The Depths of Neptune - Cover

The Depths of Neptune

Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 8

Legion Camp, North of Glevum

He had to hand it to Velius, Ky thought as he stepped out of his tent and looked west, the man could pick locations. Ky looked over the cliffs towards the blue ocean and the sails below. Although he was several hundred feet back with men and tents between him and the edge, the command tents had helpfully been placed on a high point, allowing them to look over the men and equipment to see the ocean beyond.

Having spent most of his life in orbit or on-board space ships, Ky’s experience with the majesty of nature was limited. He’d thought, as a young man a long time ago in the far future, that nothing could beat looking at the shimmering gas clouds in orbit above Jupiter or the way sunlight bounced off the rocks and ice crystals in Saturn’s rings, but he’d been wrong. He was not only appreciating the view, but also the crisp smell of salt in the air and the crashing of waves below. If Ky could have his wish, he and Lucilla would have a home somewhere near here and they would sit out front all day, looking at the waves.

Of course, the sounds of thousands of men getting prepared for another day of training were a stark reminder that there was a lot to do before that could happen. Giving one last glance at the view, Ky headed for the command tent where he, Bomilcar, and Velius had been meeting every morning to discuss that day’s goals and continue to work on plans for taking Insula Manavia, which had turned out to be a trickier proposition than Ky had first thought.

The island was packed with soldiers, mostly those who escaped from Ériu or Londinium, which meant even though the Britannians would have the more maneuverable position, for once, they’d still be outnumbered. That in itself wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that it was an island. Tactics at this time were basically to take an oar-driven ship and slam it into the coast, and then have soldiers scramble over the sides and charge forward. The problem was, massed formations of heavy infantry relied on numbers, and you could only get so many men onto each ship capable of landing on a beach, and only so many of those ships on a given stretch of beach.

Because of the way the ships landed, it would take time to push them back out to sea and clear room for more ships to land, which was going to leave whatever troops they could land even more outnumbered for quite some time. The ships on the beach would also be impediments for archers to provide support, not to mention the archers would be at fairly extreme ranges and firing from a moving ship, which would play havoc with their accuracy. Meanwhile, the other side would be able to rain fire down on the soldiers and then use their greater numbers to push them into the sea.

It was a tricky proposition, and one they had to solve before they could begin training their men on how to conduct the landings. Thankfully, they had their own secret weapon. As much as some of the Romans still distrusted him, the more Ky worked with Bomilcar, the more he was astounded by the man’s mind. He had an intuitive sense of battlefield tactics and could see the entire field clearly in his mind, constantly evaluating moves and countermoves. It was similar to what Sophus was designed to do, except Bomilcar added a sense of intuitiveness that an AI, no matter how well designed, could never emulate. Ky had assigned him to figure out their landing problem, which is why he wasn’t surprised to find the general already in the command tent, leaning over the large map with its wooden markers, deep in thought.

“Good morning,” Ky said, setting his sword and helmet down on a nearby table before joining Bomilcar at the map. “Any progress?”

“Some, although I’m still interested in the new training you started. I’d like to see how these new formations change the landscape.”

“I’ve been wondering the same thing,” Velius said from behind Ky.

“It shouldn’t affect it at all,” Ky said. “These new formations are for when we start producing the new weapons. From the progress reports I’ve gotten from Hortensius, I’m hopeful we’ll see the first of the rifles by mid-summer, which will allow us to make our landings by the end of summer or early fall, and have the winter to fortify our positions before the Carthaginians can counter-attack.”

“You still haven’t told us what these new weapons are,” Velius said. “How are we supposed to work on preparing the men for these new tactics when we don’t know what kind of weapon we’ll even be using?”

“That’s fair,” Ky said, and then turned to the guards standing inside the tent. “Wait outside.”

“You don’t trust them?” Bomilcar said, looking to the two men as they left. “One of them is one of your personal guards. As far as I knew, we ... I mean the Carthaginians, were having trouble infiltrating any agents at all. The information I was getting, back then, was piecemeal at best.”

“I do trust them, but soldiers talk. We know that there are still supporters of the insurgency out there, and that some of them are getting word back to Caesius, who is then giving it to the Carthaginians. It’s an unwieldy system and from everything Ramirus can find, slow, but we’re operating on long enough timelines that if they heard about something now, they could make changes to counter our strategy by the time we attack the continent. Worse, because most of these spies are disgruntled citizens, it’s very hard to tell them from us. It’s too easy for information to slip out. We’re already playing it very tight to maintain the element of surprise from when Hortensius actually starts producing the weapons to when they’re introduced into the field. This is why keeping secret any word of what the weapon might be is even more important.”

“That makes sense,” Velius said. “It is, however, just the three of us now. Unless you think we’re at risk to talk.”

“No, although I did want you both to be clear on how important it is to keep the information on what we’re doing as secret as possible. Right now, only Lucilla and I know the details. We haven’t even explained the weapon to Hortensius yet.”

“We’re privileged, then, to be among your most trusted advisors,” Bomilcar said, which earned him a sharp glance from Velius.

Velius was a professional and had shown he was able to work with Bomilcar when needed, because those were his orders, but he’d also made it clear he neither liked nor trusted the former Carthaginian general.

