The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 1


“It is morning, Commander,” Sophus’s voice echoed in Ky’s mind.

Former Lieutenant Commander Ky, combat and test pilot for the first Terran Empire, opened his eyes. Sunlight was streaming in through the open window onto his face, which his enhanced eyes automatically filtered to keep the sudden influx of light from causing discomfort. He could hear the city outside the royal palace, already in full swing. Saws, hammers, shouts, and animals could be heard in the distance.

All the sounds of a city on the rise. Very different from a space station with the sound-dampening wall panels he’d grown up with. Even with those panels, there had always been a low hum that had been a constant accompaniment to his life. Or rather his old life, which is what he considered the time before the failed faster-than-light test that had sent him into this changed version of the ancient past.

More had changed than the calendar. He had gone from a respected, but not high ranking, pilot assigned to an almost certainly fatal test flight into a leader of the Roman, now Britannian, Empire, responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives and the survival of an entire civilization.

His world had changed in more ways than one, Ky thought, feeling the weight of Lucilla’s head on his chest, her hair cascading over her face.

Impossible as it seemed, this was an even greater change than going from a space-faring level of technology to the ancient world. He’d grown up knowing that one day he’d be paired with someone socially and medically compatible with him, with whom he’d do his duty for the empire by having one or two genetically screened children. For the glory of the empire.

Love wasn’t ever in the cards. He’d met his forbearers once. They had been friendly, but distant. He had been, after all, a stranger to them, raised in a genetic batch from birth with others bred and trained to do the same job he did. As far as he understood, they were friendly, but that was about the extent of it. Once their duty to the empire was finished, the breeding pair went their separate ways, to live out their own lives.

‘Things have certainly changed,’ Ky thought as he looked down at the top of Lucilla’s head.

He couldn’t imagine ever being separated from her, living his own life away from her. When he’d looked into her eyes during their wedding ceremony the day before, he knew he’d do everything in his power to never leave her.

He knew it doubly after their wedding night. Ky had already felt things he’d never experienced before. Affection, love, attraction. The night before, she’d awakened new feelings in him, as she introduced him to the more ... physical side of marriage.

“Morning,” Lucilla murmured, turning her head to plant a tender kiss on Ky’s lips before nestling back into his warm chest.

“Let’s just stay here forever. They can manage without us,” she suggested playfully, her finger tracing delicate patterns on his skin.

Ky chuckled softly. “I can think of some biological complications with that plan.”

“Me too, actually,” Lucilla admitted, pushing herself off him and dashing towards the corner of the room, where a discreet screen shielded the chamber pot from view.

He hadn’t had time for it yet, but Ky was keen to improve the palace by adding flushing toilets. The challenge lay in providing adequate water pressure, particularly for the upper floors; although if their position for the next twelve months solidified, he might be able to solve that issue eventually. For now, they relied on chamber pots and the city’s latrines, which were usually housed in separate buildings to contain the pervasive stench.

Lucilla reemerged from behind the screen, stretching her lithe body in a captivating display.

“I guess we won’t stay in bed forever,” she conceded with a mischievous grin.

Ky’s gaze roamed over her, appreciating her in ways he wouldn’t have prior to the night before.

“Besides, today’s a big day,” Lucilla said as she started to pull on clothes, much to Ky’s disappointment.

“It’s mostly formal. With Llassar in Emain Macha and you here with Conchobar’s representatives, all the details have been worked out already. If anyone was going to cause a problem, they would have done it by now.”

Lucilla chuckled and tossed Ky his clothes. “I swear, for a superhuman warrior from the future, you can be so naive at times.”

Ky eyed the coarse woolen garments, longing for his self-cleaning uniform and its smooth, anti-chafing fabric. Although his skin was genetically hardened to keep from being rubbed raw, the rough material was still uncomfortable.

“That’s why I leave the politics to you. I’m a soldier, and I prefer the straightforward nature of war over politics any day.”

“You can’t dodge politics forever,” Lucilla countered. “Yes, we’ve already worked out all the details, but today’s public spectacle is still important. We’ll pledge the Empire’s might to protect the Ulaid, and they’ll pledge their undying fealty. The masses will adore it. The Ulaid representatives will return home with tales of the wonders they’ve seen. And our people will see a new ally in the fight against the Carthaginians. Today is for the mob.”

“I understand and I don’t doubt its importance,” Ky said. “It’s just that we have a lot to do. We may have pushed the Carthaginians off the British Isles, but we aren’t done with them by a long shot. They’re not going to sit back and live and let live. The number of subjugated people outnumber the actual Carthaginians a thousand to one, probably more. The only thing that keeps them in line is fear of Carthaginian reprisal, mostly handed out by other non-Carthaginian subjects. If the idea that they aren’t invulnerable starts to spread and enough of those people rise up, the Carthaginians won’t be able to keep them all in check. Take out enough pieces, and the whole house comes down. The Carthaginians know this, which is why they keep throwing men into the meat grinder. They’ll keep escalating. We have to keep pushing while we have the momentum.”

