.....He could endure the heat but the smoke
stung his eyes, and he could scarcely breathe. There were no people-noises
anymore and, despite the crackling of the flames, he shivered from a sense
of being alone. But maybe the pig-faced Romans were gone as well. Maybe
he could run away to another village. And maybe they'd take him in. He
was small. He didn't eat much.
.....Low to the ground and blinking his watering
eyes, Drefan crept from under the table and toward the doorway. Taking
gulps of air through his mouth and coughing them back out, he reached
the opening and drew back the animal skin an inch or two. He looked out.
Through acrid, black smoke, he saw the other huts outlined in flames.
Carefully, he stuck his head out and looked around. Clear. No one in sight,
and it was only a short run to the forest.
.....Drefan scrambled to his feet, pulled
aside the smoldering hide, and ran for the village edge.
....."Got you," shouted a voice
and Drefan felt himself hoisted into the air.
.....He jerked his head around and saw the
centurion. Drefan tried to bite the man, but the centurion was well protected
by his leather-stripped tunic.
....."Let me go, you shit-faced dog,"
shouted Drefan, kicking and twisting against the man's grip.
....."Easy, easy," said the centurion.
"I know you can't understand me, my little barbarian friend, but
I'm not going to hurt you."
....."I understand you, you Roman pig."
Drefan spoke in Latin this time.
.....The centurion's eyes widened. "So,
you speak some Latin," he said, with a touch of anger in his voice.
He drew back his hand.
.....Drefan closed his eyes, waiting for
the blow, but it didn't come. He opened his eyes and saw the centurion
looking at him. The man didn't look angry anymore, but more like his father
looked when he was about to deliver a lecture. Drefan, thinking about
his father, blinked away tears.
....."If you were a few years older,"
said the centurion in a soft, even sad, voice, "you'd be publicly
beaten for insulting a Roman soldier."
....."I've been beaten before."
Drefan struggled again but soon accepted he couldn't break free. He went
limp—waiting for his opportunity.
....."Good," said the centurion.
He loosened his grip a little. "You know. I've got a son about your
age. You're about eight, aren't you?"
....."I'm seven." Maybe if he spoke
politely, the Roman would get careless.
....."Seven." The centurion shook
his head. "I wish Lucius had your spunk." He looked away. "But
the boy is pampered. The whole damned Roman state has been corrupted by
.....The centurion relaxed his grip still
more, and Drefan seized the opportunity. He screamed, kicked, and squirmed
free. He twisted in the air like a cat and landed on his feet, weight
forward, ready to run. He got about twenty paces before being swept up
by a second soldier.
.....Drefan screamed, kicked, struggled and
finally, knowing he was truly caught, began crying out of frustration.
....."Hey, Vedrix," called the
second Roman to the first. "Your little barbarian wolf-cub almost
got away." He walked over and, as if he were transferring ownership
of a sack of grain, passed the boy to Vedrix.
.....Keeping a hand firmly around Drefan's
wrist, Vedrix stood the boy on the ground.
.....With his free hand, Drefan wiped his
eyes. He felt ashamed that they'd made him cry. They'd never make him
cry again. He stood erect, proud, defiant—the way a Saxon should.
.....The other soldier appraised the boy.
"Good carriage, intelligent face, flaxen hair, blue eyes. He'll surely
fetch a good price as a slave for some noble family." He laughed.
"He could certainly use a few good meals though—and a bath."
....."I hate you." Drefan shouted.
"I hate all Romans. You stink."
....."Fearless little whelp, isn't he?"
said the second soldier.
....."Like we Romans used to be,"
said Vedrix. "But now we've got an Emperor who thinks he's a god
and makes us bow and grovel before him."
....."Oh, Diocletian's not so bad,"
said the second. "We've had worse."
.....Vedrix blew out a long breath. "Sometimes
I no longer believe the Roman Empire will last forever." He yanked
Drefan by the arm. "Okay, kid. We've got to go."
.....Drefan dug in his heels.
....."Look," said Vedrix. "I
can promise you'll have a far better life as a Roman slave than you ever
could have as a free barbarian."
....."Liar," said Drefan. "You
Roman, shit-faced pig." He didn't like repeating his insults, but
his Latin wasn't good enough to do otherwise.
.....Vedrix lifted Drefan, flipped him over
and, after pulling back the boy's short patchwork tunic, delivered a single
sharp slap on the bottom.
....."I can't control what you think
about us," said Vedrix, "but perhaps I can teach you some tact."
.....From: Romulus, Imperator of the Eridion
High Council for the Planet
.....To: His Most Esteemed Excellency, The
.....Concerning: Introduction of Eridian
technology. Possible infiltration by the Grex.
.....Conveyed by: Astrithr Asbjornsdottir
.....My dear colleague, The Marcellus,
.....We have studied the Earth, year 1700
data delivered to us by Astrithr.
