought about it. Helena was very happy that the three brothers were here. If they hadn't come, I'm sure she'd have had to give up the apartment. It was possible she held something back. Alexios shrugged. "Perhaps. But I don't want to jump to conclusions. What I'm saying is that we should do our own research on the matter." The discussion went on for a while until a concrete plan was eventually agreed upon. Thalis and Alexios would spend the day visiting their uncles’ old customers and introduce themselves. If there were any rumors, they would surely hear about them soon. Gregory would stay in the office and unpack the inventory. He was not so happy about that, but he still seemed to prefer it to doing visits. So, what about me? Well, I would go to the apartment building on Via Commodus, from whose fifth floor Pericles stumbled to his death. I was to get an idea of the premises and talk to the former patient. "Phillip is perfectly suited for this. He has a feel for this sort of thing. His premonitions have always come true," Alexios had argued. "And how could he alone unpack the boxes and sort out the tinctures he doesn't know how to use?" Had that been the real reason why Alexios nominated me for this task? Maybe he also considered that if something went wrong I would be the most dispensable member of the group… Anyway, I owed the brothers a lot. So I agreed to take care of it. --- The Via Commodus was only about ten minutes' walk from the practice. It was late in the morning when I arrived. The sun had already risen high enough to illuminate the upper floors of all the apartment buildings. The street itself was in shadow. I walked along the buildings, keeping to the left. It should be the fifth house in the row. At least that's what Pericles' diary entry for the day of his death said. And he scribbled "fifth floor, left". The patient's name was also noted as "Iulia". I reached the aforementioned building and let my gaze wander upwards, counting the floors. The fifth floor was the top floor in this house. I could not see a window, but there was a small balcony. A clothesline was stretched from it to the balcony opposite. The houses stood close together, as often the case in these Roman alleys. One thing was certain. A fall from this height was most likely fatal. Involuntarily I looked down, scanning the ground for traces of blood. That was nonsense, of course, as the incident happened months ago. Sighing, I pushed the creaking front door open and made my way up to the fifth floor. When I arrived I turned left. I looked at the apartment door. It had a door knocker and a latch that you could slide open to look out. However, there was no nameplate. I took a deep breath and pulled the door knocker. Nothing happened at first. I listened intently, but could not hear any noise coming from the apartment. Nobody there, I guessed. Relieved, I turned around and started to make my way downstairs. "Sounds are coming from the apartment. Someone seems to be present." I stopped on the stairs and sighed. Should I take Elisa's info and knock again? Or should I just leave it be? The decision was taken out of my hands, because suddenly the latch on the apartment door slid to the side. I heard a croaking female voice. "Who’s that?" I jumped up the last few steps again. "Well hello, Iulia! I'm Phillip from Pericles’ medical practice. I've come to..." The female voice interrupted me. "There's no Iulia here! Not for a long time. Cornelia lives here." I paused. "What happened to Iulia?" I asked, trying to peek through the slit. "Well, what could have happened to her, you dim-witted bird! She moved out. Two months or so ago." The latch was pushed closed. Before I could sort out my thoughts, I heard another latch move. The door opened, revealing a slightly frail middle-aged woman. She looked me up and down. "Pericles, you say? Isn't that the guy who used to visit Iulia?" I nodded. "That's right, her doctor. And what is your relationship with Iulia?" The woman laughed. "In what respect? Why do you talk so funny? And anyway, what is that impossible accent?" She examined me again. Then she laughed. “Come on in. I have nothing to offer you, though. I'm just a poor widow with few possessions, but I have other qualities." She winked at me and made an inviting gesture. I felt uneasy about the whole thing. I couldn’t miss the chance though to see the alleged crime scene from the inside. So I accepted her invitation and entered the apartment. The first thing I noticed was that it was much smaller than the only other Roman apartment I had seen so far. There was only one long corridor that branched off to the left into a small room and ended at a larger room. This was where the lady was leading me to. The room featured simple seating and a table. In addition, there was the balcony I had already seen from the street. There were no windows though, not even on the other side. "I used to live one floor down, you know. But I like it better up here. More air. So I moved up after Iulia left." "Is the air really better up here?" I set off for the balcony as if to check her claim. I looked around. There was no threshold between the apartment and the balcony. Nor could I see anything else that one could trip over. However, I did not know what the apartment had looked like in the days of the previous occupant. The railing of the balcony was a little higher than my hips. Assuming I would stumble a few steps in front of the railing, I would definitely have hit the railing, but not fallen over it. I didn't know how big Pericles had been, but probably shorter. And if you were standing right next to the railing, you couldn't have stumbled. You could have been pushed, of course. Although, maybe it could happen if you stumbled towards it whilst moving quickly? At that moment I was poked from behind. I grabbed the railing with one hand and jerked around. Cornelia had stepped on the balcony beside me. "And it's true, isn't it? More air and also more sun!" I exhaled with relief. For a moment, I had the feeling I was about to be the next victim of this balcony. I gave her a nod. "Yeah, you're right. But tell me, is it true what you hear? Did Pericles really die here?” "Yes, it is." She nodded gravely. "I was unfortunately at the market. When I came back there was only a big red spot left. But my neighbor told me everything afterward. The doc stumbled up here and then hit the ground. His head properly exploded. All the sauce ran down the street." She seemed to sincerely regret not having experienced the macabre spectacle with her own eyes. Cornelia shook. "And poor Iulia witnessed it all, the young thing. No wonder she moved out. Anyway, it's a shame what happened to the doc. And to Iulia. I could always hear her the screams through the ceiling when he was visiting her." "What did she suffer from that made her treatment so painful?" I asked. Cornelia looked at me for a moment with an indistinct expression on her face, then she burst out into resounding laughter. "Treatment?! Kid, you don't know anything about it! He fucked her good, that was the treatment!" With continued laughter, she pulled me by the arm back into the apartment. Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed. Could it be true though? Had Pericles been unfaithful to his wife, amusing himself here with young Iulia? "Elisa, do you think she's lying?" "The probability that the last statement of your conversation partner was true is fifty-seven percent." "Fifty-seven percent? That's not very helpful, Elisa. I could have flipped a coin!“ "Not all parameters needed for the probability model could be captured because the visual input of the visor lenses is missing." I sighed. Could I believe Cornelia? Meanwhile, the lady of the house stared at me intensely. I did not feel comfortable. But I had one more important question for her. "Do you know where Iulia moved to?" "No. How could I? We weren't even friends. But enough with this Iulia! I have my qualities, too.“ With these words, sporting a mischievous smile, Cornelia began to loosen the top buttons of her blouse. It was high time to end this house call! "Dear Cornelia, thank you so much for your hospitality, but I have many clients to visit today, and I can't stay." The last words I called out to her from the doorway. Before she could answer, I closed the door and hurried down the stairs. One floor below, I paused. This is where Cornelia had lived before moving. In the opposite flat lived her neighbor, the one who had told Cornelia about Pericles' death. Should I knock there too? Perhaps this lady knew Iulia's new address? I listened carefully for any noise from upstairs. Cornelia had not opened the door again and seemed not to make any effort to follow me. All right, I'll give it a try. I knocked on the door. Shortly afterward a slit opened and a gruff voice greeted me. "Yes?” "Sorry to disturb you. I'm looking for Iulia, she used to live upstairs. Do you happen to know where she moved to?" The eyes behind the slit stared at me. "Who wants to know?" "I'm Phillip from the Pericles’ medical practice." "Pericles?" The voice uttered the name with disdain. "That guy has already caused enough trouble for poor Iulia. Get out!" The latch was pushed closed again. Pity, that could have gone better. I was about to turn away when I remembered something Frugi had said last night. I shouted through the closed door. "It's about Pericles’ legacy. He has included Iulia in his estate." The hinge of the door creaked when it was opened from inside. "By the grace of Juno, did he?" Frugi had been right. Money did rule in ancient Rome. --- It was shortly after noon when I made my way back to the practice. The information I had gathered in Via Commodus went through my mind. The pieces did not form a clear picture yet. Cornelia's neighbor wasn’t able to tell me where Iulia had moved to, but she knew where Iulia was working. So if I wanted, I could ask for her there. Apart from that, she confirmed the events surrounding Pericles’ death. No wonder, since Cornelia had heard it from her. So at least I knew Cornelia was telling the truth about that, but was she honest about Pericles’ secret affair? The neighbor hadn't directly heard about it, Iulia had apparently been very discreet. However, Cornelia had told her and she believed her. “Why else would Iulia have moved?” she rightly asked. Busy with these thoughts I paid little attention to the street, which now became my downfall. "Out of the way!" A firm hand thrust me aside. I lost my balance and ended up in a ditch. "Make way! Here comes the noble Clodia Magni." From my position in the ditch, I saw two men in light armor. One of them had pushed me aside. Behind them walked four other men, apparently slaves, carrying a litter on their shoulders. In it sat a woman, perhaps in her early thirties, with shoulder-length, well-groomed hair, wearing elegant clothing. Her expression was cold and her gaze directed into the distance. I wouldn't have called her pretty, but I wasn't an expert in this field either. The procession was gone as quickly as it had arrived. I picked myself up, brushed the dust from my clothes and continued on my way. So that was how the richest citizens of Rome got around. Well, the stories of ‘Roman decadence’ had to come from somewhere. After a while I reached the practice. I entered. Gregory was busy unpacking and putting things away. Thalis and Alexios were not back yet. My eyes wandered over the boxes. He didn't seem to have made much progress, a good two-thirds of the crates were still standing unopened in the middle of the room where we had dropped them off yesterday. I wondered if he had perhaps gone extra slow, speculating on my return in time, in the hopes I would relieve him of some of the work? Who knew. He snorted and put down the box he had just lifted from the pile. "Good, you’re here, Phillip. I could use your help." I should have guessed, I would have done better to have gone for another walk around town. He went on. "I'm just putting away the herbs. But there's one collection missing. It must be in some box, but I'm afraid we'll have to search them all." "Wouldn't it be more logical," I explained, "if we opened one box at a time and unpacked the contents to their proper place?" Gregory thought for a while. "No, it wouldn't. We’re doing the medicinal herbs first." I sighed. Logic would not help here. "All right, let's check the boxes." I hoisted the next box from the pile, inspecting the contents. Books and manuscripts, but no herbs. I pushed the box aside. When I looked up again, Gregory had laid down on the treatment table, which was still placed along the wall. He crossed his arms behind his head. "What’s that supposed to mean?" I asked, slightly annoyed. "Should I look for your herbs alone or what?" Gregory glanced in my direction. "I've already emptied all these boxes here. He pointed to a pair of empty boxes he had stacked against the other wall. I deserve a break. You go ahead." I snorted. What an idiot. Should I put up with that? Not usually, but I was clearly in a weaker position. My survival in this town was currently dependent on the brothers. Conversely, they didn't really need me. Ironically, I had felt freer in Egypt as Manu’s slave than I did here. And more loved. I sighed quietly and swallowed my anger. All right, so I had to give in. But I would cheat a little, though. "Determine the box containing the herbs," I instructed my electronic companion silently. "To perform the analysis, please hover your right arm over the crates." No sooner said than done. I slowly walked in circles around the stack of boxes, letting my stretched out hand hover over it. Gregory looked at me from the table. "What are you doing now?" "I’m performing an Arabian tap dance for sensing medicinal herbs," I answered, giving my voice all the seriousness I could muster. Gregory laughed. "You're crazy." "Analysis complete. Go back two steps in a circle and turn towards the stack. Then three crates horizontally and two vertically." I cleared the boxes in the way and dead on target lifted the right one out of the stack. I carried it to the treatment table, setting it down at Gregory's feet. "There you go, the box of herbs." Gregory made a mocking sound. "What are we betting?" I added. Gregory checked his pockets and brought three coins into the light. "I have three denari with me. If you win, they’re yours. But... you don't have three denari of your own to bet with, do you?" I shook my head. "I thought so. So what do I get if you lose?“ Gregory swayed his head back and forth. He stared at me with his grey-blue eyes. "I got it," he started. "If you lose, you suck my dick." My eyes widened. Did I get that right? And if so, how did he mean it? Was something like that common here? I found that hard to imagine. Was it a cheap pickup line? Or was he just pulling my leg? My heart was suddenly pounding in my chest. Assuming he was serious, how should I react? I opened my mouth to answer. But I couldn't think of anything. He did. "Open your mouth a little wider. Or it won't fit." That's the last straw! "Idiot!" I shouted at him. Virtually without my intervention, my hand moved, slapping Gregory's face. I turned around and left the room at a quick pace. I slammed the door behind me. Even before it clunked shut I heard Gregory yelling after me. "Don't act so innocent! I was watching you last night!" I sat down on a stone on the porch of the house, hoping he wouldn’t follow me. Take a deep breath, Phillip! My hands were still shaking. I had to think. And make sense out of this mess. Why had I reacted so violently in the first place? With a bet that you were sure to win, your own stake didn't matter - did it? "I watched you last night" – his final words only now came to me. What did he mean by that? The fling with Thalis had only been a dream, Elisa had confirmed that quite clearly. Oh fuck! - I hit my forehead with the flat of my hand. There it was, my fallacy. Of course Elisa had no 'memory' of the events in question. I had instructed her in Egypt to leave out my sexual experiences from the records!
  2. DavidJ

    Chapter 3

    All your guys comments' are hinting in that direction. An astute obsersvation. Though sometimes weird things just happen, don't they? Let's see what develops!
  3. DavidJ

