Cleopatra tapped her earpiece awkwardly and fidgeted with the microphone in her collar. “And you’re sure that this will translate the… English, you said?” She looked at the markings in the pod nervously. None of the six languages she spoke came in handy here.
Maline looked down at her tablet. “It should. English is a bit… strange, so I can’t be quite sure, but you’re understanding me just fine with your translator on and I’m speaking modern Greek now, so it should work for English. I wish I had more time to test it out, but I was just so excited to meet you.”
“The feeling is mutual,” Cleopatra said awkwardly. It was not mutual. She’d been minding her own business, preparing for a business meeting with the representative of the merchants of Heracleion when her chambers had been bombarded with bright light, and this thing, this… pod had landed inside. Maline had emerged shortly after, speaking her own Koine Greek, albeit with a horrendous accent. She’d offered to take Cleopatra to the future for the opportunity to ask her about her life—how could Cleopatra say no to such an opportunity for learning about what will come? “Where are you taking me again?”
“To 2010, where I’m from.”
“Two thousand… and ten?”
“Oh, sorry. Give me a second.” Maline held back her curly brown hair with her hand. “So using the Ab Urbe Condita, that’d be… uh… just about 2763, maybe? Sorry, mental math.”
“That’s the year. There we call it 2010. I get how it’d be confusing though. Let me put it this way. You’ve been dead for like… two thousand and forty years.”
Dead. Cleopatra rolled the term around in her head. It felt strange to arrive at a world in which she was dead. If Maline hadn’t appeared in a flash of light using technology Cleopatra didn’t understand, Cleopatra wouldn’t have believed her, but with the tech that she had, Cleopatra really didn’t see how she had that much of a choice. “Oh, okay. Can I ask how I died? Was it in battle? Childbirth?”
“No, sorry. I can’t really tell you that. It’s probably best you don’t know how the immediate future will go.” Maline finally looked up from her tablet and leaned back against the pod. “I mean, because then you could try and change it.”
“Isn’t that good?”
“No. I mean, it’s not like it would change anything. History always goes one certain way. If you were to purposefully make sure you weren’t in the same city where you were rumored to have died, for example, you’d end up dying there somehow anyway. There’s no escaping the past.”
Cleopatra grabbed her kalasiris in a tight fist and held her stomach. Although the pod didn’t seem to be moving, her stomach was churning like she was traveling by horseback. Maybe she was just feeling sick. Or maybe it was just she was in a pod with a strange, almost alien girl, who had promised to take her to the future. Either way, she felt like she might throw up. “Are we almost there?”
“Yeah, almost.” Maline’s brown eyes shone. “So, are you ready?”
“I was going to ask you some questions.”
“Oh, sure, of course.” Cleopatra fidgeted nervously.
“What was your favorite kind of fruit?”
“Uh.” If these were the kind of questions she was going to be asked, she must be really important in the future. “Grapes, I guess. Can I ask what this is for?”
“I’m writing my final paper on you,” Maline said nonchalantly.
“I’m trying to pass this one history class I’m in with flying colors so the professor will write me a letter of rec for graduate school. I’m a… woman of science, if you will. But instead of studying the natural world, I study history, and more specifically, I study you.” Maline popped her neck and rested her hand on her peculiar, rough blue pants. “Does that freak you out?”
“A little,” Cleopatra admitted. Mostly it was flattering though. She’d always known she’d be the one to shine, to bring glory to the Ptolemaic name. Now she had proof. Suck it Berenice.
“Don’t, uh, don’t worry about it. So what other questions do you have?”
“What was your relationship like with your mother?”
“Short. Irrelevant. She left when I was small. My father raised me.”
“He did? Alone?”
“I had caretakers, of course—” The pod jolted and Cleopatra froze.
Maline looked around. “We’re here. We’ll be in my lab back in Maryland. Have you ever—no, you wouldn’t have. Okay, so, for context, we’re on a continent you’ve never heard of. It exists in your time, but you’ve never heard of it and you never will.”
Cleopatra shrugged. “Sure. Whatever.” It was just one of those days.
“Are you ready? Try not to go into shock. You probably won’t.”
“Great confidence,” Cleopatra muttered, but she nodded and Maline, who opened the door to the pod. Cleopatra stepped out into a dank, dark dungeon-looking room.