“We own the seas now. They can’t touch us anymore.”

“Not yet, we don’t. That stunt with Valdar’s ship was smoke and mirrors, nothing more. Yes, we were picking off their ships steadily, but there’s a limit to the amount of gunpowder one boat can carry, and they won’t let us lead them by the nose into a trap next time. If they’d decided to just land, and take their losses, we would only have been able to sink maybe half their fleet, at the very best. What was left would have been enough to roll over us. Especially with half our legions in Ireland... Ériu.”

Lucilla nodded, pressing her hands against Ky’s clothed chest and leaning into him.

“Then we’ll build more ships. We’ll raise more men. That’s what today’s about. As long as the people believe there’s a chance, they’ll keep fighting. So, for today, forget about everything else and give them that.”

“Fine, one day. But tomorrow we get to work.”

“See, you’ve learned another lesson about women and men. Just listen to your wife, and life will be much better,” She said, grinning.

“Right. I’ll make a note of that.”

“Keep playing your cards right, and you might have some work to do tonight, too,” she teased, her hands gliding down his body.

Ky stopped her hand, albeit reluctantly. “I thought you said we have somewhere to be?”

With a sigh, Lucilla withdrew her hand and stepped back. “Fine, I’ll just have to wait until tonight.”

To say the treaty signing was a spectacle would be an understatement. t was a grandiose affair that merged the celebration of victory over the Carthaginians with a public revelry of Ky and Lucilla’s wedding. In the afternoon, the colosseum hosted games and Emperor-sponsored plays, while bread for every family, taken from royal stockpiles, was distributed.

Ky had objected to the last part during the planning stages. The harvest had yet to come in, and food was scarce in anticipation of the long winter ahead. Though they had pillaged Carthaginian stores and provisions meant for the armies in Ériu, they needed those supplies to feed the legions under arms. The standing army that Ky had established, funded by taxes and patents, had altered the traditional dynamic of the Roman legions, making the Empire responsible for feeding these men.

He knew crop yields were set to increase this year and even more the next, but it did little to alleviate the strain on the pre-harvest stockpiles. Despite his concerns, both Lucilla and the Emperor deemed the citywide bread distribution politically necessary. Ky understood their rationale but questioned how people in Caledonia, Londinium, or Ériu might feel about Devnum’s citizens receiving mass handouts of food while they went without. In the end, he deferred to their political expertise; his role was to be present, greet the Ulaid king and his compatriots, and proclaim a day of celebration.

The ceremony went well. Ky had an interesting moment when he grasped forearms with the Ulaid king after welcoming him to the Empire. While they had met without issue at his wedding the previous day, Conchobar seemed determined to assert dominance in such a public setting. Ky felt the king’s large hand encircle his forearm, squeezing with considerable force. An ordinary man might have struggled to suppress a reaction, but Ky was no ordinary man. As Conchobar’s eyes widened, applying increasing pressure to Ky’s arm, the king must have felt like he was trying to crush a slab of granite.

Ky, confident in his abilities, had no need to engage in this contest of strength. Instead, he simply smiled at the astonished king, secure in his own prowess.

As the ceremony concluded, the five newly appointed senators joined the ten existing members for their inaugural session of the Imperial Senate. Lucilla had mentioned that the day would primarily involve formalities, as the newcomers would require time to acclimate themselves to the workings of the Senate. The main purpose was to demonstrate to the people that they were committed to serving the Empire. Meanwhile, the Imperial entourage, including Talogren and Conchobar, headed to the colosseum to observe the contests and be seen by the adoring crowds.

Ky found himself dismayed by the continued existence of gladiatorial games. Though no longer slaves, many men still fought for the lucrative rewards and fame offered by their sponsors. If they could survive to retirement, they would enjoy celebrity status throughout the Empire. However, many would suffer horrific deaths. Ky was determined to eradicate this brutal sport eventually, but he understood the limitations of how quickly a society could be transformed.

“I was told that you were unlike anyone I’d ever met, but I hadn’t really believed it,” Conchobar said, leaning over to talk quietly to Ky in the Emperor’s box. “I wonder what the audience would think if you and I competed in a test of strength.”

“You would not want to do that,” Ky responded.

“You believe you could beat me?”

“Do you want me to be honest or to flatter you?” Ky said, his voice flat.

“You certainly are confident.”

Ky sighed, recognizing that Conchobar would not relent until he forced Ky to embarrass him, which he was sure Lucilla wanted to avoid. Noticing that the other members in the box could hear their conversation, Ky caught Talogren’s knowing smile. The Caledonian leader had faced off with Ky before and was aware of his capabilities.

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