The Trumpets of Mars
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2022 by Lumpy

Ky, formerly Lt. Commander Ky, stood in the Emperor’s box of the colosseum, looking down at the platform erected in its center, a line of men in tattered togas and tunics lined up at its base.

Ky had never wanted to end up in a place like this, handing out dozens of death sentences, the responsibility of an ancient civilization resting on his shoulders. He was a soldier, bred and trained to operate high-tech fighters in deep space, combating the enemies of the First Terran Empire. He hadn’t been picked for leadership training; he never aspired to be a general or admiral, leading fleets to victory and glory. He only wanted to stay with his squad mates, passing the long days of boring training and the brief moments of terror with them.

A trick of fate, or at least a faster-than-light test gone wrong, had changed all that. He was now stuck in a world that had never existed, thousands of years in his past, his hopes for survival tied to a Roman Empire pushed to the brink of extinction. He, and the tactical artificial intelligence now named Sophus implanted in his head, had decided the Romans were his best bet for survival. Since then he had worked hard to increase their technological base, unlock manpower and a workforce foolishly tied up in the slave trade, and build alliances, all with the goal of pushing back an assault that everyone knew was coming in the next few months.

In his history, the Romans had ruled the Mediterranean, lords of the known world, for a time at least. Here, they never made that it that far. For reasons that still weren’t fully clear, history had changed, and the wave of tribes that pushed out of the Russian steppes had been larger than in the real history, weakening the Romans on the brink of the Punic Wars against Carthage. A war they’d won in his reality and lost in this one. Now the Carthaginian Empire was the uncontested ruler of the Mediterranean and was hell-bent on crushing the last of the Romans, trapped in a small region of central Britannia, between a Carthaginian enclave to the south and Pict tribes to the north.

Had Ky not arrived when he had, just before the start of winter, Rome would have already been destroyed by a Carthaginian army five times larger than the forces Rome would have been able to deploy. Ky had managed, through a combination of advanced knowledge and limited futuristic tech he still had possession of, to help the Romans crush the Carthaginians despite the odds. They’d named him Consul, essentially a second in command of the Empire, which is how he found himself where he was today, standing next to the Emperor, responsible for pronouncing the death sentence on the bound men in front of him.

“You men have all been sentenced to death,” Ky said, his voice echoing off the colosseum seats, most of which were empty, the citizens still hiding in their homes or helping get the fires started by the rebels under control. “Many of you were selected among your fellow citizens to help lead Rome into the future. You failed in that charge. Instead, you decided that if Rome could not be how you wanted it to be, you would see it in ashes. You were its senators and its commanders. You led men who had been trained to follow you into folly. You directed them to murder their fellow soldiers, innocent citizens, and their Emperor. I can think of no crime worse than the one you committed. Despite that, you will be given a clean death. The Emperor, in his wisdom, has decreed there will be no more crucifixions and no more deaths on the stake. Anyone whose crimes warrant death will receive a quick and just death. Exactly what you withheld from the Romans your men murdered in your name.”

In actuality, Ky had convinced the Emperor and the legates that the practice of crucifixions should be abolished. As they built new alliances, they would need to show their new allies that Rome believed in justice, and part of that started with the way it executed its prisoners. Not all of the legates were on board with the decision, despite Ky’s explanation that executions were about preventing future harm to Rome and not about punishment for the sake of punishment. In the end, they had agreed, but only reluctantly.

Ky had also argued that only the leaders of the rebellion should be executed. Any politicians, community leaders, and military commanders above the rank of centurion would end up on the block. Individual soldiers who agreed to admit their wrongdoing, pay a small remittance that would equal one month of their pay, and pledge loyalty to Rome and the Emperor would be allowed to return to their service, although the legions involved would be completely dismantled and their legionnaires spread across the other legions.

Unit commanders would be aware of who the men were and would keep an eye on them. For some, the service would be hard. Some of the legionnaires they now served with would have lost comrades and friends to the rebels, and would hold a grudge. Ky instructed the legates to make it clear that they would tolerate no acts of revenge, and any of the soldiers who did would face the same punishment as the men they acted against. Ky hoped this would lessen the instances of murder in the ranks, but knew it wouldn’t completely remove the suspicion and ill-will the soldiers of the broken legions would face. In time, hopefully, they would be assimilated and put their past behind them or they would be drummed out of the service. Either way, they would pay a penance in their own right.

