This is a fanfic I wrote after watching "I, Claudius" from Masterpiece Theater and reading the books that the miniseries was based on. (Yes, I have OD'ed on Roman History) All characters are historical figures, but I'm taking liberties with the personalities. It's basically a "what-if" scenario, concerning the Roman Emperor Claudius. This starts right where "I, Claudius" ends, with Claudius' death.
Claudius Unbound: Part 1
DEAD??????? Claudius could not believe what he was hearing. He continued to listen to the hushed conversation in the hallway outside his bedroom.
"Quite positive. I believe that he was done in by the mushrooms."
"Poisoned mushrooms? Have the cooking staff report to me in half an hour. I told Caesar that those Greek cooks would be the death of him someday."
"You mean you don't think he was poisoned deliberately? Nero is ambitious. I have a feeling he's behind this. . .he and his mother!"
"Hush! If the guards heard you talking like that, they're sure to run you through. . .even if it is the truth."
"So, you do blame Nero!"
"I just don't want to be beheaded once Nero officially becomes Emperor."
Claudius heard footsteps as both voices faded away. "Nero!" he said to himself. "I should have known. Still, I always believed his mother was much more anxious for him to become Emperor than he was. What am I saying? I'm. . .I'm not dead! This is all a dream. I'll just close my eyes, and in the morning this will all be over!" Eyes closed, he groped for his blankets in the dark.
"It's no good doing that, you know," an annoyingly familiar voice said. "Won't make much difference now!"
Claudius opened his eyes. At the foot of his bed stood the Emperor who reigned before him, his nephew, Caligula. Claudius studied the figure before him. Awkwardly gaunt during his lifetime, Caligula had filled out since Claudius saw him last. In addition, the malicious, piercing stare had been replaced by a bright eyed twinkle. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, Claudius thought. For one thing, Caligula had a full head of short, curly, flaxen hair. For another thing, Caligula was not wearing a traditional Roman toga. He wasn't even wearing a long, flowing robe. Caligula was wearing what the modern reader would definitely recognize as a simple three-piece business suit. Claudius, however, thought that his nephew was as crazy as ever. The tie, which to Claudius looked like some sort of portable noose, was a ghastly bright green color that didn't match the conservative dark blue hue of the rest of the strange apparrel.
"Go away, Caligula. . ." Claudius said. "You're just another part, albeit a very odd part, of my nightmare. Leave me alone so I can sleep those bad mushrooms off. I knew they tasted a bit odd." Claudius nodded, as if to convince himself that what he was saying sounded logical, and he attempted to pull the covers over his head. Unfortunately, his hands slipped right through the blankets again.
When you attempt to do something pretty ordinary, like grabbing a blanket, you never believe that you'll fail. If you do fail, your mind tells your body to do the same grabbing motion over and over, as if it's the blanket's fault that it's not allowing itself to be grabbed. The mind also tells the body to speed up the grabbing motion. By doing this, the mind mistakenly believes that you'll be able to grab the blanket if you're quick enough. Claudius began to snatch at the blankets, each time only grasping air instead. He had been doing this for some time when his nephew finally jumped on the bed and secured Claudius' wrists with his hands.
Caligula straddled his uncle's body, struggling against Claudius' motions with savage strength. "Stop it! Stop it!" Caligula yelled. Claudius finally stopped moving and placed his head back on his pillow. Caligula sighed and climbed off his uncle's body. Immediately Caligula grabbed the blankets off the bed and angrily threw them to the other side of the room, where they landed in a crumpled heap.
Claudius did not understand why his dead nephew could grab hold of those blankets, but he couldn't. "Caligula..." he began as he sat upright in bed.
"Gaius, Uncle." Gaius interuppted. "Please, call me Gaius. 'Caligula' sounds so. . .effeminate." Gaius wrinkled his nose. "So, Uncle. How are the first few moments of death treating you?"
"I'm not dead! I'm dreaming all of this. I know that for a fact now because I'm talking to you, and you've been dead for fifteen years!"
Gaius laughed and pinched Claudius on the arm. "I hope that settles that!"
"Ouch! That hurt!" Claudius winced as he rubbed his arm. His arm? He looked down and discovered that he had four arms. No, not four arms. There were two arms that he could manipulate, and the other two belonged to the body that he was sitting on. Body??? He leapt off the bed promptly. "Who is that?" he asked Gaius.
