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Authors: Daniel Ottalini

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“In the year 45 BC, Julius Caesar was not yet crowned emperor, and he relied on the Senate of the republic for his titles and power. His victories over the Gauls and other barbarian tribes had made him immensely popular with the people, but not with the patricians in the Senate. The Senate named him
dictator perpetuo
, or dictator in perpetuity.”

Gordanus interrupted, “But what does that mean?”

“It’s as though he was an emperor until he died, but his children would not have become emperor like their father. And he couldn’t do much of anything without the Senate agreeing to it.”

“Isn’t that how it’s like now?”

The elder Alexandros chuckled slightly. “Actually, now it is more the other way around. The emperor has much more power than the Senate, but he still needs to cooperate with the Senate in order to keep the plebeians, patricians, and merchants appeased.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, indeed. So, while Caesar was a great man for founding the Roman Empire, he was not a very nice person. He was openly rude to some Senators, and even fired different officials for trying to do their jobs. He wanted more and more power, and the senators did not want to give it up. So a group of them decided to do something. Gaius Cassius Longinus, our ancestor, was the lead conspirator of this group that called themselves the
Liberatores
. He asked Marcus Junius Brutus to assist him, but Brutus declined, on the grounds that the republic would outlive Caesar, not the other way around.”

“So, then Brutus turned him in?” Rufius Alexandros chimed in.

“No, but he warned Longinus to stop the plot or he would go public. Longinus tried to have Brutus assassinated! He paid a slave to poison the honorable senator. But instead, Brutus’s wife drank from the cup that was meant for Brutus and died. Armed with this evidence, Brutus went to Marc Antony, the co-consul of Rome along with Caesar. They were able to warn Caesar, and when the senators attacked, Caesar’s legionnaires were there to protect him.”

“Then what happened?”

“The rest of the senators, those who supported Caesar in the first place, voted him many of their own powers, such as declaring war and building legions, as well as many other powers. That was the end of the republic and the start of the empire. One can only imagine what would have happened if Caesar had been assassinated!”

There was silence for a few moments as guests, hosts, and servants alike contemplated that thought.

“Father, what would have happened?”

“Who knows? Probably civil war, maybe one strong enough for our enemies to take advantage of us. Rome was not as big then as it is now,” he said.

The boys continued to pepper the elder Alexandros with question after question, and from time to time the other dinner guests, coworkers, and friends of the family would interrupt to answer.

Eventually, the evening ran down, and Antonia Alexandros looked at the large clock against the far wall of the central atrium.

“Oh my, it’s getting quite late, and I’m sure we’ve had enough excitement for one day. After all, you boys just ran nearly four imperial miles and graduated from the academia!
It is time for bed, both of you,” she ordered, as only a mother can. Grudgingly, the boys surrendered to the inevitable and went to bed.

The next morning came early, with servants awaking the two young men at the crack of dawn. Their bags and lunches had been prepared, for they had tickets to travel the train system southwards to the Officer’s Academia. The train followed the incredibly ancient Via Appia before turning south-southwest and ending in Rhegium, headquarters of the
Mare Mediterrane Airfleet and Officer’s Academia
.

Gordanus’s personal servant, a man named Hektor, accompanied them and acted as guardian until they reached the city. The ex-legionnaire carried their bags in one arm while guiding them through the crowded Roma Central Train Terminal.

“We better hurry up, young gentlemen, or else we’ll be late,” he called back as the boys wove their way through the crowd behind him. Although he had been there before, Alexandros was in awe at the magnitude of the structure. Rising over eight stories high, supported by massive columns and featuring decorative windows at either end, the structure was an elegant fusion between the ancient and the modern, with steel support beams carefully intertwining the ancient marble-faced columns.

As their guardian steered them to the correct platform, Alexandros and Gordanus chatted about all the sights and sounds. This was Gordanus’s first trip on a train, having arrived in Rome using the fledgling passenger airship service that ran among several of the largest imperial cities. As the steam engine chugged into the station, billowing wisps of smoke briefly entombed them. The world went white and sounds were muffled.

