Province of Pannonia Superior
26th June, 165 CE
Arthur Vandenberg looked around the table at the other four Americans as they finished their dinners.
The only Americans in the whole world, he thought, with a thread of eeriness.
Most of the time now I can just… accept it. Then I see or hear or smell… or taste… something and it hits me all over again. Got to get my mental feet under me! Adjust or die, soldier.
The merchant Josephus had put them up here—it was a house he owned, normally rented out but empty yesterday save for basic furniture. And he’d sent his nephew on post-haste ahead to get things ready, including bedding, sets of Roman clothes, groceries and a cook, plus a couple of maids-of-all-work. They’d arrived late yesterday, eaten a scratch meal, fallen exhausted and still hurting a bit into early sleep, and then spent the next day doing essentials.
Or occasionally sitting stunned and shaking, like a steer in a slaughterhouse.
Settling in had taken some time; starting with learning how to tie on a subligaculum, the Roman loincloth. So had even a quick once-over of the baggage Professor Fuchs’ crew had put together. Fortunately including plenty of money, equivalent to several million dollars, for which Josephus had helpfully recommended a banker.
And even more helpfully provided two armed bodyguards to escort the pair of porters carrying the chest of cash between them hanging from a pole. One guard had been the Amazonian type he’d had with him when they met, and the other a scar-faced Germanii who was hulking even by American standards, and from somewhere far west of here. The banker had been delighted too and fallen over himself to give them good terms, so the money was already at work making more. Hereabouts evidently a sack of gold was a sack of gold and to hell with formalities, documents and tax-collectors.
Most of the rest of the gear would be very useful, including the several hundred books, and the medical supplies. The remainder had ranged from the outright weird but possibly valuable, like the mechanical calculators and slide rules, to a little solar-charging kit to keep phones and tablets and the two laptops and their six external drives in the crates working longer.
And there were even seeds of dozens of varieties, including things like maize and tomatoes and sacks of seed-potatoes, more than twelve hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue to their western home.
Home… a home that was not there even in the future. Not any more.
There were formal reclining couches around somewhere in the house for dining lying down, but apparently only the aristocracy and social climbers used them all the time. Now they were sitting on elaborate stools, around a table, which was… apparently… what upper-middle-class working folk like Josephus did except on special occasions.
The food for this meal had been recognizable. Warm-fresh brown bread in round loaves that was like a rustic whole-wheat variety from an organic bakery, tasty but very slightly gritty; chicken soup with vegetables and beans; a salad dressed with oil, and after they asked for it with vinegar too; grilled river-fish with herbed cheese sauce; and lamb fried with onions and vegetables. But everything tasted strong, and a little strange, and the spices were quite strange.
And they offered to get us garum when I mentioned it.
Garum was a sauce made from, basically, the fermented—which was to say selectively decayed—guts of ocean fish, anything from herring to tuna, and was the Roman equivalent of Heinz ketchup.
But they looked relieved when I declined, so I think it’s expensive here on the Danube. We’re a long way by oxcart from a seacoast.
Fortunately all of them had eaten at enough Greek and Italian restaurants that dipping the torn-off pieces of the loaves in dishes of the excellent olive oil—fruity and green-tasting with a pungent peppery undertone—wasn’t strange at all.
Around here, butter is what barbarian scum smear on their braided hair.
It was densely quiet at about nine in the evening, with only the long twilight of a European summer just after sunset and the oil lamps hanging in chains from the ceiling—one of them shaped like a winged penis—holding back the dark. He glanced at his wrist to check the time, then remembered with an inner stumble that he’d stashed his watch; the little moving numerals would be far too much like magic to the locals. None of the others wore one, relying on their phones, but it was a habit he’d kept from his time in the service.
You could forget how far north most of Europe was, because thanks to the Gulf Stream climate didn’t match the latitude the same way it did back in America. Vienna/Vindobona was on the same line as the south shore of Lake Superior, but they grew wine-grapes and apricots here. The long summer days and short nights reminded you.
The occasional racket of wheels or hooves on paving stones from the outside only emphasized the stillness to twenty-first-century urbanite ears; that and the far-off, lonely sound of the tubae and cornua from the fort, trumpets signaling the changing of the night-guards. Most people here went to bed with the sun. And there was the smell, reminiscent of some Middle Eastern towns he’d served in but worse than most, seasoned with barnyard from the horses, mules and oxen that provided motive power here. They had sewers and running water, but sanitation was… sketchy.
