“Do you know where you’re going today?” Annie asked.
“Yeah. It’s called Zela, which is somewhere in Syria in the year 48BC. It’s near the end of the Civil War”.
“No problem. Why are you going there? Does anything special happen there?”
“It comes up a lot in books and online. It’s an important battle against the King Pharnaces, who took a lot of Roman land during the civil war. Caesar wouldn't let him keep the territories. It’s one of the few pieces of good information I can find about exactly when and where he was. The time he spent in Zela is well documented. I know where and when he’ll be there. It’s also the place where he said I came, I saw, I conquered, which he is kind of famous for.”
"Oh, yeah. Lieutenant Jansen says that at the end of Crisis Shock!" Annie replied.
"I know, it's funny, but I never realised how much all these video game designers actually think about history and politics." Beckett replied.
"Yeah, there are a lot of these subtle little references in that game. Not that we've played it in a while." Annie sat down at her computer. Beckett prepared himself to go; he put the wristband on and put on his tunic and armour.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Annie asked.
“Yes. August 2nd, 47 BC.” Beckett replied.
“You know the exact date this time?”
“Yeah, it was in Caesar’s own book." Beckett paused a moment. "And I think this will be the last time I go back.”
“Why is that? Don’t you want to see him when he gets killed? Like in Crisis Shock? You don’t want to see that?”
“I don’t think I can stomach watching a man get killed like that. He gets stabbed 23 times.”
“You've seen a few people get killed on these adventures.”
"I still freak out when I think about the Veneti guy getting stabbed. It was up close. It's different. I don't know why. Besides, I also know Caesar. It'd be messed up seeing him die."
"Fair enough." Annie replied.
"You can go if you want. Why don't you come? Aren't you interested in seeing any of this stuff yourself?"
Annie turned around and looked at Beckett. "I guess I've just been so curious about how the software works, and whether you can change the past that I haven't thought about it. I'll try it soon, I guess. Maybe not Rome, though. It seems a little to intense."
Beckett walked over to the platform and waited as Annie started up the time-travel program. The lights dimmed, and the blue floor lit up. The familiar white circle appeared, and soon Beckett was whisked back to the past.
After spinning through the blue tunnel for a few seconds, Beckett landed in the mud again. He bent his knees as he landed to absorb the shock of the impact. He stayed on his feet, but he felt a sharp pain in his knees.
I need to take it easy for a while, Beckett thought.
Beckett was in a large field. He looked to the south and saw a large Roman encampment at the top of the hill. It was not the type of large fortress he had seen in Gaul made of wood and stone. This camp was much smaller, and was still being constructed. Beckett could see engineers, slaves and Legionaries all working around the fortress. At a slow pace, Beckett made his way up the hill.
As he neared the fortification, Beckett looked more carefully at it. The walls were incomplete, and if the opposing army wanted to get in, they would get in. Legionaries worked in front of the walls, digging. As Beckett came closer, he saw Antoni among the workers. Antoni, however, was not working. Antoni was joking with the men, teasing them, making them laugh. Beckett had not got along well with Antoni on previous trips into the past, but he was still impressed by how Antoni who was much smaller than the other Legionaries, got along with them so well, and demanded respect from them.
Antoni saw Beckett coming and stopped talking. The Legionaries continued digging as Beckett came closer.
Beckett was nervous, but made every effort to appear calm as he approached Antoni. Beckett stood up straight and shoulders back, just as Caesar instructed him.
*So,* Antoni began. *The son of Neptune returns. Are you here to bring us favor in the coming battle?*
*Yes.* Beckett said smiling. *You’re going to win. Then the war will be over. There will be a few problems in Spain and Africa, but you’ll be back in Rome soon.* Beckett wondered if anything was happening to the data that Annie was reading while he was in the past.
Antoni grinned. *Then I guess you’re here to see Caesar? Follow me. I’ll take you to him.*
Beckett stood outside Caesar’s quarters. He found a sheathed blade lying on a bench by the door, so he picked it up and attached it to his uniform. It was a smaller sword, and it suited his size.
