The Lion Doesn't Sleep Tonight - A Very Roman Holiday

The Skin Traveler © 2001 Laura Fink / All Rights Reserved Episode One - The Lion Doesn't Sleep Tonight The sculpted bushes and phosphorous fountains of Shiver Tower Gardens began to fade, and Tock felt a strange buzzing in his head. He saw his hand reach in slow motion for his mouse, but before he could touch it, he found himself sitting in a dim corner of a dark enclosure. It smelled musty, like a cave. Beside him was his laptop. Although his cell-phone was nowhere in sight, the computer appeared to be still on-line. Tock puzzled over this for a moment, and then began to look around. He heard voices speaking quietly in a foreign tongue. As he strained to listen, he found that gradually he was able to understand their language. The voices came from the center of the room, where a group of simply clothed men and women sat on the floor, their heads bowed. "And Father, please take away all fear, so that we may give honor to Your Name," one man said. "Amen!" the other voices added in unison. With shock, Tock noticed that he was dressed just like the folk sitting on the floor. Quickly, he stuffed his computer into a spare corner of his shell, as the sound of clanging metal filled the room. It was then that he noticed the bars that closed off the far end of the room. A key turned in a lock, and the bars swung open. The shadow of a very big man with a serious case of body odor filled the room. "All of you, rise!" he bellowed. The small group stood meekly. The brute with the key pointed his truncheon at Tock. "You, too! The lions are especially hungry, today!" Tock froze, sweat running down his face. Mamma mia! This was not the trip he had planned! He wondered vaguely where the Tourist Information Office was located. The beastly smelling, over-muscled Roman guard led Tock and the others into a small holding pen which led, through a gate, into the open coliseum. A faint roaring sound came from the arena. What, the lions were out there already? Tock wondered. His stomach tightened. But no, it was just the roar of the crowd. They wanted to see blood, guts, and ripped flesh. Tock wondered if he had time to download the trailer for "Gladiator" from the Net. Would that satisfy them? Behind the back of the guard, who stood Rambo-like at the gate to the arena, Tock edged nearer to investigate a foul-smelling hole in one corner of the room. Phew! The removal of human waste products certainly had improved in the last millenium or two. A little standard lo-tech hygeine would be good for these folks. One of the prisoners drew close to Tock and leaned down to whisper in his ear. "Brother, I see you have noticed something of interest." Tock looked up at him quizzically, then down at the primitive loo. Ah, of course! "Being of such small stature, you could find your way through this fissure down into the sewage tunnels that criss-cross this city. And from there:" "The catacombs! Yes, I could do it! But what about you and the others?" The prisoner shook his head. "We each will serve God in his own way. But you - take this to the brethern." From within his cloak he drew a small scroll made of some animal skin. "I thought it would have to be destroyed with me, but now it seems that is not so. It's a first generation copy of a letter from our brother Paulus to his friends in this city. Give it to the others - they will treasure it well!" Tock tucked the scroll into his shell with reverence. Then, before he could think twice about it, he hopped into the slimy pit. Oh, the stench! At least he had a soft landing. (He tried not to think about the reason why.) Tock crawled away as fast as his legs would take him. He made mental note to thank George, his personal trainer, for working him so hard on the treadmill in recent weeks. The dark passage twisted and turned. Tock passed through a broken cistern where he was able to wash off most of the muck covering his body. After more wandering in the dark, Tock entered a cavernous room dimly lit by sunlight shining through cracks in the high ceiling. There were signs that people had been there recently, but not a soul was to be found. Alone and lost, Tock sat down in despair. From within his shell, he pulled out the scroll and his laptop. "I wonder how long I've been down here", he muttered. Then, for the first time, he noticed that the label on the center face in his Clock Trizoner clock read "Italy". "Of course!" Tock slapped his shell with the palm of his hand. He remembered now that he had set one of the three clock faces for Shiverbrook time, one for Eastern Standard (he often phoned his sister in Virginia), and one for the corresponding time in Italy (Trik-Tech was sending him there next week on business). He tried to activate the Shiverbrook clock face, but it didn't respond. But the clock face labeled "Virginia" was active! With a quiver in his green belly, Tock clicked Apply. Immediately, he felt a buzzing in his head again ("Got to cut back on coffee after 10 p.m.", he thought) and his surroundings began to fade. "Oh no, the scroll!" Tock cried. Drat. It would probably sit in that cave for all of history. Nothing to be done about it now. In every issue of "Just a Minute", join Tock the Turtle for an adventure in time and space. No one knows just where or when he'll find himself next, not even the folks at Clock Domain . com!