The house was built around a rectangular courtyard planted with herbs and flowers, which had a fountain… which was also the source of the household water supplies, brought in by a pipe from an underground aqueduct originally built to serve the fortress around which the civilian town had grown. The layout for the dwelling was Mediterranean, but wooden walls could be put up to close off the rooms from the outside in the Central European winter; the house-walls were brick covered in plaster and whitewashed below, with a half-timbered second story above with brick nogging in between the baulks of wood, and red tile on the roof. It all looked several generations old, too.
The big fort by the riverside was the headquarters of Legio X Gemina and had been for more than fifty years; around five thousand legionary troops at full strength, the same number of auxiliaries, and their servants and hangers-on, the equivalent of a full division in American terms. The countryside round about held many who’d mustered out from the legion or auxiliaries, on land granted or bought with retirement bonuses. And their children and grandchildren and the great-grandchildren-plus of settlers from the other legions based here further back to around the beginning of the century.
About thirty thousand civilians made their homes in the town that had grown up around it, too—including the unofficial common-law families of soldiers, who couldn’t legally marry until retirement at the end of a twenty-five year enlistment. As well as sutlers and shopkeepers, merchants and artisans and their staffs and families—
And at least one banker that I know of!
—and whores and laborers and slaves. Supplying the soldiers with something to spend their regular cash pay on was lucrative; there would be trade across the border too, and up and down the Danube itself.
“Right,” Arthur—or Artorius as the locals rendered it, spelled that way but pronounced Artorio’—said.
He took a deep breath. Arthur died when Vienna was wiped out. Artorius is here. And Artorius says—
“Does anyone still doubt we’re here… here in the second century CE? In the province of Pannonia Superior, in the Roman Empire?”
“Not unless we’re sharing a really good immersive full-body-suit VR while tripping on magic mushrooms,” Mark Findlemann said with a wry grin.
While brushing crumbs out of his shaggy beard. They’d all been famished; just existing here without a hundred unnoticed but now sorely missed machines burned calories, and they’d walked most of nine or ten miles yesterday with the after-effects of the… transition… still making like bad hangovers. The headaches were gone, but the hunger had hit full-force.
McCladden and Chang were into running and hiking and in McCladden’s case also cycling, which had helped: it had been much harder on Atkins and Findlemann, who regarded walking more than a couple of blocks as something you read about. Those two had spent a lot of the last part of the trip on top of the gear in the big mule-drawn wagon Josephus had arranged.
Mark Findlemann was one of the smartest people Vandenberg had ever met. He was also an archetypical nerd, with a memory like a steel trap for historical trivia and vague about most other things, barely touching down now and then in the real world. And he had the emotional intelligence and social skills of a wilted turnip, occasionally stopping to look around and wonder why he was lonely.
Arthur nodded encouragingly, and Mark went on:
“I tried out a little Hebrew on our host, and he recognized it—he picked up that I was a Jew, too—but he doesn’t know much more of it than I do, just some prayers and such. By rote. Though he speaks about six languages, and tried them out on me, I think trying to place our weird-ass English. I recognized koine Greek and Aramaic and one I think is Middle Persian which is evidently what Parthians speak. Or at least the merchants he met there did. The one he said was German didn’t sound much like our variety of German at all. More… buzzy and liquid, almost like something Slavic, except slower and with a lot of z-sounds in the endings. But I caught a few words, which surprised me: father, mother, sleep, stand, water, white, black, some of the numbers.”
“It would be end-stage Proto-Germanic now,” Vandenberg said and nodded, unsurprised. “Technically. Starting to evolve into separate languages, but right now a dialect-chain from here to Sweden.”
“Like the common Latin people talk here,” Filipa said thoughtfully. “Just starting to move towards Italian and Spanish and Romanian, but not even Proto-Romance yet, not by a mile.”
The sort of multilingualism Findlemann had described for Josephus would be very useful for a trader here. Which reminded him:
“Exactly. We’re all going to have to work hard at getting our spoken Latin comprehensible as fast as we can. The vocabulary and syntax we learned from the books is fine—a bit bookish, in fact, but that doesn’t hurt, it’s a status marker. It’s the sounds we need to get right. Mark, Jeremey, you’ve got some koine Greek too, don’t you?”
