Forever Rome

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Chapter 25

Trajan leads Lucy and Razor into the cave, where they find the remains of the blast where Clavius and Pompeii attempted to destroy it. Stepping over rubble, they descend into the bowels of the planet. Their suits are equipped with body flashlights. After they are switched on, they can see hieroglyphs similar to those encountered in the Martian city. The hieroglyphs glow red and a noise rattles through the cave as thought the machine is gearing up. Trajan finally understands what his father and Pompeii knew.

“We are inside the machine already,” he says.

“Care to explain?” says Razor.

“Yeah, what do you mean?” Lucy asks.

“There was a war on this planet billions of years ago over this device because it can bend matter at the will of the user. The architect of it was a being named Garelle. Others of his kind feared its power and tried to destroy it, but not before most of the population fell under its spell. It extracts the life force to fuel its operation, but it only uses energy from sentient beings: their DNA activates the system. The other Martians realized this too late. By then, the only way to deactivate it was to eliminate every living soul, so they committed mass suicide. Garelle had already downloaded his consciousness into the network. He was heartbroken at the loss of his people, so he vowed to return them, but he couldn’t do that until man evolved and began exploring space and landed here. He reached out to Marcus to start the process. The souls of the dead were encased in the polar ice caps to fuel the mechanism for all these countless eons, waiting to be placed inside new human hosts. He brought humanity here to recreate the lost Martian race through us. The DNA code of the original inhabitants is in me, Marcus and Claudia,” says Trajan.

Outside the cave, Achilles arrives blinding gusts of snowfall. He calls out for Trajan, then spies the lifeless body of Rufio and the giant bear. “Trajan must be dead too,” he says to himself. “I need to find the charges and set them myself.” He switches on his scanner and picks up the charge signals inside the cave. He sees that at least they had time to place them before this happened. The machine must be active. The thermite canisters’ blinking red activation lights stand out against all the white. Achilles approaches the first device. They are unstable if the temperature drops too quickly, so he has to work fast. With the snow continuing to billow, he reaches the device and lifts the access panel. The digital clock can be set for any amount of delay, but he cannot wait too long. The reactor is going to blow in less than ten minutes. He gives himself five minutes. That should give him plenty of time to get back to the base, but what if Marcus has stranded him? He sets the charges to go off in tandem so when one blows the others follow. That accomplished he heads to the rover and another glow catches his eye. It outlines the opening of the cave where the machine is housed. Curiosity gets the better of him and he runs to check it out. Entering the dark chasm, he spies three distant lights.

“Hey! Whoever you are, this place is about to be filled with water!”

Trajan recognizes the voice and calls back.

“Achilles! It’s me, Trajan!”

Achilles cautiously unholsters his weapon as he approaching them.

“Who’s with you?!” he calls to Trajan.

“Don’t worry. Their friends, sort of,” he says.

Unsure, Achilles slowly jogs to catch up to them. In the faint light, he sees the two other figures and is stunned to recognize them. Trajan makes the introductions.

“This is Lucy, and my counterpart here is Razor. They come from alternate earths.”

Razor’s artificial eye is a curiosity to Achilles. He marvels at the technology.

“How far can you see with that thing?”

“Up to thirty kilometers. I am able to detect wave band emissions and infrared. These walls appear to be a house a circulatory system, miles of tubing pumping and feeding. It is oxygen, performing much the same function as blood does in the body. Waves of radiation are being absorbed into it. It’s soaking up all the harmful effects of its own toxins. That is why we are not getting sick from it,” says Razor.

The subterranean redness continues to expand, bathing them in its eerie light. The walls expand in and out as if breathing, with moans of air rushing in and out. Underneath them, the ground swells up and down. On the stone wall, the hieroglyphs move, forming parades of images marching across the rock, glowing and twinkling like so many fireflies. Lifting off from the surface, they morph into images of the ancient Martians. They are incorporeal, shadows of events that took place in eons past.


Marcus, with the help of Garelle, slams his hand down on the scanner. It hums on and the light from the scanner glides over his skin, taking a reading. It is accompanied by a sound as the machine puts the final DNA into the system. As it does, the room spins and changes. The command and lab center of the colony turn into something more pristine and organic. The walls become smooth and have a faint green tone. Lucilla’s corpse twitches. Her eyes flutter open and she sits up, alive and terrified. Claudia cannot believe Lucilla is alive. There’s a hole shot through her heart!

