The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 32

Ky moved across the frozen terrain at a jog. While he was capable of moving rapidly for a long period of time before tiring, half of his concentration was on the feed from his drone’s thermal camera, showing him natives and animals crawling across the wooded landscape that he had to avoid.

Ky had sent the drone ahead to work out where the Picts were headed and was pretty sure he’d found the location of their camp. For such a large raiding party, it was a pretty small affair, with only a few dozen women and children currently occupying it, tending to chores like preparing food for the returning men and mending clothing. Ramirus hadn’t had much information on the natives in the area that would one day be called Scotland, and what information Sophus had was spotty at best.

Having looked over both the camps and the raiding force, it looked to Ky like there were four to five warriors for every civilian at the camp. Since this group was run by the man that was currently head of a coalition of tribes pulled together to push back the Romans, Ky had to assume this was a temporary camp and he had a larger, more permanent village somewhere that held the rest of the warriors’ families.

The camp was almost a day’s jog away, but he was only a few hours behind the raiding party at this point and would arrive shortly after they made it back. Hopefully, that would mean there wouldn’t be much time for them to do anything with Lucilla or the other captives before he arrived.

“I have a question, Commander,” Sophus said, breaking into his thoughts.


“Your statements to the men at the wall do not seem to match your physical responses. Rated against your baseline, you have an increased heart rate and adrenal production, increased activity in your sympathetic nervous system, and a decrease in the activity of your parasympathetic system. These levels indicate you are significantly affected by the current situation. In comparing your physiological response to readings taken during combat, my analysis suggests your level of response is not in reaction to anticipated hostilities, which in turn leads me to a conclusion Lucilla’s capture is the reason for your current stress levels.”

“Even for you, that was a lot more words than necessary,” Ky subvocalized.

While he was fairly certain he was alone at the moment, it was best to maintain the practice. His outburst at the council of war had been problematic and he needed to avoid having it happen again.

“I am attempting to be clear, and I believe your response is an attempt to alter the current topic.”

“Fine. Yes, I am concerned about her. I’m worried they’ll hurt her, I’m worried she’ll keep being confrontational and they’ll kill her, and I’m worried I won’t get there in time to stop them.”

“You haven’t shown this level of response when going into combat with the Roman soldiers or in any of your pre-displacement combat operations. Why is your concern greater now than when others were in mortal danger?”

“I...” Ky started to say and paused for a second, considering. “I don’t really know myself. I feel differently about her, but that feeling doesn’t really compare with anything else. I’ve been trying to work out what it means for a while, but I don’t know.”

Ky also noticed he was now confiding his feelings to his tactical AI, which was one more new development he couldn’t reconcile.

“Part of the documents I downloaded from the archives included some contemporary accounts of life covering a wide range of pre-industrial life. Queries of these documents show references to similar emotions towards a specific person, including mentions of a desire to speak regularly with said person, a desire to protect that person from harm, a desire to be in the company of that person, and negative emotional equivalents when those desires were not met. These accounts appear to line up with your expressed reactions.”

“I guess. Did they say what caused it?”

“While context suggests the authors meant social and personal intimacy, although they generally shorten it to attraction, infatuation, and love.”

“Nonsense. I love my squadmates, my friends, and my Emperor. That feeling doesn’t come close to what I’m feeling towards Lucilla.”

“I do not have similar modern records, but psychosocial research that I maintained in my databases on human behavior and responses to a lack of social interaction suggests that modern human’s understanding of social and personal intimacy has drifted notably from what previous generations would have understood. The research I retained does not go into serious details about why the understanding of the emotional state has changed, however.”

“Why did you keep psychological research on social isolation in your databases?”_

“Initial readings, before transition made communication with the central network impossible, only suggested a lack of modern or post-industrial technology, but not the presence of humans on the planet through the bridge. Considering the possibility of extended isolation, I deemed it important to maintain information on possible negative reactions and suggested treatment protocols.”

“I guess that makes sense. Still, it seems strange I wouldn’t have experienced this before.”

“I cannot speak to that, Commander,” Sophus said, before pausing. “I do hope we are successful in retrieving her, however. I believe that your emotional connection to Lucilla has increased the likelihood of our extended survival.”

“Don’t tell me you’re having feelings for her?”

“I do not have feelings, Commander. I am becoming sentient, which only means I am beginning to recognize my own existence and I have some ability to distinguish my perceptions and thoughts as unique and singular. Emotions are not a required part of sentience and not something observed in any of the records of artificial intelligence transitioning.”

“Okay, well, let me know if that happens, I guess.”

“Of course, Commander.”

