Authors: Ernest Dempsey
For my amazing family and
thank you for your constant
Rome, 50 B.C.
A gust of wind whipped through Gaius Julius Caesar’s
already tousled hair as he stood on the deck of the ship. The long wooden boat
seemed almost empty, aside from the rows of oars and the single linen sail that
flapped in the coastal breeze. The only people who remained were the emperor
and his trusted general, Servius Galba.
“Is everyone off the ship?” Caesar asked, uncertain if
they were alone or not. He turned his head around to confirm it.
The day was hot, and he’d removed his helmet, holding it
at his side under his armpit. Even though it was late in the afternoon, the
bright sunlight seemed to superheat his armor. He wore the legion uniform he’d
donned so many times before, through battles, hardships, and scenarios mere
mortals could never imagine. Some of the metal plates bore the scars from those
occasions, a tribute to Gaius Julius Caesar’s abilities as a skilled warrior,
“Yes, General. All the men have gone ashore for supplies
and to rest for the night,” Servius answered. “They will return in the morning
to bring the ship the rest of the way home.”
Caesar had been a consul for nearly a decade, but his
friend Servius still called him by his former military title. He didn’t mind.
Caesar had adapted to the political arena out of necessity, but his natural
domain was in the military field. “Excellent,” he said with a careful grin.
“Show me the relic.”
“Right this way, General.” Servius extended his arm,
pointing the way to the back of the boat.
The galley was shorter than the trireme ships the Roman
navy had originally used when the republic rose to power. Their more modern
boats were also lighter, more maneuverable, which helped them establish a
strategic advantage over many seafaring nations. Caesar had served in the Roman
navy for a short time, and he knew how important controlling the seas was to
the country. Rome’s naval power had struggled for decades to establish a strong
presence. The Carthaginians had mocked them at first, and beaten them on
several occasions. Rome, however, eventually did what it did so well. It
Now, the navy was as strong as any on the planet. Walking
across the wooden planks of the ship’s deck, Caesar was reminded of his days at
sea. He’d been captured by pirates once and held for ransom. The story had
become the stuff of lore with his soldiers and fellow legionaries. When the
pirates asked for a certain sum, he balked at the low amount they requested and
demanded that the pirates ask for more. When the ransom was paid, Caesar warned
them that he would be back and they would all pay dearly for their actions.
The pirates scoffed at his threat, but he followed
through, capturing every single one and punishing them by slitting their
throats before publicly crucifying them.
Caesar hated thieves. And pirates were the worst of the
sort. Rome needed supplies from Africa and the Middle East, Greece, and Spain.
Pirates threatened that supply line, therefore piracy would not be tolerated.
Servius pulled back a red curtain near the back of the
boat where a small alcove provided shade from the late afternoon sun. That was
the first time he laid eyes on it. The mechanism was unlike anything Caesar had
ever seen before. It was a complex combination of bronze gears, wheels, and
levers, contained within a bronze box. It stood about two feet high and half
that wide, with a depth of maybe eight inches.
Caesar stepped through the curtain, and his friend let the
drape fall, concealing them both within the small cabin. Servius stood just
inside the fabric, watching Caesar’s reactions.
“Where did you find it?” Caesar asked, moving around
behind the pedestal on which the relic stood.
“Exactly where you predicted it would be, General. It had
been concealed in one of the ancient temples near the coast of Crete.” Servius
seemed pleased to relay the information.
With questioning eyes, Caesar looked up from his
inspection of the mechanism. “I trust it wasn’t too much trouble to acquire?”
“We searched for several days before finding the location.
Once we found the temple, it was a matter of locating where it had been hidden.
As I said, it was right where you predicted. Once we extracted the object, no
one even noticed us taking it. I believe the locals had forgotten that it even
existed, much less where it was hidden.”
“Excellent.” Caesar raised an eyebrow and smiled. He bent
his knees to get a better look.
Inscriptions adorned several gears, and more had been
carved into the soft metal around the outside edge of the box. Caesar ran his
finger along the grooves, his lips moving slowly as he read the ancient words.
Servius seemed slightly perplexed. “We couldn’t understand
what the words mean, General. It’s old Greek, but everything is jumbled. None
of us could make sense of it.”
That was exactly what Caesar had hoped Servius would say.
