The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 26

“Commander,” the AI’s voice prompted. “This is a repeat of your scheduled wake-up time.”

Ky sat up slowly, rubbing his face. In the years since he’d first gotten his implant and been assigned to flight school, Ky had always gotten up at first notice from the AI. It wasn’t like the alarms he’d set as a young man, training in the batch processing center. The AI did more than simply tell you it was time to get up. Tied into his central nervous system, it actually began waking his body up. The brain was still too complex for the implants to directly interact with his brain to the point of actually waking him up, but he’d always found the audible warning inside his skull and the feeling of his body physically waking up was enough to bring him out of sleep and alert almost instantly.

The last few weeks, however, that process had been slowing down.


“I know,” he said, predicting the warning that the AI had given him the last three mornings.

“Commander, continued avoidance of full sleep periods is not advised. Although your medical nanites are capable of maintaining your physical systems, numerous studies have shown this is not compensation for adequate rest. Research suggests more than two months at half rest will result in permanent degradation of physical abilities, regardless of system enhancements.”

“Remind me when we hit two months then,” Ky said.

“Commander, two months is not a firm guideline, simply an approximation and only for permanent damage. Temporary physical and mental deterioration happens much more rapidly, possibly leading to...”

“God Damnit, Shut UP!” Ky yelled at the software.

That alone should have been a warning to Ky that he was losing his grip. He’d trained for a long time to operate with the AI on a silent, almost sub-conscious level. The last thing a squadron of pilots needed was everyone talking to their implants aloud, filling the comms with chatter, during high-stress moments. Flight Command worked hard to train all of its pilots to keep all conversation with their implants on a purely internal level, regardless of the situation they found themselves in.

This was yet another of his finely trained responses that had started slipping over the past several weeks. That was probably a sign that the AI was right, but there was nothing he could do about it, at least not now.

“Sir, are you alright?” Sellic said, sticking his head inside the doorway.

“No, I’m fine Sellic. Sorry if I startled you.”

Sellic looked around the room once more, most likely to confirm to himself that Ky was, in fact, alone, before casting a worried look at his superior. Ky waved him off, waiting for the man to close the door, before heaving another sigh and standing to stretch.

He’d been up very late with the commanders, answering intricate questions and going over everything multiple times. The men weren’t questioning his plans, since the Emperor had clearly already approved everything, but what he’d asked of them was essentially a top to bottom reorganization of the system the Empire had operated under for hundreds of years. It required more than just handing out new organizational charts.

He had yet another busy day ahead of him, including meeting with the leading doctors in Devnum to try and fix some of the health crises facing the Empire, following up with the blacksmiths on the prototypes they’d started working on so he could get the production runs approved and, most importantly, the planned votes on the first sets of new legislation. While the first two things were important, the vote would ultimately determine if Rome would survive through the spring.

All of that meant sleeping in wasn’t possible. He’d accepted Lucilla’s and the AI’s suggestion that he needed to delegate more authority, but that would still take time. He’d just have to hope the handful of hours of sleep he got each night would continue to hold him together for now.

Collecting the notes he’d made for the doctors, after the meeting with the commanders finally broke up Ky left the palace. He cast one glance at the plaza, wishing he had time for a quiet stroll before diving back into the grind. Those peaceful few minutes he’d been taking each morning were the only thing Ky felt was keeping him sane, but he’d been too slow getting up, and had slept through the time he’d planned for his morning walk. The AI would probably suggest that sleep was more important than a slow walk, but Ky still missed it for his sanity. Especially since Lucilla often met him in the mornings, and he found he enjoyed their brief conversations, feeling much more centered after them.

Ky spared one last glance and then turned to his goal for the morning, the Collegium Medici at the center of Devnum, not far from the palace itself. Set up by Germanicus’s father, the Collegium Medici was designed as a place of learning for the more specialized fields. Most training in Rome happened through apprenticeships rather than schooling as it was in modern times. The only fields where people went to study were pure sciences and medicine. From what Ky could find out, Rome was still at the cutting edge of both. Partly because the Carthaginians had destroyed the other civilizations that could have competed with them and party because the Emperor’s family had always placed a focus on them.

