The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 16


“This is a terrible idea,” Ky said for the thirtieth time.

“Mmm-hmmm,” Lucilla mumbled quietly.

Surrounded by a half dozen people on the raised platform, a crowd of citizens spread out in front of her, she couldn’t exactly reply, which gave Ky the chance to make his feelings known without her shutting him down.

They’d argued for two days, which was how long it took her to put her insane plan into action. He’d argued against it, Ramirus had argued against it, and even her father had tried to talk her out of it, but she wouldn’t budge. She would have been furious, regardless, by the death of an entire Roman squad of legionnaires and the theft of gunpowder, especially after her recent warnings to Ramirus, but she was taking this personally. This was the same squad that had recently captured an insurgent and she’d made a point to visit them and congratulate them on their good work. The fact that she’d met these men, shaken their hands, and looked them in the eye meant these weren’t just names, they were her people.

Ky understood that, but he also understood that in war you couldn’t let your emotions override your senses. Soldiers died. Often your friends died, but you still needed to do your duty. He actually wasn’t that worried about the stolen gunpowder. Even if they managed to get it shipped from Britannia, across the continent and all the way to Africa, without fouling it or otherwise ruining the gunpowder with something like salt water, it was extremely unlikely they’d be able to take that mixture and work out its exact components. In a world without microscopes or spectrographs, it was going to be difficult to reverse engineer the explosive enough to not only know what went into it, but the exact ratio of those components or the methods needed to combine them. Nor were they likely to work out the physics behind the weapons to take advantage of gunpowder even if they did.

What it did confirm, at least for Ky, was that they hadn’t managed to learn the secrets of gunpowder from more traditional sources, like turning someone who worked on it or getting copies of the instructions he’d given to Hortensius to make it. It also suggested that their precautions on guarding the documents with that information were working.

This was by far the largest move made by the insurrectionists since the actual insurrection. Twenty-one of the thieves had fallen in the battle with the guards defending the storage building, which according to Ramirus, would be a huge part of the remaining manpower the insurrectionists had. The sudden shift of targets from stealing documents and destroying storage buildings to all-out assaults was notable, and spoke to their desperation.

Besides, the first thing the insurgents would have done after getting their hands on the gunpowder would be to get it off the island and on its way to the Carthaginian capital. Even if her plan worked, they weren’t stopping anything, and yet she was willing to risk her life, which would have massive consequences for the Empire, and him personally. He knew she knew it and he knew that she didn’t care.

“We could have at least used someone else. Your nanites do not make you invulnerable. You got lucky last time. You could have at least let me do it. I’m not sure there’s anything they could do that my system couldn’t repair.”

“Shut up,” Lucilla said.

She’d been trying to stop herself, but he kept nattering in her ear. She’d heard him out, but she wasn’t changing her mind. He needed to know that. These men, they fought and died for her. Well, maybe that was an overstatement. They served her father, but she was his daughter and felt every obligation he carried. After her time with the Caledonians and guardsmen, she felt a connection to the soldiers. They were her people. Ky kept saying not to take it personally, but she was, and she wasn’t planning on stopping just because he thought she should.

“My lady?” Faenius said beside her, looking a little startled.

“I’m sorry. It’s ... the noise from the crowd. I just have a bit of a headache.”

“We don’t have to do this, my lady. I still think this is too much of a risk for you. You’re too exposed.”

Ky should be happy he wasn’t the only one arguing against her plan. She was practically the only one who thought this was a good idea. Her guards, Faenius, Ky, even her father, they all thought it was a mistake. She didn’t care. She’d managed to at least get her father to back down. The rest of them, they worked for her, so they didn’t get a say.

“We’ve been through this,” she said, both to Faenius and Ky. “No other bait is going to work and we need to put a stop to them before anyone else dies. You just make sure you’re ready for their attack.”

“My lady,” Faenius started to say, but she cut him off.

“That wasn’t a suggestion.”

Faenius sighed but bowed and climbed down from the platform. The crowds were starting to gather and the sun was just reaching its apex, which is when she’d told the praeco to announce her public address. Showtime, she thought.

“It is a dark day for the Empire,” she said, starting her speech.

Ky stopped pestering her as she began her speech. This might all be a ruse, but word had already spread about the annihilation of an entire contubernium and the possible theft of military supplies, and tensions were high. Most of the citizens of Devnum, not counting the new arrivals since the formation of the Empire, had lost friends and family during the insurrection, which had damaged huge sections of the city. People were scared and needed to be reassured.

That was one of the main points Lucilla had used in her arguments. The people needed to see her, or her father. They needed to hear that the Empire was taking these deaths seriously and that there was no threat to the safety of the Empire as a whole. Ky couldn’t help but think if someone did manage to attack her, it would do the exact opposite, but she wasn’t swayed by that argument.

He had to give it to her, she was very good at these speeches. Much better than he’d ever be. He’d already heard pieces of it when she’d been practicing the night before, but he was still impressed by how much presence she had when she kicked her performance into high gear.

