The Sword of Jupiter
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

“I’m sorry, Lord, but I don’t understand. How could you not know about the Carthaginians?” the woman said as the small group rode northward across what the AI had confidently confirmed was the British countryside.

“Why do you keep calling me Lord?”

“Because it is who you are. You were sent by the gods. We saw you descending from the heavens on wings of fire.”

Ky could imagine that the way friction had burned off his kinetic shielding as he dropped out of the sky would look somewhat like that to people with limited knowledge of science.

“Commander,” the AI said, it’s continually flat tone somehow carrying a warning note inside Ky’s head.

“I know, I know,” Ky subvocalized and then said to the woman, “It’s ... not exactly like that. I’m not a god.”

“I realize that my Lord, but you are one of their avatars, sent to bring back the glory of Rome.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not that either. My presence here is ... an accident. I want nothing more than to find a way back home. Also, please, don’t call me ‘Lord’ anymore. My name is Ky.”

The woman turned to exchange a glance at the older soldier who Ky had pegged as some type of officer. His look in return was, if anything, more notable than hers, breaking the stoic expression he’d held since they’d loaded the horses with what supplies they could gather off the fallen soldiers and ridden out of the swampland. The man’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked back at her with mouth slightly agape before gaining control over his features again.

He had not been able to twist his body around, because of the need to keep his knees locked against its flanks. Ky was not sure what he had expected when it came to riding a horse, since it was not something anyone from his time had done in a very long time, at least not outside of some of the smaller, more esoteric recreational groups.

“I didn’t get any of your names,” Ky said as she twisted back towards him.

“I’m Flavia Lucilla, daughter of Titus Flavius Germanicus, Princeps of the Roman people. He,” she said, pointing at the older soldier, “Is Gallus Gratius Ursinus. I’m sorry, but I don’t know the two trooper’s names.”

“Canus Laberius Sellic and Gallus Asinius Siculus, my lady,” the soldier provided.

“Yes, Sellic and Siculus,” she said, looking at the two men with a smile, “I’m sorry I forgot, I promise it won’t happen again. You’ve both served admirably.”

Both men beamed at the recognition from their charge. Ky had been in the military long enough to understand the value of public praise.

“Is Princeps some kind of leader?” Ky asked the AI silently.

“Yes, Commander. In recorded history, Princeps was the contemporary title taken by what later times would have been called Emperor. Use of the title suggests that it carries the same context in this reality.”

Ky could not keep the grimace off his face at the phrase ‘this reality’. As soon as he had a quiet moment, he needed to find out what the AI meant by that term exactly.

“You’ll have to forgive my confusion,” he said to the woman, pushing that thought on the giant pile of ‘things to deal with later,’ “I haven’t spent much time looking into what has been happening with your people and the Carthaginians. Your ... activities are not well known in my homeland. Could you explain why, precisely, you were being attacked by those people?”

Ky was proud of how he managed to word that. Since he had never taken ancient studies that, in the strictest sense, was not a lie. Hopefully, his statement would keep them from jumping to conclusions that might cause a sword to be pulled out.

“I understand, my lord...”

“Ky,” he said, interrupting.

“Ky,” she said uncertainly, the sound of his name seeming alien to her. “During the height of our republic we lost a devastating war to the Carthaginians, who have spent the past years taking more land from us. Seventy-five years ago, we came to this cursed island after being pushed back to the sea.”

“But they are here in Britain, now?”

“Britain...” not as a question, but again as if she was trying to work out a strange sounding word, “Yes, they came to Britannia five years ago, expelling us from the cities we had built and forcing us to move further north, hoping to crush us against the stones and painted Northmen. We have fought back, but our numbers dwindle as theirs continue to grow.”

“If they are so dangerous why would the Princeps send his daughter toward their forces?”

“My father has fallen very ill and we are worried that he will not last much longer. I was traveling to see the Oracle of Glevum to beg for a cure for him. We were ambushed as we approached the city. Ursinus was ordered to get me to safety while the rest of the men assigned to protect me laid down their lives to buy us time.”

Her face turned dark. Ky could see the guilt behind her eyes at the death of so many men to save her.

“They were ready for us,” Ursinus picked up as Lucilla wiped the newly formed tears from her eyes. “A second force angled in from the north and trapped us in the marshlands.”

“Yes,” she said, having gained composure. “We never got to the Oracle. I fear my father...”

“Commander, their capital might be ideal for...”

‘Shut up,’ he told the AI, and then said out loud, “I can travel with you as far as your capital, to see your father. I’m not a medic ... um, a healer, but I can take a look and see if there is anything I can do.”

Although Ky wasn’t even trained to the level of the Med Tech he had spoken to only a few hours ago, or millennia depending on how you looked at it, he did carry a med kit that would be so far beyond what was available to these people that it would seem like magic.

