Trajan pulls the police hover car into the second level parking deck at the university. The deck is reserved for tenured faculty and is isolated, so the police hover car will be out of sight.
As he gets out of the car, Trajan hears the sirens of numerous emergency units converging to the north. He runs over to the ledge of the parking deck.
A large smoke cloud billows up near the Imperial Palace. Lucilla could have gone home with Marcus. He has some hold on her... No, she’s not the kind to jump into bed at the drop of a hat.
Running towards the elevator, he spots a wall camera. If he breaks the beam a surveillance drone will appear. There is an exit stairway nearby which does not have a drone. Dashing through the doors, Trajan jumps the steps three at a time. Reaching the sixth floor, he hopes the professor is in.
Most of the time Aviates rose early, took a quick walk around campus, and came to his office to begin the day. If he was not there, he would be soon enough. As he rounds the corner, Trajan is in luck as Aviates is walking in. Trajan calls out, but approaches with caution. Aviates has already entered and closed the door. Trajan hears the morning news through the door. He hoped to talk to Aviates before any word of the assassination reached his ears. He knocks and Aviates bids him to enter.
Stepping inside, his professor is watching the view screen. On the television are images of the burning palace. A reporter stands in the glaring lights recounting the story.
“We are in the West Wing of the imperial compound. There are as of yet no reports of injuries, but Praetorian units are combing the area. Still no word on the condition of the Emperor or his family.” The reporter pauses, listening intently through his earpiece. Tears form in his eyes and his voice becomes shaky.
“Terrible news... Caesar Domitian and Empress Octavia are confirmed dead. All hail Caesar Marcus. Police are looking for this man...” An image of Trajan appears on the screen. “Trajan Avila, son of Senator Clavius, is wanted for the murder of his parents, who were discovered dead in their suburban home this morning. Avila is suspected to have fallen in with a known terrorist group bent on bringing down the empire.”
Trajan’s complexion turns green, and he struggles to keep from falling as Aviates turns to him. Is this it? Will he turn me into the authorities? Old Aviates speaks in his calming, authoritative voice.
“Hmh. A pleasant fiction to cover up a more unspeakable chain of events. Even Marcus didn’t plan for it to go this far.”
At least I’m safe with Aviates. Trajan senses he knows more.
“I wasn’t on Mars with your father, Pompeii and the Emperor, but somebody else. They did not recognize him as a threat, but he would hold the key to their destruction. Their ultimate plan was to reclaim what they had lost, what they destroyed in reckless aggression. They wished for us to be their eyes and ears and build ships for their new empire. What you believe is not the whole truth. Gods, myths, legends, they are all true. He was born there. A trait was awakened in him after billions of years. Marcus too has the gene, but he is not in control; it controls him. The new Caesar is working for them but he isn’t aware that he is. We do not know how far he has gone. We did not expect this would happen. Now, we have to act. What happened before has started again, but I am an old man. You must take up the fight, Trajan, and destroy him once and for all.”
Trajan looks at Aviates like he has lost his mind. He has no clue what the professor is talking about except he knows it has something to do with Mars. Aviates continues his somber warning and revelation.
“Did you wonder yesterday why you had been appointed to the Proconsul?” he asks.
“Not to denigrate your abilities, but Gaius was the first. He showed signs early on but we were able to quell its effect. That is, until Marcus interfered. His reckless and aberrant behavior made it obvious. Then there was you, who was conceived after the event. You had no indications of being infected. Your will is strong, like your father’s. It is a blessing that such men as Pompeii and Clavius discovered the remains, otherwise we would not be standing here today.”
The professor is going on and on, skirting the truth, talking in riddles.
“Excuse me, sir, but I need your help. They have framed me. I suspect Marcus is behind it, but I can’t be sure,” says Trajan.
Aviates looks at him with tender eyes.
“Pompeii knew of a transport that had arrived. Its manifest showed it coming from the moon, but its real point of origin was Mars. Since he was in charge of appropriations, he recognized an old soldier would check the flight distances. They revealed a discrepancy in the log books by twenty million miles. What was on that ship we don’t know, but it is scheduled to depart again tomorrow. Be on it,” says Aviates.
Trajan throws up his arms.
“Now wait a minute, I can’t leave the planet and go to Mars!”