It’s why Rome managed to be as healthy as it was, comparatively speaking. From what they knew from refugees, spies, and gossip, the Carthaginians put little effort into public health or learning, relying on brute manpower and willingness to accept high attrition to accomplish any goal.

While Ky knew that Rome was advanced when compared to its contemporaries, from a modern society’s perspective, Rome’s medical sciences were abhorrent. Bleeding, the taking of wildly poisonous substances, and the belief that most maladies were caused by capricious gods, made Ky wonder how anyone survived to adulthood. If it hadn’t been for the military and political necessities, this would have been one of his first priorities after deciding to stay.

He found the men he was meeting gathered in a small, indoor teaching amphitheater. He’d been warned by the Emperor that these men were incredibly proud, to the point of arrogance, but even with that warning, he hadn’t expected the sheer pompousness he encountered, led by Clovius. Ky had met the man only once, by the Emperor’s bedside, cutting small gashes in the man’s arm while he died of septicemia.

“Consul,” Clovius said as soon as Ky arrived. “We appreciate that you have been able to assist some of the more mundane areas of learning, but this is a house of learning. We will not be swayed by assurances that you know better, only by the evidence of our own studies.”

“What about those times when the evidence could be misleading if you don’t understand that the thing that seems to be happening isn’t the thing you’re seeing.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“You boil your water before drinking it. Why?”

Clovius didn’t answer. He may not have been as smart as he thought he was, but he was smart enough to realize Ky was setting a trap for him. Ky wondered why the man cared more about being proven wrong than actually being wrong, but thankfully, not all of the gathered men were cut from the same cloth.

“Because water straight from the cistern can sometimes cause a loosening of the bowels or fevers. If boiled to half, the unwholesome nature of the water is corrected,” one of the other men said.

“By why does it correct it? What causes the loose bowels and fever when you drink unboiled water? Why is unboiled water safe when used to dilute wine?”

“It just is. This is the nature of water. When it is created through rain or pulled from the ground, it is tainted and must be cleaned before use.”

“All water is tainted? What about when you find a natural spring. If someone drinks from that spring directly, do they have the same problems?”

“Sometimes, although not as often.”

“Why? If water is, by its nature, tainted even as it falls from the sky, then why is the water from a spring sometimes already corrected?”

The men began looking around at one another, unsure of how to answer his question.

“This is just one of the things that you know, but you don’t know why. The problem is, right now, the why isn’t something you can see. One day, you will be able to. If I’m successful in getting some of the inventions I am recommending, it may be in your lifetimes. I can explain the reasons why these things happen, but for now, you’ll have to choose to believe me and only accept the solutions I give based on the fact that they work.”

“I don’t...” Clovius started to say before being interrupted by one of the other men.

This was why Ky had decided to open things by presenting a puzzle and offering a solution. From his previous experience with the man, he already knew Clovius wouldn’t be receptive to anything he had to say, and the Emperor had already warned Ky that Clovius held a lot of power in the sciences community. If given the chance, most of the men would end up deferring to him. The thing that Ky had hoped was that, as men of science, even primitive ones, their curiosity would be stronger than their deference.

“Then why does boiling or diluting the water make it safer to drink?”

“You all understand there are smaller and smaller forms of life. You’ve seen insects so small you can barely see them, correct?”

The men all nodded, unsure of where he was going but still willing to listen, except for Clovius and a few men standing near him, who were just staring at Ky stoically, refusing to respond.

“Those insects are not the smallest forms of life, though. They are just the smallest you can see. There are even smaller forms of life, so tiny millions of them can fit into a single drop of water. There are special tools that can be used to observe them, but it requires the ability to produce a very specific form of glass. This is one of the things I intend to introduce to your craftsmen, but it will take time for them to learn how to properly make them. Until then, all I can do is describe these tiny life forms.”

