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Authors: Trisha Leigh

Return Once More

BOOK: Return Once More
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Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

About the Author

For all of the humans who, in ways big and small, have had the desire, drive, imagination, foresight, and intelligence to change the world for the better. And for all of the humans whose suffering, deaths, humiliations, and failure have managed to do the same.

May we all humbly try to make sure none are forgotten, and that no sacrifice has been made in vain.

“Like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.”

—Sun Tzu

Chapter One

Rome
,
Italy
, Earth Before—44 BCE (Before Common Era)

The portico at the Theatre of Pompey looked exactly as it did in the holo-files back on Genesis. As comforting as that fact was for a girl over twenty-five hundred years out of her element, even the real-time, life-size recordings in the Archives couldn't prepare us for everything.

They couldn't steep me in the scent of Rome. We'd been in the streets earlier today, trailing the subject of today's assignment as he trekked from his home to the theatre in the city's center for the last time. The ancient city stunk like humanity. Standing water. Penned animals awaiting sacrifice and the tantalizing, sweet scent of fruit on carts, spicy meats cooking over open flames. The occasional whiff of perfumed body and supple leather underscored the entire melody.

Inside the theatre, lush portico gardens toppled the sweet scents of myriad flowers into the afternoon. They tripped over one another, tangled and heady, as they washed the outer edge of the curia in the scent of spring. The invisible lenses of my standard issue, black-framed glasses separated and identified them—narcissi and crocus, roses and oleander—before I dismissed the information with a practiced flick of the eye. Most of the time it was nice to have the details so available, but others … the influx of information made it hard to simply soak in the experience.

We were here to observe and record the death of Julius Caesar, an event that shifted Rome from a republic into an empire—a moment that had significant impact on the history of the Western world. The chip in my glasses recorded everything in my field of vision—every moment, every glance, every word—even the ones that had gone unnoticed before the ability to travel through time had been discovered. The ones that had been forgotten, even by the people strolling along the promenade here tonight.

Even by the men plotting murder inside the curia.

Like all influential historical events, the death of Gaius Julius Caesar had been well documented by previous Historians, thus the holo-files. We apprentices cut our teeth on events that had been observed and recorded by at least ten different fully certified Historians, after which we'd spend an unbelievable number of hours reflecting on each of our recordings—how the event affected human history, whether it had been one of the moments we wanted to repeat or one that had put us on the path to the irreversible destruction that launched us into space in 2510 CE. Or, 1 NE.

The New Era. My era.

Once the Elders trusted us not to miss anything, and to be able to properly extrapolate historical impact, they'd turn us more or less loose. That day couldn't come soon enough.

A few people wandered the gardens, some alone, others with arms linked through elbows. Their flowing garments in solid, bright colors made a pleasant addition to the paths and foliage, to the draped, golden cloths above that lent the space a tented feeling. None of them had a thought in their head about time travel. About the cascade of consequences that stemmed from today's events, ones that brought us back here from the year 2560.

A tap on my shoulder refocused my attention. Every muscle in my body went rigid, and I was half-scared an actual Roman senator was about to ask who in the name of Jupiter I was, and half-sure I was about to get busted by our trip overseer for wandering off the path of our assignment. Again.

But it's just Analeigh. Glasses invisible on her face, long blond waves pinned up and covered by a short, brown wig, wearing a light
tunica
and draped in a wool toga, but Analeigh all the same.

“Kaia. You're not supposed to be in here.”
My best friend spoke softly in my mind without her lips so much as twitching.

“Isn't it beautiful, though?” I replied aloud in Latin, the language of the plebeians—the commoners—here in Rome.

She made a face at my easy use of the unfamiliar language. Even with the help of the bio tattoos threaded into our brain stems with intricate filament circuitry, she struggled with language. It's the reason she used a similar tattoo at her throat, woven through her vocal cords, to communicate with me silently even though we rarely used them back home.

Too easy to eavesdrop when every Historian Apprentice has the same enhancements.

“They're about to start the final sacrifice. It's on our checklist,” she bumbled quietly in Greek, the easier of the two local languages, for her.

I didn't argue, following as she turned from the portico's doorway and stepped across the walkway to the mostly enclosed curia. The stone structure was constructed in a semicircle, with a half-dozen steps leading up to a smattering of wide, stone seats meant for the senators and their meetings.

We lingered near one of the large, grooved columns, a spot we'd chosen during our pre-trip research; the people in the room were all upper-class senators, most of them friends. There
were
strangers among their ranks for the first time, since Julius Caesar had recently seen fit to add non-Romans, nonelite—and even foreigners—to the group, but the risk of being noticed inside remained too high.

