Pelagea and Cumulus were sitting in Mama Pro’s drawing room. Both lovers kept gloomy silence. Cumulus felt that he must say something but could not think of any appropriate topic and only sighed instead. Pelagea, who had never before failed to keep up her end of a conversation, was unusually quiet. ‘What if she is simply bored with me?’ thought Cumulus bitterly, then banished the thought from his mind. Clearly, she was upset also. He shifted in his seat and mumbled:
- Not much time lefts, huh?
- Less than an hour, I think, - Retorted Pelagea in a bleak voice.
- I wish I didn’t have to go, - Said Cumulus.
- Nonsense. What would you do here?
- Something… I dunno…
- Nonsense. You have to get back to your school and everything.
- I don’t care about my school.
- Oh yeah? Since when?
- Since I’ve met you. Listen…
- I love you. What am I going to do without you?
- It sounds soppy. I hate soppy men.
- Sorry. I just wanted to say ‘I love you’. You never told me if you love me or not.
- I said once that I like you.
- It is not the same thing.
- Don’t you miss your home? Your friends? Your family?
- I sure do but…
- You are being soppy again.
They fell into silence again.
- I think it is time, - Said Pelagea in a while.
- You think it is?
- Yes. Let’s go.
They got up and made a few steps towards the door when Cumulus stopped abruptly, turned around and planted on Pelagea’s lips a long kiss. She didn’t complain or tried to break away but began to kiss him back. It was the longest kiss Cumulus had ever experienced. Finally she pushed him away and said:
- It is time, you know. Your Professor would be mad.
- Yeah, - Answered Cumulus in a hoarse voice and opened the door.
* * * *
- Here’s the room. I am not allowed inside. Go, - She pointed to a massive door to the cellar and started to walk away.
- Pelagea! – Cried Cumulus.
She stopped and looked over her shoulder.
- I love you, - He said for the last time. She smiled, then turned away and continued walking.
Cumulus swallowed, suppressing a sob, and pushed the cellar door open.
It was a big, windowless room with strangely dry air, clean brick walls and a hardwood floor. A small oil lamp, tucked into a corner, illuminated a third of it. The rest of the space remained in semidarkness. The Professor and Zenaya were standing in the centre of a big circle, painted on the floor. Zenaya winked at Cumulus and said,
- We thought you have run away.
- No way, - Croaked Cumulus.
- Cumulus, step inside the circle, quick! – Commanded the Professor.
- I think it will be a matter of a few minutes now, - He added.
- How would we know? – Asked Zenaya worriedly.
- The light will go off, - Replied the Professor.
- It is not an ordinary oil lamp.
- Let’s wait.
- Look! The lamp is growing dimmer, - Exclaimed Zenaya.
Cumulus bit his lower lip. It was growing dimmer by a second. Finally, it went off.
- We must wait some more. It usually takes a few more moments, - He heard the voice of the Professor, - The sound must come first…
They heard the sound. It seemed to be coming from nowhere yet it filled the entire room, making the floor vibrate under their feet, until it became absolutely deafening. Cumulus closed his eyes, but when he opened them again he saw a column of bluish light. It looked like an entrance to a very narrow corridor. All three time-travelers were standing in front of it. Meanwhile the sound transgressed to a low hum.
- Please, give your password, - A deep, metallic voice commanded. The voice was coming from the time corridor.
- CUMULUS IN CUMULI, CUMULA CUMULAE, - Shouted the Professor.
- Enter the beam, please.
They approached the beam. Zenaya entered it first and disappeared.
- Cumulus, you next! – Commanded the Professor.
Cumulus held his breath and stepped forward.
* * * *
There was a flash. There was a sensation of a great fall. Finally, there was silence.
The three people were lying on the floor. All three of them – a girl and two men - seemed to be unconscious. The girl looked beautiful and well … exotic. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about her two unconscious companions.
One, an unremarkable young man, had a short chubby nose, languid constitution, large front teeth and a few freckles. .
The third and the oldest member of the party looked like a typical professor. Even in a state of unconsciousness, he appeared to be knowledgeable and dignified.
The girl came to her senses first. She looked around and smiled. There was a group of people standing nearby and throwing worrying glances in her direction. They were dressed in something white that reached down to their knees. Below that, they wore something black. They whispered to each other and pointed at her excitedly. Finally the dorkiest one stepped closer and asked in a perplexed voice,
- Eh… Excuse me! Who are you?
- My name is Pelagea.
- I am from Rome.
* * * *
Several seriously looking men were sitting around a long table and conversing in carefully measured, business-like voices. Although they did not resemble a group of senators of the ancient Rome, there was definitely something senatorial in their appearance.
- I must say the whole situation is the most extraordinary, - Said one of them, taking off his glasses and wiping absentmindedly them with a handkerchief. The rest nodded in agreement.
- Let us hear Dr Jones’ report, then. Surely we cannot decide anything before we have heard him out.