“Welcome to my sorority house!” Maline followed her out. “Feel free to look around the room. Should be interesting.”
As her eyes adjusted, Cleopatra tried and failed to concentrate on everything at once. Every surface was either covered in perfectly rectangular leaves of paper or grey boxes that looked like the technology that Maline had used to control the pod.
Cleopatra took a few, hesitant steps towards a large, low rumbling box in one corner. There was only so much she could concentrate on in a time—this would be a start. “What is this?”
“That’s a, uh, washing machine. You put clothes in and soap, and then they sorta get… rumbled around until they’re clean.”
Cleopatra nodded. “Practical. And I assume, of course, that you have very fast transportation now?”
Maline nodded. “Of course. I can take you upstairs to see them, but you should probably change first.”
Cleopatra looked down. Personally, she thought her outfit was far better than… whatever it was that Maline had on. “Why?”
“Well… partially because although your outfit is great, we here in America like to dress a bit more… conservatively. In the breast region.”
Cleopatra crossed her arms over her chest. She thought they were in Maryland, not America.
“Plus, it’s winter. You’re going to get cold. And you’ll look super conspicuous. If my roommates find out that you’re, you know, the Cleopatra, they might tell you stuff about your future. And trust me, you do not want to know things about your future.”
It wasn’t a very good sign, Cleopatra figured, that Maline had so emphasized ‘your’. But it was nice to be referred to as the Cleopatra instead of just a Cleopatra. “Alright. I do not have any other clothes though.”
“You can borrow some of my sister’s.” Maline walked up to the rumbling box and opened the lid of the box next to it, digging out a long sleeved shirt and a pair of grey pants.
She threw them to Cleopatra, who looked at them dubiously. “And your sister will be okay with you stealing her clothing?”
“Well, she’s not really my sister. She’s like… a spiritual sister. A chosen sister.”
Cleopatra nodded, and slid the long sleeved shirt over her head. Chosen sisters were certainly better than blood sisters in her book. The fabric was much stiffer and scratchier than the linens she was used to, but it was much warmer. She undid the skirt of her kalasiris and stepped into the pants, which caught on her sandals. Super. “Confounded thing! How many of these… chosen sisters do you have?”
“They’re called sweatpants. And in the house?” Maline leaned against the rumbling box, giving her voice a strange vibrato. “There’s… I think eighteen of us?”
“Wow.” Cleopatra finally got her entire foot through the end of the pants. “That’s a lot of girls.”
“Come on!” Maline nodded towards the stairs. “You can meet some of them and see about the future. Plus, I can prove to you that you won’t be forgotten.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Maline reminded Cleopatra a little of Caesar’s idiot friend, Mark Antony— always in such a hurry.
A touch apprehensive, Cleopatra followed Maline up the stairs. The light upstairs was blinding—everything was illuminated by this strange white fire trapped in tiny white bottles. Cleopatra blinked a lot and ran her hands through her curly hair.
“You okay?” Maline stopped before passing through a doorway.
“Yeah, sure.” Cleopatra was absolutely not okay. Everything was happening all at once. Shelves and knick knacks and incredibly realistic images of Maline and other girls hung on the walls. Cleopatra looked at one with wonder, before getting distracted by a beautiful blue blanket spread over a plush chair. Maline must be richer, richer than any senator, and richer than Cleopatra herself.
“Come this way,” Maline said. “Over here.”
Tearing her eyes away, Cleopatra tottered after Maline. She wasn’t used to wearing pants, and certainly not pants as thick and warm as these. She rejoined Maline in a pink colored room with three couches. Maline patted the seat next to her, and so Cleopatra nervously sat down. Opposite her sat two girls who weren’t Maline, but wore the same strange warm clothing.
“Hey guys. This is the friend I was telling you about.”
The two girls waved amicably.
Maline lounged back, sticking one leg up on the couch. “This is Jenna and Taylor. Jenna and Taylor, this is Cleopatra.”
“Like Cleopatra the queen?” said Taylor, maybe.
“Yes.” Maline looked over at Cleopatra and closed one eye. Maybe that was some kind of gesture in either Maryland or America?
“Such a cool name!” said perhaps Jenna.