“They’ll be looking for you here, and you will do no one any good dead. They would never think to look for you offworld. The name of the ship is the Ajax,” say Aviates.
The situation here on Earth is hopeless. The only thing to do is leave. Yesterday’s bright future has turned to dust.
“I saw Marcus with a blue vial of cologne. It smelled like honey. When Lucilla spritzed it on, she became another person. A similar thing happened to Gaius when he used the same color eye drops,” says Trajan.
Aviates thinks a moment.
“It’s worse than I thought. If you want to see her again you must go to Mars and destroy him. If you don’t, all humanity is doomed.”
“Please tell me, what I am up against? Who is it you want me to fight?” he pleads.
Aviates looks at Trajan mournfully as an alert warning sounds.
“Get down, sir!” Sid roars.
A pulse blast rips through the door, hitting Aviates in the chest. The professor is dead. A second pulse blows a hole in the outer wall and fresh air billows in. Another shot rings out. Praetorian security personnel work their way down the hall in formation. Sid fires several stun pulses, dropping a few of the guards. The only escape route is through the recent opening.
Trajan runs and jumps into the abyss, but it is a calculated jump: below is a deep reflection pool. Splashing into it unharmed, he struggles out, sopping wet, then dashes through the maze of university buildings. He heads for the museum, where there are pristine vintage gasoline land vehicles on display. Trajan played and tinkered with them when he was a boy. The basement entrance to the museum is just around the corner. Maybe a few of them are still stored down there and could have gas in them. Trajan finds the door locked, so he grabs a nearby rock and breaks a window, shimmying inside with Sid floating in behind.
The room is filled with cobwebs and antiques from ancient Rome. Stacks of leather-bound books line the walls, collecting dust. Models of early airships hang from the ceiling. The place is a cluttered maze of forgotten history. He sees what he is looking for in the back corner.
Leaning against the wall is an old motorbike. Despite its age, it appears to be in fair shape. He feels the tires. They have air in them. The tires might not hold his weight but it is a chance he has got to take. The question is does it have gasoline? Crossing his fingers he unscrews the gas cap and takes a whiff. Smells right. He jostles the tank and hears the liquid sloshing around. Now for the moment of truth. He removes the connector to a spark plug and wires it to the ignition. The bike roars to life. Pleased with himself he jumps on and revs the hand accelerator. The motorcycle sputters over to the basement entrance. Trajan reaches over and unlocks the door before easing the bike outside. He looks to see if the coast is clear. The guards searching for him are in the distance. Deciding that engine will be loud and may draw attention to him before he can make good his escape, he puts it in idle and walks it over to the pavement.
It is flight time he guns it and heads down the street. Most ground traffic is minimal so he has the road to himself. Being an avid runner he knows the lay of land more than most people do. He speeds along with the wind whipping him in the face. It is a great feeling of freedom, and it is sweeter knowing he’s a wanted man. If he ever gets out of this he’ll never take it for granted again. This must have been what it was like for ancient sailor standing on the bridges of their wooden sailing vessels with nothing but the stars to guide them. I was was meant for adventurous times.
For just a brief instance the looming mission excites him, but he is quickly swallowed by terror. He is going to a world few had travelled and his prospects of survival, of seeing Lucilla again, are getting slimmer.
He looks over his shoulder there and is nothing following him except Sid. The space ports are in the western deserts. It is a good day’s drive. How could he evade capture that long? Sid speeds up so that it is alongside Trajan. At least I have company, even if it is a machine.
“Where are we going, sir?”
“Imperial Space Central. We’re hopping a transport to Mars,” says Trajan.
“That is a forbidden.”
“I don’t believe these guys care about that, Sid.”
“And they’ll just let you come along?” queries Sid.
The thought had not occurred to him. Whoever they are, they do not want any heat from a fugitive on the run. And there are patrols everywhere between Earth and the moon.
Transport ships are not well maintained despite being the workhorses of the Empire. They are more often than not overloaded with goods and materials to supply the vast needs of the people.
“They’ll never know I’m there, Sid. We’re going to conceal ourselves in the cargo hold. Once en route to Mars, the crew will be busy with its normal routine. It’s a ten-day voyage, so you’ll have to help me forage for food.”
Trajan had basic survival training as all young Romans were required to take the course. He passed top of the class. On a ship the size of the Ajax, he could stay alive easily.