*Young man,* Caesar said emerging from his tent. *I hardly expected to see you here. You'll find this skirmish far less worthy of your attention. This is a very weak enemy. But I am happy to see you. You look as though you've not aged a day.*
Caesar smiled at Beckett and held his gaze.
*A child of Neptune doesn't age.* Beckett replied.
*I'm sure one doesn't.* Caesar replied. *If that is in fact true.*
*Yes! It's him!* A voice called. Beckett looked to see Numisius and a few soldiers he recognised from the night in Alexandria.
Beckett stood and saluted. The men saluted back.
*I knew you'd be back.* Numisius said. He looked to Caesar. *Pardon the interruption, sir.* Numisius said.
*It is forgivable.* Caesar replied. *I imagine you're very excited to see your standard-bearer has returned.*
*Beckett, we wanted to show you something.* Numisius said to him. *My men have chosen a symbol to represent the 37th Legion. Look.* He pointed behind him. One of the men stood with the standard, which had been adorned with a bronze fish at the top. *Neptune blesses the 37th.* He said.
*You told me you didn't believe in such things.* Caesar said.
*The men like it sir.* Numisius replied. *Those who were there that night picked it. They love telling the story to the other legionaries.*
Some of the men addressed Numisius in Greek.
*Of course. How could I forget.*
One of the men stepped forward holding a belt. At the side of the belt there was a sheath with a sword in it. The man gave it to Beckett. Beckett took it with two hands and looked at it.
*Look more carefully at the sword.* Numisius said.
Beckett unsheathed the sword and looked. Along the side there was an inscription: Beckett XXXVII.
*When you're a bit taller, you'll fight with the 37th.* Numisius said.
*Amazing.* Beckett said, gazing at the pristine steel.
*Legionary Numisius,* Caesar began. *I believe you have a wall to complete.*
*Yes sir.* Numisius replied. He saluted Caesar he returned to his men, who all made their way towards one of the walls currently under construction.
(DEEPER MOMENT OF REFLECTION) Beckett fastened the belt around his waist. He stood in awe of what had just happened. Everything he had experienced since Annie showed him her machine had felt like he was living on another planet where the rules of science and human behaviour had shifted suddenly. Everything was different. Beckett followed Caesar but thought about how just a few months before life had been predictable and routine. Now, everything was weird. Beckett shook the thoughts from his head and followed Caesar through the tents set up inside the Roman fortress. Legionaries were walking around in their tunics. Some were in their battle gear, sharpening their swords and cleaning their armor. Caesar walked up a set of stairs that led to an tower that overlooked the valley and the opposing army.
*I’ve spent too many years waging war, Master Beckett.* Caesar spoke softly. *The cause of war has taken me across Gaul, Spain and Greece. I’ve been from as far south as Egypt to the north as far as Briton.*
*Actually, sir, I wanted to ask you about that.* Beckett said as he followed Caesar up a set of stairs to a lookout post at the front of the fortress.
*What is it you wish to know?*
*Why, sir? Why would you do all this? You have avoided misfortune by bringing it to so many. What is the reason for all this?* Beckett asked, not knowing what to expect. All the books and encyclopedias he had read had not satisfied Beckett's question. He hoped Caesar might be able to make it all clear.
Caesar stood at the look-out post. He watched the workers digging the moat. He looked across the field at the Pharnaces army. *There are many answers to that question Master Beckett. *Should you ask my rivals, they will tell you exactly what you have just said. They will say that I simply wanted to deflect my own misfortune.*
*Is that true?*
*What I tell my men, and what I do also believe is that Rome is in a state of disaster right now. She is not being led by her leaders. The poor are getting poorer while the senators and the nobility are getting more land and more money. This is not the Rome that was founded so many years ago. What good is the Republic when it helps only the nobility? For this reason, men like Antoni and Sulla will risk their lives to follow me. They understand this cause and they trust me.*
*Is that what you believe?*
*I believe it. Something must be done. But there is more. I told you about Alexander the Great. He died when he was 33 and created an empire that spanned across all of Greece and Persia. He did all that. I, in my time, have conquered Gaul and extended the influence of Rome all the way to Briton.*
*So have you lived up to Alexander?*
*Then why do you still fight?*
*To live up to myself. I can beat all others, but can I live up to my own imagination? Remember this, Beckett, you will meet no greater rival than yourself. I committed to this path. And I admit that at many times, I was frightened at the outcome. However, many of those times, the conquest was far easier than I imagined. You'll often find that when you choose a course of action, little can stop you. The only thing that can stop you is your own fear. I have arrived here at this point in an effort to conquer my own fears. And I have. I came, I saw, I conquered.*
Beckett had forgot that the reason he came was to hear those very words.
