Authors: Simon Hawke
"Neither have I the look of a general," Caesar replied, “or at least so I am told. And yet I lead Rome's finest legions. Legions that can assure your future as the queen of Egypt."
"You plan to depose my brother?"
"Only if it should prove necessary," Caesar replied. "I have no wish to harm him. I would be satisfied to have him rule with you to guide him."
"I see," she said. "Then it is Pothinus you wish to have removed."
"Rome needs an ally, not a scheming, unctuous eunuch who looks only after his own interests."
"And you think that I will not look after
own interests?" she asked coyly, arching a graceful eyebrow.
Caesar smiled. "It is in your interest to consider mine."
"I am Rome."
"So. And once I am queen, what would Rome have me do?"
"Merely be a friend to Rome," said Caesar, gazing at her steadily.
She gave him a knowing smile. "Then I am at Rome's pleasure."
The outskirts of Rome, April 30, 44 B.C
The transition coordinates Travers had selected clocked them in on a wooded hillside a few miles outside of Rome. It was dark when they arrived, two-thirty in the morning by local temporal reckoning, though the Romans kept time in only an approximate manner. They based it on sunrise and sunset. They divided the day into twelve hours, with the first six hours being
(before the middle of the day) and the second six
(after the middle of the day ), but they did not divide hours into minutes, and their water clocks and sundials were never accurate in any sense of the term, so no one in Rome was ever really certain of the time.
Travers was waiting for them at the transition point, along with four other men. Travers, who had spent most of his adult life in Minus Time, did not know anything about what had happened to Lucas, so he naturally showed no surprise on seeing him. All he really knew about them was that they were an adjustment team from Temporal Intelligence. They, on the other hand, knew a great deal about Travers, having read his file, though the man who met them hardly resembled the photo they had studied. Travers had aged since that photo had been taken. The hard life he had led had taken its toll. He was a small man, well built, with dark hair that had started thinning. He was in his late forties, deeply tanned and his face had lines in it that age alone was not responsible for. He had a weather-beaten look about him. His forehead was high, his features looked Mediterranean (partly a result of cosmetic surgery), and his eyes were dark and alert. He was wearing a simple tunic and sandals, with a cloak thrown over his shoulders. A short distance behind him, they saw a covered carriage drawn by two horses, which would be their transportation to Rome. There were three horses tied up by the carriage and a small fire was burning in the clearing.
"You've studied the identities that I prepared for you?" asked Travers, after they had introduced themselves.
"My cover is Marcus Septimus," said Lucas. "I'm your younger brother, from Cumae. Our parents are both dead and we have no other living relatives. It's been a long time since we've seen each other, so now that you've returned from the wars. I've come to visit with you in Rome and I've brought my wife, Antonia, with me." He nodded at Andre, then indicated Delaney. whose beard had been shaved and whose hair had been dyed black for this mission. "And this is our friend, Fabius Quintullus, also from Cumae. We all grew up together and we're very close."
Travels nodded. "Good." He introduced the four men who were with him. "These are your slaves, whom you have brought with you from our family estate. This is Capt. Castelli. C.T.O. in this sector."
Castelli, the Chief Temporal Observer, stepped forward and greeted them. He was slim and very fit, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. He looked to be in his mid- twenties, though he was actually far older. "My cover name is Demetrius," he said. "I was a Greek soldier, from Sparta, captured in the war."
"And this is Lt. Corwin," Travers said, indicating one of the other men. "His name here is Corac."
"I'm a Gaul," said Corwin. He was short and stocky, with fair skin and light brown hair. "One of the many prisoners captured in the Gallic War and sent back to Rome to be sold on the block. You bought me from a slave merchant in Ostia."
"Sgt. Andell," said Travers, introducing the next man.
"Antoninus," said Andell, giving his cover name, "also a Greek, from Athens. I've been your tutor since you were children."
He was of average height and dark complected, with thick, curly black hair and a wiry, compact build. He looked older than the others, perhaps in his late forties, which meant that he was easily three times that age, a veteran soldier of the Temporal Corps. The fact that he was still only a sergeant suggested that he must have been reduced in grade a number of times during his long career. Delaney, whose own record for reductions in grade was unsurpassed, glanced at Andell with interest, he was either a maverick, a chronic screw up (which seemed unlikely, given his posting and the fact that he was still alive), or somewhere along the line, he had pissed off the wrong person and messed up his chances for promotion.