.....Earth's technical advancement seems
to be progressing as predicted. But since the planet-ships of the Grex
will be upon us in roughly four of our years, we grow nervous. When you
receive this message, there will less than one thousand Earth years left
for your planet to develop to the point where you can help us. Therefore,
with your gracious approval, we will reverse our policy of encouraging
Earth's technological development while not providing Earth with any of
.....Accordingly, Astrithr is bringing five
devices with her from Eridion. We trust that one of these devices will
be ahead, but not too far ahead, of Earth's current technological level.
It is hoped that your subtle introduction of that one device will speed
Earth's scientific development.
.....The devices are: 1) a mechanism consisting
of wires and magnets that generates electricity when a handle is turned.
2) an evacuated glass vial with wires in it. This device can act as an
amplifier of signals carried by electricity, 3) a silicon-based element
that can act as the basis for an electrical device for mathematical computation,
4) an electricity-powered machine that can extract energy from the vacuum
of space, 5) a mechanism that provides acceleration without inertia. This,
of course, is the principle behind our spacecraft. Astrithr has been trained
in these contrivances, and can guide you in their use.
.....A more troubling concern is that information
has reached us that the Grex may have an agent on Earth. We've learned
that their scout vessels routinely investigate planets that their planet
ships will not encounter for many millennia. Indeed, a Grex presence on
Earth might predate our own and possibly predate the period of Roman or
even Greek dominance. More worrying still, is the possibility, fortunately
slight, that the Grex know of our society's existence. You must guard
against this possibility, however remote. The survival of our race is
in your hands.
.....I trust that the boy's training is proceeding
.....Note: By the time you receive this
letter, we will have begun sending transmissions to your planet. While
we feel it is necessary at the moment to keep our activities secret, we
also feel it would be good if scientists discovered signals of intelligence
coming from our home star. Repeatedly, we will transmit information about
our people, in particular, our genetic constituents.
.....Your friend through the ages,
.....Post Scriptum: It is so unfortunate
that it takes two human lifetimes for a message to be delivered. Still,
unexplainably, I feel a personal bond between myself and you—the
PART-II: Earth: Year 1964
.....Alexander Kendrick fought to exhale.
He could breathe in but not out. Gasping for oxygen, his chest expanded
and though the tickle in his throat demanded that he cough, he could only
gag as the saliva tried to force its way up through his constricted windpipe.
Although his every fiber bade him gesture for help, he would not; he'd
had entirely enough pity from his fellow teachers. Frantically yet furtively,
he grabbed for the Medihaler in his shirt pocket. He brought it to his
mouth, pressed the release and felt the chill as the spray of Epinephrine
pushed its way down his throat. Even though his experience told him he'd
be able to breathe again in fifteen or twenty seconds, he still wondered
if he'd make it. One of these days, the Epinephrine might not work.
.....Alex heard the relief before he felt
it—a high-pitched squeak as a trickle of air escaped from his open,
gasping mouth. Then, suddenly, the attack ended and he could breathe again.
.....Leaning back in an overstuffed chair
in the teacher's lounge, the faculty common room as the school insisted
on calling it, Alex took long drafts of air. His heart thumped wildly
in his chest and he struggled against a far greater feeling of panic than
he'd experienced even during the height of the asthma attack. He knew
it was normal, a side effect of the drug, but the fear knew no logic.
He'd just have to wait it out. God damn. This is death on the installment
.....Ten minutes later, when the panic had
subsided and he could no longer see his white shirt pulsing, he tried
to relax by browsing the New York Times. He checked his watch—he
had fifteen minutes before having to go off to teach his Latin 3 class—his
last class of the day, his last class of the school year.
.....He scanned the paper but found nothing
of interest in the headlines: 'U.S. to Require Health Warnings for Cigarettes',
'Slim Senate Vote Backs Moon Trip', 'Dr. King Requests U.S. Aid in Florida'.
Out of habit, he skimmed a few human interest stories: 'Hunting's Most
Dangerous Quarry: The Wild Mushroom', 'Scientists Claim Himalayan Yetis
are an Intelligent Species of Humans'. Alex flipped to the want ads. Not
that he was looking for a new job. And not that any job he'd be interested
in could possibly be filled by a severely asthmatic high-school Latin
teacher. It was a form of escapism—escape from the future that his
callow, sixteen-year-old self had chosen for him a decade ago.
.....In high school, he'd liked physics and
Latin. In college, he'd chosen Classics—little realizing there was
a difference between liking a subject and liking a career in that subject.
But Classics was safe. It promised a calm life where stress, excitement
or exertion would not be around to trigger an attack. Yes. Asthma as well
as a green teenager had preordained his future.
