The campus was mostly deserted tonight. Students everywhere at the university were holed up in their dormitories or at the library; poring frantically over books, scribbling last-minute notes, desperately clacking away at keyboards in the vain hopes of finishing off the last ten pages of the fifteen page paper due tomorrow. Finals week had descended on the university, and everyone was busy.
Everyone, of course, except the triple academic probationary brothers of Beta Kappa Nu.
Four shadowy figures made their way across the quad. In a stroke of tactical genius, Strabo had noticed the new moon fell the night before the last round of final examinations. The cover of darkness would shroud their approach to the Department of Pseudohistory building. As well as their large red wagon full of props.
"Was this really the only thing we could use to carry the stuff?" an exasperated Celsus sighed. He looked over his shoulder for any sign of the campus centurions.
"Yep. The only other thing we had was the wheelbarrow, and that got all smashed up during Pledge Week" replied Mergus, pulling the wagon. "Who's got the passcode?"
Varro pulled a notepad out of his robes. "Ready when you are."
The group made their way to the building entrance without incident, possibly a first for any of the activities of Beta House. Mergus looked to his fellows.
"Okay, you know what Titus said about the cameras in the hallway, so masks on, everyone."
The group pulled out identical, leering rubber Dionysius masks from their robes and pulled them over their faces. Varro looked upon the crew of five with approval. "Good job finding these, they scare the hell out of me."
"Imagine what the guys on the other side are going to think," replied Mergus. Obscured as his face was, his smirk still came through in his voice. "All right, quick supply check. Fireworks?"
"Check," said Varro.
"Check," said Celsus.
"Gotcha covered, bro." said Bibulus.
"All the other shit?"
"Probably in there somewhere," said Strabo.
"Gentlemen," grinned Mergus behind his mask, "let's change history."
Rhetor Cloelius looked over his notes one more time. Surely this published work would cement his reputation as the leading expert in Gaia-Analagous Alternate Realities. Years he had spent, detailing all of the minutiae and pertinent facts of Dimension XII-GREEN CLXXIII. Painstaking work, as the University had very strict guidelines about detectable interference in alternate realities. He had chosen CLXXIII for its pristine conditions; of all the realities thus far observed, it had the least apparent similarity to their own, meaning that it had been virtually uncontaminated by clumsier efforts at observation and study in the past.
True, there had been that series of pranks played on him by that damnable fraternity house. He had seriously endangered his tenure by losing his temper at the Dean over that one; who in their right mind could have permitted a member of Beta House to be the student aide at the Phitransimun Combine? And why was Beta House even allowed at the University in the first place, for that matter? Fortunately, CLXXIII had an organization that, curiously, systematically suppressed knowledge of items and phenomena alien to its sense of reality. So Beta House's little "surprises" were safely quarantined away from his area of research.
Cloelius could hear the faculty and guests gathering in the next room over, assembling for the symposium at which he would present his findings. His assistant had begged him to do a final review of his materials before giving the presentation, well aware of the ongoing sabotage efforts directed against the Rhetor's work.
"Nonsense," Cloelius had said, "those buffoons are too clever by half. Every prank they try to pull on me is merely catalogued away by that Foundation and isolated from my research. The more they try, the better the Foundation's efforts become. Fools." Besides which, Cloelius had plenty of work to take care of last night as Dean of Disciplinary Affairs, much of it generated by unrelated Beta House activities.
The Dean began to speak. That was his cue. Cloelius straightened the folds in his finest toga, and stepped into the Chamber of the Academy.
"-and to enlighten us further on the matter, allow me to introduce Rhetor Caius Scipio Cloelius, Chair of the Alexylva University Pseudohistory Department."
Polite clapping rose up from the assemblage of couches in the chamber. Cloelius recognized many of his colleagues, but many others also were in attendance; University patrons, local dignitaries, and even someone who appeared to be a member of the Senate. Pleased with the turnout, Cloelius assumed his formal speaking stance, and began his lecture.