“Yeah? What do you know about her?”
Either Taylor or Jenna raised an eyebrow. “Mal, dude, you’re the history major. Shouldn’t you be—”
“Just humor me, will you?”
At least they seemed to recognize her name, Cleopatra figured.
“Um, well,” probably Jenna started, “I know she was a queen. Of Egypt, right? Or maybe of Rome?”
“And she was with Caesar!” assumably Taylor added. “And, uh, that other guy. You know the one. He was famous.”
And Caesar wasn’t? Cleopatra bit her lip. So far it sounded like she’d ended up like every other woman in her family—only defined by the men she was attached to.
“She uh… she married her brothers, right?” Either Jenna or Taylor turned to the one that she was not. “She was also like… super hot, if I remember right. And a super seductress. Like, she almost took over Rome before she killed herself with that snake. She is iconic. Oh!” She quickly pulled out a small black rectangle and slid it up, making it light up. Cleopatra gazed at it, almost mesmerized, as the lights changed to show a picture of a small girl carrying a doll. “Look! It’s the doll I got my little sister. It’s based of Cleopatra, see?”
With horror, Cleopatra looked down at an olive-skinned, incredibly skinny doll with straight black hair and horrific clothes covered with snakes and shine. It didn’t look like her at all.
Maline must have noticed something on Cleopatra’s face, because she quickly said “Alright! Thank you, girls! That’s all I needed for now.”
“Thank you!” Maline stood and grabbed Cleopatra’s arm, roughly pulling her back through the thresholds and towards the stairs.
Cleopatra twitched away from her grasp. Nobody had the right to grab her like that anymore.
“Sorry. You should’ve seen your face though, I thought you were going to cry.”
“I don’t cry,” Cleopatra said stiffly.
“Uh huh.” Maline rubbed her arm. “Sorry. I thought that’d go over better. At least they knew you though?”
“They really didn’t. They didn’t know anything about me. They knew I was with Caesar and that I had something to do with Egypt and/or Rome. That was it.”
“Yeah, but let me put it this way—I don’t think they could have named one single other ruler from Egypt, except maybe King Tut.”
“King Tutankhamun. It’s a long story.” Maline sighed. “Look. Nobody survives this long intact. Nobody survives even a hundred years without their personality being distorted and adapted to suit the needs of the people who remember you. Once you’re dead, Rome is embarrassed by how powerful and strong and brave and smart you were, so they convinced everyone that you were a seductress, the most influential beauty.”
Cleopatra rolled her eyes. “Sure, and I’m the queen of Punt.”
“But even through all that,” Maline continued, “even through them trying to drag your name through the dirt, your legacy persisted. You were remembered. And sure, they remember your power as being because of how pretty you are, but they still remember you as being powerful and highly influential to the ancient world. And that’s something, right? You made it.”
Cleopatra looked at her feet.
“And even if that isn’t enough,” said Maline, trying to meet Cleopatra’s gaze, “you’re my hero, because of all the stuff you’re actually proud of, like your skill with language and your strategic diplomacy. Dude, I built an entire time machine to be able to meet you! And I’m not the only one-- we have a whole class about you. Heck, my girlfriend took an entire class last semester completely about a play that’s about you! Granted, a lot of it is made up, but still! We write books about you—the true you! We sing songs with your name! You are so admired, here in the future, on this continent you’ve never heard of—even if a lot of people admire you for things that aren’t quite true.”
Despite herself, Cleopatra smiled. “Thank you. I guess I shouldn’t complain. After all, I do not know the names of people who died two thousand years before me. The fact that I left my mark is more impressive than anything my contemporaries can claim.”
“Precisely!” Maline grinned. “So… you’ll still let me interview you?”
“Of course.” Cleopatra tilted her head. She’d made a deal and she always kept her end of the deal. Besides, if the public were ever to know who she truly was, she was sure that Maline could do it. “I made a deal, didn’t I? Ask away.”
“Great.” Maline walked over to the rumbling boxes, which had miraculously stopped rumbling. She hopped on top of one, and patted for Cleopatra to join her. The Queen of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt hiked up her sweatpants and hopped up as well. “Let’s start from the top. How do you feel about Arsinoe?”
Cleopatra rolled her eyes. “Girl, let me tell you.”