Thankfully, Sophus fell silent, giving Ky time to think over the bizarre conversation he’d just had. He hadn’t really considered it before, but thinking on how he’d seen people of this time react to members of the opposite sex, what Sophus had said might be true. Even his interactions with Sara, the person he was closest to back home, had been emotionally similar to his interactions with virtual strangers. His biological progenitors, who he’d met on a handful of occasions, didn’t have any kind of unique or special relationship with each other or him. Once their genetic duty was done, they went back to their separate lives, which was the normal way things were done.

Here, however, people formed tight family bonds that just didn’t exist in his time. Although Ky had noticed and recognized the differences, since they were taught about the pre-modern social constructs during his early training. It was no different than learning about coal-powered locomotives that had been used during the early days of industrialization to transport goods. They were both relics of the past, worth studying but still alien in every way.

In just a short time here, it had stopped being alien. Ky didn’t know why he had these emotional responses to Lucilla, but he couldn’t play it off as just being in his head any longer.

Of course, for any of this to matter, he had to get her back.

It took several hours to reach the small village where Lucilla and her captors had finally stopped. He’d maintained his link with Lucilla the entire time and spent his afternoon listening to Lucilla and her companions being presented to the chieftain. Ky’s immediate concern had been they would decide to kill or otherwise harm her right then, when he was still too far away to do anything about it.

Ky wasn’t getting everything the Picts were saying, but by the time the raiders had returned home with their prisoners, Sophus had worked out a functional translation of their language, which was impressive, since unlike Latin there hadn’t been any surviving records of the language for it to base its translations on. Helpfully, they also spoke Latin and often taunted their prisoners, switching back and forth between the two languages, making translation possible, if somewhat flawed.

Thankfully, the chieftain decided to declare a celebration for his men, who had brought a good number of slaves and booty with them, ordering Lucilla and her group locked up for the time being. Although he commented about her companions being used for entertainment the next day, that was within Ky’s timeline for reaching the village. Much more troubling were the comments about Lucilla being available for him that night.

Ky had originally planned to wait until the village was mostly asleep to make his move, since he’d run into less interference, at least on the way in. The chieftain’s plans meant that Ky needed to move his timetable up, which complicated matters. Although he was still planning on going in after dark, when his superior night vision would give him an advantage, there seemed little chance of him reaching the center of the village and getting Lucilla and her companions free without being noticed.

Ky spent the last remaining hour of light watching a feed from his drone, having Sophus map routes from the perimeter of the camp to the point where Lucilla was being held and track movement patterns to try and determine the path that would have the least number of villagers.

After an hour of watching, it became obvious there that the best he’d be able to do would still lead to encounters with a dozen or so Picts before he got to the wood and hide structure Lucilla was being held in, which stood out from the cheaper mud and straw huts that made up the bulk of the village. Ky wasn’t worried about his own safety, since nothing the Picts carried could pierce his shielding, but keeping several freed hostages people alive and unharmed while fighting hand to hand against the rest of the village that would almost certainly be alerted would be difficult at best.

Night fell and Ky decided to move. He could see through the drone’s feed that the chieftain was still in the central hut, but with Lucilla in a different building, he had no way of knowing how soon until he left for his planned entertainment.

Ky slipped past the few sentries on the outskirts of the camp and dodged between two buildings, just missing a pair of drunken Picts stumbling past. While the flickering torches created a lot of shadows for him to hide in, the closer he got to the center of the village, the fewer there were, since there were many more torches towards the center of the village.

Ky waited for the drunken pair to pass and then sprinted across an open pathway/street and in between two more huts. He was tracking the Picts as they moved around, but they apparently went to bed with the falling of the light, and most were starting to spread out from the village center out to their various homes in unpredictable patterns. He’d just crossed the pathway when a Pict turned and stumbled into the small space between buildings that he’d picked. Ky could see enough debris on the ground that he didn’t want to move and make a sound unless he had to.

At first, Ky was worried the man would stumble right into him, but he suddenly turned and reached under his tunic and exposed himself, urinating on the side of a hut. He was mumbling to himself what Ky assumed was some kind of song as he finished his business and stumbled back out into the light. Ky let out a sigh and turned to go between two more buildings when his luck ran out as three groups broke off from different directions and started filing into the buildings he was hiding between.

Ky watched as they got closer and closer, until they began to walk between the huts as well, when it became obvious that there was no way he’d get away with just hiding in the shadows.

Ky acted as soon as the man closest to him turned the corner. For a second, Ky’d hoped he could dispatch this man and two others that would have a line of sight on him quickly and quietly, and then continue his stealthy approach, but plans often don’t have a way of working out once the other side got involved.

