The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 6

“Hortensius tells me the vats and buildings to contain them should be done in a week’s time,” Sorantius said. “As you expected, the first run of the vats was not as water-tight as you wanted, although the leaks seemed minimal to me.”

“Only because you are thinking of water, which when it leaks simply corrodes the metal and leaves a puddle on the floor. Some of these mixtures will melt skin or create vapor clouds that will take all of the oxygen from a man,” Ky said, pointing at the new papers he had brought for the philosopher-turned-chemist. “It is critical that you understand that the slightest leak can be a danger. It’s why I included an entire section on maintaining the vats and the equipment so they don’t corrode and leak, and the very specific guides on how to remove these mixtures from the vats for further production.”

“Which is why many of these things are made of glass?”

“Correct. Some, although not all, of these mixtures will not react with the glass or melt through it, making it the safest way to store it for the next steps of processing.”

“I see, although I’m still not clear on how these mixtures will be used. I know Hortensius blindly trusts any instructions you give him, but mixing things like this isn’t the same as building a building. Understanding the reasons things are done are the keys to ensuring it’s done correctly.”

He wasn’t wrong, Ky thought. Sorantius had already shown that, while Hortensius was able to produce items as directed, such as gunpowder, doing so blindly had limited his ability to innovate from what he was being told. After reading over all of Ky’s notes on gunpowder and its proper handling, Sorantius had devised several alterations to the barrels it was being stored in, both to keep the powder dry, further limit its exposure to oxygen, which would allow it to remain potent for longer, and limit the dust that could get into the air in storage facilities, lessening fire and explosion risks.

That was the one weak point in Ky and Sophus’s process of introducing these technologies. While the AI had extensive files on how things were done, it lacked the creativity and instinctual sense to really innovate past what they already knew. True, by following the progression of inventions from their past, they were essentially borrowing the innovations from others, but that wasn’t the same. Just by introducing these technologies in different orders, changed the reasons the innovations happened, and what innovations they needed would change as well.

Theoretically, Ky was the other half of the puzzle, able to apply his instincts and creativity to Sophus’s information, but that wasn’t applicable here. He could do it on the battlefield, but laboratories and factories were outside his experience, leaving him as blind as Sorantius and Hortensius.

Of course, he couldn’t just tell them why things worked, because the explanation wouldn’t make any sense. How do you explain to people who haven’t discovered microscopes or the atom what a covalent bond or ionic compound is? For now, Sorantius was asking for Ky to elaborate on the chemicals he was asking them to make, but eventually, he’d be asking why these chemicals reacted the way they did. Ky would do his best to explain it, but it was clear that just uplifting these people with industrial-age technology wasn’t enough. They had to also understand it for themselves, and that was going to be a much bigger hurdle.

“I’ll try and explain, although some of these concepts require a base of knowledge you do not possess. In time, we can try and work out a system for teaching you, and others who are interested, the theories behind these subjects. But for now, we do not have the time. So if I don’t give you the specifics you are asking for, please know I’m not doing it to keep knowledge from you. It’s simply that the knowledge requires more than I can explain in the time we have.”

“I understand, but I will hold you to that promise one day. When this is all over, you will introduce us to these mysteries, and teach us this base knowledge that will unlock the rest of what you have shown us.”

Although the man had said us, Ky heard me, which he was certain what Sorantius actually meant. That was another major difference between Sorantius and Hortensius. While Hortensius was a wealthy man before Ky met him, his success had come almost in spite of himself, a byproduct of his endless thirst to create and his impressive work ethic. At no point since Ky had started working with the manufacturer had the man shown any indication that he was looking to use this crisis to better himself. Sorantius, on the other hand, seemed to think of little else.

Ky wasn’t worried that he was some kind of security risk, trying to personally profit off of the information he was getting. If anything, Sorantius seemed completely unconcerned with wealth, living in extremely basic conditions and forgoing all of the fineries that someone of his station could obtain. His version of bettering himself seemed to be completely focused on learning and understanding more. Knowledge was the only thing he seemed determined to hoard. Which was one of the reasons Ky had picked him for this position. There were one or two other men that might have made a good candidate, and one who might have even worked better with Hortensius, but none had the thirst for knowledge that Sorantius had, which in this circumstance was the quality Ky needed.

“Fine. I can agree to that. As for a more basic explanation, I’ll do what I can. That these two elements are acids is the most important,” Ky said, pointing to the instructions for producing sulfuric and nitric acid. “This one is sulfuric acid and is why one of these tanks had to be made of only lead, since it would start to break down anything else you used to mix it. We’ll eventually use it in producing a number of other mixtures, as well as further process it into a very effective fertilizer. A lot of our future products are going to need this. The other mixture is called nitric acid, which is also used for making fertilizer, but more importantly, it’s the first component in making an extremely volatile chemical that explodes when enough force is placed on it. It’s going to have huge implications for our arms production, and will be the bedrock of many of the next technologies I introduce. The key to both of these is precision. You’ll see the instructions for each indicate extremely specific steps and weights to be used in their production, as well as specific ways of storing them. It’s critical that we follow all of these steps to the letter! Since they are both the building blocks of future compounds, we need them to be precise so we can predict the reactions that will happen when we produce those other compounds.”

“I’m assuming from the context that the word chemical is what you call the explosive mixture. Is that correct? It sounds almost like Latin, but I don’t recognize it.”