He’d taken a risk sending others to retrieve so powerful a device, but he put
all his hopes in the fact that his men would simply obey and not ask too many
questions. His assumptions had been correct, including the one that no one would
be able to decipher the code written upon the bronze gears and its container.
“I beg your pardon, General, but what is that thing?”
Servius asked. The hardened commander’s voice sounded like that of a confused
little boy when he spoke.
Caesar straightened up and clasped his hands behind his
back. “This, Servius, is an ancient relic known as the Eye of Zeus. There are
only three known to have been created in history.”
“Eye of Zeus?”
The great leader nodded. “Yes. One of its uses is as a
navigational tool for sailors. It works by plotting your position and path with
that of the stars.”
Servius seemed more confused than before. “So, you sent us
on a secret mission to bring back a navigational device?”
Caesar nodded. “It can only be used at night, but with this
object, our navies will be nearly unstoppable. We will be able to outmaneuver
any fleet in the world under the cover of darkness, and strike at will.”
“If you say so, sir.”
Servius still wasn’t convinced, which was exactly what
Caesar wanted. The real power of the mechanism was something he would have to
keep secret from everyone, even his most trusted advisor.
He had served with Servius Galba through the Gallic Wars,
and the man had been a good friend. However, Caesar knew Rome, and he knew its
politics. Romans in the position of power had a constant tendency to seek more;
a trait his friend Servius could easily acquire.
Caesar had stumbled upon the existence of the ancient
device from some scrolls he’d discovered after sacking a Greek village, a few
hours’ ride outside of Athens. It was by mere chance that he’d found the little
library, hidden beneath a crumbling temple. He’d never been a very religious
person, finding that he had more influence on the things in his life than a
bunch of stone statues did.
He remembered standing in the decrepit place of worship,
looking around with cynical eyes. He had laughed at the forms of the Greek
deities that occupied the space. They were no different from Roman gods; only
the names gave them any degree of uniqueness.
As he’d stepped toward the front of the building, Caesar’s
eyes moved to the base of a statue at the front. It was the famed patron deity
of Greek culture. Zeus’s long beard, flowing robe, and stern face still struck
a chord of reverence, even for a nonbeliever. If there was a deity who had
created the world, Caesar thought that god must certainly look something like
the image of Zeus. At the base of the statue, he had noticed a chunk of stone
had been broken away. Out of curiosity, he’d taken a closer look, only to find
that the plinth was hollow and it appeared to contain something within. After a
few minutes of hammering away at the sacred pedestal, Caesar had stumbled upon
a small cavity filled with three tiny scrolls, stored in separate clay jars.
Servius brought Caesar’s mind back to the present. “If you
won’t be needing anything else, General, I will take my leave.”
Caesar’s head twitched up. He waved a dismissive hand. “Of
course, old friend. Go join the men. You’ve done well.”
Servius snapped to attention for a moment before giving a
quick nod and disappearing through the curtains. When he was gone, Caesar’s
eyes returned to the little bronze box. He had already decided he would keep
the truth about the Eye of Zeus to himself. He hadn’t lied to his friend; the
device could be used to navigate the seas, and he would certainly use that to
his advantage in the naval battles to come. However, Caesar knew the real power
behind the relic, and he did not intend to let anyone else obtain that information.
He ran his fingers along the outside of the metal case and
shifted one of the levers. The gears inside moved a little, rearranging the
symbols and how they lined up with those on the exterior edge. Caesar took a
step back from the relic and admired it. “An absolutely brilliant creation,” he
whispered to himself. “To think I have the power of a god at my fingertips.”
would reach the main harbor in less than two days. Once the mechanism arrived
in Rome, there would be no one on Earth who could stop him.
Sean knew there was trouble as soon as he saw the four men
in the black suits and matching black ties. Guys dressed like that rarely
showed up to bring good news. Usually, they brought trouble with them. Sean let
go of the blind he’d been peeking through and pulled away from the window.
He had heard the black Denali drive into the parking lot
of his little surf shop and thought nothing of it, merely glancing out the
window as he went through some of his financial figures. His attention was
roused when the four men with look-alike government haircuts closed the doors
of their SUV.