    Chapter 3

    Interesting. So in other words, they did it to better gorge themselves? 😂 Still, I imagine it very uncomfortable for the arm/shoulder.
  4. "All roads lead to Rome," they say and even though ours certainly led to Rome - the milestones on the side of the road left no doubt about the shrinking distance to the capital - the way still seemed unbearably long. The entire trip on the Nile, which had lasted several weeks, appeared to have passed faster than the four days we had already been on this road. Perhaps it was because of the company? The three brothers were nice, but no comparison to Manu. No wonder, because I had experienced something completely different with him... Or perhaps it was simply because a trip like this did not offer many options for distraction, which left me brooding most of the time. Only now and then was there any variety. For example, when I took a seat in the back with Thalis or Gregory, who were also bored. Then we rolled the dice or they recounted an anecdote from their life in Greece. Gregory regularly claimed that I had influenced the dice if I won. And if he lost, it was because of the cart, which supposedly jerked just at the wrong moment. Or it was my fault, having enchanted the dice with an evil eye. In general, Romans lived to roll the dice, Thalis had assured me. The brothers themselves were more cautious and never played for money. Something which distinguished them from their father, who had had a passion, not only for alcohol, but also for gambling. I asked why we drove so slowly, constantly being overtaken by other vehicles. Alexios said we had to spare the horses because we couldn't afford to change them. Still, I had neither reason nor right to complain. I could have been dead. Or I could have had to clean the latrines in the dock barracks in forced labor. Although I was not sure which fate would have been worse. In the meantime, thanks to Elisa's large database, I had also found out that the 954th year after the foundation of Rome, the year in which I found myself, corresponded to the year 201 A.D., according to modern calculation. Elisa also informed me that the ruling emperor at that time was Septimius Severus. Not that this information would be of any use to me. Finally, on the evening of the fourth day after we departed from Puteoli, we reached our destination. Even before the city gates came into view, another phenomenon was evidence of their proximity. The number of graves, family vaults, and mausoleums increased along the way. The closer we came to the city, the more magnificent they became. "Why do I feel like we’re driving through a cemetery?" I asked. Alexios, who held the reins, turned his head towards me. "Because we are. Inside the city, funerals are forbidden because of hygiene. And those who have money and influence will, of course, be buried where most people can see how rich and powerful their family is." That made sense I suppose. Even at this late hour with the sun almost on the horizon there was a lot of activity here. Soon the road widened and ended on a huge square where dozens of carts seemed to be waiting for something. "What's going on here?" I asked. "It's good that we’ve arrived in the evening, otherwise we would have had to wait here too. During the day, the city center is closed to carriages.“ Very strange. We also had cities with such restrictions in my time, but here they were closing all day, making for heavy traffic at night. The people of Rome could hardly sleep in peace. I hoped our accommodation wouldn’t be located on a main road. "It may take a while to get through here," Gregory grumbled. He was right. Every car in the parking lot was on the move and a well-sized queue was already forming in front of the city gate. Apparently, the curfew had just ended. Thalis shrugged. "We've been on the road for four days. We'll be able to hold out for another one or two hours." I had to agree with him there. Mainly because there was so much to see one could hardly get bored. I watched the other vehicles with their cargoes, all the people and the city gate. I even knew the place, I'd been here before. Two thousand years later, of course, during a city tour of Rome. Together with a friend from college I had visited the ancient Italian metropolis for two weeks. We admired the classic sites, like the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, which at this time were not yet built, as well as some sights off the beaten tourist tracks. The gate in front of which we now lined up, the Porta Capena, had unfortunately long crumbled to dust in my time. "Have you ever been to Rome before?" I asked the others. "Well, I haven’t yet," Thalis said, "neither has Gregory. But Alexios has visited our uncle a few times. I would have liked to go too, but someone had to earn the money, you know.” He threw a reproachful glance in Alexios’ direction. "I don’t think you can complain, brother. After all, I often came home with more in the sack than I took. Our uncle could be very generous.” "He just pitied us, the way we had to slave away in the sticks, Alex." Gregory, who had taken a seat in the back, stretched his head forward. "Yes, from today on though, everything will change. We'll follow in uncle Peris' footsteps and become successful doctors!" Alexios took a view more down-to-earth. "It won't be that fast, brother. We will have to work hard to prove ourselves. The idea of getting rich in Rome has been tried and failed by many before us. --- Half an hour later we finally passed the archways, being sucked into a jumble of carts, people, houses, and shops. Although we were on a main road, the bustle leaving no doubt about it, the path was barely twenty feet wide. The actual usable area was even smaller, as shops had set up their displays by the roadside where shopkeepers offered their goods for sale. The houses, however, made the biggest impression on me. They stood close together at the side of the road, only interrupted by an occasional side path, which barely had room for a single cart. It was their height that took my breath away. You had to stretch your neck to see the top of the concrete wall. Hardly any apartment building was lower than six stories. Houses that were not directly on the street, but further inside the block, towered above the ones in front. I was surprised that the Romans could build such skyscrapers. However, as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention and space seemed to be in short supply in this city. No wonder the solution was found in taller buildings, just as in my own time in modern cities. Thalis and Gregory were also astonished. "We don't have anything like this at home." Alexios nodded gravely. "Yes, friends, this is Rome. You will learn to hate it!" Smiling grimly, as if in possession of a deeper truth, or simply greater experience with regard to this city, he directed our tired horses along the road. "You might as well tell us something," Thalis asked him, "or does holding the reins require all your concentration?” Apparently, this was not the case, because Alexios now took on the role of a guide. "Now, the buildings you see here, for example. They're almost all apartment buildings. They're inhabited by the poor, the ordinary people, whilst the rich reside on the hills. Probably because the air is better up there, or the view, or perhaps it just makes them feel like they're above the rest. If you look ahead now. The bridge we're about to cross, it's the... um, a bridge." His speech stalled. The small gap in his knowledge had thrown him off his game. I took the opportunity to ask a question myself. "Who are those figures hanging about under the bridge?" "They are beggars. The poorest of the poor. They sleep under bridges." I shuddered to think I could end up there as well. Behind the bridge, Alexios indicated that it wasn't far now and turned right. What a pity, because in front of us the Circus Maximus came into view, one of the few roman buildings that almost everybody knew by name. There were mainly chariot races being held there. Despite the lower speed, the accident and death rate of the charioteers was significantly above Formula One average. I had little time for thoughts about wild chases, though. The next monument was already in sight. Unlike the Circus Maximus, which would crumble into ruin over the next two thousand years, this building was one of the best-preserved. It was the Colosseum, which could seat over seventy thousand spectators. This masterpiece of Roman architecture was also a prime example of addiction to pleasure, decadence, and cruelty. Over one hundred thousand people are said to have died here during the course of the Roman Empire. In gladiator fights, fights with wild animals, and executions. Even if I intended to integrate myself into the local life - I could not imagine witnessing such cruelties, especially not for amusement or as a leisure activity. I liked our modern day football games much more. The worst that could happen there was occasional trouble from hooligans. We passed the Colosseum and turned right again. After a while, when we changed direction yet again, this time to the left, I knew I had lost any sense of orientation. Although I didn't think I would have to resort to it, Elisa had no doubt recorded the way and could lead me out again. Even though I had lost the visor lenses and she couldn't ‘see’ anymore, she still had other ways of perception. Since the power level had recovered slightly, her environmental sensors were working again. The street we had last turned into was a narrow, steeply rising alley. I hoped that no vehicle would come towards us, as we already filled the entire space. It was much darker in this alley than on the road before. Not because the sky was cloudy. No, the sun was still shining. But as much as I laid my head back, hardly any rays of the sun pierced the tangle of balconies. Every apartment seemed to have one. And the houses were so close together that you could reach out from your balcony and shake the hand of your neighbor, opposite. The horses puffed, working hard to pull the cart up the slope. As abruptly as the ascent had begun though, the road soon became level again. We reached a small fork. One path led downhill to the left, another uphill to the right, with houses straight ahead. Alexios tightened the reins and the wagon came to a halt at the crossroads. "This is it. We're here!” Everyone looked around curiously. The row of houses we were looking at was directly below a steep slope, which was not built on because of its incline. Directly in front of us was a four-story, rather new looking house. At first glance, it looked similar to all the other apartment buildings we had passed so far. With the difference that it was not quite as high and two small columns decorated the entrance. The other houses in the row followed this trend. Right next to the entrance I noticed two carved signs. The top one said: "Merchant Gaius Silius Frugi" And the lower one said: "Pericles from Patrae, Doctor. Treatments, baths, and cures.“ There was no doubt, this was the house where the uncle of my traveling companions had lived and practiced. "It makes a decent impression," Thalis said. Gregory shrugged his shoulders. "For Rome, at least. We had it nicer at home. And much more garden." "Sure, Gregory. Why don’t you try planting a large garden within the city walls." The brothers had dismounted and were walking towards the entrance. I followed them. Alexios opened the door. It was unlocked and gave passage to a narrow staircase. To the right was another door, next to which a sign again pointed out Doctor Pericles. "Our uncle rented the two lower floors. Here on the ground floor is the practice itself, on the first floor the private apartment. The two remaining floors belong to the merchant Frugi." "An appropriate name for a merchant," Thalis joked. He was right because ‘Frugi’ was Latin for cheapskate. Alexios shook the door. "Locked. Come on, let's try upstairs. They gotta be somewhere.“ I wasn’t sure who he was referring to, but I would certainly find out soon. Arriving on the first floor, Alexios knocked on the apartment door. For a while nothing happened at all, then footsteps could be heard and a small slit opened. "Alexios!", a voice echoed from inside. It was the voice of an audibly delighted woman. The slit was immediately closed again and I could hear a latch being pushed back from inside. Finally, the door opened and a middle-aged woman, perhaps around forty, appeared. Alexios stepped forward and embraced her. "Helena, my condolences." "Thank you, Alex. It's been three months since my husband died and I wrote you that letter. I was afraid you wouldn't come anymore. But then I remembered how long such a voyage takes and that you would surely still arrive. And now you are here!" One by one she hugged Gregory and Thalis. "You've gotten pretty big! How old are you now?" Just your typical caring aunt. Although she reminded me a little more of my grandmother. Or Manu's mother-in-law Naha. Though her chatty trait was all right with me. So I learned that Gregory was twenty-two, Thalis twenty-three and Alexios twenty-five years old. I guessed I could have just asked them earlier if I had had the desire to know. After the lovely welcoming, Helena's attention finally shifted to me. "Who have you brought with you? A slave from home? I wrote specifically that it was not necessary." "No no, dear step-aunt, we didn't. This is Phillip. We picked him up on the way. At sea, as a matter of fact." "Hello," I said which was all that came to mind. I was sure she wouldn't hesitate to ask if she wanted to know more. "Really!? That sounds very exciting. You must tell me the story right away. But first come in and sit down! I'm sure the journey was tiring.” Alexios declined. "We would love to do that, Helena. But downstairs our cart is parked on the intersection, blocking just about every direction. We have to unload it first and drop it off." It was clear what that meant. Carrying crates again. Upstairs. --- Half an hour later all the cargo was unloaded. The crates had been transported either to the apartment or the practice. Nothing had been unpacked yet, of course. Nobody wanted to do that anymore today. "The wagon still has to be returned," Alexios said. Thalis winced. "To Puteoli?!" "Are you crazy?!" Alexios shook his head. "Not to Puteoli, of course. That would be really stupid." Thalis eyeballed Alexios, only to break into loud laughter. I joined in because it was obvious that Thalis had played a joke on his brother. Alexios snorted. "If you're having such a good time, you might as well take the cart back. The rental office is right behind Porta Capena, where all the cars were waiting earlier." Thalis shrugged his shoulders and was about to get on the cart when he stopped and frowned. "Hmm, I'd do it anytime, Alex. But for the life of me, I can't remember the way." No worries, I could help him out. "No problem, Thalis. I've memorized everything." Alexios gave me an appreciative look that I didn't really deserve. "Then it's all settled. But please hurry, the streets get dangerous after dark." While he and Gregory climbed the staircase, I swung myself onto the bench next to Thalis. "Alright,” Thalis said. “I think we go down here, right?" I nodded in agreement. Thalis clicked his tongue and the horses started moving. Elisa, however, had an objection. "I advise against passing through this street at this time. There is a vehicle approaching." I reacted immediately. "Stop, Thalis! Wait a second. I think I heard a cart ahead of us. And we can’t pass each other in the alley." Thalis stopped again and listened. In fact, the soft rattling of hoofs could now be heard, swelling from second to second. "True. You're right, Phillip." A short time later the path was clear again and we rolled down the hill. "Tell me, Phillip, are you from a big city like Rome?" I thought for a moment. I was born and grew up in Lübeck, which, with a population of almost two hundred thousand, was considerably smaller than ancient Rome. After all, over a million people lived here. "No, I guess not. We have about one-fifth that many people in my town." "Hmm. I don't know if it was the right decision. I mean, moving here to Rome." I gave him a sidelong glance. "How can you say that, Thalis? You’ve only just arrived here." "Sure. But everything here is somehow more extreme than in Patrae. Everything is... more. More people, more dirt, more noise." "And more money!" I added jokingly. Thalis laughed. "Yes, hopefully. But I'm not so sure. Did you see all those poor people and the beggars on the side of the road? The workmen who do a good job and yet can barely make ends meet? Rome is above all an expensive city, especially when it comes to rents, that much I know from Alex. For the rent my uncle paid in a year, you could buy a whole villa in the country, including land. And what do we get here? An average apartment building we don’t even own, which is not directly in the cesspool, meaning in the valley.