They nodded, and Filipa put her hand up. “Mine’s more classical,” she said. “Did a course on lyric-age stuff and got interested.”
“You should all work on that as well; I certainly will. It’ll be useful and Roman aristos are mostly bilingual in Greek and Latin, that’s a status marker as well.”
Findlemann went on at an encouraging sound:
“I don’t think Josephus is strict about kashrut… keeping kosher. Maybe just not when he’s away from home, like? There’s no pork in this food… but some of the other stuff would be tref if I remember correctly. He’s from Antioch… the one in Syria… and a lot of the Jews there were heavily Hellenized, from what I’ve read. Well, he was born in Antioch, but his wife and kids live in Sirmium which is a ways south of here and a lot bigger than this little burg, four or five times bigger. But the dietary rules were different this far back too, not as elaborated. So… we’re here, all right.”
The others nodded. Bursts of incredulity had grown fewer, and then died away to silence when they’d walked in through the gates among wildly varied crowds. Past jeweled and painted ladies in litters born by husky bearers, past an equites with the narrow purple stripes on the tunic beneath his toga, surrounded by clients and hangers-on, past Suebic warriors from across the river with their long, often fair and always very smelly hair up in knots on the right side of their heads and long swords at their hips, looking around with naked greed and wolfish smiles… and more and more.
And been crowded themselves to the side of the road along with Josephus and their wagon at a harsh shout of:
“Make way!” as a century of legionnaires went by.
The centurion at its head with a transverse red crest on his helmet and vine-wood swagger stick in hand, a chest-full of medallions on the harness over his mail shirt, sword at left hip and dagger at right—the reverse of the common soldiers. With the Signifer beside him, a bear’s tanned head on his helmet and its brown fur down his back, carrying the long pole-standard with its wreathed open hand at the top and unit-decoration medallions below, all polished to a gleam.
The heavy pilum-javelins were held high on their right shoulders with their hands at the butt, and swayed in unison behind them as the hobnails stamped down on stone, with the iron hoops and bands of the plate loricae segmentata clinking and rattling as they moved in a smell of leather and sweat and oiled iron and brass.
The bull of their legion was on their curved rectangular shields along with crossed thunderbolts and eagle-wings, and their eyes stared out beneath the beetling reinforced brow-ridge band of their bowl-shaped helmets, the broad flared neck-guards and hinged cheek-pieces making their half-hidden faces slab-like and metallic, like a column of humanoid warrior-ants. The optio had come along behind, a long staff topped by a brass ball in his hand.
And every one of them looked hard enough to chew rocks and shit gravel, as the saying goes.
Now he caught each student’s eye around the table as they remembered… possibly he’d have to stop thinking about them as students… as the servants brought in some sort of honey-sweetened sponge-cake-like thing studded with dried apricots and nuts for dessert. Along with a pottery bowl of fresh fruit; this was well into the start of the picking season and it included peaches, cherries and apricots, but not grapes or apples yet. And more of the wine, a quite decent red, with a pitcher of water for mixing with it. The wine-cups were well-blown and mostly colorless glass, slightly tinted with green in the thicker spots.
Fortunately the supplies Fuchs had put together included large crates of long-lasting broad-spectrum antibiotics and the newer antivirals. They’d still have to adapt eventually, or their intestines would. Well-watered wine was a lot safer here than straight water, even water from a mountain brook, much less any from around people. Beer would be just as safe, but here and now it tasted like it had already been through the horse at least once and nobody in this century had even heard of hops. They had forks, besides the local spoons and knives; there had been a set of camping utensils in the baggage. Josephus had been intrigued at the clever way they packed together, and stainless steel had been a revelation.
And they were almost infinitely safe from eavesdroppers, since nobody would be speaking English for—
Well, we’re fourteen hundred years pre-Shakespeare. Maybe nothing like English ever will be spoken here. We’d be the first and the last English-speakers!
“All right, first thing: we don’t have to worry about changing the future and wiping out our families and country,” Vandenberg said.
“We don’t?” Filipa Chang blurted. “You mean we’ll start a new timeline that branches off from ours? How could we tell?”