- Is he waiting outside?
- Please, ask him to come in.
The elderly Professor, who entered the room a moment later, was carrying under his arm a stack of papers, which he placed on the table and bowed slightly to the assembled people.
- Dr Jones. Please sit down.
- Thank you, gentlemen.
There came a rustling of pages, then the Professor cleared his throat and said,
- I guess all of you gentlemen feel rather anxious to hear me out, - He peered at the stern faces of people, sitting around the table.
- Of course, Professor.
- Eh…right. As you all know, gentlemen, this institution has already experienced several serious breaches of rules, caused by the former students. Perhaps, I need not to repeat it but I will repeat it never the less. This university, and especially its historical faculty, was founded as the foremost world centre of history studies. Thanks to new technology, and our generous financial supporters in particular, we were able to install a unique time traveling devise that allows our students to take a peek at the bygone eras. All of you know it under its name TTD and…
- Yes, Dr. Jones.
- Hmm, yes… In my opinion it only to be expected that from time to time some students might feel tempted to break the rules for either their natural curiosity or a plain desire to accomplish outstanding projects. We tried to accommodate all those who applied for a time traveling trip but unfortunately, the technical capacity of the time traveling devise is rather limited, besides there’s always the issue of security… We had hoped that our last measures in securing a proper use of the machine would bring forward the desired results but… Alas! There are always ways to go behind our backs, as it seems now. The best example is the case of our graduate history student, who managed to sneak into the lab and transport himself into the ancient times without even applying for permission and…
- But how was it technically possible? I had believed it requires the assistant of a technician.
- Yes and no, gentlemen. We had believed so. Now we know that it is not so. Apparently, the student in question not only managed to enter the lab but also managed to start the machine. Of course, he had to pay for his foolishness dearly, for when he headed to the ancient Rome, he arrived there in a state of mild amnesia. In fact, I believe that all of you, gentlemen, have read my previous report.
- Yes, Professor, we have.
- It was quite an adventure, I must admit. So then you also know that my assistant and I had been compelled to travel to the same time and destination to retrieve this foolish student from whatever perils he was might have been facing there. My assistant and I safely arrived in the exact spot in time. We took assumed names, Zenaya and Proculus, then…
- Dr. Jones…
- Sorry, gentlemen. I know that you’ve read it all already. Let us switch to the present issue then. I fully realize that this committee feels rather anxious regarding this unexpected turn of the events, namely, the arrival of this Roman girl. I am sure all of us curious as to how this could happen. Well, gentlemen, there’s no limit to human ingenuity, as you all know. Perhaps, I shall be held personally responsible for this although until we safely arrived to our own times I had no idea the thing like this could actually occur. It seems to me now that this Roman girl, Pelagea and my former assistant entered the plot, the idea of which was to transport Pelagea into our times instead of Zenaya.
- So you believe Zenaya was the responsible party?
- It seems so, yes. According to the investigation we had performed shortly after the arrival, it turned out that my former assistant, Joey Tompkins, a.k.a Zenaya, was planning to remain in Rome well before our departure date from that city. The girl Pelagea, on the other hand, was quite determined to undertake a travel to our times, as she put it herself, ‘to study law’. So they switched places at the very last moment and… here we are.
- But why didn’t you send her back to Rome at once and why didn’t you retrieve Ms. Tompkins?
- Because, gentlemen, Ms. Tompkins refused to do so. By the way, now she is our key keeper instead of the former person - Madam Proserpine, who declined the job altogether.
- But still…
- But still, we cannot send a person back in time and leave an extra person from our time living there as well. As you all know, it will destroy the balance…
- Of course we know that. But shouldn’t we have had applied pressure… Surely, it was nothing but Ms. Tompkins’ foolish whim? After all, how a contemporary girl could suddenly decide to stay in the ancient Rome, for God’s sake? It sounds crazy! What would she do there?
- Apparently, she found what to do there long before the planned departure. She found herself a husband, a son of a prominent Roman senator, and she even began to work…
- To work?
- Now she works as an animal rights activist.
- Oh, no! We are talking about the Imperial Rome, for God’s sake. There weren’t any animal rights activists in those times!
- Now we know otherwise. Besides, I must point out to you gentlemen, that my own research on the ancient Rome had been lacking many important details. I intend to rework it now.
- That’s an excellent idea, Dr Jones, but still… What’s about this Roman girl? Surely she cannot live in our times… She must be simply unable to cope with it… I mean…
- Gentlemen, you are gravely mistaken. She has already exhibited an astonishingly good aptitude for university studies and for our contemporary life in general. Right now she is already one of the most popular girls among the students of law and the history faculty! Besides, her romance with this foolish rules breaker…
- You mean, Mark Thornby? The one who sent himself back in time?
- By the way, speaking of him… Are we going to expel him or not? I recall your opinion, dear Doctor, on these matters was to take a lenient approach.