Sunlight streams into the room from large, bubble-shaped windows opening to the clear cerulean heavens. The building seems to be higher than before, floating high into the sky. Claudia can see an ocean forming and a lush environment surrounding the coastline. White, fluffy clouds dot the sky. Mars is returning to its former glory, a paradise full of life. Spires of a cityscape long since vanished into the red Martian dust return, the gleaming pinnacles of ancient technology composed of amber dwellings built from the Martians’ natural secretions. The beauty and complexity are overwhelming. Each building is intertwined with those surrounding it. Structures made of stone and porcelain appear, as does a giant pyramid honeycombed with thousands of openings. Strange animals float by the window along with some familiar ones. Monarch butterflies and mosquitoes, but they are bigger than their earthly cousins. There are honey bees along with ants and caterpillars. They fill the skies and roam the surface, but not the Martians themselves.

As Claudia gazes in wonder, Garelle appears, this time not a mere voice but real. He is larger than Marcus but has the same general appearance. He surveys everyone and Claudia suspects he is reading their minds. Humbled at finding his kindred spirit, Garelle hovers over to Marcus.

Lucilla, fully awake, rubs her chest remembering the wound. She knows she should not be alive and wonders how before realizing that it is the machine that reanimated her. It now has the power of life and death.


The cave walls have turned translucent blue. Underneath is piping that resembles an arterial system.

“We’re under the polar ice caps. They are melting. This must be the ocean of Mars. The entrance was once at on the bottom of the sea. The machine is hydrodynamic. Water always takes the path of least resistance to generate power,” says Achilles.

Long slivers of light traverse the vein-like structures. One of them nears the glass wall and its appearance changes.

“Those are the life energy or souls of the ancient Martians fueling in the machine,” Achilles says.

Their cries of pain, loneliness and remorse carry through the walls. Their misery is especially poignant for Trajan.

“The spirits are speaking, pleading for us to release them from their torment.”

Trajan grabs his temple in pain and falls to his knees.

“No... No, it’s too much please.”

Lucy bends down to check him. Razor, perceiving an imminent threat pulls out his weapon. An unseen force wrests it from his hand and tosses it across the room. Trajan breathes deeper and calms down. He stands up, looking stronger and more confident. He speaks in a low, authoritative tone.

“No more war.”

Lucy senses a strange new presence.

“Who are you?”

“All that once was all good in our race is in him. He is our witness. We require his body but only for a short time,” says a multitude of voices from Trajan’s mouth.

“Is he possessed?” asks Razor.

“Soon all will be accomplished.”

“What about the atmosphere processor we constructed? It was damaged,” Achilles says.

“That machine is no longer a concern.”

Through the glass, the spirits of the Martians wink out. Trajan summons all his energy and stands firm, closing his eyes and concentrating.

Their little band is transported out of the cave and to the room with the others and Garelle. Lucilla runs to Trajan as soon as she sees him materialize. Achilles calls out to those from Romanus.

“Do not worry,” he says, indicating Lucy and Razor. “They are trapped like us but from another universe.”

Outside, the hovering building is above the large mall causeway leading to the pyramid that Darius, Rufio, and Trajan encountered. Marcus’s legions of soldiers, interspersed with the forces of Razor, stand in formation. The silvery light of the Martian souls slip into the soldiers’ bodies. Each man glows as he is possessed.

A disembodied voice cries out.

“Is this your plan? Reanimate them? Recreate your empire through the humans? Is that what you want, Garelle?” Sarelle appears outside of Agrippa’s body, showing her true appearance.

“This is what I must do. I killed our people, now I can bring them back,” says

Garelle.

“It’s starting all over again! Can’t you understand that? The power is too strong to resist, it will only end as it did before. I cannot allow that. Please, I know a better way, one that preserves the best of who we were. Look outside, see that army. Do they appear happy to you? The souls inhabiting those bodies are what’s left of us. Let them rest. For millennia, they have been entombed in the ice, trapped between life and death, waiting to be free, to enter that which is eternal.”

“But we can have it all back! A world full of life. We could go to Earth if we wish: there’s nothing there now. Imagine, a virgin planet, ready to populated,” says Garelle.

“What have you down with our people?” demands Achilles.

Garelle hovers up to a window overlooking the transformed Mars. It changes into a giant viewscreen. On it, stars whisk by. In the distance, a tiny blue dot grows larger until it fills the screen. It is Earth, but the continents have not yet drifted apart. As the planet grows larger on the screen, rolling clouds reveal a primordial landscape full of strange, ancient vegetation. Large insects fly and flit about everywhere.

“We have gone back in time a billion years. This is your planet as it appears today. I have returned us to make right what went wrong. You will stay here and form a new generation of Martians,” says Garelle.