“We will have to take your word for it,” the man said.

“I don’t. We’re men of science, not priests. I’m not going to stand here and listen to this nonsense. Small animals indeed.”

Pulling his toga up, Clovis and several men stormed out of the building. Ky was happy to see that the majority of the men were still there, listening intently.

“There are a couple of these small forms of life that can make people sick. The first is kind of like I described, a tiny form of life almost like an animal, although much simpler, that we call bacteria. They do what animals do; eat, defecate and procreate. There are millions of types of bacteria and some of them produce chemicals that are toxic to our bodies. If you ingest them, they can do things like cause the loosened bowels like you mentioned or even destroy flesh.”

“If they are so small we can’t see them, how do we keep from ingesting them and how does boiling the water keep them from harming us?”

“They’re just like us, in that they can be harmed or killed. The ones in water are killed by the heat of the boiling, although they’re also susceptible to some chemical mixtures, such as alcohol, which also kills them. These aren’t the only small animal that we can ingest from water, however boiling it tends to kill all of the other ones as well.”

“Are these creatures only found in water?”

“No, they’re everywhere, but there are things you can do to keep from ingesting them, such as washing your hands with soap. Of course, that isn’t the only way bacteria can enter your system. Cuts, for example, must be carefully cleaned and kept free from dirt or anything that would carry bacteria.”

“Open wounds sometimes fester, which often leads to the death of the wounded man.”

“Yes, and that is one of the reasons why. If the bacteria reach the bloodstream, it causes the blood to become poisoned, which can quickly kill a man.”

“When possible, we sometimes treat a wound with honey or vinegar, which can keep the wound from festering. Does that kill your...”

“Bacteria, and yes, it can. Not all of them, but they both have anti-bacterial properties, which is why it sometimes helps. There are other things, certain molds that, if collected and processed properly, can be taken as a medicine to clean up the infection before it becomes life-threatening.”

“Can you show us these molds and how to process them?”

“Yes, I plan on doing that. I should be clear; this isn’t a cure-all for all diseases. There are other tiny types of life that also cause death, including most of the plagues you’ve heard of before. There isn’t a medicine for those - at least, not something you will be able to make for a long time - but there are things you can do to keep safe from them. Not eating spoiled foods, washing your hands with soap, not touching or breathing the same air as someone infected can avoid some of the spread, although it doesn’t help a person who’s already infected.”

“Can you teach us how to identify these small animals?”

“Yes. My people know them as germs. I’ve written up some notes for you already, and I will begin writing up more. I want to be clear this is just a starting place. Clean water, cleaning your body with soap and washing your hands regularly, avoiding spoiled foods, keeping the sick isolated, and coverings over the nose and mouths of those who have to check on them. It won’t cure everyone and it won’t keep all of those who become sick from dying, but it will save many.”

“Show us these notes.”

Ky spent several hours with the physicians, walking them through everything he’d written down so far. Most of it barely passed basic hygiene and simple first aid, but considering the prevalent theory to this point - being that disease was caused by the stars or by angry gods - it was a start.

He didn’t try to teach them more advanced concepts, those would have to wait. Things like the scientific method required a change in the way people thought, something that didn’t happen in his history until the Renaissance, when observation and methodical testing took over from superstition-focused thinking.

Ky left the doctors arguing among themselves on the best way to implement some of the changes he’d been suggesting. He probably could have made more progress if he’d stayed, but improving the medical knowledge was just one of the things he had to worry about.

He’d already arranged for the major blacksmiths in the city to gather back together again and show him the prototypes he’d given them plans for a few days before. It had only been a few days since he’d ordered the designs, but it was time to plant the winter harvests, and he wanted the new plow at least for the demonstration.

They met at the same place as the last time and as before, Hortensius was already holding court by the time he arrived.

“Sorry I’m late,” Ky said.

“You were with the philosophers. We’re happy you managed to escape at all. If they had their way, you would be bones and dust by the time they finished lecturing on one of their obsessions.”

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