“Unfortunately, this will happen a lot as we get into more precise and detailed topics that require words and descriptions common among my people, but that you haven’t encountered yet. You’ll find that with the instructions I’ve included some descriptions of the words that I would use when talking about these new methods and technologies. Right now you’re getting the brunt of this, since most of the work Hortensius has been doing is an extension of existing ideas, or more simplistic forms of chemistry. That is, the science of working with chemicals. Opening a new chemical industry is key to everything else we’re doing, but it is also the largest push forward so far in technology, so we run into the lack of language and terms to describe the things needing to be done.”

“I’m not complaining. Most of the words you’ve used have made sense in the context of what you are explaining, and I look forward to being challenged.”

“Good, because you have a lot of work to do,” Ky said.

Ky continued to be amazed by the capabilities of the people here. Before the accident, he would have considered anyone from this time to be hopelessly backward, but they were every bit as hard-working and intelligent as anyone from his time. All they lacked was knowledge.

Ráth Cruachan, Ériu

“You’re joking,” Auspex said, more as an expression of surprise than an actual question.

“I’m not,” Gnaeus said, standing before his commander, Llassar, and the prince in the command tent.

“It makes things simpler, doesn’t it?” the prince asked.

“Only if we win,” Llassar said.

“Of course, I’ll win,” the prince said.

“But why do it at all?” Gnaeus asked. “We have more men than they do, the trebuchets are being set up, and we have the city surrounded. All we have to do is sit here until they starve. We’ve either cut off, crushed, or accepted the surrender of every other unfriendly city and garrison on this island. They stand alone. Why risk it for some foolish display of ego? What kind of barbarians decide the contest of armies by two men in single combat?”

“You can go,” Auspex commanded.

Both men had caught the expression on Llassar’s face at Gnaeus’s statement, causing Gnaeus to blanch slightly.

“I apologize. I know that is how your people settled many of their conflicts, and I meant no disrespect. I’m just surprised, is all.”

Llassar gave a slight nod of acceptance. Although he’d added menace into his glare at the cohort commander for his earlier comment, Llassar actually felt no animosity towards the man. In fact, he’d heard how far the man had gone to include the newly added Caledonians into his ranks, including bringing several on as aides, giving them valuable experience that would jump them ahead in line for command past Romans with more time in the legions.

In spite of that, Llassar knew it would take time to change all of the Roman’s long-held prejudices. That understanding didn’t keep him from holding the men he was in charge of accountable for their Roman snobbishness.

“To answer your original question, the reason to do it is because this is how it’s always been done in our cultures. If we win, the people will accept the results and our rulership. Did you find your people had much luck converting the people to the Roman ways in the few towns of ours you captured and tried to rule over?”

He knew Gnaeus had served in what the Romans had called the north prior to the alliance, and would have had some dealings with his people being held in subjugation.

“I found your people to be stubborn,” Gnaeus said, more factually than angrily.

“Because they didn’t see themselves as your subjects, even though you ruled over them. This type of contest would happen regularly and nearly always ended in the village accepting new rulership. It allowed most of the citizens to continue producing crops and kept husbands from being taken from their wives and children. From our point of view, it was much more civilized than how you Romans fought battles. Of course, it isn’t an option for dealing with most of our opponents, because not even a victory in single combat would keep them from seeing their new rulers as foreigners. Here it’s different. True, most of the citizens aren’t fans of the Ulaid, but they wouldn’t see them as foreign, and most will accept their rulership if our man wins. It keeps this town, and ultimately Queen Medb’s entire kingdom from being an issue. In my mind, that’s better than ending up with a city full of corpses from people who starved to death. That doesn’t even consider how long starving a city like this would take. The Consul has made it clear that we are to wrap up the last of the Carthaginian allies and get your legion back with the rest, to take part in the battles to come. This way achieves both outcomes.”

“He’s right,” Auspex said.

Llassar saw not only Gnaeus, but also Auspex nodding in agreement at his reasoning. Of course, this kind of knowledge had limited use, since once they began fighting on the continent or in Africa, every victory would be bloody, which was all the more reason to do it this way. They should take advantage of situations when they could.

Llassar also saw it as a chance to teach Gnaeus that commanding was more than just tactical. Legates often operated independently from other legions, and had to look beyond the battlefield to the entire goal of a campaign. Llassar had been lucky enough to learn that lesson early and had taught it to Talogren when he’d first joined up with the chieftain’s new league. Auspex had spoken highly of the younger cohort commander and Llassar had a conversation with the Consul and Lucilla about the need to be on the lookout for leaders as the legions expanded. He may have been here to pacify Ériu, but he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to mentor a promising commander. The field of battle was the best place to both train and mold young men into leaders.

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” Gnaeus said. “I’m still not sure sending the prince is a good idea.”

“In that, we agree,” Llassar said.

“What?” the prince said, looking at Llassar in shock. “Why?”

“Because for this to work, we need to actually win. I’ve seen you fight, and you’ve got a lot of promise, but if they put up who I think they will, you don’t stand a chance.”

“I don’t care who they put up, I’ll defeat them. I’ve trained with the best teachers in the kingdom, since Father became king, and I beat them every time.”

To read this story you need a Registration + Premier Membership
If you have an account, then please Log In or Register (Why register?)