The screen shows an image of the giant army, the people, their faces contorted miserably, transform into the insectoid creature. Garelle is forcing this change through his mind and the power of the machine.

“No, they can’t be the inheritors of our legacy. They must make their own decisions,” says Sarelle.

“And do what? They are warlike. I can fix that.”

“Garelle...”

Sarelle flies around the corner and returns bringing Titus and Augustina. Their innocent eyes show no fear. Claudia and Achilles hurry over and gather them up in their arms. Marcus, even through his horrifying exterior, seems ashamed of what he has done. Augustina asks her mother to put her down. She toddles over to Marcus and reaches up, taking his claw like hand. The child’s forgiveness washes over him and he begins to cry.

“You see, they have a profound sense of goodness in them, and understand that even with all the evil in the universe there is still hope,” says Sarelle.

Again the image on the window changes, to the first encounter with Garelle,

Clavius, Pompeii, and Domitian. They are in the cave with the Crystal Blue swirling in front of them. It has taken on the appearance of a water fountain falling from the ceiling. Garelle is flitting around in his vapor-like state and the walls are glowing red. Clavius reaches under the running liquid. Cupping his hands, he takes a drink of it and so do the others. Agrippa appears from nowhere and screams, his loud voice bringing the men out of their fugue.

“Your father was there looking for water and had scanned the area. They were going to use nuclear charges to blast a hole in the cave. They had brought a drilling crew with them and they had already drank their fill and were completely under his spell, but Clavius and his men only barely,” says Sarelle.

“That explains the canisters we found,” says Trajan.

The screen continues to tell the tale, showing them trying to install the nuclear devices when one of the other infected drill crewmen attacks them. Pompeii pulls out a sonic grenade and tosses it. It kills the work team and sets off the explosives. The cave collapses as the three of them scurry about.

“I could not prevent them from being taken over. I hid in the medallion which Livia discovered, but I tried to make up for that,” relates Sarelle.

A wave of time collapses backward on the window, showing the couple finding the artifact and bringing it back to the lab then passing out from its effects.

“I couldn’t wait once I knew that Garelle was awake. I had to take action by taking over Agrippa to stop the others, but before I did that, I helped Livia’s pregnancy along with our DNA.” Agrippa kisses a sleeping Livia. Trajan and Claudia understand now that the DNA was passed through the saliva.

“My qualities were handed down to you, Darius. It enabled you to grow faster and, with your enhanced mental abilities, to work the machine. But again, meither you nor I was strong enough to stop Garelle. So I had to have help,” says Sarelle.

The images changes and Agrippa is in the laboratory. He takes a sample of his DNA and puts it into a centrifuge, combining it with water. Later, he is with Clavius, Pompeii, and Domitian at a dinner. While everyone is distracted he places a few drops of the liquid in their drinks. He then excuses himself and leaves. Outside, he proceeds over to the purification system and slips some of the liquid into the tanks.

“Again, I was too late. Some of the men had escaped the cave, brought the Crystal Blue, and tainted the water. There was not enough of my DNA present to balance the other.”

The battle for the base rages between Clavius, Pompeii, Domitian and the other colonists as they run flee towards the ships to escape to Earth.

“My only solace was I could place some of myself in you. Your parents were stronger than the others and did not bend. Later, they became pregnant and sired the three of you. Garelle tried to reach out to you in dreams, didn’t he?”

Trajan and Claudia nod.

“Marcus was the only one who acted upon it, and I was unable to prevent him. But it was me, through my close relationship and strong bond with Darius, that got you here. I knew Garelle would try something and I needed you here to help. He desired to recreate a lost world. I wanted to pass only a part of ourselves to you, goodness, wisdom, not possess you and be reborn as new physical beings. My missions was only to preserve our legacy in your personalities and dreams. You are, in part, Martians now, so you must act to stop what has transpired,” she says.

“They are mine! You cannot stop me!” screams Garelle.

Razor does not like to be ordered and strikes out. Garelle catches him with a thought, lifting him from the floor and choking him. Sarelle intervenes with her own powers, but he has the power of the machine behind him and the thousands of souls at his will. She cannot fight. He turns on her and drops the Nazi. Garelle’s fury is at fever pitch and Sarelle shrieks, quaking with pain.

Lucilla cannot bear the sight of Sarelle’s agony and runs to Trajan’s arms.

“Can’t you do something?” she asks.

Garelle’s pure hatred fuels the mechanism and it spreads out in massive waves that destroy the precious world he planned and created. The buildings crumble and the green forests die. Time is regressing because of his emotional outburst, his feelings of love and hope perverted into revenge, consuming everything. Blinded by his actions, he pays little attention to the developing chaos. His rage hits the possessed troops and they turn on each other in a fierce and brutal battle.