"And Cpl. Drummond," Travers finished, introducing the last man.
"Drusus," said Drummond, the youngest of the four, blond and slim, with a boyish face and green eyes. "I'm the son of slaves, born on your family estate."
He looked about seventeen or eighteen, which meant that his actual age could be anywhere from late teens to early forties. The antiagathics made it impossible to tell with any accuracy. They were all regular T.O. Corps, which meant that unlike Travers, they had received the antiagathic treatments and were on short-term posting. A few years, at most, before they'd be turned around and transferred to another sector or another time period.
They sat down around the campfire. Lucas turned to Castelli. "What's the strength of your T.O. unit in this sector?"
"A platoon," Castelli said.
"We’re spread kind of thin," said Castelli, "but we can send for reinforcements if we run into trouble. It'll be your call."
"All right," said Lucas, turning to Travers. "What's the current situation?"
"Well, a great deal has happened since we left Egypt and I made my last report," said Travers. "The moment Caesar laid eyes on Cleopatra, he wanted her. And I certainly can't blame him. She's enough to take your breath away. After she came to visit him secretly in his apartment, they became lovers and he kept her with him in the palace. That was too much for Pothinus and Ptolemy to bear. It brought all the factions out into the open. Achillas, Ptolemy's general, raised a force against Caesar's legions and Pothinus made plans to assassinate us. Caesar got wind of it and killed Pothinus, then set out to destroy the army of Achillas. He engaged them and wiped out the entire force. Ptolemy died in the battle and Caesar set Cleopatra on the throne. By the time we left Egypt, she was pregnant with his son. Then Caesar marched against Pharnaces, son of Rome's old enemy, King Mithridates, and drove him out of Pontus in only five days. His legions rolled right over them. It was the occasion of his uttering the famous words, 'I came, I saw, I conquered.’ Next, he led his legions into battle against the armies of Cato and Scipio, the last of Pompey's loyalists. He defeated them in North Africa and returned to Rome to celebrate triumphs for his victories. But he wasn't finished yet. Pompey's two young sons, Cnaeus and Sextus, had raised an army in Spain, intending to avenge their father. We immediately set off for Spain in order to engage them. We met their army at Munda. It was bloody. Over thirty thousand of the enemy were killed. We lost a thousand men. I had several close calls, myself. Pompey's youngest son, Sextus, managed to escape, but Cnaeus was killed and his head was brought to Caesar. That marked the end of the civil war. It was also the last war that Caesar would engage in. At least, it was the last war that he was
to engage in."
“What do you mean by that'?" asked Lucas.
“I'm coming to that," said Travers. "Caesar didn't want to revive the ancient Roman kingship, because the people equated that with tyranny, so the title he chose for himself was dictator, like Sulla before him. This way, he could be periodically reappointed to the post, which at least gave the semblance of senatorial control in a republican government. But recently, he's had himself made dictator for life, with the title of Imperator. That was almost the same thing as naming himself king. A lot of people didn't take it well.
"Back when we first returned to Rome and he celebrated a triumph honoring his victory over Pompey's sons, it made him more than a few enemies," continued Travers as they warmed themselves around the fire. “It's one thing to celebrate victory over barbarians or foreign kings, but when you destroy the children of one of the greatest men of Rome and honor it with a triumph, you're going to upset a few people. He realized that and tried to make up for it by ordering Pompey's statues put back up after some of the pro-Caesar mobs, mostly comprised of Caesar's soldiers, tore them down. He held public feasts, distributed corn to the masses, and staged chariot races and gladiatorial combats. His old bread and circuses routine, playing to the masses. It worked for him before and it worked for him again. The only difference was, now he could afford it.
