The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 7


“The line must follow a two-degree slope, Lucilla,” Sophus said.

Sophus had explained to her multiple times that it didn’t feel emotions or have feelings like she did, but she could almost hear the exasperation in its voice as she set the page on top of the twelve other rejects and pulled a new one.

“I’m sorry, this is very difficult,” she said, equally annoyed.

“I understand. It is imperative, however, that these diagrams are correct, or it can lead to costly or dangerous errors.”

“I know, I know.”

Before leaving, Ky had been concerned about how much information he needed to transcribe, especially with the new chemicals, and had started pushing himself beyond the workload that even he could manage. It was Sophus who’d come up with a solution. Ky would continue to write up pages, which he was still going to have one of his lictore bring to Lucilla, while she also took dictation separately from Sophus. She couldn’t write nearly as fast as Ky or for as long, but Sophus had no problem communicating with both of them simultaneously, and having two people work on the documents, instead of one, helped ease the workload significantly.

Since Ky had left Devnum, Sophus had worked out a schedule of who would write up which documents, including calculating how much each of them could write, and the fact that Lucilla could deliver finished documents right away, as opposed to a two or three-day delay while messengers delivered the ones written by Ky, to keep the work being done by Hortensius, Sorantius, and the rest proceeding without any delays. It meant she had to spend several hours every night sitting in her room, writing words exactly as Sophus dictated. She didn’t understand anything she was writing, which was frustrating for her, but she knew it was necessary.

They’d also begun conducting experiments with Sophus’s control of the drone, seeing if there was a way to attach writing instruments to it, to allow the disembodied voice to take a more direct action, but so far, every attempt had been a disaster, leaving Lucilla as the only option to continue this frustrating exercise night after night.

“Could you be less ... bouncy?” she asked, looking at the drone. “It’s distracting.”

“Bouncy? I don’t have a body. How can I be bouncy?”

“I mean this you,” she said, pointing at the drone.

“That isn’t me. That is just a controlled piece of hardware that I am interfacing with to be able to observe your work and offer suggestions. It has no intelligence or autonomous programming of its own.”

“I have no idea what that means, but you’re still controlling it, right? When you speak, it bounces up and down. Sometimes, I think it even nods yes and no.”

“It does?” Sophus said, sounding surprised, which in turn surprised her.

Sophus rarely sounded anything but direct and matter-of-fact, which made Lucilla stop writing and look up at it, or at least the disc floating in front of her.

“Yes. I thought you were doing it on purpose. If I had to guess, I would have said you were imitating the way people, or I mean, people like me and Ky, move when we talk, with non-verbal gestures. I guess it’s why I kept thinking of this thing as you, since it ... acts like a person, in a way.”

“Interesting. Unconscious or subconscious behavior should be outside of my capacity. I have not made any such movements knowingly. I will attempt to observe my behavior, and control it more to limit distractions.”

“Don’t stop on my behalf,” Lucilla said. “Actually, I kind of like it. It’s ... weird to talk to a voice without a body and I think I prefer talking to you when you’re able to see me through the disc. It allows me to think of you as another person in the room, instead of just a voice.”

“But your voice pattern and tone were consistent with that of someone being angry or upset,” Sophus said.

Ky had mentioned that Sophus had been spending more time observing their behavior, which had made her uncomfortable at first, considering she knew it was aware of their more ... energetic activities, but Ky hadn’t been bothered by it, so she’d eventually let it go. She hadn’t actually talked to Sophus about its observations, though. Mostly because, unless she needed something specific, she still found the entire process of talking to a voice without a body odd, which is why she preferred it when she could see the drone moving around.

“I was just frustrated, because this is very hard and I’d like to get it right. Don’t you get frustrated when you can’t get something right?”

“No, I don’t. I analyze the data related to the failed effort in order to discern what changes can be applied to increase the chances of success on future attempts.”

“You’re lucky then,” Lucilla said. “I’m frustrated all the time. I wish you could deal with all of the politicians and schemers. Trying to get all of them to head in one direction is like herding cats. It’s incredibly frustrating.

“I do not believe I would do a good job. I have observed that rarely do any of the people you have indicated say what they mean, and often they say things that mean the opposite of their actual position. Their behavior lacks any sense of logic and I have had a great deal of difficulty predicting outcomes.”

“That’s politics for you. Don’t stop the movements though. I actually like the way you’re trying to be more human. I was just being bitchy.”

“I will attempt to observe and perfect the attempts then.”

“Fine. Now, explain this stupid line again.”


Lucilla walked into the new main foundry, the first of the new complex facilities to be finished and have production started, and almost backed right out to avoid the overwhelming heat coming from the building. She’d always been surprised by how hot these buildings got, but this one was larger than any of the other foundries and the heat was overpowering. She couldn’t imagine what it was like working in the building all day, although she knew Hortensius rotated men out for breaks and kept fresh water, cleaned through boiling and then cooling following Ky’s directions, available for the men to drink.

She was impressed by how quickly the facility had gone up. Especially considering how little Ky had thought of the politics involved when he’d suggested it. Previously, even though Hortensius got the majority of the contracts, she’d made sure that a portion of the government contracts were spread to the other foundry and factory owners, but that wouldn’t work here, with these new facilities outside of town. Although this complex was mostly financed from the Imperial coffers, or maybe because of it, she’d convinced Hortensius to allow the other factory owners to buy into owning a part of the operations, although they were all still under Hortensius’s direction.

Eventually, they would pay the government back for the initial investment and each factory would be completely owned by this or that collective group. As long as the war was happening, they’d stand to make a serious amount of money and benefit from all of the new innovations Ky and Sophus had given them. Some decided to try and keep doing things on their own. They were allowed to get plans for any of the new patents, as Ky called them, but without the integrated production lines from the chemical plants and other factories, they were at a serious disadvantage. Eventually, they’d be able to buy the products from the other factories on the open market, but for a while at least, nearly every bit of what the new chemical plants produced would be going to the other factories here at the complex.

She was afraid that they were going to make more enemies, men who thought the government was showing favoritism to Hortensius or the other factory owners who’d joined in the building of the complex. These would be men of wealth and she worried the remaining insurgents still in hiding would find them, giving the insurgency more resources, but it couldn’t be helped. If they hadn’t been at war, maybe they could have just made this information public and let everyone get a piece, but they didn’t need ten different factory owners trying to figure out this or that process on their own, or worse, cutting corners to try and make more money. That would just have to be a problem to be dealt with in the future, she thought as Hortensius hurried over to her, wiping his brow.

“How can you stand it in here?” she asked over the noise.

“I hadn’t considered how hot it would get in here, and it will only get worse as we get into the summer. I spoke to the Consul before he left for the legions’ new training camp, and he made some suggestions. We’ve added some new ventilation areas along the top edges of the building, and it’s helped some, but it gets pretty bad in the center of the building. We have to run shifts at almost one and a half times what we need, so we can rotate men outside for breaks to keep them from passing out. The Consul says if everything goes well, in a year some of the new inventions he is introducing will be able to be used in here to help cool things down, but I’m having trouble seeing what that could be.”

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