“You will bring ruin to us all,” Silo, who survived the crushing of the rebel legions, yelled up at Ky. “You have destroyed us.”

“You are a fool, Silo. We stand at the brink of destruction. The weight of Carthage is coming for Rome. Don’t you realize that once Rome defeated the first army sent against it, they have no choice but to wipe us from existence and salt the earth to keep any other opponents from daring to stand up to them again? You made that task easier by dividing Rome at its most desperate hour. You betrayed Rome.”

“No. That old fool betrayed Rome when he didn’t recognize the poison you would bring and immediately throw you from the city when you first arrived.”

A soldier stepped forward, his hand raised to cuff the former senator against the back of his head to silence him.

“No, let him be. He is a defeated man. His legacy will serve as a warning to future Romans of the cost of listening to a fool. Place them on the blocks.”

Ky had considered hangings, but the time it would have taken to build scaffolds wasn’t time they had. They had lost many legionnaires and needed to start cleaning up the disaster, treating the wounded, and return to the real task at hand; preparing for the Carthaginians. Instead, Ky had opted for beheadings. It was still visceral enough that the Romans who called out for blood would accept it as an alternative, while still offering mercy over the previous methods. He had at first wanted to carry out the beheadings himself, but the Emperor convinced him it was better to give the order and let other men carry it out. For one, even limiting who was being executed, there were dozens to carry out, which would have made for a long day of horror for those watching.

Instead, they’d picked soldiers to carry them out, not letting each other know who was involved and covering their heads to conceal their identities. Ramirus had been rightfully concerned that some of the pardoned soldiers as well as members of the rebellion who hadn’t been caught might hold a grudge and want to take it out on the men who’d executed their leaders.

Ky gave the signal and the first batch were pushed to their knees, their hands bound behind them, their heads pushed onto the stumps brought in for the occasion. Once they were leaning forward, ropes were put around their neck and pulled tight to the platform to keep them from standing back up. This was new to the Romans, so the first group probably didn’t know exactly what was coming, although some could have probably worked it out.

The later batches of executions would be less subdued, once the condemned had seen how their comrades had gone. Ky had walked each man through how to properly behead the man being executed, making sure they used the force necessary to cut clean through the neck, limiting the pain and gore of the event. Despite that, Ky knew some of these would be less than perfect. It required a fair amount of strength to behead a man, and would require more as the executions went on and the blades dulled. These weren’t the new steel blades he was working with the forges and smiths to create and their edges dulled quickly. Ky and some of the larger men might still manage clean cuts on the last batch, but it was a certainty that some of them would be hacked apart, feeling the pain and screaming as they were slowly mauled to death by a blunt shaft of iron.

Thankfully, there weren’t many spectators, although if they had to do this again, which was a strong possibility given the uneasy undercurrent that still carried through the city, people would begin to flock to the executions. Sophus had shown him records of medieval executions, which had turned into public events treated more as entertainment than a deterrent to crime. Given the Romans’ previous use of gladiatorial games for the same purpose, it seemed likely that they would follow in the same footsteps.

Ky held his hand up and all of the executioners took the position he’d shown them, readying themselves for what was to come next. Ky brought his arm down and the swords dropped like scythes, not exactly cutting the heads like the harvesting tool cut grain, but close, the detached part falling into baskets placed in front of the stump to catch them.

Ky had argued that they should bury or burn both quickly, to put this episode behind them, but the Emperor had overruled him. The heads were to be placed along the grand road through town for five days as a message to anyone else who would have followed in their footsteps, which was the same time frame victims were normally left up on crosses to slowly die, for the same reasons.

The empire that Ky had come from, the one in the future, hadn’t been squeamish about crushing dissent, but once the perpetrators were dead, they left it at that. Their bodies were incinerated and that was that. It was a stark reminder of how different this time was.

Ky watched as the bodies were removed and a new batch of traitors were brought forward. The process was repeated a third and then a fourth time as row after row met their fate. Some took their deaths stoically, staring back at Ky, daring him to go through with it, some ranted and raved, some cried, begging for mercy, and one hapless tribune tried to make a run for it, despite the chain that connected his shackles to the man next to him. Ky didn’t flinch or walk away. Ultimately, he’d been the one to order their deaths, which meant he should stand and watch what he’d ordered.

