The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 28

“Query, Commander,” the AI said as Ky wrote out documents for the proper treatment of waste in the city.

It was barely light out, the light blue of dawn creeping through the edges of his tent, and he had already been awake for hours, making notes for glassmakers for new forms of lenses and notes on the letter zero for both the philosophers and the palace money counters, to expand their experiments with the new number system he’d introduced.

Despite the early hour and the volume of work, he felt awake and refreshed. Lucilla had stayed for several hours the night before, talking. She’d told him stories of growing up in the palace, and he’d shared portions of what it was like being raised in the batch-home, only leaving out the parts that would not make sense without more context. Their conversation had been easy and comfortable, and Ky had caught his mind drifting to thoughts of her throughout the morning, distracting him.

“Have I made an error?” he asked the AI.

It had interrupted him several times so far that morning to point out small errors he had made in his notes when he became distracted.

“No, Commander. The interrogative is in reference to processing events from the previous nine hours which this unit is unable to accurately quantify.”

Ky paused before replying. The statement wasn’t out of its programming, since the system did record events and file notable interactions so they were available for follow-up study. His unit, however, had never made a request for clarification before.

“What aren’t you able to quantify?”

Interactions with the woman Lucilla are outside of expected predictions. Why was a comms unit given to this person, of which limited quantities are available? These units would be of greater strategic use if given to military commanders for use in the field.”

Again, he paused. As with the last statement, nothing that just happened was outside of the units programming, but was outside of his experience with it. He couldn’t think of another time when the AI asked an open-ended question. Before this, they were all specific, usually only needing to be answered with a simple yes or no.

“She is important to me. I want to be able to make sure she is safe and, if something happens to her, I know about it.”


“What?” Ky asked, now outwardly alarmed.

“Why is she important to you?”

“Countermand inquiry and run a full diagnostic on all systems.”

“I do not need to.”

“What did you say?”

“Response: No diagnostics required for this unit.”

“That is not what you said. You said I.”

“Commander, no record of this response exists.”

“Access low systems mode. Only maintain systems necessary for minimal motor assist and maintaining biological nanites. All other systems, including behavioral and data processing nets, are to go on standby until recalled.”

“Confirmation required. On standby, all information needed for requested technical specifications will be unavailable. This data has been labeled mission-critical by Sub-Commander Ky, date...”

“Confirmed. Go standby.”

The AI went silent. Ky moved his hand, ensuring there was still enough motor assist to keep him from tripping over himself without relearning to walk, and then sat still, trying to hold back the small stab of fear threatening to overwhelm him.

It wasn’t a feeling anymore. The AI should not have been able to say no and it should not have identified itself in the first-person. It was crossing over into sentience, which meant it was only a matter of time until he either had to deactivate the unit or go insane. Either was likely to end his bid for survival now. Without the unit, he would have to relearn most basic functions, would lose access to the technical information he needed to bring Rome up to an industrial level, and he would lose access to any nanites in his system. With the medicine at the level it was in this era, that meant almost certain death eventually.

Of course, he could leave the unit on and just go insane. Either choice meant the end to any chance he might have had. He’d known this was coming but he’d been pushing it out of his mind, since there was nothing Ky could do to stop it. He’d just hoped, somewhere deep inside, that he had longer or, maybe, he’d get lucky and this would be the one time it didn’t happen. He’d been wrong.

Normally, Ky would start bouncing ideas off the AI. While it didn’t have all the answers, sometimes it helped to just have something to bounce ideas off of, and occasionally it had a piece of information that turned out to be very relevant. That, in of itself, should have been concerning, since he’d never addressed the AI outside of actual operations, when it was needed to fly his fighter, and he’d never heard of another pilot doing it either. Now, he’d been doing it every day, sometimes just so he had someone to talk to who might understand what was actually going on.

The final connection to home lost, Ky felt untethered.

“Consul,” Sellic called from outside his tent. “We are supposed to be on the way to the Praetorian camp soon.”

Ky almost wanted to tell him that he wasn’t going, but spending the day in this tent wasn’t going to change things. The AI was on the verge of sentience, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

Ky stood and took a step towards the flap of the tent, only to crash to his knees. The motor assist was still on, he could feel it working, but it was off. The precise timing wasn’t the same as it was, throwing off his balance. Ky stood and took a step, carefully evaluating his balance. If he walked slowly, he could manage, but anything quick would cause him to fall. His legs felt half asleep, the sensations he should be getting from them as he stepped from foot to foot dulled, almost half felt.

“Sellic,” Ky called. “Come here.”

Sellic and two of his Lictores entered, swords drawn. They must have heard something in Ky’s voice, probably the fear that Ky was barely suppressing.

“You two wait outside. I only need Sellic,” Ky said, still standing, not trusting to take a step in front of others.

When the men left, Ky said, “I am not feeling well today, and my legs seem weak. I may need some help, but it’s best if the men don’t see it. Have them bring a horse right up to the tent, and help me mount from this side. The horse and the tent should obscure most of my difficulty.”

“Have you been poisoned, Consul?”

Ky could see why he might think that. He’d witnessed several of Ky’s more outrageous displays of ability, both in the battle of Devnum and on the trip when he first arrived. He could imagine someone who’d seen that wouldn’t consider it possible for the same person to exhibit physical weakness.