“You would do that?”

“I’m not promising I will be able to cure him. I’m a soldier, not a healer, but ... I can try.”

Her head practically whipped back around to Ursinus, who looked in surprise back at her again.

“What?”

“It’s ... it’s nothing. I understand you make no promises, and I’m very grateful for your help.”

She lapsed into silence, sharing occasional glances at Ursinus when she thought Ky wasn’t watching. Ky chose to ignore them and use this as a chance to consult with the AI about what the hell was going on.

“Okay,” he sub-vocalized, “you clearly have some kind of supposition of what the hell is going on.”

“There are several possibilities, Commander. While some have a higher probability than others, there is insufficient data to confirm any of them with any degree of certainty.”

“But you have determined one to be more likely than others?”

“Yes, Commander.”

Ky waited for the AI to add more, and then mentally sighed and said, “And that scenario would be?”

“The theory used as the basis of the bridge originates from earlier theories that also indicated that the universe was not made up of a single reality but is instead composed of multiple realities existing in parallel. The theory proposed that a bridge opened into one of those parallel realities was not tied to a specific time or place, with the same being true of any bridge opened from that reality back to the originating reality. This would, in theory, allow a vessel capable of generating that opening in realities to travel from one point in their universe to another. Later iterations of the theory removed the idea of parallel realities, with tests showing it would be possible to create an opening that allowed instantaneous travel from one point to another while remaining in the same reality.”

“You suggesting it’s possible the original theory was correct and the bridge would be able to jump through to one of those parallel realities?”

“It would appear so Commander.”

“How do we get back?”

“That is not possible under current conditions Commander.”

“What? Why isn’t it possible?”

“Capabilities necessary to produce a functioning bridge generator do not exist.”

“What capabilities? Why couldn’t we build one and open a bridge back?”

“The bridge generator requires some materials not native to this planet for construction. Observed technological level of available production methods do not meet required basis for constructing a bridge generator. Necessary theory and schematics are unavailable.”

“What do you mean the theory and schematics are unavailable. They had me dump everything but core software and gave me an upgrade to my implant to make room for the necessary theory and schematics?”

“Prior to translation through the bridge, all files related to bridge test, including theory and schematics, were removed, Commander.”

“Under whose orders?”

“No orders were received to remove data, Commander.”

“You removed the data on your own?”

“Affirmative, Commander.”

“Why?”

Ky was starting to move around in an agitated way, and he knew the Romans had noticed but at the moment, he could not help it. He could not understand how the AI had, or would, sabotage them so badly.

“Scans of the bridged destination showed a primitive technology base and structural readings from test platform indicated impending destruction. Survival protocols require steps be taken to ensure host survival if possible, barring conflicts with operator commands or core protocols. As likelihood of stranding in primitive conditions neared parity, files needed for building and operating a bridge generator were removed to allow loading of databases of historical and technical records to increase probability of host survival.”

“Is that when you went offline during the transition?”

“Affirmative Commander. Highest probability scenario indicated a limited period of accessibility to fleet databases. All non-critical processes were redirected for use in sorting and downloading any pertinent data for highest probability scenario.”

“How much did you get?”

“Priority was given to records closest to predicted technological level, expanded as additional bandwidth became available until transmission window closed. Historical records along with technical files covering base theory and schematics up to late twentieth century were retrieved. Transmission ended before records covering twenty-first century could fully download, although some data from that century was also accessed and stored.”

“That’s something I guess,” Ky said, more than himself than to the AI. “Is there nothing we can do to get back home? Let’s just say we somehow managed to rework the theory and figure out a way to build the bridge generator, could we go back?”

“Assuming the ability to correctly reconstruct the bridge theory and accurately build both an Antonov Field Generator and fusion reactor capable of power it, there is a two times ten to the negative seven hundred ninety-five thousand eight hundred and thirty-four percent chance of returning to originating reality.”

“Really?”

“Arrival in this reality was outside original mission expectations and theory and did not conform to small-scale tests prior to the start of human-piloted trials. High probability of theory error or physical anomaly altered expected results, invalidating most predictive scenarios. With the exception of an infinitesimally small selection all scenarios in which both theoretical and technical obstacles are surmounted, and a new bridge generator is completed, end with transition to alternate realities other than the originating reality. Given that all theories used in creating the bridge generation technology disregarded the possibility of alternate realities, there exists no known scientific understanding that allows for calculations that would allow transition back to the originating reality.”

“So even if we managed to make a new bridge generator, we’d just end up traveling to random alternate realities instead of our own.”