“Without even Dr. Strange to blame for screwing the multiverse,” McCladden said whimsically.
Paula Atkins shook her head. “The Prof means we… they… everybody… wiped ourselves out the day we… left,” she said bleakly, stabbing the fork into her piece of cake.
She was evidently one of those people who automatically ate more when they were upset, without even really realizing they were doing it. She went on:
“They wiped themselves out. He’s right. Everybody’s dead, our homes are dead. The world is dead. God damn them all!”
Her voice broke on the last words, and she refilled her wine-cup from the pitcher without watering it local-style, drank, and refilled it again.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur said, his voice gentle. “I had a wife and children.”
He stopped for an instant, closing his eyes and concentrating on the gone-ness of it all and making the muscles of his neck and gut unclench. You had to function, even when… say… your best friend had his legs blown off in front of you and your own blood was running out on the thirsty ground too.
Which was something he’d done.
You just suck it. The mission comes first. And we have a mission. We need a mission, come to that.
“You all had families. We all had people we loved, friends… places and things we loved too. But that was full-scale thermonuclear war. Thousands of launches. Mostly aimed at cities. None of you are stupid.”
They were all very intelligent and very well-educated, in fact. Probably the average IQ around this table was somewhere north of 135, and they’d all started reading serious nonfiction for fun about the time puberty hit if not earlier. When you were under extreme stress, that mattered less than most people would have thought. Sometimes smarts and education simply made people better at rationalizing what they wanted to believe or do anyway. He went on:
“You know what global thermonuclear war means. And Vienna was hit as we… left… if left’s the right word. Fusion bomb, that whine when the EMP hit the electronics and the rumble after it are unmistakable. I was looking up when it happened. There was this jerky slow-motion, that must have been Fuchs’… well hell, it is… was… a time machine.”
Findlemann frowned. “Well, of course it was the time machine. I remember that. As if things froze for a fraction of a second, then started again, then froze… cycling faster and faster. Fascinating!”
He doesn’t mind calling it a time machine. It was a time machine, of course. But then, he’s irrationally rational. One of his endearingly irritating features.
The thought was heartening somehow. He went on:
“So I could see the flash and the blast-wave hitting the building, see the windows starting to blow in with the overpressure, I could see the cracks propagating, stop-motion in real life… and I could feel the beginnings of the heat-flash. Some of our baggage was smoking when we woke up. Thank God, the Vienna Woods… the hills they’re on, really.. would have blocked the initial gamma radiation from a low-level airburst.”
And if we’d gotten a serious dose, we’d be very sick or dead by about now, but no need to mention that. Cancer we can worry about long-term.
They looked at him uncertainly, and he drove the point home:
“That was Vienna—a medium-sized city in a European neutral country of no particular strategic or military importance.”
Paula blinked wet eyes, but drawing out deductions was a ground-in habit for all of them.
“So if they bombed Vienna… where wouldn’t they bomb?” she said. “La Paz, Bolivia? Maybe.”
“Whoever they were,” Vandenberg said
They’d never know for sure who’d started slinging the big one, though he was morally certain it was the Bad Guys. He went on:
“So the lab we were in would have been fire and rubble and dead bodies, everything burning, seconds later. Maybe two seconds, maybe one or less. We just made it.”
“We can’t go back, either, that’s what it means too,” Jeremey McCladden said, in his flat Upper Midwestern accent; he was from Wisconsin, a small-town boy from the southwestern part of the State originally.
“From what Fuchs said about that dolabra, his machine worked both ways,” Filipa pointed out.
“Yeah, but the machinery is wreckage under rubble and all the scientists are dead and if anybody is alive they’re not going to be doing any physics research. They’ll be fighting over cans of dog-food and dying by inches of radiation poisoning,” Jeremey said.
That was tactful, McCladden, now-Artorius thought as everyone winced and Paula cried harder and then they glared at him.
McCladden went on, after waving a gesture of apology:
“Dr. Fuchs is dead too—we buried him ourselves, remember? And even if he’d gotten here alive, and we were physicists ourselves instead of historians, we don’t have the tools to build the tools to begin to build the tools for something like that, and a whole lot of regressions beyond that. We’re here for life… however long that lasts. We don’t have to worry about the future, just our future.”