*Once the last of my enemies is stopped, we will see if I can create a better world. They call it an empire; many will call me a dictator. But I believe in creating a better world, and in that world all people will be able to be the masters of their own destinies. Imagine if everyone had the opportunity I have had through my noble birth.*
*And you’re doing this just to see if YOU can be the one who does it?*
*If I don’t, I do not know who will. This is bigger than me. It is bigger than Pompei. It is bigger than Alexander. Alexander conquered. I have dreamt of a bold new world.*
Beckett thought about his life back in Canada. He realised how much of that world he ignored. Annie has the opportunity to work hard and dream of a great future. Parm had nothing but choices to make about which future to pursue. Beckett, in the meantime, couldn't be bothered. He just quit when things were hard. He never chose to get involved. He followed what he was told, and he was never happy. Beckett looked behind him at the people in the fort. There were soldiers, and there were slaves. The slaves did what they were told. They had no freedom. Beckett had been given nothing but freedom, and he was squandering it. He could choose anything he wanted at any time, and he did nothing.
*Have I adequately answered your questions?* Caesar asked.
*Oh, yes.* Beckett replied.
*Excellent, perhaps now, you can answer some questions I have for you.*
*When I first met you, it was in Gaul. It was an incident of consequence, but of minor consequence. When I met you at the Rubicon, I was stunned to see you had not aged, but perhaps even more shocked that you turned up at that moment. At the time, I admit, I took it as a good omen that I might have some luck in my endeavour, but the further I move from that day, the more important that day becomes.*
Beckett didn't know what Caesar was getting at, but it was making him a bit nervous. Could he suspect I'm from the future? Would someone alive in this time be able to consider that?
*Then you come to Pharsalus, a key victory in this campaign. And finally to Alexandria, another essential step in this conflict.*
*What are suggesting?* Beckett asked, more out of curiosity than fear.
*At first I considered it luck, but as each day passes, I'm starting to suspect a pattern.*
What would happen if I just told him the truth? Beckett wondered to himself. He opened his mouth to speak not really knowing what he was going to say.
*I wouldn't broach the subject now, but,* Caesar began. *Someone tried to kill me last night.*
Beckett stopped. *Who tried to kill you?* He asked.
*We don't know.* He was dressed as a member of one of the Legion which had just absorbed surrendered Pompeians. As I was inspecting the unit, one of them lunged at me. He had a knife and managed to cut me here,* Caesar pointed to his shoulder, *and here*, he showed Beckett a scar on his forearm.*
*What does this have to do with me?*
*He said something I'd only heard once before. His exact words were, 'I've dealt with arrogant people in my life, but yours... takes the cake.*
Beckett froze. He didn't know what to make of the situation.
*His accent is one I've only heard once before in my life: with you. While admittedly, your accent changed quickly, I won't forget the unusual inflections I heard in your voice that first time I've met you. I've heard many accents, but none as strange as yours.*
Beckett's heart pumped fast. His brain stalled trying to come up with a lie that could explain everything.
*He had a scar,* Caesar began. *Right here, under his eye.*
*The spy.* Beckett finally spoke.
*Go on.* Caesar said.
*I saw him in Gaul. He was on the Veneti ship that I set on fire. He was trying to warn the Veneti that you would win.*
*And would he know such things? How do you explain that?* Caesar crossed his arms and looked at Beckett.
*We planned to execute him this morning. He had two men guarding him at all times. This morning although both men say they never slept, he disappeared. Instead those two men were crucified. Can you explain how that happened?*
Beckett didn't know what to do. He really didn't know what was happening, but he had been caught. He couldn't lie, but the truth wouldn't make sense, or depending on what time travel theory was the real one, could effect the timeline. But who could this guy be? He sounds like me. He turned up at two of the same places I did. No... The realisation hit Beckett. It's another time traveller.
