The whitewashed room was large and sparsely furnished; food was piled on a rough-hewn wooden table. An enormous fire hung with well-used, battered cooking pots dominated one end. Weird. She’d never seen this sort of room anywhere at the Point. Looking down, she realized that her clothes were different as well. Her jeans and tee-shirt had been replaced with a rough bleached linen tunic that fell beneath her knees. A rope belted her waist. Something was tucked into the rope at her waist. She pulled out a piece of paper and opened it:
“Hanna?” An older woman was crouching beside her, offering her a cup of something and insisting she drink. “It is wine, it will restore you.”
She sipped from the cup, repressing the urge to spit it out. It was the worst wine she had ever tasted, almost vinegar. Siobhan scrambled to her feet and headed for the open door.
“Hanna, you must be careful. You just fainted.”
“And do not let Master Proximo see that, whatever it is. Burn it.” The woman snatched Sid’s note – because Siobhan now knew Sid was behind this – and threw it into the fire.
The door opened onto a large, smelly, dirty courtyard. The scene before her eyes stunned her with its’ familiarity. Ordinarily the sun on her face would have made her smile, but she knew where she was now. A statue of Mars – or was it Hercules, she never knew — stood silent sentry duty just inside the gates. A seemingly endless number of wagons with barred windows and canvas covers had pulled up to discharge manacled men, stretching stiffened muscles and staring up. She turned to see what they were looking at and was herself stunned at the sight of the Coliseum, looming above them whole and magnificent.
One of the men was Maximus. The scars on his left arm were visible, even at a distance; he looked dazed. Any doubts she had about exactly where she was disappeared when she heard the booming voice of Proximo as he strode into his Gladiatorial School.
She turned away quickly, trying to hide her amazement and sudden fear. She was somehow in Gladiator. In Rome, Maximus’ world. This just wasn’t possible so she must be dreaming. She looked towards Maximus again, never seeing the fist that connected with her face.
“Get back to the Master’s quarters, girl,” her assailant demanded. She looked up from where she had fallen to see a squat ugly man, staring at her with menace. “What? Have you gone stupid? Say ‘yes, Marcus’ and get your worthless ass up off the ground.”
“Yes, Marcus,” she stammered, getting up slowly, only to find herself face first on the ground as he kicked her. The second time she scrambled to her feet and hurried in the direction he was pointing. As she did, she looked across the courtyard at Maximus. He had seen her abuse. His hands had clenched at his side, but no other recognition was forthcoming.
She tried to recall what she knew of the layout of Proximo’s school and it was damn little. Fortunately she found a staircase that led to his quarters. There she found two other slave women who seemed to think she was a new purchase. “You are Hanna? I hear you are delicate, you fainted this morning? Well your tasks will be simple – you will help us care for Master Proximo. See to his every need.” When she didn’t say anything, the slave clarified, “Consider yourself lucky, girl. The Master doesn’t share his women with Marcus.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that if the Master wants you in his bed, he wants you in no one else’s.”
“Perhaps you will wish to be given to the one called the Spaniard,” the slave Lia said. She was tall, reed thin and very beautiful. “Proximo will give him anything he wishes, but he hasn’t asked for me yet.”
Merete, the other slave, was as dark as Lia was blonde. She laughed, “Why you? He’d be better off asking for me.”
“You were in Zucchabar?” Siobhan asked.
“Yes, we came ahead to help set the household to rights. You will like it here unless you accidentally let Proximo get on top,” Lia told her. At the stricken look on Siobhan’s face, the blonde smiled. “I jest. He prefers Merete to all others and may never call you to him.”
Siobhan was not particularly comforted by that as she heard Proximo ascending the stairs. Marcus was with him. “Girl, come greet your new Master. Her name is Hanna, Proximo, and she is insolent. That merchant who sold us to her is a thief.”
“Is that why her eye is blackened? Never beat a woman in the face. It lessens her worth.” Proximo’s massive fist clubbed Marcus’ ear. “Get out of my sight before I kill you myself.” The slimy man staggered to his feet and left, head bowed but eyes filled with hatred trained on Siobhan. “Come here, girl.”
She approached Proximo hesitantly. Amazing. Had Proximo once been as handsome as Oliver Reed? The booming voice and magnificent eyes were all that was left of his beauty.
“I won’t hurt you. Come here. Do as you’re told.” The impatience in his voice made her move quickly. He touched her chin, turning her face to the light. “It will heal. Go put cool water on it.” He turned from her as if she didn’t exist and began barking orders at the slaves.
“Go,” Lia mouthed silently.
She slipped back down the stairs, hoping desperately to avoid Marcus. Was this really happening or was she dreaming? If it was a dream, why did her eye hurt so bad?
She found water behind the kitchen; it was far from cool, but she dipped a rag into it and held it to her eye.