We blended out here, where the priests and augers kept trying for favorable omens. There were stragglers from the markets, the curious, servants and apprentices, sons and the people performing the sacrifices and rites. We would be close enough to record the assignment. That was the plan, anyway, but no amount of preparation ever kept my heart rate normal or my eyes from ferreting out the rest of our group from among the crowd, just to check.

Our overseer, Maude Gatling, and the third apprentice on this trip, Sarah Beckwith, stood near a column on the opposite side of the curia. Maude's crinkled features lent credence to her hunched-over posture, but Sarah looked a little nauseous—and as odd as Analeigh did with brown hair. They could have come to ancient Rome as blondes, but not if they wanted to go unnoticed, which was our foremost goal. My own chestnut waves blended perfectly with the majority of women's tresses we glimpsed on the streets, but women at the theatre? There were none.

March in Rome was a cool eighteen degrees Celsius. The woolen garb kept me warm enough, at least down to my calves, even though it itched like crazy. The soft leather shoes had started to chafe blisters on our stroll through the city, but the bleat of a terrified animal erased my focus on the slight discomfort.

A group of priests slit the throat of a white goat under a makeshift tent while augurs and a few of the senators looked on, desperate for a sign that today's meeting should take place unhindered. The dying animal stopped struggling in the space of a few breaths, accepting its fate. As much as I wanted to look away as they began rooting through its entrails looking for a sign from their gods, the importance of my assignment held my gaze steady. The glasses could only record what I saw, and as a Historian, that was my job.

Research. Record. Reflect.

A flock of crows, black smudges against the blue sky, swept in from the left side of the city. The crowd gasped as the bio-tat wired into my brain fed me information about ancient Roman superstition. That the birds were crows bode badly enough for the day's events, but the fact that they flocked from the left? Worse than bad.

The Latin word for left was
sinistra.
Sinister.

Interesting and sort of relevant, but I pushed the rest of the information away after a quick sift through, anxious to create my own observations. The reflections required
new
information, nothing obvious, and after fifty years,
that
required a sharp eye.

I wish they took us to more positive events, ones that highlighted the goodness of people, but those were few and far between during our apprenticeship. The time I spent looking for the joy and beauty was wasted as far as the Elders were concerned.

It wasn't part of the assignment here, no matter how pretty the gardens were, so I refocused on Gaius Julius Caesar. The genius military man and visionary, who tried his best to change Rome for the better, strode up to confer with the augurs and priests. His black eyes, set against weathered skin and patrician features, revealed a sharp, probing intelligence. They belonged to a man who missed nothing, and common sense insisted that he must have confronted plots against his life on nights before this one.

But then, he strode across battlefields in foreign lands, stood strong in the face of enemies with drawn weapons. Today, his friends concealed sharpened blades underneath their loose, flowing togas. Or at least, men he believed to be friends.

Even so, the suspicion hung about. Could he have known? Suspected? Believed every last bad omen given to him in the previous days and walked in here tonight anyway?

But, why?

Before I could chase that rabbit down its hole, Brutus—Marcus Junius Brutus—strode up to his friend and placed a hand on his shoulder. They held a terse conversation in a tone too low to be overheard, which was unfortunate. Historical documents suggested Caesar had, for the second time today, allowed himself to be talked into taking his seat inside the curia and beginning the senatorial session, despite signs that should have discouraged him.

But we're here because historical documents can't always be trusted. They were written by people invested in the interpretation of the events of their time where as we, almost three thousand years removed, wanted only to understand the truth and its consequences.

Whatever Brutus said, the two of them turned their backs on the priests and made their way inside the building. Analeigh tensed at my side, her sweaty palm sliding into mine as we stand witness to what's about to happen.

Across the
exedra
, the lines of horror on Sarah's face made her stick out like a sore thumb, at least to me, but no one else seemed to notice. All eyes were on Caesar, and the toga-clad men pressing closer and closer as he climbed the stone steps to his seat of honor.

He was a god among men. A Caesar. The first of his kind, and the men about to murder him only wanted to preserve life the way it had been for centuries. Save the Republic from a man they saw as a power-hungry tyrant without the best interest of their beloved Rome at heart.

Or so history would have us believe. Now, searching their faces for righteous indignation, I glimpsed apprehension and fear. Anxiety. Hints of manic glee. History has judged them, both immediately and in the intervening decades, and most of it landed them in the asshole camp. I mean, they stabbed their best friend in the back. Even if he needed to die for the good of the Republic, which remained a judgment call, they pretended to be his friends. Not cool.

BOOK: Return Once More
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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