Unfortunately, Ky couldn’t pay that much attention to it. His attention was on the crowd and the windows overlooking the large plaza in front of the palace complex. He was in one of those windows, behind where the stage had been strategically set up, so he could see everything. It meant he had a small blind side at the back, but that was the least likely place for an assassin to try and strike, considering all of the legionaries and praetorians lining the front and back of the stage.

“Anything?” Ky asked Sophus.

“No Commander, although it will be impossible to tell if an assassin is in the crowd until they begin their attack. The only member of the insurrectionists we have a description of is their leader, who is unlikely to be used in a direct action.”

“I know. Just keep your eyes peeled. I want to know the moment something happens.”

“I do not have eyes, Commander.”

Ky rolled his eyes. Sophus was sentient, but he was very bad at understanding colloquialisms. He didn’t, however, feel the need to get into an extended conversation with the AI over that at the moment. He knew Sophus was watching the situation from the drone he’d borrowed back from Lucilla, which was at the moment under Sophus’s direct control high above the crowd where it was unlikely to be spotted. Ky could have watched the feed himself, but he couldn’t truly split his focus like Sophus could, so he continued to scan the crowd using his enhanced vision instead.

The AI was assisting him, constantly highlighting potential threats. The whole time Ky watched over the sights of a crossbow, ready to fire the moment an assassin appeared. With Sophus’s help and his enhanced reflexes, he was confident he could hit anyone headed for Lucilla before they got into range to actually hurt her. Which was one of her other reasons for arguing this plan wasn’t as dangerous as it seemed. He appreciated her faith in him, but...

“Commander,” Sophus’s voice rang out, almost sounding panicked. Almost.

A box appeared over a figure in the back of the crowd, in a direct line with Lucilla below. Ky zoomed in on him just in time to see the arcuballista spring up to his shoulder, his finger pressing on the trigger.

Ky saw the calculation Sophus was doing and the targeting profile and was glad that he and the AI were so in sync. Ky pressed the trigger on his crossbow and dropped the weapon, reaching for a second loaded weapon on a table next to him as he watched the take from the drone’s feed, which was following the flight of the arrow as it raced towards Lucilla.

Lucilla didn’t know what was happening. One moment she was in the middle of her speech, looking out across the crowd, and then there were screams. She looked towards the back, where people looked to be panicking, just in time to see a man pointing an arcuballista directly at her.

The whole scene felt like it was playing out in slow motion. She saw the man fire and the arrow snap out of the weapon, hurtling toward her. She started to duck, although she knew there was no way she’d move more than a hairs width before the arrow hit her, when the unthinkable happened.

An arrow appeared from above and behind her, smashing into the head of the arrow flying towards her, driving it into the ground, barely missing a woman who was starting to run with the other people in the crowd. Lucilla was shocked but didn’t have time to think about it as another arrow shot out of the building behind her, catching the assassin in the shoulder as he turned to run away.

The man stumbled and was just getting up when Ky appeared, sailing out of the window he’d been in, crossing half the plaza, and landing a short distance from the man. The crowd froze at the sight of him and his inhuman feat, as did the assassin, who fell back on his butt, staring wide-eyed at Ky, who now loomed over him.

For a moment, Lucilla thought Ky was going to kill him. She couldn’t see his face, but she could see his body language and knew what it looked like when Ky was furious. Instead, he reached down and lifted the man by his neck using only one arm, the man’s feet swinging as he came off the ground. Praetorians came on the run and Ky practically thrust the man into one of them before turning and stalking back to the stage, a serious look on his face.

“You can’t still be mad at me,” Lucilla said to Ky hours later, as they waited outside of one of Ramirus’s interrogation cells.

“I can be. I told you this was dangerous. Do you know how close you came to dying today?” Ky asked, his words curt and short.

“But I didn’t,” Lucilla countered.


“Ky, it was worth it. We got him and no one was hurt, well, no one other than the assassin. I knew you could protect me, and you did.”

“We got lucky. I appreciate your faith in me, but the number of variables for a shot like that is astronomical. Sophus is good, but it’s not infallible.”

“I’ve seen some of the things Sophus and you have done together. I had faith in you.”

“He is correct, Lucilla. There was a fraction of a second available to run those calculations and the smallest change in air currents or humidity could have altered the projection enough to cause our projectile to miss. This was, as Ky likes to say, a fortunate happenstance.”

“Luck,” Ky corrected. “Yes. It worked out, and I’m happy it did. Hopefully, this guy knows something and we can take care of this insurrectionist problem once and for all, but you can’t take chances like that. I almost lost you once, I won’t do it again.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I’m not sorry I did it and I do think the fact that it worked proves it was the right decision, but I am sorry for making you worry. You’ve put your life on the line multiple times for us, I think it’s only fair I’m allowed to do the same.”

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