“The new weapons are called rifles,” Ky said, continuing on before Velius could make some kind of cutting remark to Bomilcar. “I know you’ve heard me say that before, but I want to be clear that’s what we’re talking about. They are like the cannon, only much smaller, and a little longer than the spears the legions use but much shorter than the spears of the Carthaginians. In actual operations, it works much like an arcuballista, where the soldier puts the butt of the weapon to his shoulder, aims down the length of it, and pulls a trigger to fire it. Instead of an arrow, the projectile is a small piece of lead that is pushed out of the weapon when a small amount of gunpowder is exploded.”

“Is it sharpened?” Velius asked. “How much damage can a small piece of lead do? The cannon I understand, since those cannon balls weigh so much, they’re like a boulder, but an arrow without a head might pierce the skin, but would bounce off shields and armor.”

“True, and if it was traveling at the speed of an arrow, it would, but the size of the bullet, which is what the small piece of lead is called, and the force that is behind it makes it travel incredibly fast. Three or four times faster than an arrow, with a lot of force behind it. I know it’s hard to envision, which is why a lot of this won’t matter until you see it tested, but trust me when I say it can cut through any armor or shields you can imagine, and the person wearing them. If you have two men, one in front of the other, and they are somewhat close to the man firing the rifle, it will go through the first man and into the second. It has all of the power of a scorpion bolt, but is so small you can hold it in the palm of your hand. The only thing the scorpion bolt does better is leave a bigger hole; but the rifle can be operated by a single man, whereas the scorpion requires a crew.”

Both men were stunned for a second by Ky’s description. They were both seasoned warriors and had seen a wide variety of weapons of war. Scorpions were a siege weapon used by both sides, although Ky hadn’t seen any since coming to Britannia. They fired what were essentially huge arrows that, because of their weight and the size of the machine, which used several men to crank back the bow string that fired it, could take a grown man off his feet and go through multiple men if they were lined up one in front of the other.

“I know you’ve pulled out some wonders, and I don’t doubt you, not after seeing the cannon in action, but it is hard to imagine what you’re describing. How something so small could have so much power,” Bomilcar said. “As Velius said, the cannon made sense, what with the size of the metal being thrown, but something that could fit in your hand being able to do the same damage. Unbelievable.”

“How fast do they fire?”

“That is the part that will take time and training. With enough drilling, a trained soldier should be able to fire two to three bullets a minute.”

“That slow?” Velius said. “That’s only a little faster that the arcuballista. If it has the power to penetrate shields, yes, we’ll kill a lot more men, but unless every man hits a different target every time, which if it’s anything like arcuballista seems improbable, their line will be on top of ours before we get more than two shots off, which isn’t going to be enough to stop a full phalanx. If our men only have these rifles, which sound much longer than the arcuballista, they won’t be able to carry swords and shields, and the enemy will roll right over us. Yes, we’ll kill a lot of them, but they have men to lose and we don’t.”

“You’re thinking of the rifles in terms of arcuballista, which is my fault, but it’s the closest thing I have to compare them to. They, however, are not really comparable. For one, their range to hit a target is significantly longer. The rifle is also more accurate, even with minimal training, and the bullet itself can continue traveling, and be lethal, up to a mille passus, although that is without any accuracy. More importantly, unlike the arcuballista, where we lose penetration over longer ranges, the rifle continues to be just as effective. It is also significantly more deadly. The lead bullet, when impacting a person will begin to lose shape, expanding out. It will remove whole sections of bone and can cause terrible wounds. Nearly any wound caused by a bullet will take the wounded man out of the fight.”

“But what about when the enemy gets up close? If they have enough men, it will happen.”

“Less often than you think. You’re used to large formations which tend to approach slowly so they can hold their unit cohesion. If a phalanx charged you, it would break apart by the time it got to you, which keeps it from being effective. In this case, yes, it would be better for the men to charge and close the gap, so that they won’t spend so long under fire, but it’s hard for men to break their training. In addition, while phalanxes do move under arrow fire, it’s usually not sustained for long periods like this and the damage a barrage of arrows causes will be significantly lower than volley fire from rifles, which like the arcuballista, fire in direct lines which means against tight packed ranks every bullet will hit someone. With that many bodies piling up, it will be hard for large formations to move forward.”

“What piles of bodies?” Velius asked. “Sure, the phalanxes move slow, but two or three volleys a minute, their bodies will be spread out pretty far, even if entire lines go down.”

“I said two or three shots a minute per man, which is why we trained on the arcuballista the way we have. I know you questioned the need to fire in ranks when we discussed the tactics for that weapon, but one of the main reasons was to prepare for this and why the men are beginning to train in the new formations. A line will still be four rows deep, with each row firing in volleys, and then kneeling to reload while the row behind them fires. By the time the fourth row has finished, the first row should be ready to stand, aim and fire, and so on. This way, they can maintain a fairly regular pace of fire on the enemy, who will be slowly closing over much longer distances. Over time, they will change their tactics, probably attempting to charge our lines, closing the gap quickly, which we will also have tactics for. The men will train to deal with that as well, but first, we must get the basics down.”

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