Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 06

“There are several reasons,” she said, “but the most important are that Egypt is the richest province in the Macedonian empire and will be the richest in the Roman Empire. It’s the breadbasket of the Mediterranean, even more than Sicily. And Sicily is in conflict at the moment between the Greeks and the Carthaginians. Also, I don’t speak Phoenician, but I may be able to get by in Macedonian Greek. Certainly, I can write in Greek, even if the spoken language has changed more than we think.”

“We can be off the coast at Alexandria in two days, Captain,” said the man sitting next to him, who was looking at his computer screen. There were coffee cups scattered across the table, and the internal lights made the windows night black. “Fuel isn’t a problem. We were just loading up and the Reliance filled our tanks to capacity. Water isn’t a problem, either. We can purify what we need as long as we have fuel, but food will become an issue.”

The one he’d addressed as “Captain” nodded. Then, smiled at Marie and gestured toward an empty chair. “Please, Professor Easley, have a seat. Before we go any further, some introductions are in order. I am Lars Floden, the captain of this ship. This fellow” — he nodded toward the man who had just spoken” — is Staff Captain Anders Dahl. My executive officer, if this were a naval vessel. Next to him is our Environmental Compliance Officer, Dag Jakobsen.”

Now he nodded toward a woman seated at the far end of the table. “That is our Chief Purser, Eleanor Kinney. Who, judging from the way she is fidgeting, has something urgent on her mind.”

He said that in the sort of relaxed, good-humored way that Marie recognized as the mark of a capable team leader. She relaxed a little and slid into the seat he’d indicated. Having an effective ship’s captain would be critical in the situation they were in.

As soon as she sat down, Kinney spoke. Her accent was American — from somewhere on the east coast, Marie guessed. Not New York or Boston, though.

“That still leaves the question of how we’re going to pay for it,” the Chief Purser said. “It’s not like we can pull out the ship’s credit card and charge it to the company account.”

“Good point, Eleanor,” said Floden. “What do we have that we can afford to sell? We need an inventory of all goods owned by all the shops on the ship. Also ship’s stores. Nothing irreplaceable if we can avoid it. What can we make in the machine shops?”

“We can probably restock the ship once, maybe twice, out of the jewelry onboard. But that’s not a renewable resource,” Eleanor said. “The same thing is true of the fabrics on the ship but, again, it’s not a renewable resource.”

“Maybe not, but the laundry is. We can wash local fabrics. I don’t know how much of a market there will be for that, but it’s something.”

“Wait a moment, Captain,” Marie said. “You are assuming that these are civilized people.”

“Well, of course. I mean, Aristotle was Alexander’s tutor.”

Marie opened her mouth, then she closed it. Opened it again. “Alexander the Great truly was great for his time. He had a wide view of humanity, one that included not only his native tribe, but Persians and other Greeks as well. But Alexander was an exception. As much of an exception for his time as Martin Luther King, Junior was for his. And Alexander would be tried for war crimes in our century. Murder, rapine, slavery, brutalization, theft by force of arms — all these things are considered perfectly acceptable, even honorable, behavior in this day and age. Failure to kill your enemies is considered insane weakness.

“In the years after Alexander’s death, every single member of his family was murdered. Some of them quite brutally, and often killed by other members of the family. His mother Olympias killed his half-brother, Philip III, and forced Philip’s teenage wife Eurydice to commit suicide. Well, will kill. It hasn’t happened yet. Alexander’s wife, Roxane, had his other two wives killed within a week of his death, and she was later murdered herself, along with his only legitimate son, Alexander IV. Of the roughly two dozen top military commanders who launched the decades-long civil war that followed Alexander’s death, only three survived — Seleucus, Antigonus — not the first one, called ‘the One-Eyed,’ but his grandson — and Ptolemy. And Ptolemy, perhaps the sanest of his generals, founded a line of monarchs where incest was not just allowed, but required.”

She looked around the table. “We have arrived in the historical period known as ‘the Age of the Diadochi.’ That’s a Greek term that means ‘successors.’ Have any of you seen the TV series Game of Thrones?”

Anders shook his head; Floden and Kinney nodded.

“Well, you can think of the Age of the Diadochi as Game of Thrones on steroids. Captain Floden, these are not civilized people we will be dealing with. I can say with a high degree of certainty that the only civilized people on the planet are on board this ship. And I am actually an admirer of Alexander and Ptolemy, if you take them within their context. Further, we are just at the beginning of the wars of the Diadochi. The political and military situation of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East is out of control right now, rudderless because Alexander was the rudder, the center that held everything together. As brutal and ruthless as the people of this era were in ordinary times, they will be even less civilized now.”

She moved her finger in a circle, indicating her surroundings. “They will attempt to take this ship by force of arms and failing that, by treachery. Any other course would be rank insanity by the standards of the time.”

Floden took a deep breath and let it out. “What do you recommend then, Professor Easley? Should we go back to the island? Should we head for America? Understand, we will be out of food by the time we get there, but we can get there.”

“No. We will have to deal with Egypt. It’s probably the most civilized place on Earth. But deal with them with guns out and armed, and with one hand on your wallet.”

Floden made a face. “Professor Easley –”

“Call me Marie, please.” She smiled. “You’ll wear yourself out if you plant ‘professor’ in front of my name every time we talk.”

He returned the smile. “Marie, then.” He made no reciprocal offer but Marie wasn’t offended. There were good reasons to keep calling a commander by his title in a situation like this. Her title just got in the way.

“This is not a warship, Marie. We have a total of twenty pistols locked in a safe,” Floden said.

“Well, bring them out and have the security people start wearing them,” Marie said. “And see if you can get them some swords and armor too. Something that the Greeks and Egyptians will recognize as weapons. Understand me, Captain, this ship is worth fighting a war for. Worth risking a thousand men in a foolish charge, if there is one chance in fifty of taking it.”

“Come now, Prof — ah, Marie. I know that we are…” Anders Dahl’s voice trailed off as he ran out of the right words to say what he wanted to convey.

Marie could make a good guess at what that was. However advanced their technology, they were only five thousand people and only one ship. Granted, it was the biggest and best ship in the world, but still only one. That had to put a hard limit on its value. She understood, and even sort of wished the staff captain was right. Instead, she shook her head.

“No, Staff Captain Dahl. If any king in this world could, he would trade his capital city for this ship without a moment’s hesitation. Babylon, Memphis, Athens — all of them together don’t represent so much wealth, in machines, in knowledge, even in direct ability to exert power. Pack them to the deck heads and you can put an army of twenty thousand men on any coast, anywhere in the world, in days or, at most, weeks.”