“ I nodded thoughtfully. That's the way it usually was in metropolitan areas. Especially when everyone was pushing into the city, attracted by superficial pomp and stories of splendor. In search of an ancient version of the American Dream. From dishwasher or harvester to millionaire, it didn't matter. Rome had money, lots of money. Only, it wasn't lying in the streets, just waiting to be picked up by the newcomer, but resting quietly and safely in the iron-fitted chests of the mighty. At the point where the poor fool realized his mistake, it was too late to turn around. The savings had been spent and he became dependent on some patron. The latter would know how to avoid any change in this profitable situation. Thalis poked me in the side and put on a playful grin. "Don't you have an opinion, or are you just grumpy by nature?” Ah, crap. I forgot to answer, having pondered these profound thoughts. I didn’t want to tell him something that dark, though. Rather something cheery. "Sure, I've seen it all before in other cities. Rome isn't even the worst place. You and your brothers, however, have a good job, especially in a city like this which attracts not only the poor but also the rich and powerful who can afford to consult a doctor. Your uncle made his living here after all, and there are three of you, so you could make three times as much." "Hmm, true again. We have no choice anyway but to take it as it comes." Ain't that the truth. "Take the next right." The first satnav of Ancient Rome had spoken. I relayed the instructions immediately. After a while, the Colosseum came into view again and we had to keep left. "Say, Phillip, what will you do now?" Thalis asked hesitantly. "You already said that you don't know anybody here. I personally wouldn’t want to be all on my own in this city.” That was a good question that caught me off guard. It had crossed my mind at one time or another, but I did not want to think about the future, because I saw no future for myself. Now though I had to say something. So, what was I gonna do? On my own, I wouldn't stand much of a chance. Except maybe as a thief. Yes, with Elisa as an accomplice, who could practically see through walls and always knew if the master of the house was gone and the gold jewelry was there. I quietly laughed at the thought. No, there had to be another way. Thalis still looked at me with expectation, neglecting the traffic more than was good. I guess the obvious thing would be to stay with the three brothers. Perhaps they could use my help? "I'd like to stay with you, Thalis. If perhaps you need a helping hand in your new practice? I'm not asking for money, I'm just looking for a roof over my head and a meal.“ Thalis sported a big grin. " 'A roof over your head and a meal,' you almost sound like one of those beggars under the bridge." I only smiled out of politeness. Under other circumstances this would have been funny, but since my survival was at stake, I didn't feel like laughing. Thalis liked to joke, but on the other hand, he was also a sensitive judge of character. "Don't worry about it, Phillip. You can stay with us, I'm sure. There's always something to do. In particular now as we're about to make a fresh start. After all, all employees were laid off after our uncle died.“ He said this in a serious tone, so I had no reason to doubt his words. A feeling of relief came over me. If this worked, I wouldn't be as alone as I had feared. We now came to the intersection where the path to the right led to the Circus Maximus. "Here we must turn left again." "It doesn’t make much sense actually," Thalis began in a good mood, "that you give the directions and I drive. It's not like you have to look at a map or calculate an angle. So you might as well drive yourself." Saying this, he handed me the reins and whip. Still a little perplexed, I took them without knowing exactly what to do with them. But as luck had it, there wouldn't be much left to steer. The city gate was already in sight. "What exactly did you do, Phillip?" "What do you mean?" "Well, what was your profession?" During the long hours of our bumpy journey, I had had enough time to come up with a plausible background story. Just in case anyone asked, like now. Shortly after waking up on the ship, I was already confronted with the question of what I wanted to do in Rome. Since I spontaneously opted for trading, the choice of profession was pretty clear. A tradesman of something. After some deliberation, I chose spices. That suited my far away home country, of which I had no idea where it should be, by the way. "I was a spice trader." "Spices. Aha. What kind of spices?" Phew, he wanted to know exactly. I wasn't against small talk, but did it have to be all questions? Anyway, what were the spices I could have shipped to Rome? I passed the question on to Elisa. Let her search her database for spices. "Examples are Pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron." Faithfully I repeated the list out loud. "Herbs too?" "No, really just spices." This seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the time being. There would have been no time for further questions anyway because we arrived at the parking lot. --- Loud laughter echoed in the hallway when Thalis and I climbed up the stairs. The source of amusement was a small gathering, consisting of the three brothers, their step-aunt, and a man I had never met before. They noticed us entering the apartment and the chatting stopped. "Ah, there you are," Alexios shouted with relief. "And it's about time. It's almost dark outside." "They must have got lost," mocked Gregory, "or maybe taken a trip to the whorehouse?" He made explicit movements with his hip. "You mean the place they won't let you in because they think you're still a kid when they see your little dick?", Thalis replied glibly. Everybody laughed. I found it a bit strange to talk like that in the presence of a lady, but you know what they say – when in Rome do as the Romans do. The man, still unknown to me, approached us. He was rather small, but not wispy. His black hair was short and already bald at the back of his head. He introduced himself. "Gaius Silius Frugi, merchant. I live upstairs.” I shook his outstretched hand and introduced myself as well. "Phillip, spice trader." "Spice trader?" repeated the merchant, clearly interested, as he went on to shake Thalis' hand. "How exciting! We should talk tomorrow. Maybe we can do some business." That wasn’t about to happen. I shook my head regretfully. "I’m sorry, merchant Frugi, but I'm out of business. My ship sank with all my goods. I was the only one to survive, barely escaping with my life." "We pulled him out of the water," Gregory commented. "No, really!?", Helena asked. "You have to tell me the whole story! Everything about your journey. For months now I've been waiting for you with no one to talk to except Frugi, who comes down for a sip of wine every so often.” She glanced sideways at the merchant, a look that could mean much or nothing. I wonder if Frugi had given the widow more comfort during his visits than a glass of wine? Helena made an inviting gesture. "First though, please take a seat. Have a bite to eat and tell us everything." I took the opportunity to look around the room. Judging by its dimensions, this was the largest room in the apartment. The long side had two windows, which would give a lot of light during the day. Now it was dark and the shutters were closed. Several oil lamps illuminated the room which was sparsely furnished. The wall opposite the windows was decorated with a large map. Patrae, the hometown of Pericles and his nephews, was highlighted on it. On the narrow side, next to the entrance, there were some shelves and chests. The biggest space, however, was taken up by the dining area, which was typical for ancient Rome and Greece. Three couches were grouped around a table on which the evening meal was served. One ate lying down, supported on the left elbow. Not very comfortable, if you asked me. Following the request of the charming hostess, we took a seat. It was time. My stomach had already growled on the way back to the house. Frugi was invited as well, being a friend of the family. I estimated that the couches could hold three people each. So up to nine people could dine at the table. Luckily there were only six of us, so it didn't get too cramped. Merchant Frugi, who sat next to me, seemed like a friendly guy, but I didn't want to cuddle with him. My thoughts wandered, making me consider with which of the three brothers I would like to cuddle most? Was it cute Thalis, with his frizzy hair and deep, dark eyes? Or rather the gruff but pretty Gregory, with his mischievous grin? Or Alexios, the leader, who captivated with his sexy serenity? Before I could make a choice, my train of thought was interrupted. The lady of the house and a girl unknown to me came in, carrying a few bowls. After everything was served, Helena joined us. The girl, probably a servant, retired to the kitchen. The hostess had prepared a sumptuous meal. The starter was a salad with caramelized mushrooms. This was followed by roast pork as the main course and some kind of cake to finish. The food was eaten with spoon and fingers. Frugi breathed a sigh of relief when the first course was brought out. "At last something for the palate again! I feared you'd spend the rest of your life eating porridge.” Helena was a little embarrassed by the merchant’s comment. I guessed it was understandable that she lived frugally – no pun intended – after her husband's death. She probably had no income. I wonder what she would have done had the brothers not turned up. Her reply was friendly but determined. "Frugi, you know very well how hard the past few months have been for me. I am very happy to see my husband's nephews here.” Alexios nodded. "We are very happy to see you too, Helena. And to see that you are doing well, considering the circumstances. Tell us, Helena, how did it happen... Pericles, your husband... our uncle?” Helena swallowed a bite, her gaze wandering to the closed window. "Uh, I mean... I didn't mean to offend you," Alexios added. "No no, my dear. You have every right to ask." Helena cleared her throat. "Peris is... was a sought-after doctor. He received patients here at his practice, but he also made a lot of house calls. It was not far from here, in an apartment building on Via Commodus. He visited a patient there who lives on the fifth floor. Unfortunately... he stumbled and fell out of the window.“ Gregory and Thalis showed concerned faces. Alexios frowned at first but then put on a sad face. "Yes, such misfortunes happen more often than you would like," Frugi chimed in. "One can never be too careful," he added, glancing at Alexios. At that moment the servant entered with the main course, which interrupted the unpleasant conversation. The dinner continued in silence. The merchant made a few more attempts to put the conversation back on a more cheerful track but to no avail. After the cake was eaten Frugi pulled out a bottle. "The best wine from my storage. To celebrate the occasion!" After a few glasses of the quite enjoyable drink, the mood rose and the conversation livened up again. A second bottle was also not long in coming. I actually didn't want to drink anything. If it wasn’t for the peer pressure… At least I learned that Frugi traded with almost everything “as long as you can eat, drink or otherwise consume it”. He was a wholesaler who bought up products from distant regions of the empire, distributing them in Rome to shops and other bulk buyers. "With an appropriate margin, of course," Frugi winked. "Sometimes I even supply the Imperial Palace, but I don't really like to. They're usually stingy and you can't protest. What about you? Where do you get around as a spice dealer? I buy spices too, but not in the producing country. Mostly in Puteoli, the stuff that arrives by ship.“ I had already thought about this part of my background story. "Mostly I was traveling from Arabia. I bought spices there and then shipped them to Alexandria and Miletus. However, the biggest market is here in Rome, so I wanted to sell here this time. But as you know, it didn't quite work out." Frugi laughed. "Ha, not quite worked out. That's one way to put it when your ship sinks along with its cargo. But what's keeping you here? Why don't you take the next ship heading east?" Well, that was a logical question. One I wasn't prepared for. Though by now inventing such details was almost second nature. "I have no wife and children, and all my wealth was invested in the ship's cargo. There is nothing to go back to. Better a poor man here with the opportunities of Rome than somewhere in the sticks." The merchant nodded. "Foolish of you, boy! That thing with the ship. You never put all your denari on one dice. But Rome, a wise choice. Resourceful minds can get far here. So take it from an experienced trader. Here in Rome, status and family count for little. Prestige and votes are bought - the money is what counts!” He chuckled. “You know, back when I started transporting goods from Northern Italy to Rome with two carts..." The next hour or so passed by with Frugi telling me detailed anecdotes from the early days of his career, whose wit, moral, or other punch lines I usually did not get. Maybe that was also because the effect of the wine made it increasingly difficult for me to follow the flow of words. I reached for my glass and regretfully found that it was empty – only to be annoyed at myself. I did not want to drink anything else. Frugi was of a different opinion. "Ah, the glasses are empty, but the evening still young. Don't despair though, I brought this bottle of very fine liqueur!" Seeking help, I looked around at the others, but only Helena was to be seen, still giggling after Frugi's last remark. "Where did they all go?" I asked. "They've already gone to bed," Helena giggled at me. I stood up, staggering a little. Who knew whether it was from the wine or the long time spent lying down. "Well, I better go to bed, too. It's gonna be a long day tomorrow." Before Frugi could try to persuade me, I left him and the still giggling Helena behind. I exited the apartment’s main room through the only other corridor that did not lead to the kitchen. According to the plop echoing behind me, Frugi had just uncorked the ‘very fine liqueur’ for Helena and him. I found the three brothers in a room at the back of the apartment, already lying in bed. The room had probably been prepared for their arrival long ago. Apart from three beds in an L-shaped arrangement, there was a small table in the middle of the room and a cupboard on the opposite side. I stood in the doorway for a while, as my alcohol-soaked synapses tried to find a solution to the problem that there were only three beds but four people. Thalis was the first to notice me. "Ah, there you are. I was afraid Frugi had lulled you to sleep in the dining room." "Yes, he almost did," I replied laughing. "Um, is there another bed for me somewhere, or should I just lie on the floor?" I was so tired from carrying the boxes, the abundant food, and the amount of wine that I could fall asleep anywhere. Thalis waved me off. "I didn't see another bed. But you can lie down with me, there's plenty of room. Alexios seemed to be asleep already, but Gregory looked up. "What nonsense, this is much too tight for two. Sleep on the floor." "Why don't you sleep on the floor, so Phillip can sleep in your bed?" Thalis countered. "Come Phillip, put out the lamp." I set myself in motion, taking off my clothes. I only kept my pants on, out of decency. A measure that my bed neighbor did not share, as a fleeting glance under the simple sheet revealed. I was too tired to develop this arousing thought further so I put out the lamp and let myself sink into the soft bed. --- I once heard that the last thought before falling asleep often determines what you dream about. I hadn't been able to understand this before, but that night it was true. Thali's soft hands glided gently over my torso. Up and down. The fingers of his left hand slowly circled my hard nipples while his right hand started to wander toward my navel. I moaned slightly. His hand went deeper and deeper. It encompassed my hard erection, which was still enclosed by my pants. I writhed under a shower of pleasure as his hand stroked my dick. Then his hand moved on, massaging my testicles. Finally, his fingers ran beyond my testicles and caressed my butt. Meanwhile, the left hand had also moved lower, reaching my pants. In a moment of tension, the hand paused. Then it slipped under the waistband and completely took hold of my shaft. I groaned with pleasure again. His hand began to work my cock in a tender but assertive rhythm. Up and down. I whimpered with excitement. The other hand moved up from my butt again and started to massage my testicles gently. It took but a few movements and my body could not stand it anymore. I came, moaning. My cock poured its semen into my pants and Thalis’ hand. Finally, his hands retreated slowly, caressing my body from bottom to top. It had just been a dream though, hadn’t it?
  5. DavidJ

