The following Friday Beckett was walking home with Annie. The whole week, she'd stayed close by, but never mentioned his foray into the past. Until this day, Annie hadn't brought it up.
"Do you wanna go back again this weekend?" Annie asked as they made their way home.
"I thought we were gonna play video games," Beckett replied.
"We could," Annie said. "But I've made a few changes to the program. I thought we could test them out.
"Maybe." Beckett replied. "No battles this time."
"Sure. I mean, you know where and when he is in Gaul. You could just go back to a few days after the battle. Just see what normal life is like in their compound. You've been there already, so you might as well take advantage of the fact that he seems to know you, and trusts you."
"Do you ever want to see a battle again?" Annie asked.
"Yeah, probably, if I can keep a distance, I guess." Beckett replied. "To be honest, the battle wasn't the scary part. Seeing that Veneti guy die... it was weird." Beckett replied.
"It would have happened anyway."
"I know, but I was kind of involved. It's a bit... I don't know, just... weird."
"It's probably good that you feel that way. I'd be more worried if you just let it roll off your back."
"Yeah, I guess. It's weird but I almost feel like I should've helped him, or something. He didn't seem like a bad guy."
"Kill one, save many?" Annie replied.
"Sure, Commander Bison," Beckett replied shaking his head.
Annie and Beckett arrived at Annie's house, went to the basement, and entered he lab through the panel under the stairs.
The two emerged in Annie's lab. Beckett stared at the computer and plexiglass floor.
"What's wrong?" Annie asked.
"Nothing, guess it's just strange to see this thing, knowing what it does, and just kind of taking it for granted."
"Don't take it for granted," Annie replied. "It took a lot of hard work."
"Oh, crap! Where is the tunic?"
"It's on the book shelf," Annie replied pointing to the corner of the room. "I washed it, but don't take that for granted either. Take it with you next time."
"No problem," Beckett replied. "I'm probably the only kid in 6th grade who does his own laundry."
Beckett sniffed the tunic.
"But please tell me what detergent you use. This is heavenly."
"Shut up. And pay attention. Here's the return-switch, and I've made a few modifications."
"Cool. Please show me."
"Look at the underside of the switch," Annie said. "See the smooth surface?"
"That's your heart-rate monitor. If you get into trouble, I'll see. Or if the switch breaks, it'll stop transmitting, and I'll know to come get you."
"Wow! So if Antony takes my return-switch again, you'll be able to come rescue me."
"Yes, but don't let him take it again. Here," Annie picked up a tea towel from under a mug at her desk. Wrap it up with this."
"Sure." Beckett started to remove his shirt. "Do you mind?"
"Sorry," Annie said, turning to face her monitor.
“The next day?” Annie asked.
“Yeah. Caesar said something about a training exercise. If I go with him, maybe I can talk to him more. You know, learn something.” Beckett replied.
“Sure. That’s easy. Barely and inconvenience.
Beckett stood on the platform in his tunic.
Annie activated the machine, and the hum of the platform began. Beckett watched as the circle of light appeared again in the corner of the floor, and slowly moved towards him. Closer, closer, and closer it came, until it was under him.
Seconds later, Beckett landed outside Caesar’s tent; he quickly balanced himself, and for the first time stayed on his feet.
Nice. No stains on my clothes this time.
Beckett went inside the tent. No one was there. He came out and looked around.
“He’s gone,” A voice said. Beckett looked up and it was on of Caesar's soldiers. “He left last night. Told the 10th Legion to keep an eye on him, and follow him wherever he goes. Now they’re going to do just that.”
“Where has he gone?” Beckett asked.
“Anyone’s guess. I’d say the nearest large town.”
“If I want to find him, what can I do.”
“The best option is to follow the 10th. If you can hunt or cook, they might appreciate having the extra help. It doesn’t look like you can carry much.”
Beckett frowned. He briefly thought about heading back and just returning a few minutes earlier.
*The son of Neptune returns!* Shouted another voice. Beckett looked and recognised the man. It was Crastinus. Beckett had met him briefly during the battle with the Veneti.
*He’ll join us. A young man with that kind of talent can always find work with the 10th. Come!*
Beckett followed Crastinus.
