The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 23

Ky woke up early once again. He’d spent the remainder of the day going over specifics with the legates who’d remained at the meeting. Ky found he liked Auspex who, unlike Eborius and Pius, had an open mind and was willing to consider the value of ideas before rejecting them. He actually seemed more flexible than Velius and Aelius, who were generally more traditional and whose decision to listen to Ky had more to do with the exercise during the battle than anything else.

As he had the last few days, Ky got up early enough to walk out in the plaza at the center of the governmental complex, taking in the fresh air before he was once again locked inside a musty room, trying to convince stubborn people to do what was in their best interest.

The irony of spending his whole life on a space station and now being disgruntled about the lack of fresh air wasn’t lost on Ky. Of course, the station he lived on had very effective air filtration systems, making every room comfortable. Ancient earth with its marble construction and tiny windows, required because of the lack of workable glass for protecting larger windows, meant that any indoor room ended up being stuffy. Of course, the lack of electric lighting also meant that burning candles or torches further muddied the air.

Lost in thought, he would have been surprised by the footsteps coming towards him if the AI hadn’t pinged him, letting him know someone was approaching. Ky’s annoyance at having his morning reprieve interrupted faded immediately when he saw his visitor was Lucilla.

“Hi,” he said, half standing.

“Sit, sit,” she said, sitting down next to him. “Father said you had more meetings this morning, so I thought I might find you out here.”

“I find it soothing, sitting out here before locking myself away in dark rooms for the remainder of the day.”

“I imagine.”

They both sat quietly for a few moments, Ky was unsure what else to say. While he enjoyed her company, he found himself sometimes at a loss for words with her, not wanting to say something that might make her not want to spend more time with him.

“You look tired,” she said, breaking the silence.

“I had a late night with the Legates, or at least those who stayed for the meeting.”

“I didn’t mean just now. When we met, one of the first things I noticed about you was how unstoppable you were. After the ambush, that first night, I almost felt like giving up, but it didn’t seem to get to you. Now, back here, safe in Devnum, you seem ... I don’t know, somehow diminished.”

“I’m fine.”

“Please, don’t do that. Everyone needs someone to talk to. Saying your troubles out loud helps you take the weight of them off your shoulders. You told me you weren’t sent by the gods and you’re just a normal person. If that’s true, then you need someone to talk to more than anyone. My father’s put the weight of our entire Empire on your shoulders, hoping you’ll save us from what’s coming. The weight of that must be crushing.”

“It’s not, at least not really,” Ky said, and then sighed.

Back home they had mandatory psychological counseling for pilots, and he had Sara to talk to about his concerns and his troubles. He never put much into the idea that counseling was needed, but Lucilla was right. He did feel tired. If he was being honest with himself, that was probably why he took these moments before his day started. The air wasn’t the only oppressive thing in them.

He held up his hand to stop her chastising him again for being too stoic.

“What I mean is, I’m not bothered by the faith your father has in me. It might sound conceited, but I am the only person who’ll be able to pull Rome through this. I’m not saying that because I think I’m special or somehow better than the rest of you. Hell, the way these men fought during the battle, the way they faced those odds, sure that they were going to die, I’m not sure I could ever match that. What I mean is, thanks to where I was born, I have knowledge that just isn’t available to your people. If I was honest, I’d say yes, I am tired, because I’ve seen what Rome needs to do to survive, and I’m worried we’ll fall short of that.”

“How so?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

“Try. I might not understand it, but I’ll listen to you tell me. Just saying it out loud could help.”

Ky sighed, looking at his Lictores. While he trusted his men, he still had to play his cards close to his chest. The people of this time were wildly superstitious and even his allies could take some of the things he might say wrong. Thankfully, once Lucilla sat down, they’d expanded their perimeter out, giving him the space to have a private conversation.

“There is just so much that has to be done. For all the difficulty people are having accepting the changes I’ve been proposing no one, besides maybe your father, can see what’s ahead. The changes to the military, removing slavery, the tax code, these are all just the beginning. We have so much that needs to be done before...”

“Before what?”

“Before what comes next. I know everyone’s focused on this army being readied to come for us in the spring. That’s the right thing to focus on of course, because if we don’t survive this, nothing else matters. Aside from your father and Ramirus, I’m not sure anyone thought about what comes after that. If we do manage to defeat this army, not a sure thing by any measure, what happens next? Do we really think the Carthaginians will just consolidate their losses and walk away? They’ll leave Britannica or just keep to themselves in Londinium?”