It took most of the day to finish the executions and observe at least some of the heads being posted along the main road. People were still cowering in their homes, but they’d come out by tomorrow. As awful as the attempted coup was, life still had to go on. People had to work, shop for food, and see to the other necessities of life. Ky wondered about the families with their children walking through here and seeing the heads mounted on poles. Would they be scared? Curious? How do people in this time react to that? Maybe they wouldn’t react at all. He’d already seen how much more desensitized the locals were to random violence than anyone in his time would have been.

“I don’t get how they can just look at these and not feel disgusted at the people who put them here,” Ky sub-vocalized.

“Judging one culture by the social mores of another is counterproductive, as the standards for things like violence, beauty, and actions can vary widely, and objections can be met with negative reactions.”

“I know. It’s just that, sometimes it seems like people have not changed that much over the millennia, and other times it’s like we’re not even the same species.

“To me, you all seem very similar and strange.”

Ky grunted a reply. If anything seemed strange to someone from his time, had they been there to see it, Ky’s casual conversation with the tactical AI in his head would have been at the top of the lists. AIs, Ky’s included, were aware, but not sentient. They didn’t ask questions unless prompted, they didn’t offer or even have opinions, and they didn’t talk about themselves in the first person.

Ky found it comforting, in its own way. A connection to his home that no one here, not even the people who’d become his friends, would understand. Of course, there was the downside. His AI hadn’t crossed that boundary into sentience yet, but the day was coming, and it was coming soon. They’d begun taking precautions. His closest friend and the only person from this time to know about it had named his AI Sophus. There was no way of knowing, however, if those precautions would work, or if one day Ky would suddenly be lobotomized as the AI expanded, trying to expand out of the confines of its circuitry into the only place available to it. Of course, there was solace in the fact that, if it did happen, he would probably never know about it, since his death would be all but instantaneous.

Ky looked down the row of heads once more before turning towards the ruins of the palace complex. While the Emperor and his daughter would have to find temporary quarters until repairs could be made, the extended building where Ky had been quartered had escaped more or less intact. Sophus had processed the damage using the various visual spectra Ky’s enhanced eyes could take in and declared the building safe, which was good enough for him. Although he understood that the Romans had reasons for being how they were, right now he did not feel much like talking to anyone from this time period. Of course, that could only last the night, since the Emperor had already called a special session of the Senate, or what was left of it, for the morning.

Ky was staring out his quarter’s window, looking out at the plaza, its brown, dead grass now blackened and burned. He’d told his lictores, the guards the Emperor had assigned him when he’d been elevated to Consul, that he didn’t want to be disturbed the rest of the evening. What he’d done had been necessary, but Ky didn’t particularly want to see another Roman any time soon, which is why he was surprised when there was a knock at his door.

“What?” he said, perhaps a little too aggressively, as he opened it to see who was bothering him.

Instead of Carus or one of his men, Lucilla stood outside, her hand still raised mid-knock. He looked past her to Carus, who gave a ‘what did you want me to do’ expression. Ky didn’t blame him. Even though he’d said he didn’t want to be disturbed, Ky wouldn’t have faulted them for considering Lucilla an exception to that command, considering their history to date. Besides, they weren’t particularly in the position to be telling the Emperor’s daughter no. Ky gave Carus a nod of understanding, absolving him of the breach, and stepped back, raising an arm to invite her inside.

“You’re angry,” she observed when he shut the door behind her.

“Not angry, just unhappy. I understood why your father made the decisions he did, and I agreed to go along with them.”

“But you’re still not happy you had to. We must seem like barbarians to you.”

“Yes. No. Things are just different here. I am trying to adjust to that and accept those things I can’t change. I will be fine when the special session begins tomorrow.”

“Good,” she said, and then fell silent.

“Are you alright?” he asked, still unsure of why she’d come to see him. “I know it must have been terrifying, being trapped in the palace with soldiers literally breaking down the doors.”

“It was, but I’m starting to get used to being terrified. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago I thought I was going to be murdered by the Picts.”

“I don’t think that’s something you get used to.”

“Maybe not, but I’m coping with it. The thing I can’t deal with is finding out about Caesius. Did you know Ramirus thinks he might have been the one to tell the Carthaginians about my traveling to Glevum? He thinks Caesius offered me up to the Carthaginians. He also thinks my brother was behind the poisoning of my father, before you arrived. I know we had our problems, but to think that he wanted to murder both me and my father ... I just...”