Trajan and Claudia resolve to stop this. Marcus, too, now realizes the havoc he has caused and understands the only way to make things right is to join them. The three focus their thoughts on love, peace, and harmony. It forms a whirlwind in the room that displays images of the colonists. The ancient Martians go about their routines. Whole histories of battles and triumphs of the Martian civilization are replayed before them. A cinema of events and people from the alternate universes intertwined in one fabric of life. Trajan sees what Darius meant about the past, present, and future existing together, that a single person is more important than anyone can imagine. Each one is a spark that fires a piston on the engine of existence to keep the rhythm of the universe going.

Everything slows down, the process of degeneration is halted outside and reverses itself. The buildings stop collapsing. The trees return to their lush green. The ocean is blue again.

Marcus rsumes his human form as Sarelle breaks free from Garelle’s grip. As the pain dissipates from Sarelle’s body, the whirlwind dies down. The troops cease their battle. Crixus and Rufio appear out of the void. Somehow, this does not surprise Trajan.

He looks over at Lucy, so much like Lucilla with her red hair disheveled by all she has been through. Both understand she will be returning to her dimension and he to his.

“Treat her right, huh?” Lucy says, smiling at Lucilla. The wind whips up around her in a vortex and she vanishes.

“Who was that?” Lucilla asks.

“I’ll explain later,” Trajan says.

Razor approaches Trajan, dour.

“You must have a better understanding of what is expected of a leader. More honor, and conscience above all else,” says Razor.

“From what I’ve seen, I believe you can change things for the better,” says a confident Trajan.

Razor disappears leaving nothing but the sound of the wind.

Garelle is defeated and exhausted as he looks out onto his world. The spirits of the Martians rise out of their human hosts and drift up to the window. Their luminescense swells as they gather and look on Garelle with pity and animosity. Sarelle joins her mate and they take each other’s claw like hands. The host of beings understand and begin to fade away.

Trajan wraps his arms around Lucilla. Achilles has an arm around Claudia and they each hold hand of one of their children. Agrippa, unchanged, moves towards Darius with a renewed love for his grown son. They will have a life together that they did not have before, but sadly, without Livia. Sarelle approaches them, still holding Garelle’s hand.

“I am sorry that your mother cannot be returned to you.”

She then turns to Garelle.

“We must subject ourselves to oblivion. This was something that could never be.”

“I was seduced by the power of my own creation. With the souls of the Martians gone forever, it will shut down.”

The pulsing energy or the machine begins to fade.

“What of us? We wish to return to our world,” Trajan says.

Garelle and Sarelle point out the window where Marcus’s troops are waiting by the ships.

“You may go or stay, whichever you wish. When we depart this plain of existence, the great machine will lose its power forever. Your processor and reactor have been neutralized; you won’t need them. Crystal Blue no longer holds your people’s minds hostage. Mars is as it once was. Use it in peace. Your empire is strong and just. Rule over it. We must leave you now. Think of us the next time one of our distant relatives, the bees, lands on a flower, or the gentle sound of the crickets fills the night air with a soft song to put you to sleep,” says Sarelle.

The two ancient Martians touch their heads together in a final show of emotional bonding and fade. Trajan is saddened by their departure.

“Garelle really only wanted what I do,” he says to Lucilla.

“What’s that?” she asks.

“To be at home, with the one he loves.”

Marcus approaches Trajan with his head bowed in subjugation.

“I am relinquishing my authority as emperor to Claudia. My mind has been cluttered by the Crystal Blue by my own doing. My fate is in your hands. The punishment must fit the crime. I know you have no reason to trust me but I am not what I once was, even before all this,” says Marcus.

“It is not my place to judge. That’s up to your sister.”

Claudia approaches with her family, her brother has abdicated the throne in front of witnesses. By Roman Law he is now no longer emperor nor regent. She could sentence him to prison or death.

“Our mother and father are dead. We have had enough killing. You’re to stay on Mars in permanent exile. A base is to be constructed here, and you will help with its establishment.”

She turns to Darius.

“Sir, you have served the empire well, but this planet is more yours than ours. Would you like to remain and see to this great endeavor?” asks Claudia.

“Empress, there is nothing I would rather do,” he says, looking to Agrippa.

She then faces Trajan.

“Trajan, you are the hero of the empire. What do you desire?”

He looks at his fiancee.

“First, to be married.”

Lucilla kisses him with tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Then when I finish at the academy, I may enter the service and later, politics, but there is another thing...”

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