Agrippa looks around the room, considering each person’s face. He seems to recognize everyone.
“Claudia, I have watched you grow into a wise and beautiful woman. Achilles, you are a wonderful and courteous husband and warrior. Trajan, your ambition and drive have made your parents smile at you from the heavens. Rufio, defender of a Roman tradition, you fought in the games with distinction. You, Darius, how proud I am of you, ruling with kindness and honor. You counseled the emperor well and I wish I was there for you,” says Agrippa.
“How can you know us, father? That’s impossible.”
“Because I am not your father. I am Sarelle. I have taken over Agrippa’s consciousness. That is what I did so long ago, but my possession frightened your people. I did not realize my entering his body would disrupt him so. I attempted jumping from one person to the next, but that only created havoc. I am sorry for the deaths I caused, but it was necessary to stop Garelle, my mate. When Clavius and Pompeii discovered the chamber, he tried to trick them into starting the machine. I believed I stopped him, but he was still able to generate enough power to use his mind. I used the colonists to destroy it but failed, and you had to kill your friend. They and Domitian slaughtered them all because they thought they were infected. We repeated the mistake we made over a billion years ago, and your species got caught up in our mistake.”
Sarelle can see the explanation puzzles the humans. This is part of the story that had been left out. Clavius, along with the others who escaped, had killed everyone. “I’m sorry you still do not understand. The device we constructed only works with living DNA. We built this instrument to free ourselves of all physicality, to create by our thoughts alone. It worked better than we expected and enabled us to leave our bodies, setting the soul free, but that was a mistake. Once we became pure energy, we wanted more. Garelle absorbed the other souls, growing stronger as he went out of control. Unbeknownst to him, I altered the apparatus so that it only generates substance from physical beings using a live sequence as a guide for fuel. He was incensed at what I had done, saying I had ruined everything. It was only a matter of time before he would achieve true immortality. He convinced himself he was doing it for me, but I knew the more power he gained the worse he’d become. I tried to disable the machine, but he was too strong and downloaded his brain into it before I could stop him. After that, it couldn’t be shut down. He changed everyone’s genetic code so they would obey his commands. The other scientists realized what he was doing and decided on a desperate plan to destroy him. They retrieved all their old weapons, but the devices were unstable and a catastrophic chain reaction took place. I managed to get into a substation and download myself into the tiny bug medallion before the atmosphere was ripped away. Our species was stored in the oceans; they froze when the air dissipated. Some of us escaped to Earth. The mechanism was left intact, but on a low power level. I was buried in the sand inside the medallion for eons. Garelle, even after destroying our home, refused to give up. His mind is able to wander, seeking new bodies, but because he is in the machine, he can only influence people by illusion and trickery, forcing them to do his will. He needs DNA to run the machine and produce matter. Human genes differ from ours, but that is where Marcus came into the picture. Garelle showed him how to alter his genetic makeup to be more like ours. But that was only male chromosomes. He needed you Claudia, and you Trajan, combined with Marcus to create a potent hybrid mixture. That is why he brought you here. He must not obtain it or the nightmare will start all over again,” says Sarelle.
Claudia senses the regret in Sarelle’s voice, but feels there is more to it.
“It was not just the machine that sustained you, was it? No device has such capabilities,” Claudia says.
“No,” Sarelle says. “It was that which transcends death. There is no greater power.”
“What?” Trajan demands. Sarelle turns towards him. Trajan’s muscles burn, his hands shake.
“Love. My affection for my mate and his for our life together sustained us. That is what binds the universe, time and space, together.”
“Why did you remain, if you could depart for the Elysian Fields?” Claudia asks. She places a hand on Trajan’s shoulder to calm him.
“Because of the machine, our spirits remained bound to this plain of existence, unable to join with that of the cosmos, and I didn’t want to give up…” Sarelle says, tears beginning to stream. Claudia, her eyes gentle, steps towards Sarelle.
“What is it, Sarelle?”
“I didn’t want to give up on the idea that all our knowledge was gone, and I clung to the hollow hope that someday, a benevolent race would uncover us and Garelle would repent.”
“There is no call for remorse. You were trying to save your people,” says Darius. A sudden earthquakes knocks plaster from the walls. It falls and crumbles, scattering dust everywhere. Sarelle informs them it is the atmosphere processor.