I wonder if this is what a cloud is like.

A few moments later, the illusion was gone as the smoke dissipated, and the passengers lined up to board the train cars. Alexandros noticed one car with only a few people boarding. He asked Hektor about it.

“That’s the Imperial Car. Only patricians, imperial household family, or staff are allowed to ride in there.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “I hear they get free food.”

The boys laughed as they handed the crisply uniformed conductor their tickets. The heavy card was stamped once. It would be stamped again when they left the train.

Manhandling their two bags on board, plus his own light one, Hektor secured them a small compartment with large windows. The two pairs of seats faced each other, with a small table between them. Two sets of flickering wall lamps lit the room, shedding light on the maroon fabric of the worn seat cushions, the wooden wall panels, and the smooth surface of the table.

“Excellent!” Gordanus exclaimed as he hopped onto the seat and moved as close to the window as possible, staring out at all the people still crowding the platform. Alexandros closed the sliding door behind him, shutting out the noise of the crowded hallway.

A few minutes later, the steam whistle blew and the train slowly pulled out of the station. Gordanus cracked open the window to let a bit of fresh air into the car as the train moved south out of Rome. They passed what seemed like miles of urban buildings, multi-story apartments, and soaring monuments. As they traveled farther from Rome, Alexandros saw the gradual shift from the more affluent to the run-down areas of the city. Streets were no longer paved, and the ramshackle buildings replaced the elegant stone and marble edifices. As the train slowed to make a corner, a group of children in dirty clothes waved to it from their perch on an old, rusted flatbed train car. Alexandros waved back, smiling for a moment at their excitement about seeing the train. And with that, the steam engine turned the corner, and Rome was behind them.

 

Chapter 4:
Junior Officer

“W
ELCOME, GENTLEMEN, TO THE LAST
year of Officer’s Academia. You’ve been here for two years, and now you are almost ready to join our illustrious airfleet. I remember when I was in your shoes, many years ago.”

The
Maester
of the academia, Admiral Octavius Flaminius, looked out over the assembled officer trainees. Even from his spot ten rows back, Alexandros could see the distinctive pointed nose that made the
Maester
resemble a bird of prey.

“I am pleased to announce that this class has the lowest rate of student withdrawal since our inception over fifty years ago. You all must be studying pretty hard to get such good grades!” he joked. At least, Alexandros thought it was a joke, as he knew that many, if not most of his classmates around him received help from tutors paid for by their family’s wealth.

“So, now for the last step. As we all know, Julius Caesar told us ‘to allow politics into the military is to allow a man to poison himself.’ The academias
were created precisely to ensure we never again allow people with insufficient training to lead our brave men into combat. To this end, you shall be assigned to your training airships for the next three months, where you will work, sleep, learn, and understand every position of the airship. As officers, you must be know your ship like you know yourself, know the intricacies, the problems, the strengths of every compartment, weapon, and man under your command. On these cruises, your true skill will be tested. Assignments have been posted to your personal mailboxes. Pack you bags and assemble by first bell tomorrow morning. Dismissed!”

The mass of fourteen and fifteen year olds broke apart quickly, talking and laughing. The excitement over their maiden cruise in an airship was palpable. As the students split up and walked through the corridors back to the dormitories, Alexandros overheard bits and pieces from different conversations.

“... hope we get Linutis, he’s supposed to be easy…”

“... wonder if the schedules are done alphabetically…”

“I’d have my father pull strings if I’m in the poor crew...”

That last comment stopped Alexandros cold. He paused and craned his neck to find the source of the insulting words.

But of course
.

His old nemesis (if you could call him that), Kretarus, was walking slowly with his cronies, blocking most of the hallway as they sauntered along. Groups of students were stuck behind this obstacle as they tried to get to their own rooms. The students Kretarus referred to, of course, were those who did not have the ample family backing that he and his friends from patrician families had. Alexandros was deemed one of those “poor” students, although his family was generally considered well to do.