*I would never anger Neptune and torture you, but the closest I've come to being stopped in the last 20 years is by someone who has some unusual connection to you.*
Caesar looked over the fields. Beckett followed his gaze towards the other side of the valley where the Pontus army had begun marching towards Caesar’s fortress on the hill. Caesar’s eyes narrowed. *I don’t think they’re just marching. Are they mad? Are they going to attack?*
The Pharnaces army did not turn. What had started as a march was turning into an attack.
Caesar called out. *ANTONI! RALLY THE MEN! WE FIGHT!*
As the Pharnacies' soldiers began to march up the hill, Caesar’s legionaries were still putting on their helmets and armor. Swords were safely sheathed. Shields lay motionless on the ground.
Caesar was on his horse, attempting to organize his Legions. Antoni was getting his armor tightened to his body by slaves.
*Get into your formations!* Caesar shouted as he disappeared from Beckett’s sight. Beckett realised he was suddenly alone.
In the crowd, Beckett could see Caesar struggling to keep his horse under control. For the first time, Beckett saw Caesar in a situation where he wasn’t totally in control.
Beckett reached over to his wrist. He put his hand under the cloth that covered his return switch. He rubbed the side of the button with his fingers. Beckett thought about all the times he had backed away. He thought about Mr Hashmi talking about him in the teachers' room. He thought about how Ben had taunted him and pushed him around. Beckett just stood there doing nothing. Beckett thought about the last time he was in a battle. He just let himself get dragged into it. Then, he just let himself get pulled around. This time he would choose.
I'm staying, Beckett thought. He walked down the hill towards the gathering army.
I'll fend off a few bad guys, get in a few licks, and then I'm out of here, Beckett thought as he picked up speed. his heart was pounding. It was different than before. This was a new feeling for Beckett. The adrenaline pumped hard as he ran. All the reasons he had for fighting disappeared, and Beckett could only feel what was happening to him in the moment.
A formation like the one Beckett saw on his first trip had formed. It must have been at least 50 soldiers in 10 long rows of 5. Beckett got in and held his shield in front of him. He removed his removed his sword from the sheath attached to his waste. He held the sword in his hand. The blade was heavy, Beckett wasn't sure how he would be able to move it if he had to defend himself. He began to regret his decision to join the fight.
*SHIELDS!* A whistle blew.
The sound of shields slamming together filled Beckett’s ears.
Suddenly, Beckett felt the push of the opposing army against Caesar’s. Beckett was pushed back up the hill as the sounds of shields slamming and swords and spears clanging filled the air.
*HOLD THEM BACK!* Screamed a voice from Pharnaces' army.
*PUSH THEM FORWARD!* A voice from Caesar’s side cried out. Beckett stumbled forward with the rest of the men. Suddenly there were multiple screams and Beckett saw the men around him rush forward.
*THEIR LINE IS BROKEN! MOVE FORWARD!*
What? Already? Beckett thought to himself. The whistle hadn't blown once. Beckett remembered reading that it was an easy victory, but he expected it would have lasted at least a few rotations through the soldiers.
Beckett didn't know what to do now. He followed the man closest to him as he ran forward. However, chaos ensued. The quickly lost the man he was following, and all around him, Beckett saw violence. Roman soldiers, foreign soldiers, everyone started following.
I've made a huge mistake. Beckett thought. He dropped the sword and reached for the return switch. He pulled the cloth from his wrist, and put his finger on the button.
THUD! A shield came slamming into Beckett's left side. It hit Beckett like a wrecking ball. He fell to his left and straight into the mud. It knocked all the air out of Beckett, and he struggled to breathe. He looked up and saw the man who hit him.
The man came charging towards him; Beckett pulled out his sword and held it towards the raging Pharnaces soldier, but it was swatted away. Beckett still had the smaller blade tied to his leg. He reached for it and pulled it out. The soldier swung his sword down hard and knocked it away, grazing the back of Beckett's right hand, and slicing through the cloth and the return switch.
Beckett looked over at the mud and saw the return switch cloven into pieces. I'm trapped. Beckett looked up at the man's face; he had a scar under his left eye. Beckett realized who it was! It was the man he saw on the Veneti admiral’s ship. The man looked down at him.
