The two boys walked about. Octavian wore his cloak and hood, effectively covering his face. Beckett walked freely in his tunic.
They came to the bridge where they saw the lighthouse.
*This bridge is a quarter mile out. But access to the bridge is denied.* Octavian pointed to two soldiers walking along the bridge.
*So how do we get out there?* Beckett asked.
*We swim.* Octavian began to remove the hood.
Suddenly, two Roman soldiers ran up behind them.
*Well, this is a damn fine mess.* It was followed by an expletive that Beckett did not understand, but he figured it was a vulgarity.
*General Sulla, if we don't get the supplies from that ship, we'll have a number of problems. Achillas has poisoned the water source, and he's disrupting our supply chain with this blockade. We need to at least get the supplies from that ship if we're going to maintain ourselves here in Alexandria.*
Octavian covered up his face as General Sulla surely would've recognised him.
*The triremes are anchored. If the anchors are pulled, it'll give the ships enough time to get through. The ship can get into the harbour.*
Sulla looked away.'
*** *Beckett, do you see those 5 ships, there. They're forming a blockade. We have two supply ships behind them. But they can't get through. They are battle vessels, but they are carrying essential supplies: food and weapons. They've got 80 men from the 37th Legion on each; however, this is a new legion formed from soldiers of Pompey, who surrendered at Pharsalus. They are young and strong, but not overly experienced. No one on that ship is able to lead. But if we can get them to cross the blockade, they'll bring us the supplies we so desperately need to sustain ourselves, and begin the next push in this war.*
*I don't know what I can do.* Beckett replied.
*There's one chance. I know these old ships. They were sold to the former king by Pompei. Old ships. They are fast, but they have weak hulls. If you can flood one ship, it might give the 37th enough time to squeeze through and get into the harbour. You would have to cut into the hull. Could you carry a blade with you out to the ship?*
*I suppose. How big is the blade?*
Sulla produced a blade. It was no bigger than Beckett's forearm. Beckett went a bit wide-eyed when he first saw the blade. It was a similar blade to the one Antoni had stabbed the Veneti commander with. He quickly shook the thought from his mind. He took the blade from Sulla and held it tight.
*Once the ship is sinking, hopefully the 37th will see the opportunity.* Sulla said.
Beckett looked out to the blockade. They were far closer than the Veneti ships, and the waters far calmer. He thought back to that first adventure and remembered how terrified he was. He remembered the terror of not having his return switch, as Antoni had taken it from him. This time, he had no such pressure. Beckett's thought's moved down to the pressure of the return switch strapped carefully to his wrist..
If anything gets out of hand, I can just push the button and return home. Beckett reminded himself.
*I'll do it.* He said.
*Excellent.* Sulla replied. He handed Beckett a blade that was slightly longer than his forearm. Beckett took the blade and looked at it carefully. He thought about the first time he saw a blade this closely: when Antoni pushed it into the Veneti commander. Beckett exhaled and held it loosely, getting a sense of how heavy it was.
Beckett walked down the rock embankment, got into the water, and started swimming. He carried the blade under his arm, and rotated his hips, but his speed was impaired. That's fine, Beckett thought to himself. There is no hurry. The distance to Achillas' blockade was shorter and the water calmer, but the swim was more laborious. Beckett pushed the thought from his mind and focused on the movement of his hips and his free arm.
Beckett reached the ship. His mind now moved to the next task at hand. As he made the last few pushes towards the outside of the boat, he scanned the layout of the ship. The convex angle of the hull would make it easy for him to hold onto. The Veneti boat had been far greater a challenge. He put his arm on the low angle of the side of the boat and rested the blade on it. Beckett became very aware of how sore his arm had become during the swim. It felt like it was going to fall off.
Beckett held onto the ship with one hand, then took the blade and reached it under the boat with the other. He poked the underside of the hull with the blade, then slammed the tip of the blade onto the hull. It was solid, but the blade cut in. This will work, Beckett thought. But I'll need to do this from inside. It required a lot of energy to stay afloat in the water.
Beckett looked up the side of the boat. It was going to be a lot easier to climb than the Veneti boat. But Beckett had been naive then; he'd had no idea how much danger he was actually in. Beckett looked up towards the deck of the boat. He wished he'd spent a bit more time learning about these ships. He saw the hole where the oars would normally protrude from. They were all pulled in, so the empty holes provided a perfect entry point for Beckett. Beckett knew he'd need both hands to carefully climb the ship. He put the blade between his teeth. He tasted could taste the nasty mix of iron and salt water getting under his tongue. He looked up at the top of the boat and carefully began to climb.