*You’ve arrived just in time. We’ll head of in a few moments.*
*How long will we be gone?* Beckett asked
*Probably a few days. Maybe a week. It’ll be good to be away from this place. After a few weeks some men settle in. Others get restless."
Crastinus beckoned for Beckett to follow him.
*Do you not miss home?* Beckett asked as he accompanied Crastinus between the tents on the Roman compound.
*It is always good to go home, but I feel just as happy moving from place to place.*
*If we go, will we find Caesar quickly?*
*Maybe, maybe not. It could take a few days to catch up to him. But I tell you what, if you come with us, we’ll make it worth your while.*
Beckett nodded and continued with Crastinus.
*The men have just left. But it won’t take a few minutes to catch up.*
Beckett and Crastinus headed towards the gate of the fortification.
Beckett looked out and saw the mass of soldier all walking north.
*The 10th Legion, boy. You might never see a group of fighters more loyal, more committed, and more deadly.*
Beckett looked at the 2000 men marching. He’d never seen that many people all together at once except maybe at the Canada Day parades in Ottawa he and his mother and father used to go to.
*What makes them so loyal and committed?* Beckett asked.
*They’ve fought together and know what it feels like to safely turn their backs to an enemy and know that one of their brothers will protect them. They know what the other is thinking, and what the other is going to do before he even does it. That feeling: nothing comes close to it.*
Beckett thought about it. It reminded him of a few times when he played Crisis Shock in battle mode. There were times when he and Annie had played against other groups online. Sometimes, it was as if they were one person.
*That is what men seek. That feeling of union. No form of pleasure comes close; it only makes a poor substitute.*
Beckett remained silent.
*Maybe you’ll understand one day. Remember this conversation as the first time you heard about it.* Crastinus smiled.
*How do I start?* Beckett asked.
*Start simple.* Crastinus picked up a small blade and passed it to Beckett. Hold the blade in front of you.
Beckett held it up.
*Now, when I come at you, step back and to the left, and use your blade to block me down and to the side.*
Crastinus came slowly towards Beckett with the sword. Beckett blocked it and pushed it to the side.
*Now what?* Beckett asked.
*Do that one thousand times.*
Nuts. Not what I came here for. Beckett held up his sword and blocked another strike, this one a little harder.
*We won’t leave for a few hours, so I hope you’ve eaten enough.*
Later that day, the 10th was underway. Beckett walked with Crastinus, listening while he spoke to others. He spoke both a kind of Latin that Beckett could understand, as well as another language he spoke with those from Spain. Beckett was able to pick up a few words, but a lot of it was lost on Beckett.
Towards the evening, a man ran up towards Crastinus and spoke to him frantically.
*It's not problem,* Crastinus replied. *You know what to do. Get our team ready.*
*What’s happened?* Beckett asked.
*The men have followed Caesar’s trail. They suspect he rested nearby. We’re not far behind,* Crastinus replied.
*Then why have we stopped?*
*These men need rest. Besides, Caesar will have left sentries behind. If we get too close. He’ll be off at double pace. My men need rest and food in their bellies before they continue.*
Crastinus paused a moment.
*You may be of service in this matter. If we can get by Caesar’s sentries, we may be able to get ahead of him. The 10th has a tradition of sending off a small group to get ahead of Caesar. It was established a few years ago. If you can get ahead of him, it will raise your esteem in his eyes.*
*How will we get around them?* Beckett asked.
*A large group cannot get around the sentries, but a small group of 5? They can make it for sure. Sticking to the forests and the bushes we can easily pass by them undetected. If we have you to suss out a clear path first, we can do this even better. Are you up for it?*
Once again, Beckett found himself and his mischief-making to be in demand.
*I can help,* Beckett replied.
Hours later, Beckett, Crastinus, and 4 other members of the tenth had broken away from the Legion, and cut through the forest. It was dark, close to ten, Beckett estimated, when they came out of the forest and into an opening.
*There they are,* Crastinus said. *Do you see them?*
*Yes,* Beckett replied. *They’re not particularly well hidden.*
*No,* Crastinus replied. *but they’re positioned so that they can see almost every strategic point. The creek, the trees, from that vantage point, if anyone tries to get through, they will catch them, and one of them will set off for Caesar. We need to get past them undetected. That’s where you come in. You must draw their attention long enough for us to get over the hill.*
*Why don’t you just go by the creek?* Beckett asked.