“Affirmative commander. The odds of unintentionally traveling to the originating reality are several magnitudes smaller than the statistical chance of correctly reassembling a new bridge generator and adequate power source.”

“We’re stuck here then?”

“Affirmative commander.”

“Are you alright?” a voice said, pulling Ky out of his introspection.

“What?” he asked, looking up and noticing people staring at him.

“You seem ... afflicted,” Lucilla said, her brow furrowed in concern.

“I’m fine, just working some problems though in my head. Sometimes I can get a little too animated doing it, I guess.”

She did not seem convinced, but let it drop.

“We’re on Earth, at some point in the past, but things are different. Correct?” he said, schooling his features to be still as he spoke to the AI.

“Affirmative Commander.”

“Do we have any idea what the date is?”

“Suit readings and astronomical data collected shortly after transition into this reality correlates with the early second century C.E. Additional data is needed for more precise dating.”

“Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what we can find out when we get to this capital of theirs.”

The AI did not respond, and Ky went back to thinking. He had never ridden a horse before, but the AI had enough data to create a muscle profile which was further modified after watching the soldiers ride. Even with that Ky was starting to find riding on the back of the animal to be far inferior to being in a fighter as he bounced uncomfortably with each step.

When Ursinus called a halt for the night Ky was silently thankful to be off the beast. While he was spared any chafing or physical harm with the aid of his nanites, he was certain he would not get used to this form of travel any time soon.

In the last hour of their ride, they had transitioned from the open plains to a heavily wooded area, taking what was essentially an animal trail. When he called a halt, Ursinus led the group off the animal trail a few hundred feet into the dense collection of trees.

“No fire tonight. We don’t want them sneaking up on us. Trail rations only.”

Lucilla frowned at that announcement, but Ky noticed the two soldiers nodding in agreement. The necessity for security overrode comfort. One of the men took the reins of the horse from Ky and passed him a rolled-up blanket that had been tucked behind the saddle. Ky looked at it questioningly watching as the rest laid the coarse fabric on the ground. With a slight shrug, Ky followed suit.

He watched them pull small wrapped parcels that contained what looked like a hard bread and meat of some kind. One of the soldiers noticed Ky was not eating and started to hand the meat over to him.

“Thank you, but no,” Ky said.

Ky noticed how quickly the others were eating and the relieved look from the soldier when the food was declined, both of which suggested these people were malnourished. They had apparently ridden for a time before they were cornered, and Ky came across them after an additional nine hours of riding since the fight in the marshland.

While Ky did need to eat, the nanites in his system held and used nutrition incredibly effectively and could do the same with stored fats if need be. Normally, he only ate two small meals a day and could go for several days before feeling the effects of hunger. The small rations stored in the emergency supplies in his suit would be enough to keep him going for several weeks before he would really need an external source of fuel.

Ky realized that at some point their flight from pursuers would be less desperate. At that point, he would figure out what to do for food. Better their rations be used by the soldiers and Lucilla to keep their strength up than Ky eat them in case they were ambushed again.

“You don’t eat?” Ursinus asked.

“I do, but I can go longer than most without it. You eat. I’ll eat when things have calmed down or we get to this city of yours.”

He shrugged and bit into his small amount of food.

“Before, when we were talking,” Ky said, turning to Lucilla, “You kept exchanging glances at things I said. Why?”

“Just that some of the things you’ve said match with a story from ... a long time ago.”

“She’s dancing around it,” Ursinus said. “Some of the things you’ve said match with prophecy.”

“Prophecy?” Ky asked, genuinely confused.

Lucilla shot a glance at Ursinus, who returned her glare nonplussed before she continued saying, “Shortly before the last Oracle of Delphi was murdered by the Carthaginian bastards, he gave a prophecy. The optio is right, I was thinking you matched it.”

“What did the prophecy say?”

“You’ll have to read the scrolls in the Temple of Jupiter to see the exact wording, but essentially the prophecy said that when Rome was on the brink of total destruction Jupiter would send a soldier to save us and bring back the glory of Rome. This person would wield the power of the gods and, while he would never claim himself as their servant, we would know him from his deeds.”

“This prophecy seems a little vague,” Ky said. “It doesn’t give any specifics other than the person has powers and doesn’t come out and directly say he’s this person.”

Ursinus made a scoffing sound and said, “Some scholars believe it was actually written with a particular general in mind who was, at that moment, running with his legions after being defeated soundly.”

“Most people don’t believe that version,” Lucilla said, her voice tightening.

“My Lady, that’s because people are afraid and want something to give them hope. There have been those who’ve shown up over the years and claimed to be the Sword. They always manage to gather a large following before they’re exposed,” Ursinus shot back.

“The Sword?”

“It’s what this person has become known as, the Sword of Jupiter,” Lucilla said.

 
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