"Uncle, surely you can recognize him!" Gaius snickered. "Go ahead, take a good long look."
Claudius stepped towards the bed cautiously and studied the pale rigid face. The worried expression, the puffiness around the eyes from too much stress, and the long neck that the head perched on gave Claudius all the information he needed. "It's me!" he said quietly.
"Oh! You're such a genius! Bra-vo!" Gaius exclaimed and clapped mockingly. "Well, you can't stay here and admire your corpse all day. We've got to go!"
"Go? Go where?"
"I'm going to guide you into the next life. You've got much work ahead of you," said Gaius in a tone that Claudius had never heard his nephew use before. Gaius, for once, actually sounded serious!
"Work? I thought death was the end of everything!"
"Uncle, the first thing you've got to learn is that death is only the beginning. Come on." Gaius reached into his coat pocket and took out a box-like device that fit comfortably in one hand. Gaius fiddled around with it and pressed a few buttons on it. Nothing happened. "Stupid Socrates," Gaius muttered to himself. "'Solar power is the future, the newest wave in technology,'" Gaius mocked. "Solar powered. . . if you don't have access to the sun you don't have solar power!" he yelled to no one in particular. "Philosophers," Gaius sneered to Claudius. "They always come up with wonderful idealistic theories. Never think of how practical those theories are. 'Let's build a bridge to Heaven. . . Let's write up a treaty for God and Satan. . .Let's use solar power.'" Gaius said the last line directly at the hand-held device.
Gaius, frustrated, hit the device a few times before it actually worked. A gold colored door appeared out of thin air, and Gaius opened it. Immediately, intense white light flooded the room. "Well, are you following me or not?"
Claudius nodded. He walked towards Gaius. "Er...I've a question..."
"What do I look like?"
Gaius stared hard at his uncle. "You are asking me what you look like?" There was the slightest hint of impatience in his voice.
"Well," Claudius said. "My body's over there. If it's over there and I'm here, then does this consciousness that I'm in now have the same physical form as the body I just left?"
Gaius blinked. "Oh, I don't know. I'd say you look around...um... twenty-five or so? The soul is eternal, Uncle. The body is just a shell to house the soul in. Look, if our souls looked like what we did when we died, then we would never be suited for the Afterlife. You'd still have that limp and that tendency to tire easily...I'd still have several gaping stab wounds around my abdomen."
"Oh, yes...almost forgot about how your death happened."
"So consider youself lucky that the soul doesn't take the form of the body...it's vice versa. The body takes on the form of the soul."
Claudius frowned, his eyebrows furrowed. "What sort of ideology is this? It hardly sounds Roman at all. What about the gods? Zeus, Hera, Apollo?"
"You'll never believe it," Gaius grinned, and Claudius caught the slightest look of madness in his nephew's frigid blue eyes. Gaius grabbed Claudius by the arm and dragged him through the door.
"The Christians are right!" Gaius snickered.
Claudius was dumbfounded. They had emerged right in the middle of a bustling office area. People rushed about them carrying files. The tap-tap of fingers on computer keyboards echoed throughout the room. One wall was covered by a giant screen, which workers occasionally glanced at while jotting down figures.
"Four from Tarsus!" someone shouted. "Charon about to dock!"
A mob of people rushed to the nearest window. Outside in the river Acheron, unseen forces churned the blood-red water. Charon was indeed about to dock his little boat. A few workers, all carrying clipboards and manila files, hurried outside to greet the new souls.
"New Arrivals," Gaius grinned. "Let's see. . ." He looked up at the screen. "Ah yes, the lepers," he said as he read the figures on the screen. "Lucky them, lepers go straight to Heaven. Little reward for their suffering, you see?"
Suddenly, someone ran towards Gaius and Claudius. "Gaius, sir. Plato has requested a visitation permit to Heaven," the worker said. He glanced over at Claudius and nodded. The worker had been, in his mortal life, a soldier who fought under Julius Caesar during his invasion of Britain. He was shorter than either of them, but with his muscular build, he could have easily overtaken both. Not that he ever would. Gaius, after all, was his superior.
"What, again?" Gaius sighed. "Which level clearance?"
"Level one, sir."