Beckett reached the opening in the side of the boat where the trireme oars were meant to come out. He slowly poked his head in. No-one was there: a skeleton crew indeed. Beckett climbed through, and slowly slinked down the side of the inner hull. He heard noises above. There were voices. The soldiers on the top deck were speaking rather loudly, but they sounded bored. Beckett could make out a few languages. There was definitely Latin being spoken, but he heard at least one other language, either Greek or Egyptian. He didn't know.
Beckett looked around the floor of the rowing galley. He looked up towards the deck. Beckett knew he might be sitting there for a while, so he needed to find a spot where he wouldn't be seen if someone randomly decided to poke their head below deck. It was a careful calculation. Low visibility plus access to an escape route equals maximum mischief. Beckett found a spot under one of the rower's benches. He looked up towards the deck and knew that anyone above would have to look carefully to spot him. He also planned his escape if anyone came down to look more carefully. He was a few quick steps from a getaway.
Beckett sat down and looked carefully at the the hull. It looked and felt wet. Beckett was sitting near the rear of the ship. He looked around the different parts of the hull. In the centre, he could see it was a bit darker, and a pool of water had started to form. The boat was slowly taking on water. Beckett had to hasten this process. He put the knife blade against the wood at an angle and gave it a good push.
Beckett was happy with the result of that push. He skinned a layer of the inner hull clean off!
Excellent! He thought, and he braced himself with his feet and began to scrape a small section of hull.
After 5 minutes, Beckett was tired. His arms were burning. And he was sweating so much that it was hard to keep himself braced against the wooden hull. He had to use every muscle in his body to stay braced against the hull. He'd made progress in shaving away a section of the hull though. He noted that the wood that comprised the hull had become less dry, and more moist.
Must be closer to the water. Beckett thought.
A small layer of water started to form in the hole he was making.
Beckett braced himself for another push. Every push now required extra effort to keep his balance. The blade had very quickly become dull.
Beckett exhaled and ignored the burning sensation in his arms. He ignored his sore back and thighs and he pushed the knife hard along the floor of the boat.
The blade broke. The blade snapped right in half. Beckett wasn't sure what to do. There was a small bit of blade left on the handle. The other part, which was all blade, had nowhere to grip it from. Beckett stabbed at the hole with the small piece of blade left attached to the handle, but it did nothing. He wedged the blade down and tried a few more times, it cut up the wood slightly.
I'm going to be here a while. Beckett thought. And I'm already getting pretty tired. Can't feel my arms.
Beckett kept quietly carving away at the hole, and after a few minutes he stopped. His arms were on fire. He leaned forward over the hole exhausted. Sweat dripped off his forehead. All Beckett could think about was the the throbbing sensation in his arms.
Suddenly, he heard a sound behind him. Dripping water and footsteps on the inner hull. Someone was behind him. They'd sneaked up on him while he was hunched over and not paying attention. Beckett looked up at the window and prepared to run.
I'll go in 3... 2...
He felt a hand on his shoulder.
Beckett lunged for the window. He quickly got his hands up to the ledge, and as he prepared to leap out he looked back to catch a glimpse of his pursuer.
It was Octavian.
Beckett relaxed back onto the inner hull, and looked at Octavian.
With one hand, Octavian held his index finger to his lips. With the other, he held up a blade. Very softly, he whispered, *you were taking too long.*
Beckett slowly moved towards Octavian. He reached for the blade, but Octavian withdrew it. *No.* He said. *You get to Caesar's ship. I'll finish this.*
*Are you sure?*
*Yes. Tell them that the boat in is sinking. They should be able to get by and get into the harbour.*
*Maybe you should do that. I don't know how I'm going to convince them.*
*Just tell them General Sulla sent you, and that they'll be able to get through the blockade. I'll signal you when the flooding begins, then I'll swim over to you.*
*Go now!* Octavian whispered.
Beckett slowly climbed to the side of the boat, out the window, and he carefully made his way into the waters of the harbour. His arms were sore, but he felt relief from not having to dig anymore. He quietly moved into through the water, gaining distance from the boat before he rolled over onto his back and lightly propelled himself towards the boat. His shoulders and arms throbbed, but he had just enough left in him to move. He looked over to Caesar's boat, where the 37th Legion awaited instructions.
Beckett arrived at the front of the Roman ship. He pulled himself out of the water and sat on the front end of the trireme, the part used for ramming opposing ships. He sat for a minute, looking up at the front of the boat. He looked over at his wrist, still covered by a damp cloth. He hadn't thought about it for the last hour. As soon as he started doing something that absorbed his attention, all other thoughts seemed to quiet down. I don't need to stay. I could disappear right now, he thought. As this thought crept into Beckett's mind, his stomach began to turn. He'd gotten a cramp from all the exertion.