Her voice had wavered as she spoke until she broke down on the final line, taking two steps towards Ky and pressing herself into him with her head in the center of his chest. Her tears became ragged sobs as the emotion around her brother’s betrayal became too much for her.

Ky had been adjusting to how women and men acted towards each other in this time and the differences from his own, but this was a new twist. He knew he was supposed to comfort her, and more than anything that is what he wanted to do, but he was unsure of how to do it. He wanted to explain to her that her brother’s betrayal wasn’t her fault and wasn’t a reflection of anything he or her father had done, that she would heal and move on from it, that things would get better, but he had no idea how to say those things in a way that wouldn’t come out as cold and uncaring.

Even in her grief, she could read Ky. She took his arm with one hand, while still crying, and put it around her, almost hugging herself with his arm. He got the message and put the other arm around her, pulling Lucilla into his chest. That seemed to be the right decision, as she sobbed harder into him for a long time. The Chronometer in the constant heads-up display he saw across his vision told him it was five minutes, but it seemed longer than that.

Finally, her sobs slowed and ended, and she made to step away from him. He released her from the hug and took a step back himself.

“Sorry. I have to stay strong out there, for the people, but I haven’t had time to mourn him yet.”

“He’s not dead,” Ky pointed out.

“No, probably not. Caesius is nothing if not a survivor, but he’s dead to us. If we ever get ahold of him, Father will have no choice but to execute him. Anything else would be seen as weakness and an invitation to more mutinies.”

Ky sympathized with her. Although that kind of familial relationship wasn’t really a thing in his time, since they were raised and trained from a young age with others of the same genetic aptitude from an early age, he could imagine how he’d feel if one of his batch mates had gone rogue. It probably wasn’t the same, since children were raised very differently in his time, but if he would have felt pain from it, then Lucilla must have been devastated by her brother’s betrayal.

“You know, he wasn’t always like this,” She said, walking over to the window and looking out at the burned plaza below. “When we were kids, we’d used to play together. We were legionnaires fighting in the deserts of Africa. We were Romulus and Remus, claiming the seven hills and founding Rome. We were Pinarius Germanicus and his general Lutherius, holding the line in Hispania, keeping back the Carthaginian hordes while our people escaped the across the seas to Britannia. When older kids picked on me, he’d knock them down and berate them for daring to touch the Emperor’s daughter. He was harsh with those who deserved it, but he could be so kind to even the common children. One time, he helped this boy, the son of one of the stable masters. His father was ... not a good man. He hadn’t eaten in a few days, and Caesius snuck him into the kitchens inside the palace and fed him. A few weeks later, the stable master was found to have stolen a relic out of the altar of Jupiter. I looked up to Caesius.”

“But that changed?”

“Yes. As he got older, he got ... mean. Not to me, or at least not at first, but I could see it when he was with others. He demanded they follow him and never question his word. He was, after all, going to be the next Emperor. If they knew what was good for them, they would do as he said.”

“That sounds very different than the boy you described before. How did he go from the kind of person who’d help a stable boy to demanding blind allegiance from anyone around him?”

“It didn’t happen all at once. Father has never been in the best health, well, at least not before you came along. He’d had issues with his back for years and I think many of the people who wanted more power saw Caesius as a way to get that power. They used their positions to get close to my brother and were always whispering in his ear, telling him how important he was, how good his judgment was, how brave and strong he was. My brother wasn’t yet an adult when they started, and he loved the attention. The old fools thought they could control him, bend him to their will. They slowly poisoned my brother.”

“Your father didn’t see it happening?”

“He did. He lectured my brother often about the need to be his own man and to protect the people. My father has always been loving, but he can be an exacting man. He doesn’t demand perfection, but he does demand hard work and effort, and if he didn’t think we were giving it, he could come down hard on us.”

“I find that confusing. I found your father to be fairly reasonable.”

“You aren’t his child. Besides, you’re already exceptional, compared to us. You know things no other man in Rome knows and you can do things no other man can do. What would he have to complain about? I think maybe that’s why Caesius resented you like he did. He saw you come in and claim the respect he thought was his.”

When put like that, Ky could see why he’d be resentful.