"Level one clearance?!" Gaius fumed. "I told you! Level one clearance is only for unbaptized souls born after the birth of Christ! Give Plato a Level three."
"A Level three?" The worker looked puzzled and ruffled through the stack of papers he held. "Plato wanted a Level one so he could spend the maximum time allowable with God. Something about debating the exact structure of the known universe?"
"Level one clearance is only for the unbaptized souls that believed in Christ. Level two clearance for those born after the birth of Christ but did not believe. Level three to those born before the birth of Christ. I thought I had explained it to you before!" Gaius rubbed his eyes, hoping to relieve some of the stress. Unfortunately, that didn't work.
"But. . ." the worker began.
"I don't make the rules!" Gaius snapped. "If Plato has some problem with it, I suggest he get in touch with Gabriel."
The worker began to stride away.
"Oh!" Gaius yelled to the worker. "And tell him not to stay more than a week! I got a very severe fax from Heaven about that time we let Alexander the Great up there!" The worker nodded and walked away.
"What is this place?" Claudius asked.
"Welcome to Limbo, the First Circle of Hell and home to the noble but unbaptized dead," Gaius said with his familiar, sarcastic tone of voice. "This is where all those who lead noble lives but do not believe in the Christian idea of God are sent after death. All this," Gaius indicated the high activity before them. "is what the inhabitants of Limbo do. We chronicle people's lives from the time they're born to the moment they die. Of course, we've had to update the technology to keep track of every single person in the world. . ."
"Why do you need me? This place seems to be running along smoothly enough without someone like me to botch it up."
"We need you, Uncle, as a liaison to the physical world. Right now, your first assignment will be to help Nero rule Rome. He's only seventeen years old, and he has no idea how to rule an empire. So, you've got to help!"
"Why me?" Claudius asked, tilting his head.
"Well, you cleaned up that mess of government I left behind when I died, didn't you? You made Rome a proper empire. We've projected that you're our best hope!"
"What will happen if I don't help Nero?"
"My staff has projected terrible things for Nero and for the world if we don't intervene. . .Gods!! I'm wasting time! Nero will be crowned Emperor in a few days! Come on, Uncle. You've got a lot of work to do!" Gaius began to lead Claudius into another room adjacent to the room they had just been in.
Claudius dug in his heels and refused to move. "Wait a moment! You keep saying the Nero will become Emperor after my death. I specifically requested in my will that my other son, Britannicus, must become co-ruler along with Nero."
"Oh, " Gaius said. "We never thought that you'd do something like this. For history to run its course, Nero must become sole Emperor of Rome! Well, you'll have to take care of it."
"Me?!" Claudius shouted.
"Don't yell," Gaius retorted. "We are carrying out the will of God." Gaius looked up. "And as long as He runs the universe, we've got to go by His rules."
"If you actually think that Nero becoming Emperor is the best thing for Rome. . ."
"I didn't say it was the best thing for Rome. Now, are you going to help Nero or not?"
"All right," Claudius muttered. "But I don't like it."
"I'm glad you accepted. Now, we can begin your training. We can't let you go back up there with no experience, can we?"
"Training? I didn't know there'd be. . ." Claudius disappeared in a flash of light.
"Good luck, Uncle. Now. . .where did I put the file of that Jew, Simon Peter?"
Claudius had the strangest sensation while engulfed in the light, and it wasn't pain. He felt the floor give way beneath his feet and wind rushing up towards him. He was falling! Claudius attempted to orient himself, but the intense light blinded him and he couldn't figure out which way was up.
"Well, this isn't so bad," Claudius said to himself.
He had almost gotten used to the sensation of falling when he hit the floor below him. At least Claudius thought it was the floor. He sighed in relief until he realized that he hadn't hit the floor. He had collided with a wall instead. Claudius groaned as gravity slid him off the wall. He immediately got up and dusted himself off. Then he realized that he wasn't wearing his Roman tunic anymore. He examined his new clothes, and his legs were completely enclosed in some heavy blue material. This material covered everything from his waist down to his ankles. His feet were also totally enclosed by a strange type of shoe made from a very pliant form of leather. Although the soles were made of some durable material that Claudius could not name, he examined them and noticed that they were engraved. Bracing against a wall for support, he bent his right leg and read the letters engraved on the sole: NIKE. "Victory," he said. "The Greek goddess of victory! Well, let's hope so!"