    Chapter 1

    That they shall do - whether Phillip will enjoy it or not, well we'll see. 😄
  6. Dr. Lisa Bolzano sat alone in her office, burying her face in her hands. She felt it was unfair, being able to sit on the comfortable, custom-made leather armchair while her colleague and friend was lost somewhere - or nowhere - in a past world. She jumped as someone knocked at the door. “Come in!” Apologetically, Dr. Torres, head of the central lab, entered the room. Lisa quickly sat up. She looked at him, expectation in her gaze. He came in person... was there any word from Phillip? "I'm just bringing you the new readings." He waved a sheet of electronic paper in front of her as if to justify his visit. She let herself sink back into the armchair, exhaling heavily. "I'm sorry, Lisa. I know you were hoping for a different message. I'm sure he'll contact us eventually. Remember, it's only been twenty-four hours. In Egypt, it took thirty-five hours to make contact. He put the paper on her desk. Lisa knew that the test results were only an excuse to pay her a visit. She could have accessed the chart at any time from her computer terminal. So apparently, Torres wanted to give her some comfort. Or… he'd been sent by the board to test her emotional state. "Better get some sleep, Lisa. Even if it's difficult for you. There's nothing you can do now." She gave him a grateful nod before he left the room. No, he had been here of his own accord, otherwise he would have at least asked how she was feeling. She briefly skimmed the document he had left on her desk. Nothing new of course. It went into the trash. The interior of the office was a mixture of modern coolness and personal warmth. While two grey steel cabinets and an oversized calendar on the left wall created a sterile atmosphere, the other side tried to convey the opposite. There was a large aquarium set into the wall, as well as some paintings. Lisa's gaze wandered from the largest piece she had brought from home - it was the View of Florence by Oswald Achenbach - to the photographs on her desk. The latter didn’t have artistic ambition. One showed her together with her family. The other Phillip and her on a team excursion to Lübeck, the originally planned time travel destination. She sighed. Of course, Torres was right when he said it would have taken longer in Egypt. Though that had been expected back then, after the time jump was anything but smooth with a few thousand years of deviation. It was only thanks to the tireless efforts of the whole team that a connection had finally been made. This time, however, the situation was different. Even though they didn't quite understand how it worked exactly - they’d been working with data from the distant future - there was no interference signal like last time or anything else unusual. It looked like everything was fine - and yet Phillip didn't answer. The situation was therefore in no way comparable to that of Egypt. What annoyed her most though was that she couldn't do anything other than just wait-and-see. Nevertheless, there would have been only moderate cause for concern if Dr. Carrol had not made a very disturbing discovery this morning. A little guilty, like a toddler who had done something silly, he had approached her. It is possible that he knew the reason for the delay, he had said. "Don't keep me in suspense, Rick." "I have just run a simulation that estimates the effects of several transfers in succession on the body and electronics. This is the first time I've been able to use Keith's new data." "So… is there a health risk?" she had asked, alarmed. "No, no. That's not it. But the TTEK's battery could suffer. I mean, it might not be able to reach its full power level again." "What amount of power loss are we talking about?" "Up to eighty percent." That hit home. Lisa had become even more restless since this revelation, imagining more and more horrible scenarios. She span around in the armchair. If she was religious, she would have prayed. For Dr. Carrol to be wrong. **** The bumping and rocking with which the fully loaded carriage moved over the cobblestones reminded me a little of my involuntary camel ride in Egypt. Fortunately, I was now in better physical condition and did not have to fight with nausea. Still, the journey was not comfortable. It turned out that the front seat of the two-horse cart could not hold more than three people. So one of us had to move to the rear and make do with the loading area. As the unplanned guest, I volunteered. I was sitting on one of the crates, whose exorbitant customs costs Alexios had somehow managed to avoid. Because after he had returned from his walk with the officer, we had started moving right away. At first, I had hoped that he would explain to us immediately how he had achieved this miracle. But for the last five minutes, during which we were driving through the narrow streets of Puteoli, Alexios hadn't said a word about it. The other two had apparently expected to be initiated as well. They threw each other discontented looks when Alexios explanation failed to materialize. However, they didn't ask him either. They apparently didn't want to admit to not having the faintest idea how he had done it. I was a little more pragmatic. Wanting to satisfy my curiosity, I finally asked. "So, Alexios. Tell us how you convinced the customs officer." He grinned. "I thought you'd never ask." "Why should I ask?" Gregory interjected, "I already know." "All the better. Then you might as well tell the story. I have to concentrate on steering." Gregory didn't expect that. "Um... I think a firsthand account is more appropriate in this case." Thalis couldn't help but laugh. "All right. In actual fact, it was quite simple," Alexios said. "I have left him a small medicinal tincture." "What kind of tincture?" Gregory asked doubtingly. He didn't seem to realize that by doing so he admitted he knew nothing. Alexios had also noticed this contradiction and threw a skeptical glance at his brother. Alexios stated it more precisely. "Quite simply, a sage tincture of stamina." "A what?" "A little sexual enhancer." Now everyone understood and a general giggle ensued. "You were lucky," Thalis said. "If Pontius' manhood had been at its peak, the cards would have been stacked against you.” "It wasn't, though. And like a good doctor, I noticed that right away." I didn't know if and how you could visually determine someone’s potency, but Alexios had the right instinct. "Could you have paid him if he hadn't gone for it?" I asked. Alexios' expression got serious again. "No, I couldn’t have paid him. He charged a quarter more denari than we have." So we were really lucky. I wonder what would have happened. Maybe we'd have had to pay off the difference by working the latrines. I'd rather not ask. Instead, I curiously observed our surroundings. I only saw what was in front of us, because the tarpaulin covering the cart blocked the view in other directions. There was a lot going on outside with plenty of vehicles coming towards us. Pedestrians as well. They had to squeeze along the sides, especially when two carts pushed past each other on the narrow street. We continued on the same road for a while. From time to time small side paths were branching off, but these were only suitable for pedestrians. At the roadside, there were buildings of various heights close together, made up of one to four stories. The construction method seemed to be very progressive, as the stones used were held together with concrete. However, these stones were - both in arrangement and form - much less regular than in modern houses. The poor visibility from the back of the cart was more than made up for by its solitude. I was able to withdraw here undisturbed and subject the TTEK to an inspection. After all, I still didn't know what that beeping was all about. So I sat down on one of the boxes. "Elisa?" I asked silently. No answer. It was usually enough to form the words without actually speaking them aloud. The TTEK could detect the vibrations through an implanted vocal cord sensor. But just to be sure, I asked again, out loud. "Elisa?" Nothing happened at first. Then there was a soft crackling sound. Then about a dozen equally quiet beeps. Oh, great. What was that supposed to mean? Had Elisa lost her electronic mind? The beeping started again. Single tones of the same pitch but of different lengths. After pondering this oddity for a while, the solution came to mind. It had to be Morse code! So she wasn't crazy after all! A certain feeling of relief came over me. Besides the question of why Elisa tried to communicate with me in Morse code, the problem was that I had no clue about Morse code. "Can you understand me?" I asked her. A single beep indicated that she probably could. "That's good, but I don't understand you. I know your beeps are in Morse code, but I don't know Morse code." A brief look towards the front of the vehicle confirmed that I was talking quietly enough for the others not to become aware of our somewhat one-sided dialogue. Elisa didn’t beep anymore. I had to smile for a second as the memory of a similar situation came to my mind. I had not been able to talk to Manu either, because I had pretended to be mute. He had asked me all sorts of questions and I only had to nod or shake my head in response. And that is exactly what would work with Elisa. Only this time, I was the one asking. "All right. I'm going to ask you some questions. You answer with one beep for yes, and two beeps for no.” Beep. First the most important question. Even though I could already guess the answer. "Has the space-time localization been completed?" Beep. Beep. "So it’s running right now?" I asked, hoping. Beep. Beep. Shit. I was afraid it would be like that since she couldn't even communicate with me normally. Without determining my exact whereabouts in space and time, however, it was impossible to contact Base. "Is there any damage to the electronics?" Two beeps. At least a glimmer of hope. "Does the battery have enough power?" Beep. Beep. Ah, so the situation was as I feared. The battery was simply not designed for two time jumps in a row, each causing a complete discharge. All that remained now was to find out why the beeping was necessary. "Is my earpiece broken?" Beep. Beep. "Is there enough power for it?" I asked in disbelief. Beep. Beep. Fuck. I didn't think it was that bad. "Will this get any better? I mean is the battery still charging?" At first, there was no answer, then a very quiet beeping. I guessed that was her version of ‘maybe’. After the first sign of life from the TTEK, I had some hope again. ‘Perhaps everything would turn out alright after all.’ That is what I had thought, but I had been wrong. Disillusioned, I leaned back, realizing too late that was not a good idea. There was a loud rumble and as I turned around, a falling crate hit me hard in the face. --- Something hurt like hell. Whether it was my nose, my eyes, my mouth or everything altogether, I couldn't tell. Aching, I raised my head and leant on my elbows. I was lying in the back of the rocking cart. Thalis was sitting next to me on a box, sporting a mocking smile. "Can't you be left alone for a minute?“ I was a little embarrassed to find myself in this stupid position. I guess I should have been more careful with those damned boxes. On the other hand, did it really matter anymore? Now returning home seemed impossible? I thought to myself, perhaps it would have been better if the box had contained heavy lead bars instead of herbs and tinctures? Thalis could not possibly have guessed what was going through my mind, but he did notice my sad face. "You’ll be okay. We're doctors, after all. Nothing's broken, by the way." That would have been the last thing I needed. Without electricity for Elisa's nanobots, I would have been stuck with a crooked nose in addition to weeks of pain. However, in the end, it wouldn't have mattered. There was no one left to look good for. "Where are we?" I asked. "We've just left the city behind. Now it's about thirty miles to the Appian Way. From there only another one hundred and twenty more miles to Rome. “ I thanked him for the information, which I had not asked for in such detail. The word ‘only’, however, seemed a little out of place to me. After all, Alexios had estimated the expected travel time to be several days. I ignored the stabbing pain in my face, letting myself sink back down. I noticed that there was something soft under my head. It was a blanket. "I put it under your head so you would be more comfortable," Thalis said. I thanked him again. He seemed to be a really nice guy. So did Alexios. Only Gregory was a little... grumpy? While Thalis looked down on me from above, I took the opportunity to take a closer look at him. I had already noticed the evening before that he had dark eyes, but during twilight I had not been able to make out the exact color. Now I saw that they were a very dark brown. Thalis tilted his head forward a little. "Why are you looking at me like that?" Oops! I may have stared a little too long. I tried to come up with a witty reply, but failed. Nothing had come to mind, so I made do with something dim-witted. Thalis frowned and I looked away. Hopefully, he'd chalk it up to language issues. Next time, I'd pass on the repartee, especially when there really wasn’t anything wrong with looking at someone. I made a new conversation attempt. "To be honest, I'm pretty hungry. Do we stop for lunch?" "No, we'll drive through until evening. Along the Via Appia there are numerous accommodations. We'll spend the night at one. But we do have provisions for lunch. Would you like something?" I nodded gratefully, and sat up, avoiding touching the boxes with my back as much as possible. Thalis laughed when he saw me do this. "You can lean back, I've tied up the top boxes." Relieved, I leaned back. I took a piece of bread and a piece of ham from Thalis. He also cut a few slices for himself. We sat on the back of the cart, eating and chatting, while the wagon was rocking over the bumpy country road. Almost idyllic. Almost! Thalis was not only a nice guy but, once warmed up, very talkative. Only interrupted by chewing the occasional slice of bread and ham, he told me about his life in Patrae, their hometown. Early on he had been an apprentice to his father, who had in his turn continued the family medical tradition. Unfortunately, not as successful as Thalis’ grandfather, which meant the family struggled to eke out a living. Alexios had taken the same career path. Gregory, however, disappointed by the failures of a drunk for a father, took up the profession of surgeon. Apparently this was an independent medical profession. After the early death of their father, their uncle Pericles took the brothers Alexios and Thalis under his wing. He was a much more talented doctor than their father and taught them everything their own father had missed. ‘You will become excellent doctors, much like your grandfather’, he had used to say. After their uncle sometime later emigrated to Rome, they took over his practice in Patrae, but they had no luck. People still remembered their useless father only too well and following the proverb ‘a chip off the old block’ they avoided them. When the brothers received news of Pericles' death some two years later, they were saddened, but also saw their chance for a new beginning. Their uncle had a wife, but no children. Thalis and Alexios were therefore the only family members who could continue his practice in Rome. So they had packed their belongings, booked passage on the next ship, and were now sitting here on this wagon. Gregory, who shared their fate, had joined them. Thalis wanted to recount some more, but Gregory gruffly called him up front. I didn't understand what they were discussing. Their words were quiet but emphatic and they were talking in Greek. It seemed to me as if Gregory didn't want Thalis to discuss their family history with me. I wondered what was the matter with Gregory. Perhaps he was just a loner. I couldn't care less, though, I had more serious problems to deal with. Still, it had felt good having such a casual chat. I was able to pretend everything was all right, that I was just an ordinary citizen of this world, like any other. Of course, this self-deception could only be short-lived. Sighing, I stepped forward, taking a place behind the bench where Thalis was sitting and staring at the ground. Alexios held the reins calmly in his hands, he hadn't bothered to join in the dispute between the other two. When he noticed me approaching, he turned around. "We'll be there shortly. See that big house over there? We can stay there for the night,"Alexios said. I looked towards the building on one side of the road less than a hundred yards in front of us. Before I could take it in though, my gaze was distracted by the road itself. I had not noticed that we were already on the Via Appia, a change from the country road to the ancient highway. This road was wider, better paved, and busier, populated by fewer pedestrians, but more wagons. There was a brief jolt and we came to a halt in front of the three-story tavern. Gregory jumped down first. "I'm fucking starving." He was about to rush off towards the entrance when Alexios held him back. "Wait. Take the cart to the yard first and make sure it's parked safely. And get the horses fed and watered." "I'm not your slave, brother. Phillip can go, why do we have him here after all?" Since I didn't want to be the cause of another quarrel, I offered to go - even if I didn't have the slightest desire to help this ruffian, who apparently regarded me as a slave. Alexios welcomed my offer, Gregory hummed something incomprehensible. So we set off. While Gregory took the reins and led the horses and cart towards the rear yard, I walked alongside. Behind the main building we found another structure, apparently a stable and a kind of parking lot for carts. It was already pretty full. "There's a free space back there," I told Gregory. "I can see that myself!" I wondered if he was always so obnoxious. Maybe Thalis was about to tell me something about him before he interrupted us. I decided I would ask Thalis, given an opportunity. As we drew near, I noticed some soldiers patrolling the site. They apparently made sure that parked carts were still waiting there for their owners the next morning. Gregory stopped the horses and started to fiddle with one of the harnesses. "Don't just stand there like a barrel of old fish, take the other side!" I tried hard to comply with his request, because I did not want to encourage his bad mood, not knowing if I was the cause or not. However, once round the other side, I found myself as helpless as the proverbial duck in a thunderstorm. Faced with the tangle of ropes and poles, I was clueless. Elisa would have told me right away where I needed to put my hands, and if the visor lenses hadn't been lost in that sandstorm, which was my own stupidity, she would have even shown me a nice animation. Now though, I had no choice but to confess my ignorance, well knowing Gregory would not be amused. I cleared my throat. "What exactly am I supposed to do?" I tried asking in a diplomatic way. "Get the nags off the goddamn cart!" All right, it was of no avail. I tried to sound as apologetic as possible. "I don't know these harnesses, you'll have to tell me exactly what to do." "Are you kidding me? It's a harness like any other." He came over and stood next to me. He hesitated a moment. Then another. "So this is how it works." He grabbed my hand, somewhat roughly and put it on a spot on the harness. "First grab there and untie the knot." He actually explained the procedure to me. Rude, in somewhat harsh terms, but detailed and precise. When I made a small mistake, he patiently pointed it out to me. "Good. Now you can take the horses to the stable. I'll take care of the carriage." While I led the two brownish horses towards the stable, Gregory called after me to hurry up, because he was fucking hungry. I couldn't figure out the fellow at all. I wish I could have told him off, but that was out of the question, as I was so desperately dependent on the hospitality of the three brothers. When I entered the stable, holding the horses by the reins, a boy of perhaps fourteen years hurried towards me. "I will do this for you, my Lord." Happy to be able to withdraw from this unknown terrain, I handed the reins over to the stable lad. I wondered if it was customary to leave a tip, but even if it was, I didn’t have any coins. At least I could thank the poor boy. I bet it wasn't easy working in the stables, especially for a kid. "No need to thank me, my Lord. It's my job." Alexios and Thalis were still waiting at the same spot in front of the inn where we had left them. Gregory had already joined them. "Now[DD1] let's go in," Alexios commanded. "A jug of mead will do everyone good!" It really was a nice evening, I thought to myself. The sun was about to dip below the horizon, radiating a reddish glow reflected by the clouds. The trees rustled lightly in the wind, a small bird was tweeting a shrill song. No! I interrupted myself, it wasn't a bird, it was Elisa. She had beeped twice. I stopped, rooted to the spot. "What is it