.....Alex looked away, out the window onto
Riverside Drive. He sighed. King's College Preparatory School wasn't a
bad place to be a student. He gave a hint of a nod, acknowledging that
indeed he was a student as well. Until he handed in his Ph.D. thesis to
Columbia he, like the students outside, still had unexplored possibilities
for a future. He fought the growing realization that he wasn't exactly
rushing to complete his thesis. He knew there were few academic jobs in
Classics, but more importantly, once he got his degree, that phase of
his life journey would be over, and he wasn't quite sure it was the right
journey. Gazing out at the students, a high-spirited lot who were free
of school for an entire summer, Alex wondered what it would have been
like had he majored in physics.
.....Alex smiled at himself; he was too young
for these dreary thoughts. He shook out the paper, flipped pages until
he saw the 'I Got My Job Through The New York Times' banner, and started
reading want ads.
.....He looked through 'Aeronautical Engineers
wanted'—Boeing was interviewing in NYC for Aerospace Engineers—,
went on to, 'Camp Directors and Councilors', and then to 'Wildlife Biologists'
and 'Yoga Instructors'. But then he felt his eyes widen in surprise; in
the middle of the 'Miscellaneous' section, in a simple, inconspicuous
one-column box, he saw a want ad printed in Latin. And as he read it,
he found it was very good Latin at that: Late, Mid-empire dialect, and
not that modern corruption promulgated by the Church that made the language
of the Caesars sound like Italian. After reading it for style, he read
it again for content.
.....Wanted: Young man (25 to 35 years old)
with a spirit of adventure.
.....Must be single, unattached and must
enjoy traveling. This position
.... involves extensive travel and some trips
might be years in duration.
.....Fluent spoken and written Latin a requirement.
.....Old-German, Old-English, or Old-Norse
very helpful. For a
.....preliminary interview, apply in person
during normal office hours
.....at Suite 7438, Empire State Building.
.....Alex wondered if it were a joke. Without
moving his head, he glanced around the faculty common room to see if any
of his colleagues were looking at him. Maybe this was a prank aimed squarely
at him. It certainly seemed to be; everyone knew he liked to read the
want ads and pretty much everybody knew he'd studied Old-Germanic as his
second ancient language. Alex bit his lip and shook his head—a minimal
motion that he hoped wouldn't be noticed. No. It couldn't be my colleagues.
No one here could write anywhere near that high-quality Latin. He wasn't
even sure he could, himself. Alex glanced at his watch, stood, and walked
off to his class—sedately, as he didn't want to chance another asthma
.....As soon as he opened the door to his
classroom, Alex knew there was no way he'd get any real teaching done—not
on the afternoon of the last day of school.
.....He decided to use the hour by telling
the kids a few short parables, in Latin of course. After his first story,
a few of the students laughed, politely. But he could see fear on their
faces—fear that they might possibly be called upon to translate
the tale. Inwardly, he smiled. No. There is no reason to keep torturing
these kids. He walked to the door and opened it. Wishing them all
a good summer, he set them free.
.....In a happy thunder of chairs rumbling
back from desks, the students threw their textbooks into their book bags
and made for the door.
....."Thank you, Lexy," came several
young voices. "See you in September."
.....Alex smiled. He knew the administration
would have catfits had they known that he'd permitted the kids to address
him by his nickname.
....."Enjoy yourselves," Alex called
back as he watched his students ricochet through the door. They looked
so young: the girls with their white socks, and the boys with their Beatle
haircuts replacing the crew cuts of the previous year.
.....One boy stayed behind. Slowly and deliberately,
he put his books into his pack.
.....Alex walked over to him. "What's
the matter, Daniel? Don't tell me you're sad that you won't have to do
Latin homework for a few months."
.....Daniel fiddled with his pack, slipping
a paperback with a rocket on its cover into an outside pocket. "No,
it's not that." He looked up at Alex. "It's just, well... Today's
....."Congratulations," said Alex.
....."You don't seem very happy about
....."Lexy," the boy blurted out,
"I'm fourteen years old and I've never even been in hyperspace."
.....Daniel grinned—a sad, sheepish
....."There's no such thing as hyperspace,"
....."I know, but I've never been there."
Daniel hefted his book bag to his shoulders. "You don't understand.
You probably just think I'm nuts."
.....Alex patted the kid on the shoulder.
He envied the boy—this creature filled with imagination and potential.
"I think I understand. Where's the excitement? Where's the adventure?"
He spoke softly, "That's it, isn't it?"
.....Daniel gazed upward and Alex detected
a look of surprise mixed with gratitude.
....."Yeah," said Daniel.
....."I know," said Alex, and at
that moment, he decided he'd answer the want ad. He laughed to himself.
I don't exactly think they're looking for an asthmatic Latin teacher.
At least I can still dream.
....."But hyperspace?" he said.
"What a terrible word. Greek, 'hyper' and Latin, 'spacia'. For consistency,
the word should be ultraspace."
.....Daniel rolled his eyes and hurried from