“Kretarus, you know your father has no pull here,” another student scoffed at his comment, echoing how Alexandros felt. One of his cronies pushed the kid back.

“Oh really, Fart-is? Well, I would think that your father must have murdered someone to get you into the academia. Isn’t he a
mechanica
driver?” Kretarus jeered.

The boy pushed back, and Alexandros could see the scuffle about to start. Sighing, he stepped up.

“Kretarus, are you insulting everyone again? Did you not eat breakfast this morning? It’s bad to let that body go to waste.” The other boys in the hallway laughed, and Kretarus turned and walked away haughtily.

Ignoring him, Alexandros turned to the other boy. He held out his arm. “Rufius Alexandros.”

“Furtis Ionia.”

With the blockage removed, the hallway emptied quickly.

“Watch out Furtis, Kretarus is a bad person to make an enemy of. I hope you’re on my team, for your sake,” Alexandros said.

“I can watch out for myself, thanks. But I’ll keep that in mind.” He bade Alexandros farewell and walked off.

For a moment, Alexandros was alone in the hallway, watching the beautiful seaside vista that filled the open west windows. The sparkling calm waters belied their violent history. Several bloody battles against the Carthaginians had taken place in the seas around the southwestern tip of the Roman peninsula before the Romans had come out victorious.

Of course, with our modern airfleet, there never would have been a third or even second Punic War.

Musings done with, Alexandros gathered his thoughts and returned to his room. Gordanus was there waiting for him. His friend had half of his belongings strewn across the floor.

“Do you think we’ll need our officers uniform? What about our books?” he asked hurriedly. Alexandros waved his arm in a placating way.

“Gordanus, did you see the recommended list they handed out to us? One set of cold-weather gear, one set warm-weather gear, three standard crew uniforms, extra socks, gloves, over jacket, soft helmet, sword, hand repeater, plus our own mess kit.” He shuffled through the papers on his spartan desk, finding the appropriate one and handing it over to Gordanus. “Everything is under control. You still have two hours.”

Alexandros went to his own dresser, removing the tunics and breaches he would need. He packed his two duffel bags carefully, the utilitarian canvas of the bags scratchy on his skin. After organizing his gear, he added in several additional personal mementos. A small sketch of his family, an award from the
Roma Aeronautica Academia
for his second place finish in the Winnowing Race, plus a small journal he saved various letters and other odds and ends in. All were packed and ready.

Alexandros turned to look at Gordanus. The other boy was still struggling to fold his trousers properly.

“Gah, I swear, Gord, I’m going to give up on you some day,” he said as he bent down to help.

Gordanus looked sourly up at Alexandros. “If only they pressed these pants with less starch, they would be easier to fold.” Alexandros gave him a look. “I’m just saying what we all think,” Gordanus protested.

Together, the two boys finished packing and straightened up the room to the high military standards as required by their floor supervisor, who popped his head in to pronounce it acceptable.

They filed down the winding staircase. Roughly a third of the school followed in their footsteps as the upperclassmen prepared for their first flights as airship officers. Stopping at the front desk, they waited for the desk attendant to check their mailboxes. The attendant returned after a brief absence, delivering to each man a small, velvet bag with a drawstring cinched tight. The soft fabric seemed heavy in his hand, and both teenagers carefully opened the bags.

Alexandros shook out a small gold-enameled pin cast in the laurel shape of the emperor’s crown. His fingers moved over the delicate pieces of its two laurel-leaf curves.

“Rufius, what did you get?” Gordanus interjected, and Alexandros showed him the pin. “Wow, impressive! You’re on HMTS
Imperio
then. They must really have liked what they saw in you. It generally takes a wealthy or powerful family to get you onto
His Majesty’s Training Ship Imperio
. After all, it is the same one that Emperor Hadrian used just a few years ago when he went through training!”

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