now?" Gregory complained. Good question. In actual fact, I wasn't sure either what Elisa's unsolicited beeping was supposed to mean. I waited for a moment, but it didn’t repeat. Shrugging my shoulders, I continued toward the entrance. Beep! Beep! I stopped again, the others looking at me in bewilderment. “Should we not go in there? Is that what you mean?” I asked her silently. Beep. Interesting. Why though? Had her sensitive ambient microphone picked up something from inside the inn that made it advisable not to enter? "Um, we shouldn't go in there right now," I said. Gergory shook his head in disbelief. "Why not?" Alexios asked. How should I explain this? If only Elisa could have told me what was wrong. "I have a bad feeling about this," I told them. Gregory laughed mockingly. "The Lord, here, has a bad feeling! Well, that makes all the difference. I think we have to turn back. Return to Greece." Even Alexios could not help but grin. "Tell me, did you also have a bad feeling before you boarded your now sunken ship?" Gregory continued. "Yes," I replied in all seriousness, "a very bad one, in fact." Thalis frowned. "If that's right, we should listen to his feeling, it's probably a premonition. I for one will not go in there now." Alexios looked undecided. I guessed he was a little surprised by Thalis’ decision. To be honest, so was I. Gregory, on the other hand, did not harbor any concerns and turned towards the door. "For Zeus’ sake! You can starve out here for all I care. I'm going in now." However, he didn't get far. Just as he was about to open the door, a loud rumbling came from inside and the door was pushed open. Gregory fell back. "Out of my inn, you bastard sons!" The angry landlord appeared and sent two very drunk brawlers packing. Realizing he wasn’t alone, he turned to us. "Excuse me, gentlemen. Come in," he said to his new guests, hoping not to have frightened them off by the little show. Alexios gave me a respectful nod. "Your hunches are not to be underestimated." And so we entered the inn together, followed by a slightly limping Gregory. A few minutes later we had settled in, taking a seat at the bar. The landlord had quickly noticed that we were not just out for a beer after work. As overnight guests, he served each of us a pitcher on the house, the ulterior motive in mind that more drinks would follow. He had been right. I had made the resolve that after the carousal on the ship I would hold back next time, but I was persuaded nonetheless. "Beer is nice. The only real drink, however, is wine," Gregory interjected. Thalis answered, his brow furrowed. "Maybe so, Gregory, but we have started with beer. Not by our own decision, but at the invitation of our amiable landlord and you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Therefore, to change to wine without further ado is not possible." "But Thalis, why can't you do that?" Gregory asked gruffly. "I'll drink whatever I feel like and now I want wine, preferably Greek wine." Alexios watched the small discussion attentively, with a smile on his lips. "I think dear brothers, you can both be right. Let's just order a round of mead for in-between!" Of course, they also ordered for me. As I wanted to try this foreign drink, I had no objections. I didn’t know much about it, only that it was very popular in the Roman Empire and made from honey somehow. As soon as it was served, the three brothers started drinking. I took a cautious sip at first. It tasted good, although a little sweet. "I heard a joke the other day that I really must tell you," Thalis said. "An Athenian student goes to the doctor and says: ‘Doctor, when I wake up in the morning, I always feel dizzy. After half an hour everything is fine again.' The doctor replied: 'Then why don't you wait half an hour before you wake up?'" Everyone laughed. I more out of courtesy because I didn't think it was very funny. "I thought your students were smart?" I commented. "You know, Phillip, what you want the world to think is one thing, but the reality is a little different." This brought to mind a Roman joke, unfortunately, it wouldn't make sense for several more centuries. In history class, the teacher asks: ‘In what regard had the ancient Romans been ahead of us?’ A student answers: ‘They didn't need to learn Latin!’ --- The early bird catches the worm. Isn't that what they say? Well, I wouldn’t catch any today, I thought, given that it was already light outside when I woke up. Besides, any worms would probably be warned off by my bad breath, which I obviously didn’t perceive myself, but whose presence was safe to assume. After all, I had not brushed my teeth for quite some time. Still tired, I sat up. Funny what thoughts came to mind. Aesthetic issues were the least of my worries right now. It took me by surprise that I apparently was the last guest in the bedroom. The three brothers were already gone. They wouldn't have left without me, would they? My pulse quickened. In no time I was on my feet. I dressed and hurried downstairs, but my sense of panic was unfounded. All three of them were sat in the guest room at a table by the window having breakfast. "Ah, Phillip, you late riser! There you are." Alexios gave me a friendly greeting. I felt something akin to relief, but Gregory gave his mocking smile. "We were just discussing when we should go and wake you up, but now there is no need," Alexios said. Thalis nodded. "Just as well, because the discussion got a bit heated. Gregory believes sleeping late is a disease," Alexios said. "An assertion I still stand by," Gregory confirmed. "Do you remember Alina? She was also ..." I didn’t listen anymore. Let them engage in pseudo-medical shop talk, I would have breakfast in peace. Almost twenty minutes later we were sitting on the cart again, making our way along the bumpy road towards Rome. The horses' hooves made a constant clacking sound on the cobblestones, making my head ache after a short while. Funny, because it didn't bother me yesterday. Perhaps it was because I had taken a seat on the front bench this time. Thalis had insisted on riding in the back today. He didn't want to be responsible for me getting hit by a crate again, he said half jokingly, half serious. I sat next to Alexios, with Gregory holding the reins, and I watched the landscape and oncoming vehicles. There were no pedestrians to be seen. The next village was probably still far away and while woods, meadows, and fields went by, my eyelids became heavier and heavier. Too much alcohol, too little sleep. Despite, or perhaps because of the monotonous clatter, I dozed off. The sun was almost at its zenith when I woke up again. An odd crackling sound had pulled me out of dreamless sleep and my neck felt stiff as I raised my head. It was then I noticed where, or rather on what, it had rested until just now. On Gregory's shoulder. I quickly sat up completely and mumbled an apology. Despite this small embarrassment I felt much better than in the morning. Gregory smiled. "I think I'm right about my thesis on sleeping too long," he sneered. Before I could think of a witty reply, I heard that crackling sound again. Right next to me. I turned my head but there was nothing. Suddenly the noise was replaced by a voice and I realized where it was coming from. "Dr. Marten, can you hear me?" "Elisa!" Overjoyed, I had spoken out loud. The others looked at me in amazement, but at that moment I didn't care. "Tell me, how are you?" This time I formed the words without uttering a sound. It also came to mind that the question of how one was feeling was kind of pointless if directed at a computer. "What's the status? You've obviously got your energy back?" "Energy is not the problem, battery charge is good. However, for reasons unknown to me, there are only twenty-one percent of operating power available." "Things have improved though, haven't they?" "Yes. As you can hear, there is now sufficient power to operate the micro loudspeaker implanted in your ear." I knew that already. If I hadn’t known better, I would have considered that sarcasm. "What else?" "Still out of service are: The spectrometer, the environmental scan, the space-time sounding module, the space-time radio module, the... “ "Alright," I interrupted her, "so everything else doesn't work yet. Will the power level improve further?" "If I make an extrapolation based on the development so far, I come to the conclusion that in three days a maximum of about fifty percent will be reached.“ The next question was, once again, the crucial one. "And will fifty percent be enough for determining our position in space-time?" "No. That module requires at least seventy percent." That's the end of it. The verdict had been delivered. The initial uncertainty on the ship, the fears and doubts during the cart ride, and the nightly carousel of thoughts in the inn - all this had happened under the impression of a small glimmer of hope. The belief that everything could still turn out for the better. That was over now. If no miracle happened, and I wasn't stupid enough to believe it would, then I was trapped here. Forever. Till death and beyond. Strangely enough, I became quite calm at these thoughts. Now I had certainty. I was just trembling a little. Alexios watched me closely from the other side of the bench. "Are you all right, Phillip? You look so..." He probably could not think of a word to describe my condition and he left the sentence unfinished. I couldn't think of one either. I stoically answered that I was fine and everything was all right. As the cart continued to clatter across the cobblestones a whole world of sensations and memories from my previous life, now so far away from me, passed by. Way too soon the beautiful memories faded and I only felt the hard wood of the bench at my back. For quite a while I sat there staring into nothing, pondering over everything.
  7. Water, waves, and a raging storm surrounded me. A feeling of being engulfed by the floods was the first thing that reached my numb senses. I knew it was just a dream. But that did not change the threat from the mass of water that seemed to come down on me from all sides. Blurrily, I saw myself floating on the ocean, slowly but surely sinking into the black depths. My whole body feeling like it was filled with water, an infinite heaviness, that pulled me faster and faster towards the bottom of the sea. It was so cold, I appeared to be freezing. Although I couldn't tell, because I didn't actually feel anything anymore. I noticed, at the edge of my consciousness, I hit the ground gently. Suddenly, a jolt tore through the floor. A tremendous shockwave violently washed away the layers of water weighing on me. The quake continued! It permeated my body, forcing me spluttering and choking to spew out all the liquid I had collected inside of me. --- The first real feeling that reached my still clouded senses was nausea. Not the kind caused by time travel, but a much more tangible sensation. I opened my eyes to take in my surroundings. However, before I could classify the vague impression of blue being part of the sky, I had to turn my head to the right and throw up. The sumptuous breakfast at the home of Manu's mother-in-law now became my undoing. Exhausted, I let my head fall back on - yes on what actually? It felt hard. As a precaution, I closed my eyes again, trying to assess the situation. My immediate position was clear: I was lying on my back. In terms of what the world around me looked like, well I didn’t dare speculate. One thing was certain, I was alive. And that was, after all, reassuring. With the nausea fading to a bearable level, I listened to my body. There was nothing noticeable like the stabbing and pulling I had felt after my arrival in Egypt. However, my limbs felt leaden and my head was spinning - not to mention the countless other painful spots. I decided I ought to complain less and instead find out what it was like around me. So I opened my eyes to try again and this time I managed to catch more than a glimpse of the sky. I straightened up a little and leaned on my elbows. What the heck? I was expecting all sorts of things, but not this. I was on a ship! Shocked, I let myself fall back once more. How could something like that have come about? Had I been unconscious for so long that they had found me and wanted to ship me off for some reason? No, that was a stupid idea. Only now did I notice a dampness under the blankets I was wrapped in. Was my strange dream perhaps not so unrealistic as I thought, had I reappeared in the water? Or did I materialize directly on board? “Elisa, are you there?” No response. Of course, the battery of my electronic companion was exhausted due to the time jump. Since it was apparently not yet recharged, my appearance here could not have been too long ago. Well, if I couldn't find out anything from Elisa, I had to take matters into my own hands. I straightened up completely and concentrated on my immediate surroundings. Three people stood not far from me at the railing, looking out toward the sea. As I followed their gaze, I noticed land in the distance, which we were probably heading for. The three figures were men. They were dressed in weatherproof hooded coats. I estimated them to be in their mid-twenties, a little older than me perhaps. Given the harsh living conditions of earlier times, it was hard to be certain. Otherwise, there was not much to see on deck. The ship, about twenty-five meters long, had a mast with sails. My experience with ships was limited. Therefore, its construction unfortunately did not allow me to draw any conclusions about the place or time. One of the men turned around and noticing me, he hurried to get the others' attention. They all came running, hovering over me in a semicircle. The first one, recognizable by his pointed beard, said something to me, but I did not understand a single word. It sounded like a question, though. Probably "who are you?" – or something along those lines. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to answer him, nor could I guess the true meaning of his words. Although I was sure that I did not know his language, it somehow seemed familiar to me. If only the TTEK would start up again... Nevertheless, the man uttered a few more sentences until my uncomprehending face made him understand that his attempts were in vain. Now, they engaged in a lively discussion among themselves. Probably thinking about what to do next. The second guy, who stood opposite the first one on my left, gestured for the others to be silent. He knelt down beside me, his colleagues following suit. Then he started talking to me as well. This time he used a different language though, which seemed much more familiar to me, even though it was no longer spoken in our time. He spoke in Latin. It took a load off my mind. Although I did not speak Latin fluently - if one could say such a thing about a dead language at all - I had had to acquire quite a bit in the course of my history studies. And so I also understood his question about my name, which he now repeated for the second time. I thought about my name for a second. I mean the name I would want to bear if I was in fact in the Roman Empire. Well, it couldn't hurt to stick with the truth for now. An undertaking that I would have to give up soon enough. "Nomen mihi est Phillip." - My name is Phillip. A three-part "Ohh!" and "Aww!" accompanied my first linguistic attempt in this time. The other two men congratulated their colleague on his success. Then they also introduced themselves. The one with the pointed beard on my left was named Alexios. On my right was Thalis and Gregory was sitting at my feet. Good. We were able to communicate and an immediate danger did not seem to emanate from these guys either. After all, they had wrapped me in a blanket and now we were talking to each other. Right after this initial success, however, they started to bombard me with questions in Latin. I didn’t even try to understand what they were asking. I raised both hands, gesturing them to slow down. They laughed, apparently at their own impatience, and talked to each other again, falling back into the other language. I was just as curious about them as they were about me so I asked what language they were using. “Greek,” they said. Alexios took my question as an opportunity to tell me a little bit about himself and his companions, which was of course very welcome. Firstly, I learned something about my situation and secondly, I did not have to answer unpleasant questions myself. I didn't understand everything, but enough. They were Greeks who had taken this ship on their way to Rome. Not bad! Maybe I had been lucky. At least the deviation in space wasn’t that huge. On the other hand, it should have been only a few feet. Before the three of them came up with a counter-question, I asked them the one thing nagging at me since I woke up. Namely, how I had gotten onto this ship. As they told me, I gasped. The answer was very disturbing indeed. They had seen me floating on the water and Thalis, who was a good swimmer, had pulled me out. A shiver ran down my back as I imagined what a pitiful death I might have met. "The test went well" - were those not the words of my friend and boss Lisa Bolzano? Well, once again, it didn't work out quite as it was supposed to. And this time I barely escaped with my life. I sure hoped they would do better next time! Before I could worry about that, though, I had to deal with the current situation. My fellow passengers had meanwhile agreed on another question for me. "How is it that I had to fish you out of the water?" Thalis, the one who rescued me, asked. Sooner than I had imagined we reached the point where telling the truth wouldn’t work anymore. I had to fabricate something. What though? I decided to take the obvious route. "I was traveling by boat, too, but mine sank in the storm." They exchanged knowing looks with each other. "Yes, here near Rome the water can be treacherous at times," Gregory said. He hadn’t spoken to me before. Perhaps it was because his Latin wasn’t as fluent as the others'? "And where did your ship come from?" Thalis asked. Since I really didn't know the answer, I simply made a gesture that was supposed to express ‘from far away’. That seemed to satisfy them for now. Since I finally wanted to know for certain, I simply decided to ask straight out. "Quis annus est?" - What year is it? Alexios looked at me, puzzled. He furrowed his brow but proceeded to tell me that it was the year 954 after the foundation of Rome. Great… and when was that? I had learned a lot about antiquity, but I wasn’t good at remembering dates. Still, it was good news. If the calendar here was based on the foundation of Rome, then at least I had arrived at some time during the Roman Empire. Gregory tilted his head. "Maybe the water has washed out his skull?" Thalis nodded thoughtfully. "That's an interesting thesis, brother. If he wasn't alive, I'd peek inside.” I was still sitting on the floor but instinctively crawled backward a little. What was that all about? Thalis noticed my bewilderment. He laughed. "Don't worry, I don't intend to do it. We're doctors, you see. The rich people in Rome pay well for our services. That's why we want to take over the practice of our uncle there, who died recently." So, I was sharing a vessel with three ancient quacks. Well, as long as they weren’t starting to experiment on me, I should be fine. "I better examine you again," Alexios said. He seemed to be the elder and in charge. Wait a moment, what did ‘again’ mean? Had he felt me up before? It's a good thing syringes weren't invented yet, were they? Let's hope not. I was lucky though and the examination turned out to be harmless. Alexios just took a closer look at my head. He probably looked for bruises or some other head injury after my supposed loss of memory. "Is this your ship?" I asked. The three laughed. "Of course not, I'm afraid we couldn't afford that. It's a cargo ship. And for giving us passage, we paid the captain a small remuneration." "So you are not by any chance a citizen of Rome?" Alexios now asked me. "No, unfortunately not." "What a pity." The three of them exchanged a few glances. "We had hoped you might be. At least that way we'd have someone who knew the place and could support us." "We had also hoped that you were very wealthy," Gregory added, "and that you would pay us well for your rescue." I understood. Of course they had an ulterior motive in pulling me out of the ocean. Hippocratic oath notwithstanding. "Unfortunately, I can't help you with that either. All my possessions went down with my ship. And I don’t know anyone in Rome." Their faces showed disappointment. It was only Gregory, though, who uttered a demonstrative sigh of regret. "Why were you going to Rome anyway? Or were you on your way back?" Thalis pursued. "No, I was on my way there. Trading and business, the usual." I hoped their interest in such topics was now satisfied. Thalis pondered for a while. "I think there's still something you can do for us. If what you say is true and you don't know anyone in Rome, I'm sure you'll be glad to have a few friends there." At the same time, he pointed at his brothers. "You could help us move our belongings from the ship to my