Galen did not regard the women with suspicion, though perhaps he should. Curiosity, yes. The dark woman, Nyota, seemed to be the leader, although Marie, the fair one, had been identified as a queen.
She did not act like a queen.
Everything was strange and wondrous. Galen had even seen a cart moving along the street with no animals harnessed to it.
From listening to Moose and the women, Galen had learned several things. Most importantly, no one understood where they were, but they seemed to be safe. Whether they would be able to leave was unknown; he wasn’t sure anyone had ever tried. Then again, the same pull that led them here and there might also be witching people into not wanting to leave…
They each remembered imminent death before arriving in the place. They were all from different times…
And Galen was the oldest of them all. Well, the youngest in actual years, but the oldest when they compared eras. They all seemed to have numbers that referred to years, whereas he just identified his own time as that of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. All of the others seemed to recognize the name, and informed him that his time was many centuries before their own.
Moose was helpful in the store that sold clothing for men. Everything was rather complicated, but Moose asked the proprietor for something called “Tee Shirts” which turned out to be the most comfortable, yet simple garment. The fabric actually stretched, moving with him. Moose spotted some shelves in the back with stacks of pants made out of some very strong material. Moose called them “jeans.” They had several pockets of various sizes, and actual pieces of metal integrated into the fabric as fasteners and decorations. The zipper confounded him, but Moose asked for a style he called “button fly” which suited him well.
Galen never saw any money exchange hands, but the store clerk reassured them that Nyota had arranged payment. At Moose’s suggestion, they each bought an extra pair of jeans and several shirts; Moose also selected a sturdy bag for each of them, and seemed relieved to not be lugging around the space suit and helmet separately.
They found the women in a store full of frilly dresses and unidentifiable garments. Everything looked terribly fragile and unfamiliar, and he was very relieved when the women were finished and they returned to the carriage that would take them back to the women’s home.
“So what happens when a person arrives here? They simply take up some kind of profession and live happily ever after?” Moose asked. Galen listened quietly, waiting patiently to learn all he could. He felt he was at a disadvantage, being from a time so far before the others, but that didn’t mean he was helpless. His father had taught him well.
Marie and Nyota glanced at each other, but of course it was Nyota who answered. “Well, yes.” Her shoulders crept up a tiny bit, then down again. “In the weeks we’ve been here, we’ve seen dozens arrive. They are from a wide range of eras and cultures, but all seem to find their own niche. It is as if the life they had before was somehow wrong, and the life they have here corrects it.”
“There was nothing wrong with my life. I had a good career, friends, and although there were some conflicts between various different political groups, most people live… lived? Live in relative peace and prosperity.”
Both women seemed thoughtful at that revelation, and neither one spoke for several minutes.
Finally Marie broke the tension. “So Galen, what was your life like? And how did it end there?”
“I was attempting to reach the edge of the empire, or at least some point far enough on the fringe that I could make my own way in life without worrying about being conscripted.”
“You mean into the army?” asked Nyota.
“The army, or the coliseum. My father was a gladiator, my mother was a slave. There are many powerful men who would not care that I am a free man. They would have me fight monsters in the arena for their amusement.”
“And it was one of these powerful men who put an end to your life?” Marie asked.
“Huh. Man? No. A boy, but a powerful one. He called himself a King, and seemed to have at least the tacit support of the local Roman legion. But he was much too young to rule. I doubt he’d seen twenty summers, and the crown on his head had to be heavily padded for him to even wear it. He had no right to arrest me, yet he did over some imagined insult or slight, I’m not even sure what it was. But he strung me up on a gallows and tied a rope around my neck. He wasn’t a King; he was a child who had been raised with too many privileges for his own good, and he was playing with his power.”
Marie’s lips grew tight, and she turned silently to look out the window. Galen watched her face for a moment, but she resolutely refused to look his way. He was about to ask what he’d said that had upset her when Nyota interrupted.
“Was there something in your life that you always wanted to do? What did you imagine yourself doing if you were able to get far enough away from the empire?”
“Well, it seems I’m as far away from the empire as I can possibly get.” Galen looked out the window, supposedly watching the scenery pass by, but really watching Marie’s reflection. “But I have no idea what I want to do.” There was a moment of silence, as if they were waiting for his next words. “I only know that I can not be content without answers. I can not simply slide into some bucolic life here without knowing what or who has brought me here.”
What Would Have Been
- Chapter One: Epitaph for a King
- Chapter Two: Nyota
- Deleted Scene from Chapter Three: Flavor
- Chapter Three: Trianon
- Chapter Four: Hamlet
- Chapter Five: The Miller’s House
- Chapter Six: The Bell Tolls for Thee
- Chapter Seven: Galen
- Interview With Ulysees “Moose” Umbra
- Chapter Eight: Moose
- Chapter Nine: Found
- Chapter Ten: Together
- Chapter Eleven: Getting to Know You
- Chapter Twelve: One is Silver and the Other Gold
- Chapter Thirteen: An Old Old Friend
- Chapter Fourteen: Oldest and Youngest
- Chapter Fifteen: The Return to the Crypt
What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!
This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.
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