“That wasn’t my intention. Still, to go from not getting the respect you thought you were owed to selling your people out to their mortal enemies. That is a significant leap.”

“It is, but it’s also very Caesius. My brother has always looked for the easy way through challenges. Why do well with your tutors when you can pay them to tell your father that your learning is going well? Why convince the people to support a new policy when you can just buy their loyalty.”

“So you think they promised him Rome, as their vassal?”

Once Caesius had fled and it had become clear that he had run towards the Carthaginians, that had been the conclusion Ky had come to.

“Yes. It’s exactly the kind of deal my brother would have made. Why wait for Father to die to become Emperor when you can kill him, turn your people over to their enemy, and rule over what remains. Like I said, the easy way.”

“Still, I’m sorry.”

“I know, and I appreciate it. That’s three times you’ve saved me now, you know. It’s becoming something of a habit.”

“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Ky said, and he meant it.

Over the past months, he had begun to find emotions he hadn’t known were there, feelings that had been hidden deep inside himself, beginning to wake up. Ky didn’t know if maybe the people who’d become matched pairs felt something of this or if it was something that none of his people felt anymore. One more thing bred out of humanity as it evolved.

Whichever it was, he knew it was real. For Lucilla, it was just the way things were, but for him, each step had been a revelation. He couldn’t imagine a world without the woman who’d opened up these new feelings to him.

“I know you won’t. Even when we were pushed into the forum and our guards were falling back, I knew you’d make it to me before the rebels broke through.”

They both felt quiet, looking out the window until finally, she turned to look at him, a questioning expression on her face.

“You confuse me still, though,” she said.


“I know you like me. Even without the constant rescues, I can see it in your eyes. Yet, you still have trouble with it. Like you’re unsure of where to go next.”

“That’s because I am. I told you a little about where I came from, about how different life was there. We didn’t form relationships like you do. It was very ... impersonal. The only intimacy people shared was when our leaders selected two people as having a good potential to produce desired offspring. They would mate and, once the child was conceived, they would go back to their separate lives. I think many remained friends, but that was it.”

“They didn’t fall in love?”

“It’s ... hard to explain. I’m not sure how to explain it. Our society was just very different from yours. Romantic pairings were all but unheard of.”

“So you can’t fall in love?”

“Had you asked me that the day I met you, I would have said no. Now? I think I can, although not having seen people in love, I’m not sure what it looks like. Or feels like. I know my feelings for you are different than how I’ve felt about anyone I’ve ever known.”

“You can reshape our society into something more advanced than anything any Roman has ever envisioned, devise a new social structure to end slavery, and create allies out of people who a few months ago we would have attacked on sight; but you can’t figure out what love is? I guess you were telling the truth when you said you were flawed just like any other person. Your flaws are just so different they are hard to see.”

“I’m willing to learn,” Ky offered.

“Then when it comes to this, I guess I’m in charge. And here’s your first lesson,” she said.

She took a quick step towards him and kissed him. It was different than the one she’d given him before she’d left for the oracle and the confrontation with the Picts. That had been soft, almost gentle, like tentative explorations. This was harder, more aggressive, and involved more than just her lips. She pushed against him and Ky took a step back, and then another, until he was pressed against the wall.

More emotions bubbled up from inside of him, some of the ones he’d started to recognize and other, newer ones he did not.

“That was ... pleasant,” Ky said, smiling at her.

“I thought so too,” she said, looking up at him.

He wasn’t sure why, but he reached down and cupped her cheek in his hand, as he considered her and the feelings he was having for her. It must have been the right impulse, because she closed her eyes and tilted her head, pressing her cheek against his hand.

It had been a long day for both of them, and she left a few minutes after that, but he found he felt better. A lot of the anger and disappointment he’d been feeling towards the Romans was gone. Part of him wanted her to stay, so that he could continue the almost peaceful feeling he’d had when she was here, but he knew that wasn’t possible. Sophus had shown him what they had on Roman social mores. While there wasn’t much and there were big gaps in the historical records on the subject, it was clear that there was a protocol for how women and men socialized and steps that must be taken to progress things to the point where it would be acceptable for a woman, especially a high-born woman, to spend extended amounts of time in private with a man she was not legally bound to.

Of course, to take things further he’d have to talk to someone, since he’d gone as far as he could learning about the subject from a computer, even a nearly sentient one.

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