And McCladden has a keen eye for the main chance, which takes over when he thinks about things. Remember that.
Silence fell for a moment, broken only by Paula’s final stifled sobs.
She was engaged. To that law student, the one with the sideburns, I forget his name. I think Filipa had a girlfriend; I know Jeremey did.
“But there is something we can do,” Arthur said, organizing his thoughts.
My feelings are just shit right now, so I’ll stick with thoughts. Except that this feels like the right thing.
“Besides just look out for ourselves,” he added.
“What?” Filipa said. “Do what?”
“We can save civilization here, here and now,” he said, leaning forward, tapping his knuckles on the table to emphasize the here part. “And by doing that, save the future. Humanity’s future, because it won’t have much of a future after twelve thousand nuclear strikes. Neither will anything else except rats and roaches. It’s up to us.”
Mark giggled involuntarily. “Well, we could get capes easy enough, I suppose. Tights would be harder. The Fantastic Five from the Future!”
He struck a pose in his chair as if he was about to fly away with a woosh:
“I can be Iudaeo-puer qui iter in tempore!
That meant: The Time-Travelling Jewboy.
Arthur-Artorius suppressed irritation; Findlemann did have the social skills of a turnip, and in some ways it made him more alien than the things with tentacles in science-fiction flicks. But he wasn’t a bad sort at heart.
And I need him. We all need each other.
“Look, you’re all familiar with this period. Marcus Aurelius is the last of the Five Good Emperors. This is the peak of the Roman world. After this it’s all downhill; chaos, civil war, the Praetorians auctioning the crown—”
“193 CE, Pertinax,” Filipa said automatically, as if this were a quiz in high school.
Then her face changed: “Twenty-seven years from now, almost exactly. I mean… we could live to see it.”
Vandenberg nodded. “And barbarian invasions, Gothic pirates raiding from the Black Sea to Crete and Cyprus by this time next century… Diocletian and Constantine cobble some repairs, pull things together again, but a century after them the Vandals sack Rome and the Dark Ages are under way. Cities nine-tenths abandoned, barter replaces money, trade shrinks to a few percentage points of what it is now, populations crash back to Iron Age levels and only the Church preserves literacy. The Emperor Charlemagne, seven hundred years from now… he tries to learn to read and write as an adult and never manages it and the only thing that surprises people is that he tried at all.”
They all nodded; the term Dark Age had become fashionable again, somewhat and unevenly, in academic circles. Over the last decade, as field research made it inescapably obvious just how far and fast most of the ex-Imperial territories had gone downhill in the phase-shift after the breakup. Like mass migrations, new evidence had forced once unpopular concepts back into the scholarly mainstream.
“Literacy’s fairly common here right now,” McCladden said, with a determined smile. “Judging by all the graffiti. Bad as a New York subway in an old movie. ‘Lucius, privileged soldier of the 10th legion, was here. All the women will tell you he’s a stallion!‘”
The joke fell a little flat, though they had seen that written on an alley wall.
“Is it worth saving this civilization?” Paula said, wiping at her eyes with a napkin and pulling out a handkerchief to blow her nose; it was a repurposed napkin, in fact. “Presuming we could. They have slaves here.”
They’d all known that in the abstract; meeting the reality had been both shockingly mundane and deeply repulsive.
“And that stuff outside the gates…”
Crucifixion was also a lot less abstract once you’d seen it… and smelled it. He thought they were all rather grateful they’d passed the grounds outside the gate after it was too dark to see the details, and while they were still in shock from the transition.
Arthur nodded. “Right. It’s an alien world here, and no mistake. The thing is, most of that shit is just everywhere and everyone this far back. The tribes across the river keep slaves too—and sell their neighbors to the Romans. It’ll be more than a thousand years before slavery becomes extinct in any large area on this planet—western Europe in the high Middle Ages, Japan a bit later.”
“Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi abolished slavery in Japan in 1590,” Filipa said; she seemed to be falling back on dates.
Then with a touch of the wasp: “Not that that stopped them kidnapping comfort women in the Greater East-Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.”
“And public executions went right on into Victorian times… later that that, in a lot of places,” Vandenberg noted. “Christians stopped crucifying, but they broke people on the wheel and burned them alive and it was something people took the kiddies to and packed picnic lunches for.”