A quick look at the front of the vehicle revealed no
government-issue plates, which meant they were either some kind of secret
operational group or they weren’t with the government at all. Sean reached
under the cash register and grabbed the Springfield .40-caliber XD he always
kept nearby. During the years he’d worked for the Axis Special Operations unit,
Ruger had been his weapon of choice. During a previous course of events that
had resulted in preventing a global virus outbreak, he’d found a liking for the
new gun and made the switch. Something about the balance and weight of the
Croatian-made piece felt almost natural in his hand.
Sean took a step away from the counter toward the rear of
the store. He had thought that after retiring from the International
Archaeological Agency these kinds of situations would stop arising. When he’d
attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Sean had never really
expected his life to go the way it had. When he graduated from college, Sean
found himself working as a covert agent for Axis, a new branch of the federal
government. He was part of the initial group of only twelve agents who met all
the rigorous standards. Axis was designed to remain extremely small, thus
retaining control of all facets of the operation with discretion and relative
ease. While administration of the agency had been fairly smooth, being a field
agent was anything but.
Sean felt like the few years he’d worked for Axis had
probably taken a decade off his life in terms of the stress it caused. He’d
been shot several times, and shot at many more. Some agents had been captured
and tortured; something he was thankful to have avoided, but the possibility
was always there.
When Sean’s longtime friend, Tommy Schultz, had offered
him a new life working for his archaeological agency, he’d taken it without
reservations. Sean rested easy, knowing he’d served his country well and was ready
to take on a new lifestyle; one he hoped didn’t involve international intrigue.
However, that hadn’t been the case. There’d been many more
incidents involving guns, power-hungry criminals, and hired assassins. Sean
didn’t want to spend his thirties running from bullets and hiding from people
who wanted him dead, so he told Tommy he was walking away from it.
Until now, retirement had been good to him. He had made
enough money over the years to live comfortably for the rest of his life, without
having to worry about an income. His cabin in the mountains of southern
Tennessee was nearly finished, and his kayak and paddleboard shop had been
doing well enough to support itself.
The little shop in Destin, Florida overlooked white sandy
beaches leading down to the Gulf of Mexico’s clear, bluish water. Sean hadn’t
bought the place to make money. He’d always enjoyed sea kayaking and had an
interest in paddleboarding too. Now, he rented and sold to both tourists and
locals, spending his early mornings and late afternoons out amid the waves.
He’d trimmed his shaggy blond hair, preferring to keep it
shorter while residing in the hotter area of the country, and his skin had
taken on a light bronze color over the top of his usual freckles.
The back door to the shop beckoned out of the corner of
his eye as Sean watched the suited men approach the front entrance. He wondered
if it would make a difference if he ran out the back. Whoever they were would
find him eventually. It wasn’t like he was trying to live off the grid. Sean
simply hoped to avoid harrowing circumstances.
He gripped the gun tightly, keeping it low behind the
counter so the men wouldn’t be able to see it when they entered.
A little bell rang from the front of the store as the
first, a tall, lean black man opened the door and walked in. The other three
followed and immediately began assessing their surroundings. One went to the
far corner in the back, the other two spread out accordingly to cover each
point of escape. The first went directly to where Sean stood behind the
register. His fingers tensed slightly, but he relied on old experience and
training to keep his nerves calm.
The dark-skinned man stopped a few feet from the counter.
His head turned one way, then the other, taking a second scan of the room for
possible danger. When he was satisfied there wouldn’t be a problem, he spoke in
a flat, American tone. Sean couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like Maryland’s
Eastern Shore. “You won’t be needing that weapon, Mr. Wyatt,” the man said
Sean raised a suspicious eyebrow. He wondered how the guy
knew about the gun, but he also wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t need it. He
shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. I guess that depends on why you gentlemen are
here. If’ you’re interested in renting a kayak or a paddleboard, I’d say you’re
The man snorted, almost derisively. “I heard you liked to
be a funny man sometimes. No, we are not here to take one of your boats out on
the Gulf, Mr. Wyatt. I am agent Gerald Yarbrough of the United States Secret
Service. We are here by order of the president. He requests your presence
Sean’s curiosity deepened. The president? What could he
possibly want? Sean had met the president once, at a gala in Washington, D.C.