*A boy! Is this the best Caesar can do?* The man said. He swung his sword at Beckett. Beckett rolled to his left to avoid the swing, but the man stood on Beckett ankle, hard, trapping him.
*Mars. I kill this boy and sacrifice him to you!* The man said, preparing to plunge his sword down.
Beckett, scared out of his mind, lost control and screamed out in English, “Don’t kill me!”
The man stopped a moment and looked at Beckett confused.
“You speak English?" He replied in English, stunned. "Who are you?” It was as if the man had just been woken.
Beckett was shocked. "Who are you?" He replied.
The man looked around him and saw all the death and fighting happening. Screams , groans, and the sounds of metal clashing filled the air. After a few seconds, the look in his eye changed back to a murderous rage.
“Boy”, the man began. “You should have never come here.” He raised his sword.
Beckett looked up at the blade above him. It was filthy. The man raised it high above his head; it began to fall. Beckett closed his eyes. He squeezed them tight! But instead of feeling the blood-warmed metal come down on him, Beckett heard a thud, and a grunt. Something landed near his head. He opened his eyes. On the ground something shiny caught his attention just as he turned his head to look up. The man who had just been ready to kill Beckett now had a blank stare. A large spear stuck from his abdomen. The man stood for a moment, sword still in his hand, and then fell back.
*It seems you will have nothing to present to Mars on your trip into the afterlife.* It was Caesar!
Beckett looked back to see that Caesar had joined the battle. Caesar picked up Beckett’s sword and handed it to him.
*You might want to take better care of your sword.* Caesar said. Beckett took his sword. Caesar stood still a moment. Looking over the battle that was now won. *I conquered.* Caesar turned to attack an approaching enemy.
Beckett held the sword. He looked over to the fallen man who was still writhing; he was not dead, not yet anyway. Then he remembered that something had landed near his head. What was it? Beckett looked around to find it. There it was, a small silver device. To Beckett it almost looked like a smartphone, but Beckett knew nothing like that could have been here. Confused, Beckett walked through the mud to look at it. He picked it up and inspected it. What on earth is this doing here? Beckett thought as he inspected the device. He turned his head to look back at the fallen man. "Who ar-"
He's gone! What is happening? Beckett thought to himself, looking around him. I need to get out of here.
Beckett began running in the direction of the Roman fortress. Suddenly, Beckett could hear a galloping sound. He spun around to see a cavalryman charging him, his sword lifted high in preparation to strike. Beckett moved to run, but suddenly he felt a severe shock in his leg. He'd twisted his knee and aggravated his injury. He fell down to his knees He looked up and saw the enemy running towards him. He lifted a leg, but couldn't muster the energy to overcome the searing pain. The man was closer now and held a blade high above his head. Beckett closed his eyes. No. He thought. He opened his eyes and looked forward. Beckett relaxed. He saw the man coming, closer, but now almost as if in slow motion. The sun now broke through the sky behind the horseman and Beckett stood tall. Although he couldn't move his leg, he stood tall. There was no noise but the sound of the horse galloping. He took a step with his left leg, moving out of the path of the horse only slightly. He saw the sword begin its descent as the horse was almost on top of him. Beckett closed his eyes and ducked down, hearing the sound of the sword swooping over top of him. He stood up and watched as the man on the horse continued galloping away. The sound of the horse hooves, however, did not fade; it intensified.
Beckett looked back and saw that the entire cavalry of the enemy was charging in his direction. Beckett began to run bow-legged away. He couldn't bend his right leg. He looked ahead and saw nowhere to hide.
Beckett ran. But he could not run hard.
Bam! Beckett suddenly felt two arms wrap around his torso, bowling him over. It was Annie.
"Hold on!" She screamed. Beckett and Annie fell towards the ground. Annie pressed the button on her wrist. It was the old non-water-proofed return switch.
There was a flash of light and Beckett and Annie landed hard on the plexiglass flooring in her basement.
Annie has gasping for air.
"Your vitals," she started. "They stopped transmitting."
"Annie!" Beckett forced out, gasping for air. "You saved my life!"