Filipa spoke again: “When the Aztecs dedicated their Seventh Temple to Huitzilopochtli… Hummingbird of the Left, their war god… in 1487, a few years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, they sacrificed five thousand people on the top in only three days on the four altars. In continuous shifts, more than one every minute, cut out their hearts and threw the bodies down the sides of the pyramid. The lake the city sat in turned brown and stank from the blood. And they ate parts of the bodies.”
Vandenberg nodded again and went on:
“If we can save the Empire, start it modernizing, we can short-circuit… all that stuff… by a millennium. Not right away, but by a good long time. And the Antonine Plague is coming, Galen’s Plague, probably smallpox. That’ll kill every fourth or fifth person in the Empire, maybe fifteen million, and who knows how many more outside it? We might be able to stop that—or at least make it a lot better. No nuclear war, either. Imagine one united planet, at peace or as close as human beings can get. Pax Romana… but pax.”
Findlemann looked around the table. “OK, granting your point, Prof… but… but there only five of us here,” he said. “Two of them women—no offense, Filipa, Paula, but that’s a lot bigger disadvantage here. We’re scholars, not… not world-saving adventurers!”
“Well, neither was Martin Padway,” McCladden said. “He was an archaeologist—a historian like us, only one with dirt under his fingernails.”
A little to Vandenberg’s surprise, all of them seemed to catch the reference to the classic time-travel story—de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall—and chuckled.
Most historians daydreamed about time-travel, at least when they were young.
Mark went on, shaking his head: “We’re foreigners here too, not even Roman citizens! Even staying alive would be an accomplishment. Hell, the locals can barely understand our Latin, and I’ve been studying that since before my first zits.”
Jeremey McCladden spoke thoughtfully:
“You know, there’s one thing we could do that would definitely have an impact pretty quick. And that’s planting those seeds I checked over; at least, the ones that’ll grow in this climate. If we did that right now, we could get more seed, even from the field corn, I think. I could handle that, Prof. And remember what corn and potatoes and the other crops did in the Old World, after the Columbian Exchange?”
They all glanced at each other. That wasn’t their area of specialization, but their general undergraduate courses had covered it. It had revolutionized agriculture—and that meant populations—over half the planet.
“Your folks were farmers?” he asked the younger man; he remembered hearing his father mentioned as a businessman, though that was sort of generic. “Mine were ranchers.”
He smiled thinly. “Not in a Yellowstone or 6666 sort of way. More a small, sideline way.”
“No, not farmers, but my Dad ran a feed-and-seed business, I helped him with things through high school, and we had a really big kitchen garden, as in a couple of acres or so and some fruit trees and chickens and whatnot,” McCladden said. “Mom grew up on a little dairy farm, and we kids helped her with the garden and picking and putting things up—we had a real old-fashioned cellar-full of pickles and jam and such. Organic all the way!”
Artorius gave an involuntary sigh of relief. It wasn’t like having an expert, but it was…
Close enough for government work. We only get one try with that stuff. Was that why Fuchs wanted someone whose speciality was Roman agriculture?
“Give me the land and some labor that’ll do what it’s told, and I could get a lot started. No time to spare at all, though, it would need to be right away to beat first frost.”
Jeremey glanced upward, obviously calculating, before he went on:
“We’ve got two bushels of seed corn. Eighty thousand seeds per bushel, you need say twenty thousand to plant an acre… at low density, which we should because it’ll be dry… but the summer days are really long here, so more sunlight… Say seventy to a hundred days from planting to maturity for the sunflowers, a hundred days for the potatoes; sugar beets grow quick too, but they’re biennials, you have to leave them in the ground overwinter to get seed. Hundred and twenty to a hundred and thirty days for field corn, which is juuuuusst doable, which is why I’d save a quarter of the seed for next spring just in case. And all of a few other things, they take longer but the seed should stay viable if we’re careful about storing it, it’s very well packed to last. And there’s the canola, that’s fall-planted like winter wheat… even easier for the veggies… Then increase by geometric progression.”
“Say we plant six acres of corn, being real pessimistic but not totally depressed we get around a hundred twenty bushels total, that’s enough for planting hundreds of acres the next year, and so it goes. Only next year, using optimum planting time, we’d get… oh, maybe eighty bushels the acre. Enough seed for thousands of acres in the third year.”