uncle's dwelling." I thought for a moment. Sure, I could do that. It certainly wouldn't take much time and Thalis was quite right in what he said. So I agreed. The others nodded, somewhat satisfied, as they still received something in return for their rescue mission. Even though it was not as big, and above all not as golden, as they would have liked. I tried to get on my feet. I was still a little wobbly, but I managed to stand up. How long had I been awake now? Fifteen minutes, maybe? "When did you find me?" Alexios thought for a moment. "It must have been about five hours ago." What!? I was supposed to have been unconscious on deck for five fucking hours? That couldn't be true. The battery of the TTEK should have been recharged long ago! Then again, why would he lie to me? I started to feel sick. Had the damn electronics been damaged by the water? I tried to remember if the device was constructed to be waterproof. I didn’t know, though. Take a deep breath. Don't panic! There must have been a plausible explanation. One that had nothing to do with short circuits. Restlessly brooding, I walked up and down the ship. I couldn’t care less about the three friends throwing worried glances at each other. Let them think I wasn’t quite right in the head. In my situation, it was always better to be underestimated. Okay. Let's assume the electronics were intact. Then there's only one reason the device wasn't working. It's because there was no power. However, the battery should have been... wait a second. That was it! What should have been the normal course of my little trip through space and time? Exactly, outward journey, a few hours' stay at most, and then back again. Back to base, where the TTEK would be extensively maintained. What had I done, though? Several weeks of stay and then a second time jump, which had discharged the battery again. No wonder the TTEK was crapping out on me now. It wasn’t designed for that. However, Lisa would have known that, right? She wouldn't have sent me on a second one-way trip, would she? On the other hand, we had no choice. After all, this alien monster from a parallel world had been after me - as unreal as it seemed in retrospect. I never believed in monsters. Well, maybe when I was five. And I certainly didn't believe in aliens. That I would meet both of them one day, and together in one person - if you could call the Kerlock that - I would never have dreamed it up. Even now, the thought of it made me uneasy. I was digressing again, though. I stopped abruptly at the ship’s bow, staring out at the approaching mainland. I wonder if this would not only be the destination of this cruise, but also my grave? It seemed inevitable to me that I would be lost without help in this strange city and time. The situation would be even worse than Egypt. Actually, it wasn’t even a legitimate comparison, because in Manu's country I was doing really well - except for the first day! And most importantly, I was always able to get help from my digital assistant, Elisa, or even from Base. I took a deep breath in and out. More optimism, Phillip! --- I didn't know how long I had been standing at the railing, pondering. At some point, Thalis had carefully patted me on the shoulder, asking if everything was okay. "Yes, I’m fine, Thalis," I reassured him. "You don't look like it, to be honest." "It's just... about my ship. I have lost… everything", I replied and spoke the truth, at least in the second sentence. Thalis nodded understandingly. Then he asked me something which I did not understand at first. I asked him to repeat it, which he did. Often I found the pronunciation a bit unfamiliar, but I slowly got used to it. "Were your wife and kids on it?" was his question. "Uh, no. I don't have either a wife or children." He nodded, but my answer seemed to have confused him a little. Suddenly it struck me that I had not yet thanked him. After all, he had saved my life. Should I just hug him? For the first time, I consciously looked him over. He had short frizzy black hair and equally dark eyes. His facial hair was well-trimmed. But no, hugging strangers was probably not customary here. Lifesaver or not. "I want to thank you, Thalis. For saving me from certain death." He lowered his gaze, a little embarrassed, which was quite sweet to watch. "You're welcome," he murmured. What a funny guy. "Come join the others," he said, "we'll play the Triangle game." They’ll play what? Oh, for fuck's sake! Elisa would've known for sure. My gaze clouded over again, wandering off into the distance. Thalis noticed and put his hand on my shoulder. "Come on, Phillip. This will cheer you up. We've got something to drink too." I sighed. He was right. And I could indeed use a good sip of something strong - as long as it wasn't saltwater. Besides, I should finally stop being pessimistic. Nothing was certain yet. Maybe the battery would simply take a little longer to recharge. Even though I couldn't completely suppress the bad feeling nagging at me, I followed Thalis and joined the others. --- The Triangle game was doing its name justice. The playing field consisted of a cloth laid out on the ground, on which a triangle was drawn. This was divided into ten areas by horizontal lines. According to its trigonometric nature, the area enclosing the peak was the smallest, the sizes increasing towards the bottom. The areas were marked with the Roman numerals from I to X, meaning one to ten, ascending from the base to the top. After I confessed to Thalis that I did not know how to play the game, which surprised him, he willingly explained it to me. The goal was to stand three meters away from the cloth target and launch a nut so that it landed on the triangle. The score for the throw was based on the numerical value of the section of triangle on which the nut came to rest. What sounded quite simple, wasn’t in practice. The swaying of the ship often made it difficult to hit the cloth at all. Alexios and Gregory, however, showed considerable skill in adapting their throws to the inclination of the barge, scoring good hits against the odds. In the beginning, I did not do so well, but it didn't take long until I got the hang of it. Thalis seemed to have the same fate. He even had to put up with a mocking remark by Gregory who asked whether Thalis’ arms had shrunk while swimming. It seemed strange to me, too, since he must have had a lot of practice during the long journey. I wondered if he did this on purpose... "but no, Phillip," I thought. "You're imagining again!" After a few dozen rounds of the game, another phenomenon came to light. The throws became less precise, until finally it was a rarity and cause for loud cheering if one of us scored a point at all. What happened? The hit rate had decreased as the alcohol level, fed by constant intake from the ship's cargo hold, increased. The wine, of which there seemed to be an almost inexhaustible supply below deck, had been served and drunk by the gallon, since the game started. It was soon clear to me that I couldn’t take much more. The provisions the three brothers kindly shared with me only soaked up so much. I should have known this beforehand, given that in my time I only ever drank during occasional company parties. This abstinence had been part of my training program. Earlier though, when I was a student, things had been quite different. However, the stamina I had back then was long a thing of the past. I heard loud laughter as Thalis messed up his throw so badly that the nut went overboard. Gregory laughed. "Maybe you should jump in and save it?" "I think…" he continued with a heavy tongue, but then faltered. "You’re thinking, ohh. That's new," Alexios said. "Yes, I think. I think we should go to bed now." Alexios nodded. "For once you are right, brother. We're going to be in port tomorrow morning and we better be sober by then." Rather unwillingly the others agreed. The game was over, the day had come to an end. Now I staggered to the railing and leaned on it. I wondered what time it was? A hint of melancholy struck me, albeit diluted by the alcohol. Elisa could have told me. The wristwatch had not yet been invented, that much was clear enough looking at the wrists of my fellow travelers. The Romans counted the hours differently anyway, but I could not remember how. I was startled by Thalis talking behind me. I hadn't heard him coming. "Don't fall in the water. I couldn't save you now," he said. Was that humor, the musings of a drunk, or serious concern? Be it how it may. My scrambled brain needed rest. "Yes, let's go to sleep. But where?" I replied. "On deck, of course. The hold is full of cargo. Over there are some mattresses." He nodded in the direction. Then stepped next to me and proceeded to relieve himself over the side of the ship. I see, that's how it's done here. Quite logical I suppose. I didn't think long and followed suit. A moment later, we walked over to the spot he had indicated. There was a stack of mattresses piled next to some barrels, from which the others had already helped themselves. We took one each and lay down. There was even a pillow. "Good night, everybody," Alexios said. "Tomorrow we will be ashore!" I wished them good night and tried to get comfortable on my bed. The mattress seemed to be filled with straw. I would have found it quite uncomfortable under normal circumstances, but the alcohol did its job. I was used to the abstinence from comfortable beds, something I already had to endure in Egypt. I fell asleep in no time at all. --- "Puteoli! Puteoli! All rise, port ahead!" The booming voice of the captain woke us up. Bleary eyed, I sat up and inspected the beds next to me. Gregory was rubbing his eyes and Thalis seemed to be still asleep. Only Alexios was nowhere to be seen. Looking around with tired eyes, I discovered him standing at the bow. He was talking to the captain, who I had barely seen before. He didn't seem to care much for his guests. "Fucking wine," Thalis muttered next to me. He was right, my head was throbbing too. I had to get up, though. Besides, I was dying to know what was ahead. When I stepped up to the bow next to Alexios, I saw it. A huge harbor was spread out before us. The most impressive thing was a sort of stone footbridge we were about to pass. It led from the shore several hundred feet out into the sea and was more than thirty feet wide. The massive pillars supporting the path were connected by round arches, similar to many modern bridges. Though that wasn’t all. The footbridge was also populated with columns, statues, and triumphal arches, as well as by people walking on it. What was the point of this structure? I didn't see any landing stages. It had to have some purpose besides beautifying the landscape. I asked Alexios about it. "It's a breakwater. To protect the harbor from the waves, because of the dangerous southerly winds." So that was it. Surely we had something like that in the future as well, just without all the adornment. In my time, such splendor would be too costly and perceived as decadent. They clearly had different standards here. The deeper we went into the harbor, the better I could see the dimensions of the whole city. Somehow, what I saw there seemed strange to me. Certainly it was home to a large assortment of ships, harbor buildings, and further back what looked like residential housing. Even an amphitheater was visible, but it did not look like a huge city. I had imagined Rome differently. However, that didn’t have to mean anything. I still didn't know what time period I was in - not even what time I should have been in if the time jump had gone correctly. After all, everything had to go pretty damn fast during my hasty escape. I sighed. Elisa would've known. Once again a touch of hopelessness overcame me. What could I do? Images floated into my mind; Lisa Bolzano, those happy hours I had spent with my boss and best friend, my colleagues at CERN, and my family, who must be worried now. Would I ever see them again? About a day had passed since my arrival without the slightest sign of life from the TTEK. How much longer could I keep hoping? "Look, Phillip!" Thalis had apparently got up as well because he was now standing next to us. I blinked, trying to shed the moisture from my eyes. Probably not fast enough, because Thalis noticed. "Is everything all right with you?" "Yeah, sure. It's just the wind." I didn't know if he believed me. He didn’t press me though. "Look how beautiful and splendid everything is here. What will it be like in Rome!" Wait a moment. Let me get this straight. "This is not Rome?" Thalis laughed. Alexios, who had listened to our conversation, laughed as well. "Of course not," he told me. "This here is Puteoli. One of the largest ports in the Empire. It is still quite a way to Rome, but we must continue our journey on land." This of course explained why my image of Rome did not fit with this city. "How far is it from here?" "About 140 miles. Only a few days' travel on the Via Appia." Whew… days! This reminded me of my last, week-long boat trip on the Nile. And it reminded me that not much had changed in terms of speed of travel in the last thousand years. The street name Via Appia sounded familiar though. It was that masterpiece of Roman paving art that stretched from Rome all the way to the far south of the Italian boot. Some sections were a mile-long and dead straight. "Get your luggage together and bring up our cargo," Alexios ordered. "And you, Phillip, help. When we dock, everything should be in one place, otherwise the customs check will take longer than necessary." Thalis grumbled, but set to work. I followed him, helping to carry their luggage. Physical exertion was always a good distraction. --- Fifty boxes later I saw that in a slightly different light. "Oh, boy! What's in there? I hope that's everything.“ "Don't worry," Thalis reassured me, "this one will probably be the last. And in terms of the contents, well it's clothes, a few souvenirs from home and of course our medical arsenal." Knowing what I was carrying didn't make the work any easier. Fortunately though, it was done. Groaning, I put down the last crate. The ship meanwhile had reached its berth and the ropes were tied off. The captain jumped ashore, where he was welcomed by a small committee consisting of three port employees. For the less agile among us, a plank was laid down. Alexios beckoned me over. "Listen, Phillip, here's what we're gonna do. If the officials ask, we'll pass you off as our slave. It may sound undignified, but it avoids unnecessary questions." "Sure. Do it the way you think is best," I replied. Even though it was the right thing for me to remain as unnoticed as possible, a slight feeling of déjà vu came over me. Followed by a painful memory of Manu. Understandable, considering I had last seen him a few hours ago... yet he had been dead for over a thousand years. Did he have a good life? One should differentiate though, because the Manu of the world I was in now had never met me. This world corresponded to the original past again, based on my home time. I wonder if he had had a happier life without meeting me. Before I could rack my brains about the confusing interrelations of time, I had to lug crates again. This time from the ship onto a wagon. While Thalis, Gregory, and I started to carry the luggage, Alexios talked to one of the men from the harbor. Probably the customs officer he spoke of. I was just passing them, listening in on their conversation, as the officer stepped forward. "Stop! Not so fast! Before these crates are loaded, all contents must be declared." Seeking help, I looked to Alexios. He proceeded to talk to the rather small, chubby-cheeked representative. "But my dear Pontius, is this really necessary? We really do have a lot of boxes - trivial things, incidentally, of purely personal value - and we don't want to take up too much of your valuable time." The little man blinked, torn between duty and Alexios flattery. The Greek noticed his hesitation and immediately followed up. "Look over there, dear friend. Another freighter about to dock." Alexios gaze wandered demonstratively from the cargo ship to the sky, his face an expression of sympathy. With a gentle, understanding tone he continued his monologue. "Consider all your work. If you have to handle this ship too, you won't get home before sundown. I'd be really embarrassed to put you through that." The customs officer seemed relieved, as his mind could easily solve this problem. "Just don't worry about it, my colleague over there is in charge of that ship. So if we start right away, we'll be through before dark." This was not the reaction Alexios had hoped for. His face twitched before he made another move. "Dear Pontius, how long is it now since I last came here to visit my uncle? More than a year if I remember correctly. And to my amazement, I must now see that a man like you, yes such a man I say, has not yet been appointed harbour manager. To me, I must say, a complete mystery." A brief convulsion ran over Alexios' face and it almost seemed as if the Holy Spirit itself had enlightened him with an idea. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in a theater performance. Alexios was a good actor, no doubt. Except that his goal was not to entertain the audience, but to circumvent the freight control. "I have an idea, dear Pontius. When I arrive in Rome, I shall tell my uncle about your outstanding merits. As a respected doctor, he knows many high ranking citizens." He was pushing his luck, given his uncle had long since passed away. Why was he so determined to avoid the inspection? The officer ran his hand over his bald head. "But Alexios, haven’t I heard about your uncle's funeral?" Uh – oh. This was going downhill fast. Alexios acted surprised while he feverishly searched for a way out. Meanwhile, the others stood behind me, curiously following the conversation. "He screwed up again," Gregory whispered to Thalis. Since he was under pressure to move, Alexios put on an obliging smile and began. "Well, most gracious Pontius, it is -" Suddenly a penetrating sound interrupted him. "Beep! Beep! Beep!" Three distinct beeps. Actually, it was too regular for it to be of natural origin. It didn't come from the micro-speaker in my ear though, because the others had heard it too. I was still holding the crate in my hands, but the real source could only be the TTEK. Whether it was a good sign, I did not know yet. But at least it was a sign! "Elisa?" I asked silently. Hopefully, she would react again! But she remained silent. The customs officer, however, did not. "What was that noise?" he said, looking in my direction. His expression hardened and he seemed to have come to a decision. "Dead or alive uncle, it doesn't matter. In these boxes though, there is something alive. You're not importing illegal animals, are you?" "Of course not," Alexios replied somewhat confused. "Well then, open all the crates! All contents must be declared before loading." The Greek surrendered. He gave us a signal to comply with the officer's request. I put down the box, which I had held in my hands for far too long, and lifted the lid. A collection of different vials was inside. "Ahh!" exclaimed Pontius, "what do we have here?" "Merely our modest supply of medicinal tinctures. Certainly not animals" Alexios explained, resignation in the tone of his voice. "Medicine, that is. Dutiable! All dutiable!" Filled with zeal, he pulled out a sheet of paper on which various goods and the assigned import duties were listed. "Are there any more of these?" Alexios rolled his eyes. "A few." We resumed the transport of the boxes again, lifting the lid halfway and subjecting the contents to a thorough examination by the eyes of the little man. Clearly satisfied, he expressed his pleasure by humming and hissing in various pitches. ‘I knew it!’ was written all over his face. In the end, Alexios' ‘a few’ turned out to be ‘almost all boxes’. Whereupon the customs officer told him a figure that apparently let the Greek age by several years on the spot. "Have you double-checked that sum?", Alexios asked, hoping that it might be a mistake. "Of course. It's all correct." Gregory and Thalis, who had just stowed the last box in the cart, threw worried looks at each other. "My good Pontius," Alexios began in a hesitant tone and added somewhat more firmly, "let's go for a walk. I have something to talk to you about." As they walked along the quay, my two other travel companions stepped next to me. "Gregory, what is he doing?" "I don't know, Thalis. How should I know? Maybe he wants to get rid of him by sending him to join the fish." "I hope not. There are about a dozen guards in this place." True, the area was well guarded. There was an armed man at every harbor building and landing place. So I hardly believed that Alexios was up to something like that. It looked like he had a plan, though.
  8. Phillip's journey continues, though can he hope to ever return back home? Arriving at his next destination, he gets entangled in events that threaten to outgrow him.
  9. Dear readers, this weekend the second book of Replay will be published here on GA, sooner even than I anticipated. I'm very much looking forward to sharing it with you! Best David
  10. DavidJ