Claudius was about to examine the strange tunic-like garment that covered his upper body when he heard a jovial, familiar voice call out his name.
"Claudius, you finally made it!"
Claudius turned around, searching for the source of the voice. If he knew about Santa Claus, he probably would have said that the voice sounded just like jolly old St. Nick. However, he did not know about Santa Claus, and so Claudius thought the voice just sounded jovial. In an open doorway, he discovered what he had been looking for. The tall, commanding figure of Octavian, known to the world as Augustus Caesar, Rome's first emperor, smiled at him.
Claudius walked towards his mentor. "Augustus!" Claudius said as they embraced. "What are you doing in a menial place like this?"
"What do you mean?" Augustus asked, his smile as broad as ever.
"The Senate voted you. . ."
"A god?" Augustus finished. He began to laugh until he saw Claudius' face fall in disappointment. Augustus placed his hand on Claudius' shoulder. "Men can't make other men gods," Augustus explained quietly. "Besides, the Christians would never allow it." He gestured towards the door. "Now, I believe Gaius sent you down here for some training?" Claudius nodded. "Well, come on! Break's almost over! Now you will get to see what Limbo is all about!"
He led Claudius through the doorway and Claudius couldn't believe what lay before him. An enormous screen covered the north wall and lights flicked on and off everywhere he looked.
"Wh-wh-wh-where are we?" Claudius was so awed that his stutter momentarily returned.
"This," Augustus said, "is the heart of Limbo." He sat in a chair and invited Claudius to sit beside him. Claudius nodded and plopped into a chair only to be whisked to the other side of the room. "Oh, sorry," Augustus said. "I should have said. These chairs have wheels on the bottom."
Claudius propelled himself towards Augustus. "Yes, I've already noticed."
"Now, let's get down to business." Augustus waved a hand over the computer console and an image appeared on the screen. "Motion sensitive," he explained. "Much easier than tapping at buttons. We are in Limbo, the first Circle of Hell."
A map of hell, actually nine concentric circles, appeared on the screen. A blinking arrow pointed to the first circle. "There are nine circles in all, all concentric and stacked one on top of the other." The circles on the screen suddenly turned away, revealing nine separate levels. "Limbo is the highest level of hell. The more serious your sin, the deeper you go."
The Hell map shrunk in size until it only filled a third of the screen. "When God created the universe, He also created the three areas of the Afterlife." Augustus waved his hand again and two other maps appeared on the screen. One appeared to be a pinnacle of some sort. The other had concentric circles similar to those that made up Hell. "Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell. All designed according to God's will."
An image of God appeared on the screen, but it emanated so much light that both Claudius and Augustus had to turn away. "God had created a plan for the earth, but humans kept attempting to muddle it up." The image of God vanished and was replaced by a view of the earth from space. "God attempted to communicate with humans about his plans for the world, but to no avail." The screen revealed an image of Moses conversing with a burning bush. "Not all people followed Moses, and God was displeased. In a desperate last-ditch effort, God send His son, Jesus, to Earth. God hoped that His son, being human, would be able to convince all people of the great plan that God had devised for the earth."
A tall, handsome, bearded man appeared on the screen. He was lecturing to a huge crowd of people. "But, His son was crucified and the plan supposedly died with him." The screen shifted to an image of Christ on the cross. "However, there is a slim chance that God's plan can still be realized. That's where we come in!"
All the information made Claudius' head hurt. Being dead is bad enough, but being dead and having to do the will of some foreign god? That was too much! Claudius wanted to call off his agreement, but he didn't want to interrupt Augustus' speech. Augustus was, after all, a noble and moral man. Claudius decided to wait until Augustus ended before he would refuse his assignment.
"Limbo is technically part of Hell," Augustus continued. "but totally distinct from it. We follow our own rules here. Satan doesn't interfere in our affairs with Heaven since we have so many virtuous souls here whose only fault was ignorance of Jesus Christ. When the Roman Senate voted me divine honors, it was decided that I be put in charge of Limbo. So, here I am. It was also jointly agreed by God and Satan that Limbo would be the departure point for all departed souls. That is, all souls are brought here for inspection and evaluation before they are sent to their permanent level of Afterlife. Now that Christ is no longer on earth, God's plan is in danger of dying. However, His original followers are still alive, and as long as they live, so does the plan. You must help Nero rule Rome. Rome must not collapse, no, not yet. The empire must survive!"