“Will the seed breed true?” Artorius said.
Paula, Mark and Filipa were looking at them as if they’d suddenly burst into Swahili; but then, they came from New York City and San Francisco, respectively, and their families had all been urbanites from many generations of the same.
“Yeah, it’s breed-true varieties, aimed at the organic-sustainable type of buyer, Fuchs must have picked them for that. That’s judging from my phone’s translation of the labels… they were in Magyar, of all things. And I think it’s all very good stuff. But I’d need land and hands, muy pronto.”
“Josephus could probably help with that,” Arthur commented, pleased. “Good idea! I’ll talk to him tomorrow since that’s time-constrained.”
“Thanks, Arthur… no, thanks, Prof!”
Not Arthur, he thought. I’m Artorius now. Arthur’s… dead. Died with his family in World War Three.
“The good Doctor Fuchs packed us a lot of goodies,” Artorius went on. “He must have been reading the international tea-leaves for some time and getting ready to bug out. Or possibly he took a look at the future, we’ll never know.”
They all looked around at the alien room with its—rather crude, down-market—mural of dancing fauns and maidens, and its floor mosaic of fish and fruits and graphically, gruesomely dead game-birds. This was escape with a capital E, like teleporting to another planet.
Vandenberg felt a slight chill at the sort of mind that could make a plan like that. And why late Antonine Rome? Why not go back to 2000 CE, or before 1914, and work from there? He’d never know.
Fuchs must have been very smart. And very weird. Even weirder than Findlemann, which is saying something.
“Fuchs got us in because he needed Roman experts along, and he wanted ones from outside his own academic circles so he could keep the secret—keep it long enough to use it while he ran for the hills… for the hills of here, the ones not covered in radioactive fallout.”
“Or while he jumped in a hole and pulled it in after him,” Findlemann said, and everyone nodded at the image.
“Well, we’re here; we’ve got enough cash to make us moderately rich, now safely in a bank and shortly in several banks in different parts of the province…”
They looked at him. “Josephus’ advice and I think it’s very good. They do inter-bank credit transfers here by letter, which is mildly surprising and some of the banks are organized as societās… companies, pretty much. And we’ve got the rest of the baggage; and I think Josephus could be very, very useful, even more than he has already. A stroke of luck meeting him like that… and notice what he didn’t do.”
“He’s been very kind,” Filipa said with a frown, and waved a hand at the meal and the house. “What more could he have done?”
“He could have cut our throats and taken the money before we woke up,” Arthur-Artorius said dryly. “And it’s a lot of money, especially if you include those bags of synthetic gemstones—”
Josephus’ eyes had bulged and his jaw had dropped and his hands had shaken when he saw those.
“—and nobody would have known or cared about our bodies. Except the wild pigs and the rest of the birds and beasts. And the worms. They’d have cared. In a culinary sense.”
The others looked at each other. Two of them swallowed visibly. Artorius remembered an old saying, one so old that the Stoics here and now were fond of it:
Anything that can happen to anyone can happen to you.
Similar thoughts were probably going through their heads right now.
He went on aloud: “That shows he’s honest at a fundamental level. And I think on short acquaintance he’s also extremely smart and very knowledgeable about this century… about the sort of thing that doesn’t get into the books and that we don’t know… which means, ignorance that could kill us.”
The others were looking at him intently, nodding unconsciously. They needed a task, a vision, something to give this catastrophe meaning beyond a bolthole.
“And while I am a scholar, that’s not all that I was. I’ve got some ideas. It’ll mean hard work, and risks, but the payoff—”
Hours later, Arthur-Artorius sat on the edge of his bed; he’d managed to convince the personal servant Josephus had supplied that he didn’t want him sleeping on a pallet at the foot of it, though that probably meant he’d be dossing in the corridor just outside. They just didn’t have much sense of privacy here, or didn’t consider servants in that context, or both. The air had an odd stale scent from the wicks of the snuffed-out oil lamp on the bedside table. Which piece of furniture had spindly curved legs, a style familiar from countless revivals.
Wearily he dropped his head into his hands.
Our world went down in fire, and we can’t stop that… except by making it never have existed at all. Our loves will never have been born… Mary, Vincent, little baby Maddy… my folks… hell, my grandparents will lose their whole long lives, will never have been…
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