    Chapter 9

    Thanks for the hint! I didn't do that for this book. Half because I didn't believe it could yield anything useful and half because I actually enjoyed doing it myself. But it did take a lot of time. So I just tried it with a couple of paragraphs from the second book and the results totally amaze me (I tried deepl.com) 😲 It's incredible what is possible today. I will definitely make use of this technique, which will make the whole process a lot faster.
  11. DavidJ

    Chapter 9

    There are two at the moment. But apart from wanting to translate the second one, I also want to write a third part. I think there could be four to five parts total. However, it took me about 8 years to get the second part done, mainly because I didn't continue writing for a long time. I sure hope though the translation of the second part as well as writing the third book won't take quite that long.
  12. “Safe travels! But be back in time for dinner, will you?” Shani shouted, watching us ride away on the cart. Manu rolled his eyes. “It’s good I don’t actually live here.” I had to laugh. “You should be happy to have such a caring mother-in-law. They can be very different, you know.” We were rolling through the streets at a leisurely pace. I was content sitting up on the cart, as opposed to traversing the city on foot. Not only did it shield us from the sun, it also protected us from thieves. Hopefully. It wasn’t long until we passed the city walls. There were cottages and fields for a while and after that only desert. The air was quite dry today. Manu looked at the horizon. “I hope we don’t get a sandstorm.” I hoped so, too. How could I find something I didn’t even know what it looked like if a sandstorm took away any visibility. “It’s not far now,” the driver shouted. The pyramids were indeed visible in the distance, growing from minute to minute. In front of them, perhaps a hundred yards from us, there was a small settlement. I guessed it was used by people working at the pyramids. Maybe they had some kind of religious duty, or maybe it was simply for maintenance. We hadn’t quite reached the settlement yet when the visibility dropped dramatically. The wind picked up, blowing dust in our faces. Manu cursed. “Damn it! There it is, the sandstorm. Here, cover your mouth and nose with this cloth.” That was a good idea. I took the cloth, tieing it together at the back of my head. Visibility had dropped to just a few feet in the meantime. The pyramids had disappeared completely behind a layer of sand. I wouldn’t even have noticed our arrival at the small settlement if we hadn’t passed one of the buildings. Manu turned toward me. “I think we should seek refuge in the basement of one of the houses and wait it out.” I agreed. “Yes, that’s probably best.” My eyes were awfully itchy. I rubbed them, but that only made it worse. The sand apparently didn’t go well with my contact lenses. I tried to take them out, which was easier said than done. For a moment, I thought I held them between my fingers but I was wrong. “Ameniu, are you coming? We can find shelter in this house. The owner is so kind as to permit us entrance.” I hurried to catch up to Manu. We entered the house where the owner led us down into the basement. His wife and children were already hunkering down there. The basement was the safest place to be because the ground floor wasn’t protected from the storm very well. Window glass wasn’t invented yet and the wooden shutters they used weren’t exactly airtight. “System error #134 – Connection to visor lenses lost.” Fuck! That couldn’t be true. What an idiot I was. As I was trying to take them out, I must have lost the lenses. And there was no chance I would be able to find them again after that storm. I buried my face in my hands. I guess I had to be even more tight-lipped from now on. Elisa would have to read out the translation of what I wanted to say so I could parrot her. “Don’t you worry, Ameniu. This happens often here. It won’t last much longer than an hour.” Manu must have picked up my anxiety, thinking it was due to the sandstorm. He was sitting next to me with his back to the wall, smiling at me. I smiled back at him. I really had been incredibly lucky to have met him. Who knew where I would have been by now without him – and whether I would still be alive. Also, he was always so caring and really cute. The way he smiled was just gorgeous. Phillip, are you in love? Well… I might be. My amorous thoughts were harshly interrupted by Elisa’s voice in my ear. “Dr. Marten, the foreign energy signature is much stronger in this area. I can now determine its position within an accuracy of a few feet. It is moving directly toward you.” Good thing I was already sitting on the floor. Otherwise, my legs would have turned to jelly for sure. That could not be a coincidence. The signal was moving directly toward me. Whatever or whoever it was, it knew I was here. It could probably locate the TTEK’s energy signature just as I could locate its own. My heart was in my mouth. What should I do now? Was I about to make contact with an alien lifeform? And, more importantly, would it be a peaceful encounter or not? I absolutely had to avoid meeting it down here. There was no escape route from this basement. And I certainly didn’t want to drag Manu into this, perhaps even risking him getting hurt. I hastily prepared a sentence. “Manu, I need to step outside for a moment. Whatever happens, stay here!” Without waiting for a response, I rushed up the stairs and stepped outside into the sandstorm. “How far is the signal now?” “Less than thirty feet at your eleven o'clock.” Visibility was dreadful. I stared in the given direction but couldn’t make out anything. “The energy level has suddenly…” Before Elisa could finish her sentence, there was a loud bang. A bright flash of light zipped through the air, hitting my chest. I screamed. It felt as if I had been hit by a truck. The impact threw me back a dozen feet, forcing all air out of my lungs. I hit the sand hard. My ribs hurting badly. “Medical report. No fractures or bruises. Light burns. Injecting nanobots for tissue regeneration. Tactical report. Assault by a high energy weapon. Strong kinetic and thermic effect.” That much I noticed. My protective shirt had luckily absorbed most of it. Where the beam had hit, the fabric became stiff and black. Apparently, the nano-compound melted, rendering it useless. It was unclear whether I could survive another hit. I rolled on my belly, scouting the environment. There was a house just a few feet away. I crawled behind it as fast as I could, seeking cover. “Where is the enemy now?” “Directly on the other side of this building. It is now approaching clockwise.” Damn it! I picked myself up and started to walk around the building clockwise as well. For sure my opponent would see through that strategy rather quickly but it was all that came to mind on the fly. “Ameniu, where are you? Is everything ok? I heard a scream.” It was already bad enough! And now Manu came outside. After the alien was done with me, it would come after him. I had to protect him! I sprinted toward the opposite building, in front of which I made out Manu’s silhouette. “Go back down! It's too dangerous!” That was all I scrambled together in a few seconds. Manu just looked at me, not understanding. “Caution, behind you!” I turned in a heartbeat, positioning myself in front of Manu. I noticed a shadow through the sandstorm, closing in on us. “What do you want from me?!” I shouted. The dust set slightly, revealing what was approaching us. I took a sharp breath. Good Lord! It was not an alien. It was a human being! The attacker stopped in his tracks. He stared at me, blinking as if he had seen a ghost. I must have stared back the same way. He suddenly started to tremble, spluttering a few words. “I… this…” Wait! These were English words. Some weird accent but it was certainly English. He dropped to his knees, burying his face in his hands. In fact, he began to sob. What the fuck had I gotten myself into? Manu was standing behind me, looking the strange person over critically. I did the same. Because he had buried his face in his hands, I only saw the shoulder-length blond hair. He had to be about my age. His clothing was quite peculiar. He was wearing some kind of whole-body suit that reminded me of a diver’s wetsuit. For sure it had a different purpose though, not only because water to swim in was rather sparse here. He was also carrying a flat rectangular container on his back. And there was something looking like a weapon fixed to his right wrist. Probably the one he had almost killed me with. However, I no longer had the impression that he wanted to finish said job. So I approached him. “Everything ok with you?” I asked. That sounded bizarre. I was asking a guy who wanted to kill me just a few seconds before if everything was ok with him. He looked up to me. His face was dirty. “I’m so sorry,” he started. “I thought you were an alien. Bloody hell… I almost killed a human being. I have never killed anyone.” So that was why he shot at me immediately. Because he thought I was an alien? What an irony. I thought he was one. Still, either the boy was xenophobic or there was more to this story. Anyway, there were more important questions right now. “Who are you?” I asked. He had picked up some courage again and got up. “My name is Keith. I’m a scout for the Planetary Alliance. And who are you?” “I’m Ameni… Phillip Marten from the ATR project.” “ATR? Never heard of that.” Neither had I heard of this ‘Planetary Alliance’. “Wait a moment. Where are you from?” I asked. “Because I strongly suspect you’re not from here, are you?” He laughed. “Of course not. I’m from the year 2321, just like you.” “Well… no. I come from 2086.” He released a sharp breath. Did I say something wrong? “But that is incredible. Do you know how small the probability is that in the myriad of parallel universes we coincidentially end up in the same one? It’s so minuscule it would take a minute to read out all the zeros after the dot. In other words, it’s impossible. That’s why I thought you must have followed me from my world.” And yet it happened. “What do you think of that, Elisa?” I asked her silently. “The given probability is indeed low. Therefore, I conclude that it is not a coincidence. The theories of space-time I am able to compute, however, do not provide an explanation. Thus, it must be an unexplored aspect.” Or beyond her capabilities, I added. Anyways, I’m sure Lisa would be very interested in all this. “Yet I am here. And so are you, Keith. Though I still don’t know what you came here for in the first place?” “As I said, I’m a scout. But you don’t know about that, of course. In our world, aliens called Kerlocks have invaded Earth. We have been at war with them for years now. Although we outnumber them, we are fighting a losing battle. Their technology is several centuries ahead of ours. It’s simply a matter of time until they defeat us, eradicating all human life on earth. It is my task as a scout to search foreign parallel universes in the hope of finding a further developed species that can help us in fighting the Kerlocks.” I swallowed hard. Wow, that sounded incredibly fascinating yet incredibly sad. Humanity on the brink of extinction? I guess we were very lucky in comparison. Except for that problem with climate change which we still didn’t have under control completely. “I’m sorry, Keith. I can’t help you with that. We just developed the technology of time travel. To be honest, I’m the first person testing it. Unfortunately, something went wrong. I was supposed to jump to a much later time but I ended up here. We suspect that was because of you.” He nodded. “Perhaps. But it is because of you that I cannot get out of here.” “Because of me?” “Yes. You are broadcasting a space-time signal that is somehow interfering with my trace signal for jumping back. I thought that was intentional and you were a Kerlock that followed me from my time. You know, it happens quite often that they hunt scouts like me.” I see. Now I got why he had been so trigger-happy earlier. “He is probably referring to the communication signal I use to contact the base.” From an engineering perspective, the issue was complex. Practically speaking, however, it was simple. I was here because of him and he couldn’t leave because of me. I explained it to him, expressing my apologies for causing him to be stuck here for so long. “No, Phillip. I’m the one who has to apologize. But, tell me, how come you are still here? I don’t have a connection like this to my base. The danger a Kerlock could use it to find me is too high. So I’m not blocking your return, am I?” “That’s correct Keith. However, the problem is that our technology isn’t yet sophisticated enough to facilitate a transfer over such a large time span. So I’m stuck here… like forever.” Once again the sad truth about my situation sunk in. Keith dropped his gaze. I could see a tear in his left eye. He really was a sentimental guy. “I’m so sorry, Phillip. It is my fault if you have to spend the rest of your life in this desert.” “Well, it’s not that terrible, you know. I even found friends here.” I pointed toward Manu, who had stepped closer in the meantime. “So this is your teammate?” he asked. “He’s dressed odd, don’t you think? And a little haggard.” I had to laugh and so did Keith who was apparently able to understand Manu as well. Nonetheless, I owed Manu an answer. And once again he provided an excellent assist. “Yes, that’s him. And these clothes, you know, are traditional in our country.” Not a word of that was true. Having to lie to Manu, my cute darling, like that really hurt inside. But I had no choice. The truth was way too far off for him to comprehend. “I guess he’s right. I do look haggard,” Keith said to me. “I haven’t had anything to eat, apart from stealing something here and there from these houses.” I really was luckier than him in that regard. Although it did not look like that in the beginning. Strapped to the back of a camel with a one way ticket to slavery hadn’t been the most promising start. “Why did you travel to such a distant time anyway?” I asked. “I thought you were looking for highly developed civilizations?” “Of course, but you wouldn’t believe in which periods I have met civilizations before. You can’t extrapolate based on your own world. You have to look at the complete set of all