“Probably not.”

“Their empire is vast. They’ve conquered Germania. Africa. Persia. They’ve incorporated all of those peoples into their slave armies. The army we defeated at the battle, even though it outnumbered us greatly, was a drop of oil on the ocean. The army they’re preparing at Londinium is a minor force. Up until now, they’ve counted Rome as all but conquered. A non-entity. They’ve discounted our victory as a fluke or the failing of the expedition’s commander. What are they going to do once we defeat an even larger force?”

“They’ll decide Rome is a threat after all,” she said without hesitation.

That’s one of the things he liked about Lucilla. She might be from a backward society, but she was the farthest thing from stupid. She had a clever mind. Had she been born in his time, he was certain she would have gone far, almost certainly surpassing him in every way.

“Right. They’ll amass armies capable of covering the entirety of the isles. We’ve seen reports of the forces they used against the Persians, and know that was only a fraction of their strength. Every victory we have will bring larger forces down on us.”

“So it’s impossible?” She said, more baiting him than seeming to actually think that was true.

“No, at least I don’t think so. I think Rome has a chance, or I wouldn’t have thrown my future in with your people. For that to happen, though, Rome has to change. By the time Carthage gets serious about us, Rome needs to be almost to the industrial revolution level of technology.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.”

Ky realized she probably meant that literally. Looking over what he’d just said, he realized there was no proper translation for what he’d said, making it come out in his native tongue, and not the current version of Latin.

“The growth of civilizations happens in a pattern. Not always identical, not always in the same time frames, but it still holds to the pattern. We start as hunter-gatherers, living in caves. We domesticate animals and begin farming. We form communities and develop iron, until they reach the level of society that Rome currently holds.”

“Other places are doing this? Don’t they just look at what we developed, like we looked at those inventions of the Greeks, and build upon that?”

“There are other areas of the world that have no interaction with Rome. You know this. You’ve seen some of the pottery and items traded from the far side of Persia or across the plains of Asia. They didn’t always have contact with the Persians, or those nomads in Asia before they became Persians. Eventually, they came into contact with Mediterranean civilizations, like the Greeks, or had that contact forced on them when Alexander marched east, but they were already civilizations at near the same level of development when Alexander met them.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“The thing is, this isn’t the end of the pattern. I’ve shown you how far beyond yours my civilization has developed. We weren’t granted some kind of special knowledge from the gods. We went through the same pattern of development as you, but we are much further ahead in that pattern.”

“How much further ahead?”

“I’m not sure I can explain it in a way that makes sense, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is I have a target for where I think Rome must advance, in order to make up for the massive disparity in manpower between you and the Carthaginians. We haven’t even scratched the surface of it yet.”

“You think we can get there, change that much, we’ll have a chance?”

Ky sighed and looked down at his hands, clasped in his lap.

“Yes, but getting there’s the hard part. There are so many things that have to be changed, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of it yet. Right now everything we’re focusing on is directly related to the military like funding a larger army, getting more funding, or new weapons. Long run though, we’re going to have to go way beyond that and every aspect of Rome is going to have to change. Growing food, medicine, transportation, sharing information, hell, even how we get rid of waste. Each of those alone would be a daunting task with hundreds of moving parts, but together I’m struggling to see how we’ll get it done. I can only keep my eyes on so many things at once.”

Lucilla reached out and grasped Ky’s hand between hers, meeting his eyes as he looked up at her.

“Nothing you’ve done so far has convinced me that you are a normal person just like us than right now. It’s actually refreshing to see you’re just as dumb as we are.”

“What?” Ky said, confused.

Whatever he thought she was going to say, that wasn’t it.

“You’re overthinking this. You’ve got all these wonders you want to show us and the only thing you can think to do is hold our hands through each step, teaching us as a parent teaches their smallest child.”

“In a way, that’s what I have to do.”

“It isn’t. We may be backward and ignorant, but we aren’t stupid. Look at these people,” she said, pointing at figures walking here and there across the plaza. “We can be imaginative, driven, and inquisitive. Look at your men here. We can be loyal, tenacious, and dedicated. You don’t think you can work with those qualities? Break it into smaller parts. Teach us what we need to do to get to the immediate next step. Some people will fight you or only do exactly what you tell them to do but others will rise to the challenge. They’ll look beyond your base instructions and try to see the next step. Have them manage these next steps for you.”

“I don’t think you appreciate how complicated these changes can be.”

