Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 12
Royal Lounge, Queen of the Sea
Al Wiley had barely gotten invited to this little dinner in the Royal Lounge.
Every ship that belonged to Royal Cruise Lines had a Royal Lounge, and they were always reserved for private parties. This one was one deck up from the pool deck, and you could see the swimmers from the windows. The windows were massive picture windows that went from floor to ceiling. At the moment, they were transparent but Al knew that they could be opaqued with the flip of a switch. There was a well-stocked bar next to the main doors and both a large conference table and a set of smaller tables where people could eat, drink or chat. The chairs were white naugahyde, but of good quality. The tables were plastic, but heavy and colored to resemble teak or other dark woods.
Al was miffed about the trouble he’d had getting this invitation. The captain was being unreasonable.
But he pulled himself up short. This situation was upsetting him more than he wanted to admit. The captain was being the captain. And, technically, at least until things got a bit more organized, the captain had a point. He was the one with a legal obligation to care for the passengers and crew. Al stood up as the locals in linen robes came sauntering into the room like a bunch of tribal chieftains decked out in native attire. Which, Al guessed, was what they were.
They were escorted by one of the ship’s officersâ€¦he thought it was Dan, no, something foreignâ€¦Dag, that was it. Right there on his nametag, Dag Jakobsen.
The guests were shown to seats and Captain Floden introduced everyone. Dinocrates of Rhodes was tall, a dignified looking man, going a bit gray at the temples and around the beard. Crates was shorter, balding, with bad teeth. Al had seen the Egyptian, Atum, before, though he hadn’t been introduced. The woman, Lateef, was apparently Atum’s wife and Al wasn’t sure why she was here.
The captain finished the introductions, and Marie Easley translated. At every name, the Greeks nodded their understanding till they got to Al. He listened carefully, but couldn’t follow. Then she said, “tribune.”
“What’s the problem, Professor Easley?” Al asked.
“They don’t have an equivalent title to congressman. The closest I was able to come was the Latin ‘tribune.'”
Al nodded. It made sense. But it also brought some potential problems forward in his mind. Al was a Republican, and that wasn’t just his party. He believed in representative government, not the right of kings. And these people, even the Romans, didn’t get that. Not in the modern sense, anyway. That could produce errors in judgment among them, but there was a more insidious danger if they were stuck here permanently. Al had no desire to live in a world where the citizenry were lorded over by the kings and captains of antiquity.
For the rest of the meeting, while Al listened and even participated, that thought was bouncing around his mind. They might be stuck here, not just for a time, but forever.
They talked about resupply. They talked about fuel and its availability. They talked about taxes and duties. And it was mentioned that signal fires had been used to transmit word of their arrival to Memphis and Ptolemy. The satrap of Egypt would know that they were here by now.
Then Dinocrates of Rhodes asked a question, and Marie translated. “Who owns the ship?”
“Royal Cruise Li — ” Captain Floden started to say, but Al interrupted.
“The people on board!”
“Congressman!” Captain Floden said.
Al said, “Wait, Captain, please. And listen. This is vital and it will affect all our dealings with these people. If the ship is owned by a company that will not exist for two thousand years, then it’s owned by no one, and is open to seizure. It’s in Egyptian territorial waters and, absent an owner, it is the property of the government of Egypt. Ptolemy. Don’t give them that opening.”
“He’s right,” Marie Easley said. “Captain, we can’t leave it the property of a future company licensed by a nation that itself doesn’t exist yet.”
“That doesn’t mean that it has become the property of everyone on board equally,” Captain Floden said. Then his lips twitched in a sort of half smile. “I didn’t expect such a communistic viewpoint coming from a Republican congressman.”
Al felt a grin twitching his own lips and, without hesitation, let it show. “We aren’t insane, whatever the liberal media has told you, Captain. And I didn’t say it was equally owned by everyone, but who owns how much and how it’s shared out is something for us to decide, not the locals.”
Captain Floden nodded. Professor Easley spoke in Greek, was questioned, and then spoke again.
She turned to them. “Well, now they understand why Congressman Wiley is here. Or at least they think they do. He is here as a representative of the owners of the ship.”
“That’s not too far off,” Al said.
“With all due respect, Congressman,” said Staff Captain Dahl, “you represent your district in Utah, not the people on this ship, many of whom aren’t even Americans and less than a hundred of whom are from Utah.”
“This isn’t the time, Staff Captain, but we need to have a meeting soon,” Al said.
Then they got back to business until the Greeks were taken off on a tour of the ship by Professor Easley and Dag.
* * *
“All right, Congressman,” Captain Floden asked after the Greeks had left the room, “what did you mean when you said you represented the passengers?”
“Yes,” Staff Captain Dahl said. “Who elected you?”
Al took a sip of ice water and carefully put the glass back on the table before he answered. “Staff Captain, as to who elected me, the people of the United States did. The chain of command runs from the president to the vice president to the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate, and then through all the members of the cabinet starting with the Secretary of State. If they’re all dead — or gone missing — then it goes down the congressional chain of seniority, to me. As it happens, I am three hundred fifty-seventh in the House. It matters for things like committee seats, which is why I know. For this ship, in these circumstances, I am the next in line for the presidency of the United States of America. And if you find that notion something between obscene and ridiculous, believe me, I am no more fond of it than you. But it’s true. There will need to be elections, but until they are held, I am the commander-in-chief of the citizens of the United States on this ship.”