possible parallel universes. I have been in one before where I found a civilization in the industrial age about eight thousand years ago. And in one where apparently no life ever had developed on this planet.” His eyes were shining when he told me about his travels. “Wow! That sounds incredibly exciting.” “It is indeed. However, it is also dangerous. I have to admit, though, it’s good not having to witness the chaos and destruction in my own world all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I never forget what I’m fighting for. It’s just so refreshing to see all these mostly safe and peaceful worlds.” I got what he meant. If my home had been on the brink of destruction, I would have wanted to get away as well. “What will you do now?” I asked. “I will return home. A short stop and then my mission continues. The next world is waiting for me to explore. After all, I’m already way behind schedule and they probably think I’m dead.” Keith came closer and gave me a hug. “Good luck, Phillip! Here… I’ve got something for you.” “I am receiving a transmission. It contains scientific data.” “That is everything my database contains about our space-time technology. It is incomplete because of the potential danger if it were to fall into the Kerlocks’ hands. Still, perhaps it contains something of use to you.” “Thanks a lot, Keith.” I was genuinely moved. He barely knew me and yet he trusted me with information like that. Besides, he really looked cute. I could see the soft skin of his cheeks beneath the dirt on his face. I found myself imagining kissing them gently. Hello, Phillip!? Focus please. And don’t forget, you've already got a boyfriend. I quickly glanced over my shoulder at Manu who was still eyeing up Keith with suspicion. Was he jealous already? I instructed Elisa to forward the received data to base, together with a short report of the recent events. I would contact Lisa in person later. “Then please shut down the communication channel until Keith is gone,” I added. “Farewell, Phillip. Perhaps we will meet again sometime, who knows.” I didn’t think so but I sure hoped so. Keith took a few steps back. He then just stood there, waiting for something. I mean… he didn’t want to disappear right here in front of us, did he? Even Manu would not have been able to come up with an explanation for that. “Ahem, Keith? Would you mind stepping behind one of those houses? I’d really like to avoid scaring the hell out of my friend here.” “Oh, of course. My fault.” He smiled an apology and disappeared behind a house. “Where is he going?” Manu asked. “He will be returning back home. Which he can do. Unlike me.” The best thing about this answer was that it was one hundred percent true. Manu placed his hand on my shoulder. “You don’t seem that happy about it, Ameniu. Are you homesick?” I nodded. Yes, of course, I was. The situation was a little complicated, though. Because no matter whether I eventually could return, I would have to leave people dear to my heart behind. Manu pointed toward the right. “See, the storm has passed, revealing the pyramids again. Let’s go closer.” Manu started walking with enthusiasm, pulling me along. I rested my arm around his neck, trying to clear my mind. --- “This is fantastic, Phillip. Absolutely unbelievable. This stuff is like decades worth of science.” Lisa was singing a chorus of praise about Keith’s data, while I was walking along the old pyramid’s wall. At least only auditory because with the contact lenses gone, I had no optical interface anymore. “We’ve already punched the new equations into the computer. It looks like we can increase the facility’s accuracy by almost a factor of three without even doing any rebuilding.” I quickly estimated what a factor of three would mean. That would be about 1500 years of reach. Still only half my distance in time. “But that’s not all. Keith’s people cannot only do transfers between their own world and another time. They can also jump directly from one parallel universe into another.” “I know, Lisa. That much he told me. But I don’t see how that’s going to help me. I mean, I don’t want to end up in some parallel world, possibly ruled by cannibalistic apes. Or something like that.” Elisa interrupted her flood of words, having a hearty laugh. But only for a brief moment. “No, that wouldn’t work anyway. We would have to do significant rebuilding… what I wanted to say though, is this. I think with Keith’s data we will be able to optimize our system so you can jump back in stages. As you know, our facility can’t bring you back from 3500 years away at once. But we can do it step by step!” “Wow!” I was flabbergasted by her explanation. Did that mean I would be able to return home after all? Did I even want that anymore? I looked behind me where Manu was closely studying the monument. My gaze rested on him, a feeling of sadness in my heart. I sighed. Yes, I did love him. I was sure of it now. And yet, I could not stay here. I did not belong here, in this time. I was a stranger here and I was feeling that. And finally, I wasn’t on a joyride. I had an obligation toward my employer. “When will it be time?” I asked, my mouth dry. “I can’t say for certain yet. Configuring the new parameters will be quick. However, I want to do a dummy test first to make sure it actually works. So perhaps in a day or so.” That was good. It would give enough time to arrange my affairs here. And by that, I meant saying goodbye to Manu. Fuck, how would I explain myself? I bid Lisa farewell for now, asking her to send my regards to all colleagues. --- I sat next to Manu in the cart on our way back into town, lost in thought. I had not been in the mood to care much about the old buildings’ grandeur, although they were even more spectacular at this time where they had experienced little decay. However, I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts. Manu caressed my back. “Tell me, what is the matter, Ameniu? You’ve been so pensive since we left the pyramids.” There was no point in procrastinating, I had to tell him eventually. “I… I will be returning back home. My colleague made it possible for me.” I blinked and a tear ran down my cheek. Manu reacted calmly. His expression didn’t reveal anything. “So? Be glad. Why are you crying?” I tried to clear my throat. “Because I love you.” Manu looked at me with his hazelnut-colored eyes, giving me a gentle kiss. “Silly you. I love you, too. And that’s precisely why I want you to go home. You can be happier there than here.” I wasn’t so sure about that at the moment. “And you, Manu? What will become of you?” “I will return home as well, back to my wife, whether I like it or not. I guess we will even have children. I shouldn’t encounter any issue in that department anymore. You know, I just have to think of you naked.” Flattered, I snuggled up to him. --- The evening had been rather uneventful. At the dinner table, Shani told us about further sights one absolutely must see as a visitor. When I admitted I would be leaving the next day, she bemoaned it. Her feeling seemed sincere, explained simply by her relative loneliness. A visitor, especially if it was someone interesting like me, livened up the dull days. Manu acted as usual. Or at least he tried to. Despite his effort to hide it from me, I still sensed his grief about my upcoming departure. The looming danger of someone uncovering Manu’s sexuality had also prevented us from sharing any further affection, although we both would have welcomed it very much. Now, I was lying in bed, unable to fall asleep. I had no idea how long I had been lying there like that, torn between anticipation and sorrow. I suddenly heard a gentle creak. The door to my room opened and Manu popped his head in. “Are you sleeping yet?” he whispered. “No.” “I can’t fall asleep either, Ameniu. I constantly have to think of this being our last night.” He crept forward so I could see him in the moonlight. “Aren’t you afraid of your mother-in-law?” “Oh, come on. The old frump will be fast asleep by now. And if you don’t moan too loud, she won’t notice a thing.” He put on an impish grin, which looked even cuter than usual due to the moonshine. “Well, I will try,” I said, “but seeing you like that, I cannot guarantee anything.” He came over, snuggling up to me under the covers. He covered me with kisses, working his way down from my mouth to lower body parts. --- Not much was spoken during breakfast. Nobody really knew what to say, the imminent departure hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. Only Shani chimed in with some advice on what to consider for a journey that long. Of course, they were assuming I’d travel by boat. Apart from that, everybody was engrossed in their own thoughts. Mine were swaying between saying goodbye and last night. I wasn’t sure if it had been a good idea for Manu to join me in bed. Not because of Shani. She had slept more than sound, not hearing the odd louder expression of joy. No, we had an amazing night together – too amazing. Much more passionate than in his bathroom back then. After all, we had a comfy bed at our disposal here. However, only couples should spend such a night who could still be considered a couple the day after. Not ones who had to part ways, making goodbye even more difficult. There was nothing I had to pack so I was out of the door soon after breakfast. Manu stood next to me on the threshold. Shani had said goodbye already, which was a good thing. Or perhaps not. It would make our enforced breakup even more gut wrenching. “Oh Ameniu, darling. I do wish for you to get home. Yet, just as much I wish for you to stay here. With me.” Tears were streaming down his face. I tried to wipe them off with my hands. “Don’t cry, Manu. I know… and I would like to stay just as well. But it can’t be. Everyone has a place and responsibilities. Yours are here, mine are there.” I embraced him firmly. My eyes were now also filled with tears. He sobbed. “Please… don’t… forget me, Ameniu.” “I won’t, Manu. Never.” My God! Life was unjust. There was no point though in delaying the inevitable. It would just make it harder on both of us. Drenched in tears, weak at the knees, I let go of him. Okay, one last kiss. He gave in to it as if there was no tomorrow. And there was none, regarding our relationship. The fact that we were kind of standing out in the open didn’t occur to either of us. Shortly before I was about to suffocate, I let go. I took one step back. “Goodbye, Manu. Take care.” “Wait! I’ll come with you to the harbor.” “No, you stay here… It would just make it harder on us.” And it would reveal that there was no ship waiting for me. “Right… So, farwell my first and probably only love. Farewell, my dear Ameniu.” I turned around, starting to walk down the street. I hardly saw where I was going due to all the water in my eyes. Every few steps I looked back, waving at Manu. He waved as well, dejected. If I hadn’t already lost the contact lenses, they would have been swept away this morning. --- My head was empty. I had been hiking through the desert for a good quarter of an hour. Here, my journey had begun and here it would end. No - I corrected myself – here it would continue. After all, I had to do at least two stopovers before I could get home. I was far away from town by now, more than enough distance to vanish without being seen. Still, I was hesitating. Could there be an alternative? I mean, wouldn’t it perhaps be possible to stay here after all? I would get used to life here eventually, wouldn’t I? I’d miss all those modern amenities I was used to less and less over time. And finally, I had Manu, my first love. But I had already decided by saying goodbye to him, hadn’t I? Wasn’t the very fact I was standing here in hot desert sand instead of next to him proof of my decision? “Life is simple, but its components are complex,” was something my professor in quantum physics used to say. I never really got what he meant. But it was certainly true when it came to love. It looked like a damn complex component to me. Elisa interrupted my thoughts. “I am detecting a strong unknown energy signature, originating somewhere near the pyramids.” What the heck was that now? “Correction. The energy source has suddenly changed location. It is now located about ninety yards behind you.” Oh shit! One didn’t have to be a genius to figure out the nature of this strong energy source. It had to be one of those alien beasts following Keith. And now it probably thought I was the bold fugitive. That cut short any thoughts and doubts about leaving. I had to go. Now. “Quick, contact the base!” Mere two seconds later, Lisa Blozano picked up. “Lisa, is everything ready for the jump?” She nodded. “Tonight’s test run was successful. I think we can dare it.” “Good. Because I need to leave here. Immediately. One of those aliens from Keith’s world is after me!” “My God! Phillip, we’ll hurry!” Hectic commands could be heard in the background. Lisa sounded clearly shocked. I had to smirk. She was always so worried about me. This time, however, she had good cause. I had nothing to counter the Kerlock with. I wasn’t even armed, compared to Keith. I suddenly heard a hiss behind me in the distance. Without looking back, I started to run. “Enemy entity is now thirty yards behind you.” “Okay guys, now would be a good time!” “Countdown is on, Phil. T minus five seconds.” It struck me that I didn’t even know yet where I would be going. “Where will I be jumping to by the way?” A short laugh came through the line. “Didn’t you read the itinerary? Next stop: Ancient Rome.” ‘Interesting’ was my last thought before the space-time tunnel opened, dashing each and every molecule in my body to pieces once again.
  13. DavidJ

    Chapter 9

    ❤️ Thank you to everybody for reading this story, for liking it, and for all the comments you've wrote. I hope you enjoyed this first book of Phil's adventures. As I've mentioned in the comments before, there is in fact a sequel to this story already written. However, I don't know when I will get to translating it. I definitely want to but it won't be anytime soon. I hope you'll join me again when the time has come. See you! 🙋‍♂️
  14. DavidJ

    Chapter 3

    Luckily I've got an editor by now so you can just sit back and enjoy
  15. DavidJ

    Chapter 8

    A hard decision to make, for sure. Will ne need to? We'll find out next week in the final installment!
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