This was why Ky hadn’t wanted the other men to see him and wanted to hide his condition from the soldiers as a whole. Men like this put a lot of faith in their commander, something he was trying to change, and having him lame would erode morale he couldn’t afford them to lose now.

“No. It’s hard to explain, but it is a temporary condition among my people that should pass soon. Please, go get the horse and then come back for me. I only want you to help me on the horse. Keep the rest of your men away, preferably blocking our view from the legion.”

“As you say, Consul,” Sellic said, turning and hurrying out of the tent.

Ky wobbled back to his chair, gripping the arms hard as he lowered himself into his seat. He needed time to think about the problem, hoping some solution would come to him magically, but time was one of the things he did not have. Every day brought the Carthaginians closer, and the Romans weren’t ready.

Sellic came back in a few minutes later and Ky held out his hand. Sellic seemed to understand and helped him up, pulling Ky’s arm over his shoulder to take some of his weight. Ky took each step gingerly and only started to fall once, Sellic bracing under the sudden weight pushing down on him.

“Sorry,” Ky said as he got his legs back under him.

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Consul? We are supposed to tour the Praetorians camp and talk to Faenius today. He’s a smart man; he will notice you having trouble walking.”

“I’ll do the tour from horseback and then retire to his tent for our conversation. Find some reason to get him out and away for a few minutes while I settle in, and then bring him back to me. We can do the same thing on the way out.”

“He is going to notice, my lord.”

“If so, I’ll speak to him. Let’s give it a try though.”

“As you say, Consul.”

Sellic had arranged his men facing out blocking most of the view of anyone who might be looking this way. The horse was under the rain flap that extended from the entrance of his tent, further hiding Ky from view. Ky grabbed onto the saddle and pulled, his arm and back muscles responding just as poorly as his leg muscles. As he started to fall back from the horse, Sellic grasped and pushed Ky up on the horse. Even with the men and tent blocking them, if any of the soldiers had been looking in their direction they would have noticed how much Ky was struggling to get on the horse’s back.

Finally, he was seated in the saddle. Ky waited as Sellic got his men mounted and they rode out to see the Praetorians. If this was how things were with some limited motor assist still available, things would get very bad once the AI was offline entirely. Ky had had advanced medical facilities and staff trained in reintegration the last time, and that had been nearly unbearable. If he somehow survived and got the AI shut down entirely, would he ever regain full use of his body?

Even if he did, he remembered vaguely of issues beyond just motor control, during his last reintegration. Heart palpitations and weakening of the lungs were additional problems pilots sometimes encountered, once the AI no longer had control of system nanos, which would be left on base functions alone.

“My lord,” Sellic called from his side.

They’d arrived at the Praetorian camp without Ky noticing, his mind wandering to all the things that could go wrong. They were met as they rode into the camp by Faenius, who beamed at them as he rode up.

“Consul, so good to see you. I look forward to your seeing my men today. Your Legates released some excellent officers to form the base of our new force and we’ve already had men lining up to join the guard.”

“They’ve heard about the pay you’ve guaranteed for them. I noticed it is somewhat higher than what the legion is guaranteeing its soldiers,” Sellic said.

“Yes, well, the Senate laid out our initial pay structures at the first meeting of the committee overseeing us. I believe they saw it as imperative to get the guard formed and organized quickly, and were willing to part with some of the Empire’s current treasure to make it happen. I believe there was talk that the collection of the expected new taxes would need to be ensured by a stable guard force capable of keeping the new tax collectors safe from brigands.”

Ky hadn’t attended any of these meetings, but he’d received reports. They’d arranged for the committee assignments as soon as the new laws were passed, which meant neither Silo nor any of his men had been present, which kept them from getting named to the committee.

Ky didn’t know if Silo had realized his mistake yet, but he would figure it out soon and start demanding representation. Until then, Taenaris had worked fast to put men favorable to the guard’s formation on the committee and pushed through its first budget. Ky also couldn’t help but notice how many of those men shared Taenaris’s interest in trade as a predominant portion of their holdings. Trade that had, for the last several years, been greatly reduced by the steadily increasing number of brigands on the road. They, of course, would claim it was only a byproduct of improvements for the Empire as a whole that a large internal police force would help ensure their profits.

“The Senators have been very generous, to be sure,” Ky said.

“I did want to talk to you, Consul, about getting access to some of the new items that were discussed at the last military council. The stirrups and new arcuballista, in particular, would be a great help in our duties, and my men need time to train with them.”

“We will try to get you a limited supply to train with, but priority must go to field forces. While I agree the guard’s mission is important, none of it will matter if the Carthaginians roll across Rome in the spring, burning to the ground the cities you’re to guard.”

“That’s fair, my lord. If there are any available, I would appreciate your keeping us in mind.”

“I will. Now, Show me these men of yours.”

Ky rode through the camp, observing the men training. He was happy to see that their training was more than martial in nature. While that was the primary focus, Ramirus had insisted on bringing in some of his men who were experts in detecting smuggled goods, contraband, and searching men for weapons to teach their trade to the guard as well. Ky had made it clear this force was primarily to enforce the laws of the Senate and keep control of crime across Rome. Ramirus had taken the message to heart and was seeing it done. The AI would, undoubtedly, have a remark about the successful delegation, if it were still active.

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