“Garelle managed to manipulate the few survivors from the colony to get it running. He was unfamiliar with your technology and used the colonists’ ability to make the air breathable in anticipation of the humans he wished to bring here. They were ill-equipped to handle the job, however, and the plant is breaking down. When its core decays, the shock wave will rupture our machine and destroy the planet. The secret of how to recover your people will be lost, and the explosion may shatter the whole solar system, altering the orbit of your world and spinning closer to the sun,” replies Sarelle.
Trajan rolls his eyes.
“You might have told us this before.”
“Garelle figured, and rightly so, that by bringing you here you would repair the machine in time.”
“How could he have known we would come to Mars to take care of all this?!” says Trajan.
Darius steps away, sweaty, nervous.
“Perhaps because he already had someone on the planet to do his bidding. Isn’t that right, Darius?” says Sarelle.
Trajan is dumbstruck.
He was infected, and it hid in his genes when he was carried to Earth. It was lying dormant until Garelle decided he needed him. That bastard alien was in constant contact with him on a subconscious level. He manipulated his every move to make things go the right way and get us here. Under Garelle’s influence, he steered Marcus to the old medical files, helping him create Crystal Blue. That is why the emperor wants him dead to cover his tracks. He must have realized he was being used and fled to Mars, bringing everyone with him to complete Garelle’s plan.
The Proconsul does not want to believe Sarelle. How could he be so fooled? He shakes his head. He stumbles backward, bumping into a cart, knocking off one of the first aid kits. He bends down to pick it up and notices something unusual about the container. The front does not have the typical Roman eagle logo. There is a star in a circle with stripes jutting from the sides. Underneath are words Darius never seen before.
“The United States?” he whispers.
Perplexed, he looks towards Agrippa sitting up on the medical cot. On the arm of Agrippa’s jumpsuit there is a patch, a flag of some sort. It is rectangular with a blue field filled with white stars is in the top left corner. There are alternating red and white stripes. Darius points out the oddity to the others. Sarelle offers an explanation.
“The monstrosity we built is much more than a matter transfer system. It has a will of its own and transcends linear time. This is not the only dimension in the universe. What you see are people from a different Earth than you know. A place where the Roman empire fell long ago and another kingdom of humans reached to the heavens. Darius, my son in a divergent plane of existence, you betrayed everyone. What is happening now has occurred many times before with varying outcomes. I wish I could tell you how this will end, but my powers are limited. Even Garelle cannot control it. During each occurrence, the pattern goes through its cycle, history resets, allowing us to glimpse what to do next. You are all here so Garelle can set the device right and perhaps bring back what we all lost. He must not do so. If you want to live, we have to perish. We belong to the past.”
“So all we do and say has happened before? There is another Darius, Trajan, Rufio, Claudia? And what of the others in their reality? What is their agenda?” asks Achilles.
“I do not know. If we are able to turn the machine off, all will return to normal, with the other dimension closing forever. Time is unpredictable, however. Your duplicates could intersect you here, making your choices confusing and difficult. They may also have different plans for the outcome. Personalities could be changed, as well. The only thing that matters is deactivating the core and shutting the machine off. Once you do that, I can handle the rest,” says Sarelle.
“What’s keeping Garelle from reactivating it?” asks Rufio.
“The energy lies in the polar ice cap where the souls are trapped. Melt the caps and they will be released. Evaporate the water and the mechanism deactivates. It cannot retain thoughts.”
“What do they have to do with anything? And what are you talking about, the Martians?” asks Claudia.
“Memories are the substance of life. Without them, existence would not be worth the toil. A lesson learned, love and family, a sense of purpose. The device thinks it’s alive; the souls of the dead give it grounded consciousness. It and Garelle are symbiotic in their lust and desires, but he hopes to bring back the world that he lost. The machine wants emotions. That’s what it has been searching for all this time. The others which I speak of are those that tried before from other dimensions, trapped in the ice, feeding the mechanism. Do not be frightened when you find what is in there. Use the children, they are the only part of the equation that is different now,” says Sarelle, departing Agrippa’s body.
A fatigued Agrippa falls over onto the cot unconscious. Claudia and Darius rush to check on him. His vitals sink, but he will survive.
Total confusion fills the room. It could be the present or it could be a billion years before.