The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 5

Devnum Docks

Valdar gazed up at the colossal vessel with a sense of awe. Part of him wondered how anything so ponderous could ever make it in the choppy waters of the western ocean, part of the territory he’d soon be tasked with safeguarding. The western seas were nothing like the placid channel between the islands and the continent, nor the calmer waters of the Bay of Serpents, known to the Romans as Mare Suebicum. He’d struggled to keep his smaller, more agile ships afloat in those violent waves. Even more astounding was the fact that, according to the Consul, this ship was considered small, with far more massive hulks planned for the future.

The Consul had assured him that these ships would be more stable than anything he’d sailed before. The explanation had seemed logical at the time, but now, standing before the vessel and examining the rows of gaping holes in its sides, doubt gnawed at his confidence.

The Consul had also promised weaponry that would revolutionize naval warfare, and he’d delivered with the introduction of cannons. Valdar had been astonished by the immense metal tubes that, upon firing, nearly pushed his ship backward, and by the way the cannonballs tore through enemy vessels as if they were made of cloth. Valdar still feared that high waves might swamp the ship even with the doors that could be sealed shut, but the Consul had insisted it wouldn’t be an issue. Trusting that promise on dry land, however, was a far cry from believing it amid ten-foot-high swells at sea.

Still, he had witnessed the power of a single cannon. If these ships were as seaworthy as the Consul promised they’d be unstoppable. They would boast seven cannons on each side, all larger than the lone cannon he’d had on his previous vessel. The thought was staggering, and the Consul had referred to this as a ‘lightly armed’ ship. He’d mentioned that larger vessels, at least those not meant for cargo, could hold over forty cannons compared to this ship’s fourteen. With a ship like that, Valdar could have vanquished the entire Carthaginian fleet single-handedly.

Work had begun on erecting the massive masts, which extended down through the still-unlaid top deck and connected to the ship’s very frame. Each mast would bear enormous square sails, in addition to the smaller square and triangular sails the Consul had ordered be added to Valdar’s existing ships. It had taken only a brief journey around the islands, and the Consul’s guidance on their optimal use, for Valdar to realize the tremendous advantage these smaller sails provided.

Valdar marveled at how these sails revolutionized his ship’s capabilities, allowing it to slice through the wind at previously unimaginable angles and harness even the most fleeting of gusts for momentum. The innovation perplexed him, as he wondered why no one had considered straying from the traditional single, large sail before. Sailing, however, was an art steeped in tradition, passed down through generations, and progress had been sluggish at best.

Already, he’d observed local fishing boats beginning to craft makeshift jibs, trysails, and gennakers, akin to those that graced his own vessel. Though they lacked the guidance he’d received from the Consul, these fishermen and shipmasters had evidently sought counsel from his sailors. In a mere matter of weeks after Valdar’s initial voyage using the new sails, their manifold advantages had become evident, and the community had eagerly adopted the novel approach.

“Look at them, learning from us,” Valdar mused aloud, a tinge of pride in his voice.

Regardless of the Consul’s intentions, he’d ushered in a new era of sailing.

Manufacturing Complex, Outside Devnum

Ky and Lucilla strolled leisurely through the skeletal framework of the growing manufacturing complex, although from the size of the buildings and streets being laid out ‘a town’ would be a more realistic description. Ky couldn’t help but imagine the inevitable pollution, the chemicals and ash that would soon fill the air. He doubted anyone would willingly choose to live here, though he knew some enterprising souls would be drawn by the allure of profit, regardless of the risk to their health.

A pang of regret nudged at Ky, wishing there were a way to achieve their goals without the environmental consequences reminiscent of the original Industrial Revolution. He reasoned that they could at least mitigate some harm by educating workers about the dangers associated with handling hazardous materials. Yet, the pressing need for survival overshadowed more long term concerns, meaning soon, the air would be choked with billowing clouds of soot as the factories transitioned to full-scale industrial production.

They’d spent most of the morning with Hortensius, discussing the specifics of steel manufacturing and new chemical production processes. Hortensius, a brilliant man with a penchant for adapting to change, was not always the easiest to easiest to work with. Sure of himself, and worse, of Ky’s absolute knowledge, he tended to barrel full steam ahead, trusting everything would work. While Ky trusted the information at his disposal, other Britannians were less enthused by Hortensius’s approach.