"No! No!" Claudius countered. "Nero can not perpetuate the empire!" He hung his head as Augustus turned the computer off. "Don't you understand? If Nero is left to rule, then the empire will certainly collapse! Nero will destroy the empire!"
"Nero will make the empire stronger than ever! The empire must survive if our plan is going to work. We have projected that in 250 years time, an emperor will make Christianity the official religion of Rome. In order for Christianity to flourish, the empire must survive. You see?"
Claudius wanted to object, but he just nodded instead.
"Here," Augustus handed something to Claudius. It was an exact duplicate of the device that Gaius had so vehemently complained about.
"What. . .?"
"It's a commlink. An extension of this computer. You can keep in touch with me by pressing that blue button on the lower left."
"But. . ."
"Er. . ." Claudius formed his lips around the strange word. "S-solar powered?"
"Eh? Oh, that! Poor Gaius! He got stuck with the prototype! Don't worry. All the rest work fine, just fine!"
Claudius stared at the device, and after hesitating a few moments, pressed the blue button marked "comm". Violently loud whines and whistles issued from the device, and Claudius dropped it in shock. Augustus bent over and turned the device off.
"Feedback," Augustus said as he picked the device up and handed it to Claudius. "Never use the commlink when you're in the main computer room!" Augustus walked over to the console and made a gesture. "I'm sending you back up to the Imperial Palace. They've probably announced your death and are looking over the will."
The image of the Roman Senate appeared on the screen. One senator was standing in the middle of the room, reading aloud from a scroll. "Yes," Augustus said. "Nero and Brittanicus will be appointed joint rulers."
"Gaius said that Nero must rule alone. What will happen to Brittanicus?"
Augustus fell silent. This was going to be very difficult.
"My other son," Claudius said sternly. "What will become of Brittanicus?"
"He will die," Augustus said simply. There was no way to pad the truth.
Claudius sank to his knees. "I won't do what you ask of me."
"But, it's your duty! You must do it!"
"No, I do not," Claudius answered. "He was. . .he is my favorite son! I can't let him die when he hardly had the chance to live!" He began to tremble as he tried to keep his rage in check. It was easier to deal with potentially difficult problems when he was still alive. He had the advisors. He had the power. Most importantly, he had the control!
However, his reign as emperor had ended, and his control was stripped from him at the moment of death. He thought of Augustus and how his important position still had to be subordinate to a much higher power. Then his mind turned to Gaius; Gaius who was Caligula, the mad emperor. Gaius seemed saner now than he ever had been in life.
Claudius finally thought of himself, of how he despised the Empire until he was inexplicably drawn into it. The sheer hatred and bitterness that others harbored while he was Emperor still haunted him. He did not want to be emperor, and yet, he was. He wanted to resign, but more and more pressing problems came up that resignation soon became a distant dream. Problems piled up almost. . .almost as if some divine hand had some part in it.
His eyes narrowed, and he looked up to where Augustus was standing. "You had a part in keeping me on the throne, didn't you?" Claudius asked accusingly.
"It was the only way," Augustus shrugged. "You had the knowledge, the patience, and the talent. You did your job well, Claudius."
"And my reward for a job well done? I must allow my son to die!"
Augustus closed his eyes and turned away from Claudius' stare. I know, it's painful when you must allow your child to die, Augustus thought. His mind raced back to the time he had decided to banish Julia. He had locked himself in a room and wouldn't come out for days. He could still hear Julia's sobbing voice as she banged on the door that separated them. "Father! Don't send me away!! Don't let them send me away!! Father, I'm sorry!! I won't do it again!! Don't send me away!!!" He refused to talk to her, to even see her.
The memory was so clear that he wept. Decades after this incident occurred and long after she had forgiven him, he still wept. Realizing that he had other work to accomplish, Augustus wiped the tears away quickly and turned back to where Claudius had knelt. Claudius, Augustus observed, had been shedding tears as well. Augustus decided not to ask why.
"All right," Claudius said as he got up to his feet. "Send me to Nero. If Brittanicus must die. . .at least I shall be here to welcome him home!"
To Be Continued