“What is this?!” shouted Caesar, furious.
“A written tome?
In a language I can barely understand?!
Silvanus,” he said, motioning to the man with a knife against my throat.
“This has been a waste of my time.
“Wait, no!” I shouted, against my better judgment. I’d sworn I’d rather die and take the book with me if it ever came to this, but now, with the decision before me, I was less sure. “Caesar, you do not understand! That book is more important than you assume. It is the source of all my knowledge, all my secrets. Open it, and you will not be so disappointed.”
He did as I said, and his eyes instantly lit up.
“What manner of illustration is this?!” he gasped. “No painting I have ever seen has appeared so… life-like”. He lifted the book up, displaying a photo of Richard Nixon.
“It’s not a painting. Not a drawing. It’s what I call a photograph. If you look through the book, you’ll see many more.”
He did as suggested, his face beaming brighter with each turn of the page.
“These… photographs are amazing! They look as though you have grasped these people from the air in front of you, and placed them right on the page! Are you the artist who has created them?”
“No. And they’re not created in the same way that you are thinking. There is no brush. No surface to apply pigment to. A photograph is a… well, it’s difficult to explain, Caesar. The process to create them is very difficult and requires many special chemicals. I endeavour to make one within the year.”
“Such strange style of dress these people wear. And the structures I see in these photographs. They are taller than anything I have ever encountered! Surely these are the dwellings of the gods!” He behaved like a hyperactive child, and whatever air of menace he’d put on before was long gone. His eyes squinted, excitedly reading the printed words. “Tell me, what language is this? I recognize the letters, and some of the words… but hardly enough to understand it.”
“It is a language known only to me, Caesar.”
Ignoring me, he continued through the book, stopping at a map of Europe.
“This map… so detailed” he said in a whisper. “I see the lands of the Empire… and some beyond. Ones I have only heard spoken of. And it is all so accurate! Why, Maximus, every sailing vessel and every military expedition should be equipped with a copy of this map at once!” Without stopping to catch his breath, he turned the page. This one was a map of the entire planet. So stunned upon seeing it was Caesar that he nearly dropped the book. “What the devil is this?!” he gasped. “Lands beyond the Pillars of Hercules?!”
“Indeed Caesar. Each one holds more mysteries, more riches for Rome to discover.”
“This is where you have come from, Maximus; from one of these islands across the planet. This is where one can find the tall buildings, the people in strange clothes. These people… their level of knowledge… it must be far beyond our own.” The look of wonder washed off his face, replaced by… hell, I dunno. Anger or something. Tough to read, that Caesar. He pushed Silvanus aside, took the knife and held it up to my eye. “You must tell me where they live - where you come from. How we can get there before they invade here?”
“I’m not from there, Caesar. Or… at least not the way you think. Calm down. Take a seat. Let me explain myself”. Surprisingly, he did as I said, perching himself on the edge of my desk. Like a… hawk, or some other apt metaphor. “I am from the future”. My admission was met with a blank stare. I sighed. “You know… I mean, from a time yet to come?”
“I do not understand.”
“Right. I guess you guys have no science-fiction so the idea hasn’t really had time to grow in your mind.” I paused a moment, scratching my chin. “Listen, Caesar, imagine if you could travel through time itself, just as one travels on a boat up a river. This is what I have done.”
“Well, okay… you were born about 70 years ago, right? In my case, I won’t be born for… about two thousand years. Listen, my name isn’t Maximus. It’s Michael. Michael Smith. And when I reach the age of 24, I will discover a means by which I can travel back through - hell, let’s call it the river of time, to continue the metaphor – to ten years ago. And this book will come with me, along with the total knowledge of human development.”
“I think I begin to understand. These photographs are of people yet to be born; of lands yet to be discovered.” said Caesar, approvingly. “But how did you make this voyage through time?”
“That is a story for later” I said, finally at ease with the knife off my throat. Caesar was warming up to me and my story. “Now, with the knowledge of my day, I was able to introduce certain developments centuries before their time.”
“But if you were born on one of the other islands, why would you seek to come back and help the Roman Empire?”
“Things are not as clear-cut as you believe, Caesar. Spiritually, your Empire and its beliefs have continued into my time, on various other islands. I want what you want, Caesar – to propagate the Empire across the world. I just need to make certain changes to it, first.”
“Is this why you give power to women and non-Romans? Why you freed the slaves? Why you have united with the powers of the Orient and Africa in your… League of Empires? Why you talk about introducing a robust democracy to the Empire?”
“These are all concepts from my time that have not hindered the human race, but have instead helped it develop, almost, into something great. If I can introduce them millennia before they are due, I think that will be a change for the better.”
“You seek to change the course of the Empire, as though you were one of the gods…”
“There are no gods! Have I not made that more than apparent?”
“Yes, you have. You speak instead of… science, and reason, and what they can bring us.”
“You know I speak the truth, and I will show you what the science of my day has developed. Caesar, reach into my desk drawer. Stuck against the top is an item. Take it. It’s yours.”
Caesar searched through my desk and came back with a calculator.