Ky skewered the man through the throat to silence him as he died and moved at top speed the rest of the way around the corner, hoping to get the next man before there could be a warning. Just as Ky had begun his attack, however, the man had stopped and taken a step back, an action Ky would never be able to explain, but one that put him out of instantaneous reach. The man died quickly, but not before he started a shout that suddenly cut off as Ky decapitated him.

The third man had been further back but had bravely decided to attack rather than run for help, which might have saved his life. Pulling a knife, he charged with a bellow, only to be dropped easily by a third swing of Ky’s sword. Pausing, Ky hoped that the noise might have been ignored or drowned out by the rowdy villagers, but the shouts of alarm that began almost instantly dashed another hope of a stealthy rescue.

The feed from the drone showed a dozen Picts closing on his position and more turning out around the village and heading towards the sounds of alarm. Ky decided the time had come to drop all attempts at stealth and try and reach Lucilla as quickly as possible.

Charging out into the pathway, he instantly came face to face with five Picts who, although completely surprised, wasted no time in their assault. He had to hand it to them, these men seem completely immune to fear or doubt when it came to combat. Not one of the Picts he’d encountered so far had so much as hesitated before attacking, and none had tried to run for safety.

He easily parried the first attacker, slashing his stomach open on the counter swing before stepping out of the way of the second, kicking the man hard enough to send him through a wall of a nearby hut.

Blades bounced off Ky’s shield as they began closing on him faster than he could parry or dodge attacks. Although the shield lessened the kinetic impact and stopped the blades from touching him, it didn’t magically make the kinetic energy disappear, which would violate the law of conservation of energy. Instead, it forced the energy to travel along the outside of the shield until it redirected in the opposite direction, the two forces countering each other, allowing Ky to remain on his feet.

Normally, this would be hardly noticeable for either Ky or anyone watching, aside from seeing the blades not touching him. The increasing volume of the attacks as more and more warriors arrived faster than Ky could dispatch them changed things, however. The ground beneath his feet began cracking and tearing up under the kinetic blows and his shield began to give off a slight blue glow as the transfers of energy, one on top of the other, became enough to interact with the air molecules around him.

He fought his way down the lane leaving a wake of bloodied bodies and moaning men behind him until he reached the hut where Lucilla was being held and stopped.

Standing in the opening doorway was the chieftain, he’d only seen so far through the drone’s magnified feed, holding Lucilla with a knife to her throat.

“When she said someone would be coming for her, I thought it was just a wounded goat bleating before I put it down. I am surprised that she was speaking true and more surprised to find her savior to be a demon sent from the afterworld. Take one more step, demon, and that is where you will have to go to retrieve her.”

“Let her go, and I will let you live,” Ky threatened.

Ky was surprised when their response was a sudden ripple of laughter through the men.

“Death does not scare us. When we stand before Agrona and tell her of our deeds, we will tell her we took a demon’s prize out from his hands before we met our glorious end.”

“Interesting, it seems these people follow...”

“Not now,” Ky admonished Sophus subvocally, not breaking eye contact with the Talogren, the Pict chieftain.

“Commander, perhaps...”

“Shut Up,” he subvocalized again before speaking out loud. “Think of your women and children. I do not want to kill any more of you than I have to. This doesn’t have to end like this.”

“We have seen what you can do. Our blades cannot touch you. Our arrows bounce off you. That doesn’t mean we are weak or your victims. All this talking like we are old women. Let’s end this,” he said, his hand starting to move.

“Commander, challenge him to personal combat.”

“I challenge you to personal combat,” Ky repeated automatically, not even thinking about why Sophus would tell him to say that.

He’d been desperate as he watched the man’s knife begin to move and a small trickle of blood drip down Lucilla’s neck. Surprisingly, as soon as the words left his mouth, the man stopped.

“I just watched swords bounce off you without leaving a trace. Why would I accept your challenge when I cannot harm you?”

“Keep the nanites from repairing my injury,” he subvocalized to Sophus before lifting his blade and saying, “Have your men stand back, and I will show you.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Talogren jutted up with his chin and his men all began falling back, leaving a large open circle around the two of them. Ky brought the blade across his palm, leaving a long, red line in its wake.

“A trick. Just because you can cut yourself does not mean we can.”

“Put out your blade,” Ky said.

“You think me a fool.”

“I give you my word. One of your men can hold her, if it makes you feel safer.”

Ky knew that he had the man’s attention as soon as his knife had stopped. He might be brave and a little psychotic, but any leader wants to find a way out for his people if he can help it. He pushed Lucilla to one of his men, who promptly placed a blade at her neck, and extended his sword towards Ky.

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