“But we aren’t in the United States, Congressman. We weren’t in the United States when The Event happened. We weren’t even in her territorial waters.”
Al shrugged. Captain Floden had a point. “I agree that it’s a gray area, and I am not trying to usurp your authority, Captain. But, like it or not, it leaves me with a responsibility to the American citizens on this ship, and that’s the majority of the people here.”
“Does that make me the queen of England?” Jane Carruthers asked with a smile.
“I have no idea, Ms. Carruthers.” Al laughed. “I don’t know your relationship to the crown, or the relationship of the other British citizens on board.”
“I can’t let command of the Queen fall to an unqualified person or, especially, a group, just because they have the most votes,” Captain Floden said. “And I can’t run for election, either. I’d lose and that still wouldn’t make me unqualified to command this ship.”
“No, you’re right about that, Captain. Command of this ship, at least in the immediate sense, must remain with you and your staff.”
“In the immediate sense?” Dahl asked. “What other sense is there?”
“The long-term policy sense,” Al said. “If we are truly stuck in this time and it’s permanent, then we can’t stay on this ship having shrimp cocktails and weiners on a stick forever. We have to do something. Something beyond getting more shrimp and bread. The planning for that something can’t be the purview of one unelected man. It must represent the views of the majority of the people on the ship, passengers as well as crew.”
“How would you go about that, Congressman Wiley?” asked Jane Carruthers. “I’m not objecting. In fact, I rather agree with you, at least in principle. I just want to know how you plan to hold elections and what level ofâ€¦well, civilian oversightâ€¦you’re looking to impose.”
“I don’t know yet, but we all need to be thinking about it.”
* * *
“I wish to see the movers,” Crates of Olynthus said yet again. Marie didn’t even need to translate it because Crates had made the same request every time they had gone anywhere on the ship. So far they had been to the casino, two restaurants, a stateroom, the Royal Duty Free Shop, the Coach shop, where Dinocrates had bought a leather jacket, a backpack, and boots. They’d just finished the visit to Guess, where Dinocrates bought a pair of blue jeans and a silk shirt, putting the whole thing on Atum’s ship account. Atum wasn’t looking very pleased, but he had nodded acquiescence. If Dinocrates kept this up, they would be owed another boatload of wheat.
Dag said in English, “We can take him to see the engines if you want, but there won’t be a lot to see. They are turbines and all the moving parts are covered.”
“Show him what you can, Dag,” Marie said. “Almost twenty-four hundred years later, this man’s name is still remembered. He’s the one who designed the sewer system for Alexandria.”
So they went down many decks, and Dag took them into the crew section where the passengers weren’t allowed, and showed them the engine rooms.
“But where are the machines you mentioned?” Crates asked.
“They are under the covers and behind the shields. Understand, we use great heat and spin the turbines very fast. So fast that even were there not shields, you couldn’t see the blades.”
“Well, what can I see?” The little balding man seemed pretty upset.
Dag thought about showing them the machine shop, and then remembered what Romi was doing in there. Instead, Dag took him to one of the monitors that could be used to see the props on the nacelles. The nacelles had cameras and lights. Looking at the monitors, you could see the props turning. As he showed Crates the moving propeller, he wondered how Romi was doing with the steam-powered guns.
* * *
Romi cursed and sucked on a skinned knuckle. “What you think, Marcus? Will the arrester valve hold pressure?”
“It should, Romi. It’s the rest of the rig that bothers me. It’s going to take a lot of steam pressure to run this thing.”
“We’ve got a lot of pressure. High pressure fire-fighting gear all over the ship. It takes a lot of pressure piping to run those, and we can use the spares to set up the feeds for the cannon.”
“You really think anyone would try to take the ship?”
Romi considered. “No. They may be primitive, but I doubt they’re idiots. They couldn’t even reach the deck without help and they know it, or should. It’s seventy-five feet from the sea to the Promenade Deck. Figure that even a tall ship for these people is maybe thirty feet up. That’s another forty-five feet. They might be able to get a rope up to the Promenade Deck, but then they spend ten minutes climbing rope ladders while we drop flower pots on their heads. And when the survivors get here, they are so tired that a ten-year-old with a belaying pin could beat the bunch of ’em.”
“So why are weâ€¦”
“Because officers are obsessive idiots in any century. At least, ours are.”
* * *
Dag showed the party into another part of the engine room and Panos Katsaros said something in Greek.
Once Panos had everyone’s attention, he asked, “What about some shore leave, Mr. Jakobsen?” Then more Greek, apparently translating for the locals.
Panos was a Greek lower deck sailor, an able seaman, whose job was engine wiper. He had also been an ongoing discipline problem. Nothing serious, but the man liked to party.
The room held one of the emergency backup generators and it was receiving standard maintenance. Crates started talking in Greek and Panos held up his hands and made a downward pushing gestures. Crates slowed down, and Panos started pointing at the components of the generator, the coiled wires and the drive shaft. Just the sort of thing that any industrial worker would know about the machines he used and worked on.
While Panos was impressing one of the great minds of ancient Greece with his knowledge, Atum spoke to Dag. “I can arrange something, Mr. Jakobsen. I know how to deal with sailors.”