Start moving, Beckett thought. But then Beckett lost control. He leaned forward on the ship and he vomited. Beckett could taste the acid in his mouth. He hadn't eaten in over an our. It was just bile that came out. It was as if all the fluids inside him were trying to escape. Beckett forgot about everything. About Rome, about hitting the button on the return switch. Every thought focused on the nasty taste in his mouth. The pressure in his abdomen stopped, but the taste remained. A small pool of bile formed in Beckett's mouth. He spat it out.
After taking a few moments to catch his breath. Beckett looked over at Achillas' ship. Then he looked up at the ship he was perched on.
OK. Get on with it.
Beckett had to get up to the deck of the ship and explain to the crew what the plan was. He sat and thought it over. He tried to think about what he could say. He started translating dialogue from Crisis Shock. He remembered one of Commander Bison's longer speeches. Gentlemen, lend me your ears. Although he didn't know if they would understand that in Latin. Follow me, and we'll uproot those who stand against. No, too over the top.
He then remembered what Legionary Crastinus said at the Battle of Pharsalus. You shall conquer gloriously. That was it!
Beckett climbed up to the top of the boat, and pulled himself over to the main deck. From the rail he dropped down to the deck, nearly stumbling forward as he did. Once he steadied himself, he looked up and saw the faces of 20 half-surprised, half-bored Legionaries.
Beckett stood a moment in silence. His heart pounded again. He was really in the middle of things now. Until this moment, he'd just followed the situation. Now Beckett was in charge. He hadn't chosen the situation, but he'd reacted well enough. Beckett looked over the 20-some faces looking at him. They weren't the grizzled faces of the Legions he'd seen in Gaul and at Pharsalus; they were young and they looked deflated. They all looked at Beckett, expressionless. The silence quickly became uncomfortable.
*37th Legion of Rome,* Beckett began slowly bringing up the volume. *Today, you will conquer glori- (Beckett's voice cracked) -ously.* Beckett's heart stopped. His voice cracked in the middle of his rousing speech. He stopped.
The young men looked at him, confused. After a few seconds they all started howling with laughter.
*Kill him.* One of the legionaries said. *Toss him overboard.*
Beckett backed up against the rail of the ship. *No wait!* He began. *The middle ship, over there, it's got a hole in it and it will start sinking soon. When it does, you have a chance to get through to the harbour.*
The legionaries simultaneously groaned. A few laughed and turned away.
Beckett took a moment and racked his brain. A few hundred meters away, Octavian was cutting a hole in a ship that would soon begin to sink. Beckett looked at his own hands. They were swollen and shaking from the exertion. He thought that the hard part was over, but he'd moved almost immediately into an equally challenging task.
*Right now, my friend is putting a hole in the hull of that ship. As soon as it begins sinking, you will have an advantage. You can slip between those ships, and they won't be able to stop you.*
One of the legionaries stood forward and spoke. *This ship is also taking on water. Every hour we sit idle, water seeps in through the hull. We too are slowed.*
*They're sinking faster,* Beckett replied. *And they are not expecting you to move. You'll have the element of surprise.* Beckett watched the legionaries face carefully, unsure that 'element of surprise' was a real expression in Latin. Beckett had to very careful with idioms.
*We'll have to row to get past those boats,* the legionary began. *My men are tired. They have little power left.*
*Once we get to Caesar's compound, I assure you, there will be plenty of food and water.* Beckett replied, addressing both the leader and the rest of the legion.
*Save your breath. Half of them speak no Latin, and the rest, very little. They were caught up in this conflict when Pompey came to Greece, and now they're far from home and have no desire to take part in this continued war.*
Beckett looked at the deck, thinking over all the options he had. There were few. He remembered that he could simply press a button and leave. The men on the boat had no such option.
*What happens if you stay?* Beckett asked.
*The boat may sink. Achillas' soldiers may kill us,* The man replied. *Not many good options.*
*So, you might as well try. If you're going to die anyway.* Beckett replied.
The faces of the legionaries stirred. These men understood more Latin than their leader gave them credit for.
The leader looked at Beckett silently for a few moments before replying. *We have 50 Legionaries on this ship, and ten freed men to act as rowers. We'll have to use them all to row to build up speed. Then we'll need to grab as much supplies as we can once we hit the harbour. Getting past the blockade will require speed, but navigating through the harbour will require us to slow down. Some of the rowers can prepare for the supplies once we slow down. Then when we reach an available dock, we throw down the corvus and we run.*
*That sounds like a plan.* Beckett replied.
The legionary moved closer to Beckett and extended his hand. *My name is Numisius.* He said.
*I am Beckett,* Beckett replied.
*There is very little chance this will succeed. We may very well die.* Numisius said quietly to Beckett, before turning to explain the plan in Greek.
Beckett watched quietly. He held his wrist for a moment, and then put his two hands behind his back and stood tall.