Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 04

But Charlene had wanted “romantic,” and her mother agreed with her. Darn Doris, with all her silly romance novels. And now some sort of disaster had happened. They were stuck out here on the company’s island and he wasn’t being allowed to make a call back to Washington to get some help. Wiley didn’t believe for one minute that the ship’s communications with the rest of the world were out. Any sort of disaster that would cause that would have wrecked the ship entirely. The lights were working. Hell, his phone had bars, all five bars, and if his phone was working, the only reason he wasn’t getting through to Washington was that damn Norwegian captain was blocking his calls. That had to be it.

Al’s mind cycled back around. Maybe it was a conspiracy. Royal Cruise Lines had screwed the pooch somehow and were trying to cover it up. He called Amanda, his aide. “Amanda, you get me a meeting with that captain. Not the hotel manager, the captain.”

“Yes, sir,” Amanda Miller agreed.

* * *

Amanda stopped pacing when her cell rang with the congressman’s ringtone. After he finished, she sat down on the bed in her stateroom and called Jane Carruthers. She made the request as tactfully as she could. “I know that this is an emergency situation, Ms. Carruthers, but the congressman is on several committees that have oversight over corporations like Royal Cruise Lines. So, if you could free up a few minutes for the congressman to make sure he and the captain are reading from the same playbook…Believe me, it will save us all trouble in the long run.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Miss Miller. And under other circumstances, the captain would be happy to make time for the congressman. But we are still trying to figure out what’s going on.” She sighed audibly — and intentionally, Amanda was sure. “There isn’t anything that the captain could tell him that hasn’t been part of the announcements already made.”

Amanda bit her lip. There had been announcements, one almost immediately after the event, explaining that the ship was in no immediate danger, but that something out of the ordinary had happened and for the moment the crew asked that people stay inside and off the Promenade Deck. Fifteen minutes later, the prohibition against going on the Promenade Deck had been removed, but shore excursions were still off limits. Amanda had immediately gone up to the Promenade Deck and looked out on a disaster. The dock was tilted, actually tilted, and the block or so of buildings behind it were in ruins. The crew was running around doing rescue work, trying to save the people who had lived and worked in those buildings. She reported to the congressman and Al immediately tried to call Washington to get some help. It was the fact that he couldn’t get through that made the congressman so angry. He wanted to help, and they weren’t letting him.

By now, Amanda was convinced that the satellite receiver on the ship was down for some reason. And it was clear that something drastic had happened to Royal Cay Island. “You need to get the captain to tell the congressman what the problem is with the phones.”

“We don’t know what’s wrong with the phones,” Jane said. “Whatever it is, it’s not on the ship. Everything on the ship is working just fine. The problem is…Amanda, I honestly think the problem is with the satellites.”

“That’s impossible. Nothing could take out the satellites, not even a nuclear war. So unless we’ve been invaded by Martians, it can’t be the satellites.”

“Amanda, the sun moved,” Jane said. “Look at your watch. It’s supposed to be 10:00 AM in December in the Caribbean. The sun should be to our southeast — but it’s west of us, and obviously a lot closer to sunset than sunrise. It’s also farther south than it should be, by a considerable margin. Like fall in Maryland or Spain.”

Amanda did look. She knew where the sun should be and she saw where it was. “Thanks, Jane. For telling me.” She hadn’t noticed till Jane mentioned it, too focused on the broken buildings and injured people. Now she did notice and became truly frightened.

Then, perhaps for the very first time since she had gotten her job with Congressman Wiley, Amanda put herself before the congressman. She turned off her phone, went to the bar, and got plastered.

Off Formentera Island

After nightfall

September 15, 321 BCE

The sun had gone down. Elise Beaulieu, the first officer for navigation, adjusted the sextant with careful fingers. Instruments from fifty years ago were being brought into play and combined with ship’s computers. So far they had found that the North Star, Polaris, was not in the right place. Even in the two hours since sunset, they had been able to detect motion in Polaris. That was enough to tell them that they were before the birth of Christ, or at least not that long after it.

The planets were giving more precise data, and as soon as Mars came up they ought to be able to get a year…

And there it was, just on the horizon. Elise plugged the numbers into the slate’s program and got a date. According to the computer, they were in the year 321 Before the Common Era. That was using the standard calendar of the twenty-first century and counting backward, using modern knowledge and technology.

She tapped another icon and called the captain. “Captain, we’re in 321 BCE. From the moon, September fifteenth.”

* * *

Lars Floden nodded. “Thanks, Elise.” He tapped off the phone. “Did you get that, Jane?”

Jane Carruthers pulled up the date from the encyclopedia. “The experts aren’t in agreement about how the dates line up with the events of this time. It’s a safe bet that Alexander the Great was — is — dead, but whether he’s been dead for six months or six years is less certain.”

The Queen of the Sea, in order to save bandwidth, updated the most popular — read, most accessed — web locations every time they hit the Port of Miami. It saved the satellite link for things like email and instant messages. They had a complete and up-to-date mirror of Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, online New York Times website, and even Google Earth, all stored on a set of computers in the IT section of the ship and accessible instantly through the ship’s wifi or any of the half-dozen internet cafes on board. “Alexander the Great is two years dead. Rome is a republic, but what they meant by republic isn’t what we mean by it. Besides, Carthage is the big dog in the Mediterranean.”

“What about the rest of the world, Jane?” the captain asked.

Jane clicked the mouse, then read for a moment. “China is a bunch of warring nations. Qin Shi Huang won’t be born for a couple of hundred years.” She looked up from the computer. “In the Americas, the Olmec have collapsed and, according to Wikipedia, it was because something happened to the land so it wouldn’t support farming.”

That doesn’t sound like good news, Lars thought, because we are going to need farmers. We have almost five thousand people to support, and we can’t feed them on nothing except fish.

“Any idea where we are?”

“Best guess, Captain, somewhere in the Med,” Anders said. Then he got a distracted look. “Give me a second.” He called up a camera view. “I know where we are, Captain. We’re on the south end of Formentera Island, about seventy miles off the coast of Spain. My wife and I vacationed on the island of Formentera for our second honeymoon. About two years ago. Nothing else is the same, but the coastline is.”

“So what’s happening in Spain in 321 BCE?”

“Nothing we want any part of, Captain,” Jane Carruthers said. “I think the Carthaginians owned it at this time in history, and if I recall my third form history, they sacrificed babies to their gods.”

“Is there any place in this time where they didn’t?”

“I’m not sure, Captain. But we can’t just sit here forever.”

“All right. I’ll talk to Joe Kugan and we’ll get some sea room. Meanwhile, find me someone who knows something about this time.”

“Also, Captain, we need to tell the passengers and crew what we have found out.”

“I don’t want a panic, Jane.”

“Better one now than one later. One later, that is laced with mistrust because we were hiding things. Panics wear themselves out, sir. If nothing drastic happens, then people get back to business.”