“Only a coward strikes a woman.”
Her heart was pounding as she looked up into Maximus’ face. No glimmer of recognition showed in his eyes. Of course he didn’t know her; they hadn’t even met yet.
“I am a slave so I guess it doesn’t matter. You’re the Spaniard.”
“How did you know that?”
“Uh…one of the other slaves told me about you. I am called…Hanna.”
He nodded, “Hanna is a Hebrew name. Are you a Jewess?”
Panicky she stuttered, “Y..yes, no, I mean…” Her brain scrambled for an answer she could support. ‘Christian’ was a bad answer right about now. “I worship as I am told.”
“You have been a slave a long time?”
“No…no, I was just sold to Proximo.” Oh God, he was going to think she was a blithering idiot. “I am trying to learn how to behave like a proper slave.” Let him buy it, please, she prayed.
Before he could answer, a guard called him away. Siobhan leaned up against the building. “Fuck, this is a mess,” she muttered.
* * *
Maximus was in an excellent mood. A morning spent with Mannie and East had added to his pleasure in the day as had a ride on Scarto. He knocked the mud off his boots and headed up towards the lab, only to find the door locked. ‘Must be later than I think,’ he mused to himself. Siobhan’s stomach waited for no man; she’d probably gone to the Tavern to grab some lunch.
A check of the Tavern revealed Alex among the diners, but no Siobhan. Maximus grabbed a beer from Jeff who was tending bar, and joined Alex at the table where he was entertaining two pretty young visitors. “Alex, can I join you?”
“Sure, siddown, Max. Meet Terry and Chloe who are visiting from Santa Fe.”
“A pleasure to meet you, ladies. Alex, do you know where Siobhan is? I thought she’d be up here, having lunch.”
“I don’t know. I had a message to go up to Caroline’s office and when I came back, Siobhan was gone and the lab was locked up.”
“You left her alone with Sid?” His tone immediately changed to that of the displeased General.
“No, of course not. He hadn’t shown up yet and she promised to get out until I came back if and when he did.”
Maximus sipped his beer thoughtfully. “She’s probably gone to lunch with one of the other women.” He smiled at the newcomers who were struck dumb at the General in mud-splattered boots and jeans. “Santa Fe? Tell me, girls, where exactly is that? I’m new to this time.”
After lunch, he decided to check the lab again. Then he checked the restaurants, Caroline’s office and finally Siobhan’s room. When these places turned out to be dead-ends, he began to become worried. No one had seen her since Alex left her.
It was Cort who supplied the first real clue:
“Alex came up here about 9, said some visitor had told him I wanted to see him. God knows where she got that idea from. Anyway, he went right back down to the lab.”
“You didn’t want to see him?” Maximus turned on his heel and left without another word.
“No, I…Hey, you’re welcome, Maximus, any time,” Cort muttered.
By dinner, he had pieced together the information that one of the Brothers had asked a visitor to deliver a message to Alex down at the lab. She was pretty certain the Brother was Sid, despite the fact that he claimed to be East.
“Hey, I’ve seen Virtuosity enough to know this was Sid,” the girl insisted as she walked across the parking lot towards the Tavern. “But what did he do wrong? He just asked me to pass on a message.”
The handsome Spaniard shook his head, “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh good. Listen, can I buy you a drink?” she asked. “I came ‘specially to meet you.”
“Maybe later, thanks.”
He headed straight back down to the lab and kicked the door open. Siobhan’s chair lay on its’ side, half way across the room. Maximus began to search, looking under the console and in the small storage cabinet. When he looked into the small room that held the surgical table and hookups for Sid’s reprogramming, he found what he was looking for: Siobhan’s jeans, tee shirt and tennis shoes. And something he hadn’t counted on.
“It’s a portal of some sort,” John Biebe declared. He touched the shimmering spot on the wall and watched his hand vanish. “Damned if I know where it came from or where it leads to.” Word had gotten out that Siobhan was missing; when he saw Maximus kick in the door, the former sheriff followed quickly.
“I am going to kill Sid.”
John stayed close beside Maximus as the angry Spaniard headed into the Hotel. He wasn’t about to let anyone kill anyone on his watch, but he knew that he would be in the same cold fury.
Sid answered the door, a smug self-satisfied look on his face. “Well, if it isn’t the Slave and Sheriff Tubby. What can I do for you, boys?” He barely got the words out of his mouth as Maximus grabbed him by the neck and smashed him up against the far wall.
“Where is she?”
Sid giggled as John struggled to pull Maximus off him. “Gone, is she? Didn’t like being told what to do, I imagine.” He put his hand up as the other man drew back for another blow. “I sent her to visit your ancestral home, General. She’s in ancient Rome. The only way you can bring her back is to become a slave again.”