"In honor of the divine Minerva and all of the gods, allow me to offer to you, my fellow citizens, the wisdom I have gathered in the work of years. Many of you are familiar with the emerging field of Pseudohistory, that most delicate and speculative of studies. Today, I present my findings of Dimension XII-GREEN CLXXIII, the most-"
Several audience members stifled chuckles. Cloelius, confused, continued his lecture.
"-the most enlightening and purest of case studies we have yet encountered in the field."
The room burst into laughter, as though Cloelius had opened with a particularly witty joke. He was baffled by the reaction, but dared not betray any hint that he didn't understand the situation. He pressed on.
"Unlike our own reality, or indeed the vast majority of the thirteen documented sub-realities, Dimension XII-GREEN CLXXIII is a world of harmonius coexistence, free of the internecine and violent conflicts that are the typical drivers of history."
Guffaws continued to ring out in the chamber in response to his speaking, but Cloelius noted some looks of confusion beginning to appear in the audience. He resolved once more to carry on.
"To-Tonight, I shall provide an overview of the society of CLXXIII as it stands today, its history, and the social constructs that I have found most applicable to our current understanding of human society and behavior."
The room quieted down. This was good. Cloelius felt his confidence returning again.
"To begin, the most relevant development in the common history of CLXXIII is the ascendancy, four thousand years into the beginning of its civilization, of a unifying empire tracing its origins in the southern polar region of the planet. This unity, imposed by the Antarctic Empire, helped lay the groundwork for a lasting peace, allowing for unparalleled advances in the arts, the sciences, and-"
The confused stares were back. No one was laughing now. Cloelius looked around the room, the words dead in his throat. He looked to the Dean, who was turning the same shade of crimson he did on that regrettable day in his office several months ago.
"What is the meaning of this, Rhetor Cloelius?"
Cloelius began to stutter. "I'm…I'm giving a lecture, sir."
The Dean's expression darkened further. "Giving a lecture. I see. That is, indeed, what you are supposed to be doing."
"Sir? I'm not quite sure I-"
"As our Chair, you are familiar with Dimension XII-GREEN CLXXIII, yes?" interrupted the Dean.
"Well, yes, I-"
"And you are aware that CLXXIII has, in its history, profound signs of influence by our reality?"
"I, uh..what? No, that's-"
"And, doubtless, you are aware that there are people, in CLXXIII, that speak actual, undifferentiated Latin?"
Cloelius was beginning to feel the blood drain from his face.
"Furthermore. FURTHERMORE. You are, of course, aware that an ENTIRE EMPIRE, BASED ON OUR SPECIFIC CULTURE, is one of the most defining features of CLXXIII? Because THESE PEOPLE HERE are certainly aware of it, Rhetor!"
The audience sat, mostly stunned, though a few of the other Rhetors from Cloelius' department were trying their best to suppress what appeared to be another round of laughter.
The Dean jabbed a finger in Cloelius' face. "You were SUPPOSED to observe the protocols, Cloelius! To find out that the most compromised of the realities was a result of YOUR BLUNDERING is more than I can stand." The Dean turned to face the audience. "Citizens, I apologize most humbly for this…performance. Please, stay for the post-symposium feast, and I shall discuss future arrangements."
The audience began filing out of the room, buzzing with scandalized chatter as they headed for the cafeteria. The Dean wheeled to face Cloelius once more.
"My office. First thing tomorrow morning. Cloelius."
The dean stormed off in the direction of the rest of the audience. Cloelius, completely dumbstruck, noticed for the first time that he was still in his speaking posture. What had happened? He had been so thorough, so-
It couldn't have been. There was no way anyone could access the portal, not without-
The intern. He hadn't checked. He crumpled his lecture notes in his hand, shaking with fury.
"Beta House," he muttered.
He threw down his notes, clenching his fists together.
"BETA HOOOOOUUUUSSSSSE!" he screamed, raging at the empty chamber.