The following afternoon, the travelers came to the city gate. Lockhart and Lincoln put on their best salesman smiles, but it turned out to not be necessary. The guards knew Evan and Millie and welcomed them back to the city.
‘You’ve been in Capua these last two years?” one guard asked.
“With these friends of mine,” Evan said, not exactly lying. “And how is the leg?”
“Fine.” The man limped a little. “I busted my leg, wide open…”
“Oh, here we go,” one of the other guards mumbled.
“The bone stuck out that far. I’m not lying. The Lord Evan fixed me right, he did. I can walk and got no green. Yes, sir. I’m no good running on the watch, but I can hold the gate just fine. I feared I would have to beg for my bread, but I got a real and proper job, and I can take care of my wife and children just fine. A man doesn’t forget a thing like that.”
An old man chose that moment to march up, and the gate guards quickly straightened. The old man ignored the guards but smiled for the travelers. “Lockhart. Good thing you got here. You are almost out of time.” He opened his arms to the red-headed streak.
“Gee,” Boston said. “Last time I saw you, you were a cute little four-year-old girl. Now, you are a big old man.” The man just smiled for her.
“What do you mean out of time?” Lincoln had to ask.
“Come. I’ll explain.” He led them through the streets of Rome to the market where a pottery shop sat alongside a rather modern-looking house. The house appeared to have been modified in several ways, like a new fireplace added; but it still had wires on the outside where the electric connected, and a metal pipe that once brought in the gas.
“We were lucky,” Evan said. “It was not just the house, but the property that got sent through time. That meant we got the back yard and the septic tank, thank God. It took several years before we got connected to the public sewer system.”
“Professor,” Bodanagus knocked on the door. A pretty, young black head emerged, before the girl shrieked and ran to hug Evan and Millie. The shriek attracted a young man, one with dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, not too tall, but a sparkling white smile. He also had on an apron, and dried clay on his hands, like he might have just come from the potter’s wheel.
“Nanette, you know, sort of,” Katie whispered to Lockhart, but did not exclude Lincoln and Alexis, in case Alexis forgot. “Anthony Carter’s mother came from Italy and still had family around Rome in 1905, which attracted Anthony to join the expedition. The Professor is Professor Fleming, the academic head of the expedition that went in search of information regarding the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. They got more than they bargained for when they got transported, house and all, to Rome in this time zone.”
“Ashtoreth,” Lockhart nodded and named the culprit.
The old man came last to the door, hacking and coughing along the way. “Guests?” he said. “You know I don’t like guests.”
Lockhart thought to step forward and introduce himself. “Robert Lockhart, assistant director of the Men in Black organization, Washington, D. C., from the year 2010. My wife, Captain Katherine Lockhart and Major Decker are both United States Marines. Benjamin and Alexis Lincoln work for me…”
“Men in Black?” The Professor interrupted. “I have heard of such a thing, but they are a myth, like elves and fairies.”
“Like the Abominable Snowman?” Katie asked, with a big grin.
“Precisely,” the professor responded, with a second look at the blonde before him. “A woman marine captain, and a darkie major? 2010? What has my nation come to?”
“We got smart,” Decker said.
“We grew up,” Katie added.
“Boston,” Lockhart hollered. Boston started showing off for Nanette and Anthony. “Mary Riley works for me, too, though most call her Boston. She grew up in Massachusetts. Elder Stow and Sukki are Gott-Druk, from a place you probably never heard of.”
“Somewhere in the east, like in Austria-Hungary?” the professor guessed.
“A bit further away than that,” Elder Stow said, kindly enough.
“Millie and Evan, you know,” Lockhart finished. “We thought we would bring them home.”
The professor grunted and began to cough again. He pulled up some phlegm and spit.
Meanwhile, Millie showed off her friends to Nanette and Tony. “Boston is a real, live elf,” Millie said. Tony raised an eyebrow to say he did not believe that, but Nanette shook Boston’s hand.
“I love your red hair.”
“Thanks,” Boston said. “I used to have it short like yours, but I’m growing it out.”
“And this is my friend, Sukki,” Millie said.
Tony butted in front and reached for Sukki’s hand, much to Sukki’s delight. “Japanese?” he asked.
“No,” Millie said. “She isn’t even human.” Sukki found some tears on hearing that. She covered her face.
“She is human,” Elder Stow noticed, and went to comfort his daughter. “She is just not Homo Sapien.” Sukki began to cry and turned away from the group.
“Well, human or not, I suppose you better come inside,” the professor said.
The travelers found places to tie off their horses and trooped into the house. Everything looked worn and used, but the living room had comfortable, cushioned chairs, a genuine couch, and what had been a plush carpet. The dining room had a table to seat twelve, and fancy china in a glass-fronted hutch. The kitchen had been completely rebuilt, but the travelers expected that. The toilet paper felt as rough as sandpaper, either that, or they had a sponge to use, but the travelers could hardly wait to take their turn on a genuine toilet.
“So,” Lincoln started like a dog with a bone. “What do you mean, almost out of time.”
Bodanagus nodded and took a deep breath. “I am nearly sixty, if I am not sixty already. I would guess Judith lived about sixty-four years, but that never happens, and women live longer. Normally, for me, sixty years is the limit.”
“I don’t know why he talks that way,” Nanette scolded Bodanagus ever so sweetly. “The Lord alone knows the measure of a man’s life, and he will not die a moment too soon.”
“Fine and well,” Bodanagus said. “But the professor has warned Caesar about the ides of March, and we are at the end of February, 44 BC, by the Professor’s estimate.” Bodanagus stalled the talk and questions with his hands. “Don’t tell me what happens. There is a reason I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, or for some years to come. If I know the details in advance, I might be tempted to change it and thus screw up history forever. So, hush!” People hushed, and he continued.
“All I can say is I don’t expect to outlive Caesar. In fact, I am surprised his political opponents haven’t tried to remove me already, and in this day and age, removing me normally means getting me out of the picture, permanently. I have already sent young Octavius to Illyria, to a military school, in anticipation of trouble.”
“So, what you are saying is you have reached your age limit,” Lockhart summed it up. “That means we need to move as fast as we can to the next gate, just to be safe.”
Bodanagus nodded, but Professor Fleming interrupted with a coughing fit and a word. “Apparently, I have reached my age limit as well, at sixty-eight.” This time he held up his hands to finish what he had to say. “Doctor Mishka herself has diagnosed cancer, in the lungs and elsewhere. She says I have limited time but won’t say how long. I take it you are from the future and have some means of returning there. Take Nanette.”
“No,” Nanette protested.
“Now, now,” the Professor said. “You are no good to me in this condition. My time is over, but you have a mother and family in the future who deserve to see you again, and a chance to get there. You are going, and that is final. No arguments.” The professor sat heavily in his chair, all out of breath.
“Nanette,” Tony spoke up. “I can go with you, to see my mother, too. You don’t have to go alone.”
“Don’t worry, Nanette,” Millie said, as she came from the kitchen and sat on the arm of the Professor’s comfy chair. Evan came with her and placed one hand on her shoulder for support. “We will take the best care of the professor. Evan and I have decided to stay here and have a family, if we can.”
Two men are preparing to die. One couple is hoping to have children. Nanette is being tossed from the nest like a baby bird, and Sukki is unhappy about something. This is life, and they haven’t even told Bodanagus about the brigand/Roman soldiers on their tail. Until next week, Happy Reading