Complicating matters further was Sorantius, the philosopher Ky had selected to run the new chemical plants. Though a genius in his own right, capable of challenging his own preconceptions when faced with evidence, Sorantius shared Hortensius’s stubbornness and headstrong nature. Disagreements between the two often escalated into heated shouting matches.

“I can’t keep playing mediator between those two,” Ky muttered to Lucilla, the frustration evident in his voice.

Lucilla, ever the empathetic listener, gently squeezed his arm. “I know, my love. You’re a soldier at heart, not a negotiator.”

Ky sighed. “I’d rather be on the battlefield with the legions, fighting the Carthaginians. At least there, my enemies and objectives are clear.”

“Well, we need a solution,” Lucilla said thoughtfully. “Perhaps a third party to help them find common ground?”

Ky’s eyes lit up as he considered her suggestion, “That’s an excellent idea.”

“What?” She asked, and then his meaning dawned on her. “No. No way.”

“It’s perfect,” Ky said. “You just pointed out I’m not suited for this. You, however, have trained for exactly this kind of thing your whole life. Plus, you actually seem to like it; which is useful, no matter how strange it is.”

“They’re going to have questions I can’t answer. When it comes to overseeing buildings being built or getting senators to vote on a proposal, that I know how to do. I don’t even understand half the instructions you gave them.”

“You don’t need to understand them,” Ky said, placing a reassuring hand on her arm. “None of their arguments have been over technical matters. When it comes to the work, both men are reasonable and will follow wherever the evidence says to go. Their problem is they’re both trying to be the smartest person in the room. You only have to make sure they stay focused, and smooth over disagreements. You’re good at that.”

“Fine. I’ll babysit our geniuses, along with watching the construction, dealing with senators, and making sure the ship-building program is progressing. What will you be doing while I’m doing all that? A nice vacation? Playing dice with your guards?”

Ky knew she wasn’t as displeased as she sounded. The closer they’d gotten, the more joy she seemed to get by teasing him when she got the chance. Although she could be scathing in her teasing at times, he found he liked it.

“I’ll be around. I thought I might take up painting or maybe...”

She gave him a shove before he could finish, causing both of them to laugh.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” Ky said, getting back on task. “You’re just better at this than me. Soon we’ll need to start training Valdar on using the ship’s gunnery, which isn’t something that can be taught by writing it down. Sadly, a lot of my time will still be spent writing instructions. The level of complexity of what we’re asking from Hortensius and Sorantius will soon increase significantly, which means I’ll need to give them as much reference material as possible. I also need to start working with Velius on the invasion plans. We’ll have to redo all of the legions’ tactics to work with the new weapons, which is going to take some time as well.”

“Fine, you’ll be busy.”

“I’ll still see you at night, though,” Ky said, putting his arm around her.

“I’m not sure you should,” she said.

Unlike her earlier teasing, she sounded serious, which caused Ky to take a step away and focus on her.


“What I mean is, as much as I love having you here with me, I’m not sure we should both be operating out of Devnum for the time being.”

“Why? This is where most of the work is.”

“For now, but it won’t stay that way. Once Valdar’s ships roll off the docks, he’s almost certainly going to want to move south, closer to Isca Dumnoniorum or maybe Glevum, since to really train him to use the new ships, you need to be out on the open seas, and not in the protected waters of Mare Hibernicum. He’ll probably want to do it in the southern seas, since that’s where his ships will be operating for the foreseeable future. There aren’t a lot of Carthaginians to the north of us and he’s not going to waste time sailing up and down half the length of the island every time he needs to come to port. As for the legions, once you start working with them, you’re going to need room to maneuver for them to learn the new tactics, which also means moving south. But more importantly, it’s a waste of resources for us to both be here. Anything you need done here, I can do. Besides being able to speak from wherever either of us is, I have Sophus and the drone for him to see through, at least until you are ready to start the actual invasion.”

“She is correct, Commander. Since returning to Devnum, the two of you have performed most of your duties together. She has watched your military conferences and you have watched her discuss topics with the Senators, neither contributing significantly to the other’s work. As you yourself point out, you have much work still to do before the invasion of the continent, none of which can proceed if you are watching Lucilla carry out her tasks.”

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