“I think you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be. Sure, the end goal might be complicated, but you can break it into smaller pieces. Have those who show they’re capable manage that step and when they get far enough, show them the next step. Some of these people will surprise you. They’ll figure that next step out for themselves, and all you’ll have to do is fine-tune their innovations. If you have as many areas to cover as you say, then you’ll be able to go from one team to another, managing through them, rather than trying to handle every step yourself.”

“She is correct, Commander. Delegation is the only way to achieve stated goals before Carthaginian forces are able to array themselves in full against the Romans. Example workflows include...”

“Thank you, I’ve got it,” Ky sub-vocalized. To Lucilla he said, “I guess you have a point. It’s hard to look past my own prejudices.”

“It’s heartening, knowing someone who is capable of so much has as much self-doubt as the rest of us.”

“You have no idea,” he said, laughing finally, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders. “Thank you. This has been very helpful.”

“I’m glad I could help. Like I said, everyone needs someone to talk to. One of the first things my father taught me about ruling was that no one can do it alone. Look at those he surrounds himself with. He’s chosen them carefully, to make sure he has people he can share some of the burdens with, people he could talk to when his perspective becomes jumbled.”

“It must have been hard to find the right people for that.”

“Father said that, before she died, he relied heavily on my mother. He had someone he could trust implicitly, share his worries and concerns with, and someone to talk out the things that were weighing on him. When she got sick, she made sure that he had people around him he could rely on in her place.”

“That sounds nice,” Ky said.

“You can talk to me, you know. I might not understand everything, but I will listen. Sometimes, just saying the words out loud might be enough.”

Ky thought back to how things were before, in what he was starting to think of as his old life. He’d had people to talk to then, to share his troubles with. People like Sara, who would hear him out without judging him. Of course, his troubles then paled in comparison to how things were now. He only had to worry about the success of test flights and his qualifications, not the future of a civilization. If he needed people then, he certainly needed someone now.

“That would be helpful. Thank you,” he said, standing. “I have to meet with the senators from the merchant guilds. Will you be around later?”

“I will be at the triumph of the victors this afternoon.”

“The what?”

“Father didn’t mention it? He said you’d be there.”

“Your father has a bad habit of not telling me things he expects me to do until the last moment. I think he feels he gave me too much time to dwell on your use of slaves in gladiatorial combat on the first day of the games, and thinks if he springs these surprises on me, I won’t have time to argue.”

“You’ll have to forgive him his manipulations. Considering the environment where he’s spent his entire life, it’s the only thing he’s ever known.”

“Maybe, but you might suggest he’d find me more useful as a partner than a pawn. Either way, let’s assume I’m going to be there.”

“Excellent, I’ll see you there,” she said, briefly grabbing his hand before walking back towards the palace.

Ky thought that, for a moment, he could still feel her touch as she walked away, and wondered at the situation.

“Sir,” one of his Lictores said, reminding him of the time.


He again met the Senators in the currently empty Forum. This time the gathering was much smaller. While these men controlled, or at least represented, the real money in Rome, they had less traditional power than their landed contemporaries.

“So he arrives,” Hortensius said.

While he wasn’t a Senator, he had deep ties in the merchant community and was the one Ky had asked to pull together this meeting.

“I’m sorry I was delayed.”

“Now that you’re here, we have much to discuss,” one of the men said.

“Ky, this is Kaeso Accoleius Prilidianus. He is the most senior of the gathered senators.”

“And the second richest man in Devnum, after dear Hortensius, although he’s too noble to admit it. We’ve been hearing rumors of new tax laws you intend to put before the Senator. As it is our interests that will bear the weight of these new laws, I would have thought you would have spoken to us first.”

“I spoke to the men who stand to lose the most under the new tax laws first, since they’d be the most likely to oppose it.”

“You think farmers have the most to lose?” one of the other assembled me said. “We’re the ones expected to pay these new levies?”

“True, but you will also have the most to gain by them.”

Several of the men started speaking at once but were silenced by Kaeso.

“Explain it to us,” Kaeso said.

“At the moment, the landowners wield most of the power in the Senate. Why? Some of it is tradition, this is true, but in reality, a lot of it is because they pay the lion’s share of the taxes into the Empire’s treasury. If they become dissatisfied enough they could withhold some of their taxes, making things very difficult for the Empire. I thought you, of all men, would understand the power of controlling the purse strings. I understand not wanting to part with your hard-earned money, but it isn’t just to do a civic duty. It will help you build real power in the Senate, instead of being relegated to some secondary voting bloc.”

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