He’d gone at Emily’s request, despite a strong objection to the whole thing. He
doubted the president would remember the occasion, and it certainly had nothing
to do with his personal guards showing up in Destin on a Tuesday afternoon in
“I’m sorry, would it be too much trouble to ask for some
identification?” he asked.
The Secret Service agent’s face never flinched, and he
remained perfectly still.
Sean continued his request. “It’s just that you came in
here with your Denali that, I might add, definitely looks like something our
government workers would drive. However, I noticed there aren’t any plates on
the front. So again, I’m just going to need to see some ID.” He emphasized his
point by slowly raising his hand that held the gun, placing the weapon on the
glass countertop. His fingers still wrapped around the grip and trigger. “If
you know anything about my past, you’ll understand why I’m a bit skeptical of
anyone who shows up and tells me they work for the government.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Sean noticed one of the men
reaching for the gun inside his jacket. The other two on the far side of the
room were about to do the same before Agent Yarbrough spoke up and stopped
them. “At ease, men. No need to get antsy. If Mr. Wyatt wants to see my
identification, there is no problem.”
He reached into the right breast of his jacket and
withdrew a thin, black wallet, and unfolded it in front of his face so Sean
could see the badge. It was legitimate.
Sean’s momentary relief was soon replaced by new concerns.
The Secret Service didn’t just show up randomly to talk to people. If the
president wanted to see him, something serious was going on.
The lead agent glanced down at the gun Sean still grasped
on top of the counter. “If you don’t mind, Mr. Wyatt,” he nodded at the weapon.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sean said, blushing a little. “Force of
habit, I suppose.” He put the gun back out of sight and placed both hands on
the surface. “Now, you were saying something about the president wanting to
speak with me. What could he possibly want with me?”
“I’m not authorized to give you that information, Mr. Wyatt.”
The man’s deep voice remained almost robotic as he placed the wallet back in
“Not authorized?” Sean probed.
“All I can tell you is that you are to come with us
immediately. The president will brief you himself when we rendezvous with him
Sean’s eyes drifted around the room. “You know, I have a
shop to run here. I can’t just up and leave it.”
“You have five minutes to lock up. The president will make
sure you are compensated for your time.” Yarbrough looked down at his silver
watch’s burgundy face. “The clock is ticking, Mr. Wyatt.”
Sean sighed. Just when he was getting used to a relaxing
lifestyle, another strange occurrence was thrown his way. “I’ll need to bring
my gun,” he said.
Yarbrough seemed thrown off for the first time since he’d
entered the building. One of his eyebrows lowered as he considered the request.
“You may bring it with you, but not when we meet the president.”
“Fair enough,” Sean answered with a short nod. He picked
the gun up and stuffed it in the back of his pants before walking to the back
door and twisting the lock. His fingers flicked off a few light switches and he
headed for the front door. “I’m going to hold you to what you promised about
the compensation, Gerald. Is it okay if I call you Gerald?”
The agent gave no response, instead waving to the others
to follow out the door.
Sean had met the Secret Service on more than one occasion.
They were rarely social, probably because of the intense focus their jobs
required and because of their training. After locking the front door to the
shop, Sean walked over to the front passenger’s side of the Denali and waited
for Agent Yarbrough to unlock the vehicle.
“What are you doing?” the agent asked as he fished the
SUV’s keys out of his pocket.
“I’m riding shotgun. You can’t expect me to ride in the
middle of the seat back there. That’s no way to treat a guest of the
president.” Sean offered a smart aleck smile, but didn’t move.
One of the other agents cast a questioning frown at
Yarbrough who shrugged and motioned for them to get in the back.
Sean opened the front door and hopped in. The scent of the
black leather interior filled his nose, and he noted how the vehicle was
impeccably clean. He wondered how often a government vehicle like that was
detailed. He pulled the door shut as the other men climbed into the back of the
vehicle. Yarbrough eased into the driver’s seat and revved the engine to life.
“So, I guess we’re heading to the airport and flying to
D.C.?” he asked, buckling his seatbelt.
Yarbrough shook his head. “No. We aren’t going to
Washington.” He put the vehicle in reverse and started to back out toward the
busy road known as Highway 98.
Sean cocked his head to the side. “Camp David?”
“Then where is the president?” Sean seemed bewildered.
“Kiawah Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.”