- Correct. I had believed at first that Mr. Thornby should have been expelled as soon as he returns home but now I have changed my opinion.
- Do you mean to say that we should keep him? Despite everything he has done?
- Precisely. I believe it was an excellent field study. As a student of history, he merits our further attention. As a rule breaking student, he must receive a proper, but not overtly severe punishment. I believe, a detention would suffice.
The committee broke into a heated discussion. It lasted for a few minutes, while the Doctor leafed through his papers. Finally, the clamor died down and the Chair of the Committee said:
- Dear Dr Jones. It seems that you are right.
- Thank you, gentlemen. I knew you would come to a wise decision.
- And speaking of this Pelagea…
- Doctor, are you absolutely sure that she fits into our academic environment?
- Oh, absolutely.
- But what about her tuition? Does she have any sources of support while she is in school?
-Well, gentlemen, for one thing, the student of her caliber would never be short of appropriate grants or scholarships…
- Of course. But even then, I cannot imagine how we would sort it out with the Immigration Authorities.
- Secondly, I believe she has brought with her something… She calls it ‘her dowry’. I understand it is a number of easily transportable valuables…
- Collection of precious stones, I believe…
- The collection was given to her by her mother. I understand that upon selling them Pelagea would be in possession of quite a fortune. And speaking of the Immigration Authorities, I believe we would be able to create the most favorable and strong case. So…
- So…- The Chair smiled, - Shall we say ‘Welcome to the PGU’ then?
- I believe we shall.
* * * *
Rich and somewhat eccentric founders of the Pleasant Groove University envisioned it as a place where even the air must carry a taste of history. As the result, its huge campus contained all kinds of weird looking buildings that were supposed to reflect certain periods of a long human history. The architectural motifs therefore were so diverse that no one felt particularly surprised, for example, when the new University bookstore was relocated into a brand new mammoth hunters’ cave. Its former location – the mediaeval Tower of Torture -- was given to the medical faculty.
Nor was the campus ever short of its fair share of slightly bizarre characters, who roamed the buildings and dormitories day and night. But even then, the arrival and later on, an enrollment of Pelagea created a great stir among the seasoned student population.
It was a pleasant sunny afternoon, when a group of students gathered on a wide lawn in front of the History building with Pelagea in their midst.
- How are the Romans, like, feel about partying and stuff? – Asked her a huge guy with a bandanna, drooping off his narrow forehead, - ‘Cause we wanted to invite you to party this Saturday. We can make a Roman theme.
- Nah! Not a Roman theme. We did it the last semester! – Cried the girl with dreadlocks and tugged at Pelagea’s sleeve, - Sometimes you should tell us more about your customs!
- Nah, you’d better ask … Cumulus, - Replied Pelagea. The students roared then someone said:
- Did Mark really call himself Cumulus? I mean, it’s just a password…
- It was the password. Now the password is different, - Noted a round, pink faced girl with serious manners.
- Hey do you know it? – Cried someone.
- Even if I knew it I would not tell, all right?
* * * *
Mark and Pelage were sitting on a wooden bench outside of the University library. As it often happened, both lovers were submerged in a heated discussion.
- Why did you tell them I called myself Cumulus? Now everybody calls me that, - Said Mark with a reproach.
- I think it suits you, you know, - Laughed Pelagea.
- Oh yeah?
- I thought you would like my real name better.
- And why is that?
- Because it is a Roman name.
- I don’t care about Roman names all that much, you know. Now, when they want to hire me as an assistant at the Department of Latin Languages I think my brains will be more than full of that stuff anyway.
- You know, - Mark sighed and shook his head, - I still cannot get over the shock.
- The shock? What are you talking about?
- I mean, when I saw you and not her. I thought you were left in Rome and all that. Suddenly I am opening my eyes and I am seeing you!
- And you nearly died from happiness? Right?
- You are as soppy as ever. I hoped your own time would improve you. I thought it was just an effect of time travel.
- And you hate soppy men, right?
- Well, but you don’t have to be soppy all the time, do you?
- I guess not. Listen, I wanted to tell you something… Something important… I mean, well, when you’ll be… I mean… when you are twenty one, will you marry me then?
- Hmm… But how can you ask me to marry you if you don’t know if I love you or not?
- I was hoping you would tell…
- Well, I might.
- OK, OK. Stop sulking! I love you.
- You want me to repeat? I hate to repeat anything. If you are going to be my husband you should know it. And speaking of my age, I am much older than you, you know.
- How come? You told me back in Rome that…
- But think when I was born, huh?
- I’d never thought about that, honestly.
- But I did. I am a future lawyer, you know. I must always, always find ways!
- Geez, you are… you are a genius!
- Of course I am.
- Hey, now if you are that old, then first we’ll get married right now, and secondly… Wow! You know that in that case you are not simply a girl.
- What do you mean, ‘not simply a girl’? Who else I am then?
- You are the history!
* * * * * *
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