"He established a number of new colonies, in Italy as well as in Carthage and in Corinth. He settled thousands of the soldiers who'd served with him during all those years, rewarding them with land in their retirement, as well as many of the city's unemployed. Which means that if he ever has to raise an army quickly, all he needs to do is call on the colonies. Men who once had nothing but are now landowners, thanks to him, will remain unquestioningly loyal. He gave out consulships and praetorships left and right and increased the Senate rolls from six hundred to nine hundred, installing his supporters so now he virtually controls the Senate. He even pardoned some of his enemies, notably Brutus and Cassius. He gave them praetorships, despite their opposition to him in the civil war. He told me he did it so he could keep an eye on them. After all, the oracle told him to beware of them. The way he said it,
couldn't tell if he was joking or if he was serious. He tends to have mood swings and he can be hard to read sometimes. He's also used some of the wealth he acquired from the wars to construct the Basilica Julia and the Julian Forum, as well as the Temple of Venus Genetrix, the goddess of his family. And beside the statue of Venus, he's set up a gilded bronze statue of Cleopatra, which has raised more than a few eyebrows. She's in Rome now, with her son, Caesarian. He's set her up in her own house, complete with slaves and all the luxuries. He visits her every day. He's talking about divorcing Calpurnia and marrying her."
"But I thought Caesar never married Cleopatra," Andre said.
"No, he didn't," Travers replied. "But he's mentioned it to me several times now and I think he's serious. The people will overlook his keeping her as his mistress, but if he divorces a woman of a wealthy and influential Roman family in order to many a foreigner, they'll turn against him. But Caesar doesn't seem to care. Cleopatra exerts a powerful influence on him. She's the one who was behind a lot of the autocratic changes that he's made and she caters to his ego, feeding it and his ambition. Why not surpass Alexander? Why not become a monarch, the ruler of the world? Busts of Caesar are being distributed all over Rome and throughout the provinces. He's had coins struck with his own image on them and the slogan, 'DICT. PERPETUO'—perpetual dictator—the first time the portrait of a living Roman has ever appeared on the coinage. And now he's talking about raising legions once again to invade Parthia and avenge Crassus, then pressing on into the Orient, as Alexander did."
"Only he was assassinated before he could accomplish all that," said Delaney.
"Yes," Travers replied somberly, as if the thought disturbed him. "He was. History says that he grew careless and disregarded all the signs. Some historians have even ventured the opinion that he actually
to die, because his health was failing and he couldn't bear the thought of growing old. But I've lived with him for years now and I know that man as well as I know myself. He suffers periodic fits of epilepsy, but he's lived with that for years. He doesn't want to die. He wants to be immortal. He's fifty-six years old and he wants one last hurrah. The only reason he ignored the rumors of conspiracies against his life was because his ego simply wouldn't allow him to believe that anyone would seriously want to kill him. He had restored peace and prosperity to Rome and introduced a stable government. Without him, he was convinced that it would all fall apart. As he once said to Cleopatra, 'I am Rome.' And so he didn't take proper precautions. Only now, all that is changing. And Cleopatra is responsible."
"How?" asked Lucas.
"In about two weeks, it will be the Ides of March and Caesar is supposed to be assassinated," Travers said. "According to history, a soothsayer was supposed to have warned him to 'Beware the Ides of March,' but Caesar never took him seriously. But now, all he talks about is Lucan's prophecy. He's well aware that the fateful day is drawing near. He told Cleopatra about what Lucan said to him. 'That which was concealed shall stand revealed.' He believes that statement referred to Cleopatra. She was concealed in a roll of carpet that they use for bedding when she was smuggled into his apartment at the palace, and when her slave Apollodorus unrolled it, she stood revealed. Caesar told her that he knew she was his 'guiding omen' the moment he saw her, and she's done nothing to disabuse him of that notion. Not only has she been encouraging him in his plans for new conquests and greater glory, she's prevailed upon him to employ a bodyguard, as well. An Egyptian bodyguard, made up of soldiers she's brought with her, because the oracle had told him that he would die at the hands of those he thought his friends. Caesar had once employed a personal guard of Spaniards, but he dismissed them because he thought it wasn't good for appearances to have a bodyguard, much less one made up of foreigners. Now he's got an Egyptian one. That's an anomaly. They don't belong in this scenario. And there's something very strange about those Egyptians."