*The water carries sounds too well. Furthermore, the area is too exposed, there is little room for us to move without being detected. That’s why we want you to draw their attention there. They are expecting that if anyone tries to get by, it’ll be through that spot. So if we make it appear as if someone is trying to cross, they will be alert.*
Beckett moved along the treeline to the open field. There were a few bushes along the creek. The two sentries continued to move along the top of the hill as he did.
If I can make it to the bank of that creek, it’ll harder for them to see me. Beckett waited until neither of the sentries were looking in his direction
Beckett ran hard towards the first bush. It was about 20 metres away, 10... 5...
Suddenly, his foot caught a rock and Beckett fell face-first into the mud. He quickly scrambled onto his back, and lay in the mud. He could see his arms and legs were completely brown.
"Dammit!" Beckett swore. It was as if Benny’s spirit had followed him back in time. Beckett slowly turned his head to look towards the sentries. They were looking right at him. Beckett froze, unable to move, and terrified that he’d failed so fully and completely.
But then the sentries turned their heads and continued to scan the forest.
Beckett looked down at his arms. His skin was camouflaged. They couldn’t see him! He slowly moved towards the bushes near the creek. Just stay on your back, and they can’t see you. He continued to awkwardly slide himself along the muddy banks of the creek. He moved closer and closer, until eventually he was at the bush.
Beckett edged his way around the bush till he was completely hidden from sight. He looked around for rocks and found three small stones, no bigger than his hand.
Each one is going to count.
He picked up one stone and threw it. Beckett didn’t really aim, he just threw it aimlessly, somehow hoping it would make a big splash. It missed. It sunk right into the mud. Beckett shook his head. It was as if he’d thought that the hardest part was over. If anything, this task was more challenging. Two rocks left, and he needed to get the sentries attention with one of them. Beckett turned and face the creek from behind the bush. He scanned the creek, looking for the widest or deepest spot. There was one chance. One part of the creek was a bit wider. Beckett had a rock in either hand. He aimed for the water, threw and ducked, keeping his eyes just high enough to watch the sentries. The rock went right into the water and made a deep splashing noise. Nothing. The sentries barely flinched. Beckett took a deep breath and threw again.
CRACK. the stone hit a rock before bouncing up in the air and landing in the water. SPLASH.
Beckett watched as the two sentries looked towards the creek.
’Take the bait. Take the bait,’ Beckett whispered.
After a few moments, one of the sentries made his way towards the creek.
Dammit. I need both of them.
Beckett then heard another noise. He looked towards the sound. It was the pig! It was coming towards him. It was coming right towards him.
He’s gonna give away my hiding spot.
The pig came right up to Beckett and started sniffing him. Beckett tried to push him away. *Take a hike.* He said in Latin.
The pig kept sniffing at Beckett.
Beckett grabbed the pigs leg. The pig did not seem to like this, and it began to pull away. He held tighter and the pig squealed. It turned around and bit Beckett. The pigs teeth were not sharp, nor was the bite hard, but it felt weird to have his wrist inside the mouth of a pig. The pig squealed again, and started to run on hits other feet. Beckett could see the sentry come closer. He slapped the pig’s behind and let go.
The pig ran.
The pig ran hard.
Beckett watched as it ran off, away from the creek and back towards the forest.
Beckett looked back at the sentry, who shouted at his colleague. Let’s eat!
The other sentry began to run towards the creek. Beckett lay down on the ground so as not to be seen. Mud had begun to dry, but it still covered his skin. Beckett watched as the two sentries ran back over towards the forest. When they both disappeared, Beckett ran up the hill.
Beckett felt the dried mud crack and fall as he moved towards the top of the hill.
Go, go go! He broke over the top of the hill and into the forest. He kept running until he felt and arm come out and grab him. It was Crastinus.
Beckett looked around and saw the other 4 legionaries. They all smiled.
One of the legionaries said something.
*Caesar said you were blessed by Neptune. Is there also a god of pigs?* Crastinus translated with a grin.
*I think the god of mud helped me more.* Beckett replied as we wiped the dried mud from his face.
*Let’s not stop.* Crastinus said. *If we make haste we can find Caesar before day breaks. The creek bends up ahead. You can wash the mud off there.*