Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 09
Queen of the Sea, Off Alexandria
Sixty-seven hours after the Queen of the Sea started the trip, the passengers and crew got their first view of Alexandria. Not that they could see much. It was a bit after 8:00 PM and there weren’t any electric lights in this time. As well, the famed Lighthouse of Alexandria was yet to be built. It was a work very much in progress and it was being built by hand. Lots and lots of hands. It was dawn on the 19th before they could see much of anything.
However, the reverse wasn’t true. The citizens of Alexandria — from Dinocrates of Rhodes and Crates of Olynthus, all the way down to the slave workers who were building the outer wall of the bay — could see the mountain of light that had moved into view and sat the better part of a mile out to sea.
And it was a mountain of light, because the captain had made the decision that they would not try to hide the existence of their technology. Whether to hide the way it worked was another question, and one that was the subject of heated debate onboard the ship.
* * *
Dinocrates of Rhodes, a tall, good-looking man who normally possessed a dignified air, looked out at the device that made all his works and dreams seem little more than a child building sandcastles. Envy and awe warred in his heart and the dignified air that he normally showed the world was notable by its absence. It wasn’t real anyway, just a mask he showed to the world. He was as much showman as architect, and compared to the people on that ship he was neither.
“I don’t believe it,” Crates said for the third time since they had been called from their dinners to the heptastadion, a seven stadia long mole that connected the island of Pharos to the mainland and created the harbor at Alexandria. Crates was in part responsible for the heptastadion. He was the hydraulic engineer who was in charge of designing the sewers for Alexandria, sewers made necessary by the fact that Alexandria was being built in a swamp. He was a scholar, and at the same time, practical in his works. Dinocrates had never seen him so bereft of sense as he seemed now.
“It is, Crates. Believe it or not, it’s there.”
“But it can’t be. Don’t you understand? Look at the length! Look at the height! It’s not as tall as the Great Pyramid, but it’s longer. You can’t float something that big. No tree on earth is strong enough to take the stresses.”
Dinocrates simply pointed.
“I know,” Crates complained, “but it can’t be.”
“Fine, it can’t be. But what are we going to do about it?”
Crates shrugged. “Send a message to Ptolemy at Memphis.”
Dinocrates nodded. With the signal fires the news would reach Ptolemy by morning. The satrap of Egypt would probably be here in three days. “What do we do in the meantime?”
Crates looked at him, then back at the ship. “Whatever you do, don’t piss them off.”
Dinocrates laughed. “I agree, but I was asking about the rest of it. There are seventeen ships in the harbor and fifty or more boats. If we don’t do something by tomorrow noon, half those ships and more than half the boats will be gone and the news is going to spread.”
“I don’t see that there is anything we can do about that,” Crates said. “For myself, I am going to get my instruments and make some estimates of the size of that thing. But I’m not going out to it until I know more. And not in the middle of the night.”
* * *
Not everyone in Alexandria was so cautious. Atum Edfu slammed his hand down on the table and glared at the oar captain of his family galley. “I told you to get the men to their oars.” The room was dim, lit with oil lamps. This wasn’t Atum’s home, but his dock office. It had large unglazed windows. Atum didn’t miss glazing. It would not be invented for another four hundred years. He and his clerks worked here most days with the shutters open to let in the sea air and the light, but the office wasn’t designed for nighttime use. The dim lamps in nooks on walls filled the room with shadows, adding a spooky feel that Atum noticed no more than he noticed the lack of glazing.
“I know, sir, but the men are afraid.”
“Afraid? Afraid! I’ll give you afraid! Half their job is to be the family’s bodyguards at sea! And they’re afraid of a big boat?”
Atum was a grain seller of mixed ancestry who spoke Egyptian, Greek, Carthaginian, even the language of the barbarian Latins. He looked at the ship and saw profit. Such a ship would need to feed its rowers, for he saw no sails. He didn’t see oars either, but something had to be pushing the ship, and if it wasn’t the wind, whatever it was probably needed to eat. He had calculated that the first merchant to greet them would have the advantage. So, after his first good look at the ship, he had hurried to the docks and rousted out his crew.
Atum owned a large number of slaves that he used in loading and unloading boats in the harbor, and for farming and other jobs, but he didn’t use slaves to man the oars on the family galley. For that he used hired rowers who were armed and could fend off pirates. Just at the moment, though, he was considering a change in policy. Slaves wouldn’t be giving him back talk.
“Well, they will get aboard the galley and they will row me to that ship out there, or they will be looking for new jobs tomorrow morning.”
It took him almost until midnight to get the crew on the galley, and another half an hour before he could reach the ship.
“Ahoy!” he offered in Egyptian. Then in Carthaginian. Then in Greek. He had gone through several more languages before he got an answer in what was probably the very worst Athenian accent he had ever heard. He introduced himself in Greek and explained that he was here to trade. By now, looking up the wall of what was starting to look like iron, and hearing the magnified voice out of the ship, he was beginning to wonder if his avarice hadn’t gotten the better of his good sense. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.
A hole opened up in the iron wall of the ship, and a ramp was lowered to tie onto the galley. With trepidation starting to win out over greed, but pride now weighing in on greed’s side, Atum made his way up the ramp and into the ship, and was probably more scared than he had ever been in his life. It wasn’t because he was threatened. He wasn’t. There wasn’t a sword or a bow in sight, much less a spear. The men and women in strange clothing were apparently unarmed, though they wore on their belts a strange device that he thought from their gestures might be a weapon of some sort. But he only noticed those at all because his fear was making him more vigilant than usual.
What terrified him was the light. It wasn’t coming from fires. Instead they had little bits of the sun locked into the ceiling of the room they were in. They led him through a door, then down a hallway to where a set of doors opened, sliding out of the way, and leading into a small room. One of the guards — he was almost sure they were guards — preceded him into the small room and the other gestured for him to enter.
Terror had given way to a curious fatalism, and Atum shrugged and went in. The guard pressed a finger against a circle with a character of some sort on it. As the dot was pressed, it lit up, and a moment later the doors closed. A moment after that, the room moved. Up, he thought. Atum stood still for just a moment, then he started to smile. He understood. He had been lifted up on a platform before. It had been an open platform, not a room like this one, but it had moved, powered by a slave in a wheel. It had been used to lift heavy loads gradually to higher places, so that they might be used in making walls. Somewhere on this massive ship, Atum was now convinced, was a slave in a wheel providing the motive power for the moving box. He would have one installed in his town house.