Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 15

“I’ve heard it. It sounds a little like Latin, but it’s hard to tell. Perhaps I should have said ‘it speaks no other civilized tongue.’ The point I was trying to make is that if we can get one of their magic slates, we can use it to learn their language.”

“Will the slates work for us?” Ptolemy asked.

“I asked about that, and if I understood the answer, they will for a time, if we are given the spell to unlock them. But they run out of life force and must be fed their vibrant force. They call it ‘e-lek-trik,’ I think, and it is made of the same stuff as lightning.”

Dinocrates, Crates and Thaïs all nodded in support. Some of the Greek philosophers had experimented with the same power. No one in the room knew the distinctions involved. The experiments they had read about had been with static electricity, and to a lesser extent with bioelectrical sources, like the electric eel. Direct current and alternating current would be new to them, but not completely unfamiliar.

“Then we should see about gaining one or more of the magic slates and some means of providing them with the ‘e-lek-trik,’ you mentioned,” Ptolemy told Atum, “and learn how they are fed. I hope it can be done like the experiments discussed in works, and doesn’t require sacrifices to their gods.

“What can you tell me about that other ship that arrived this morning?”

“I was on the Queen when it arrived,” Atum said. “It is a fuel ship, loaded with the refined naphtha they use to power the larger ship. That’s all I know, but I got the impression that Dag was less than pleased with the crew of the Reliance for some reason. He didn’t say why, and I didn’t want to ask.”

“Yet another reason we need one of those magic slates.”

“It won’t be cheap, Satrap. I bought one of their ‘flashlights,’ and it cost a thousand pounds of wheat. The ‘L-E-D flashlight’ is a relatively simple device, so Dag explained to me, and I saw the same thing in their gift shop.”

Ptolemy’s expression went dark, and Atum lost any urge to smile in response. “I will send messages to Memphis for more grain and foodstuffs,” Ptolemy said. “And I don’t doubt that I can handle the expenses. But I don’t like these merchants trying to bargain with me in my own harbor.” The satrap of Egypt grimaced, then continued. “In the meantime, get me a slate.”

* * *

Gorgias looked at Ptolemy as the others left the audience chamber. “It can be done, Satrap. I have been aboard the ship and seen both the strengths and weaknesses of it.”

“And what are they?”

“The great strength is simply the size of the thing. That, you can see from here. It would be a climb and we would take losses making it. The ship is like a mountain fortress.”

“And the weaknesses?”

“The people on board that ship are sheep for the shearing. Many of them are old, and all of them are fat. If there are two hundred soldiers among the five thousand people on that ship, I’ll eat the excess. That is the largest single weakness, but almost as great is the lack of weapons. They wear on their belts a device that is apparently something like a slingshot that throws a small oblong pellet. I doubt they would stand up against bows, even if they had a lot of them. And they don’t. They have twenty, perhaps twice that. I didn’t want to seem too curious, but they are, at the core, unarmed oldsters off on a jaunt.”

“What would be the best way to take the ship?”

“Subversion of the crew, I would think.” Gorgias considered. The crew were basically servants, though not slaves. Certainly not war captives. They were paid for their work and under normal circumstances could leave their service. But these weren’t normal circumstances, and Gorgias was convinced that the laws that held them in check had been left behind in that place or time they came from. Gorgias wasn’t convinced it was truly the future, though he was starting to think it might be. He brought himself back to the question. “Failing that, or perhaps in coordination with it, an attack by galleys, ropes and ladders thrown up to the ports to get our troops in. Once we are in, there won’t be much to it. But we will lose men getting in, possibly a lot of men.”

Ptolemy nodded, and then said, “Make your preparations, but quietly. And take no overt action until I tell you to.” There was a half-smile on the satrap’s face. “Such a ship is rulership of the Mediterranean Sea and all the lands surrounding it. If Alexander had had such a ship, he would have indeed ruled the world. And if Perdiccas owned it, I would be dead now. At the very least, we cannot allow it to fall to Antigonus or Seleucus. Attalus would be almost as bad. Hades, even old Antipater would be dangerous with such a weapon. If for no other reason than that Cassander might inherit it when the old man dies. Even Cassander would be brave from aboard such a ship.”

“What about Eumenes?”

“No. And not because he’s a Greek. He’s a good general and Alexander trusted him with reason. No, we are safe from…” Ptolemy stopped. “No. You’re right, Gorgias. Eumenes would be the greatest danger of all. Not because of his ambition, but because of his honor. He would try to impose Alexander’s empire on us all, out of loyalty to the Argead royal house. He would put demented Philip and baby Alexander on my throne.” Ptolemy shook his head. “No, we can’t allow that ship to run free.”

Queen of the Sea, Alexandria Harbor

September 21

“This is so cool,” fifteen-year-old Latisha Jones told her brother as they filed into the theater. The entertainment staff had decided to put on Egyptian Karaoke Night in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. So far, all The Event that brought them here had done was extend their vacation. At least that’s what Latisha was telling herself just as hard as she could. It wasn’t that she was unaware of the danger they were all in, and the fact that they might never get home again. But she didn’t want to face it, not yet. Latisha was in denial, and had every intention of staying there till they got home.

Jason Jones tried to play along. Two years younger than his big sister, he was finding denial harder to achieve. Dad was a high school principal and this was the annual divorced-father-family-vacation. Since The Event, Dad had been spending almost all his time on the shipnet. He was trying to figure out what had happened and what they could do about it. Mom was back at home and Jason was wondering if he would ever see her again.

They filed into the theater, found their seats, and the lights came up to a black-haired guy in a campy Egyptian headdress and a skimpy costume.

“Under the circumstances we have decided that what is needed is a clear and exact description of Egypt at this time,” said the guy. Then he went into a lip-syncing of Steve Martin’s “King Tut.”

After King Tut came a woman singing “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and then a group of women doing “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Overall, Jason didn’t think it was particularly funny, but Latisha seemed to be having a blast.

* * *

“How are the passengers reacting, Jane?” Lars Floden asked the hotel manager.

“Restive, Lars. The ship has a lot of entertainment venues, but they are not enough for everyone. It’s planned that much of the entertainment on these cruises will be shore excursions.”

“We can’t risk that sort of thing yet. I’m not even comfortable with the crew’s shore leave under Atum’s watchful eye. A bunch of Americans with, for the most part, very little in the way of experience with other cultures? That would be begging for incidents.”

“I’m not arguing, Captain. But we are going to have to come up with some sort of solution. The Queen is a big ship, but it’s not big enough for this many people to live on permanently. So the restiveness is only going to get worse. Right now, the main thing preventing riots is that everyone is terrified and intent on sticking together. Once they calm down a little, they are going to start demanding things.”

“They started that within minutes of the –”

“No, they didn’t. Sure, there were the ‘take us home,’ ‘you have to undo this’ types, but mostly people have stayed pretty calm. That’s going to change as it sinks in that they aren’t about to be beheaded by a bunch of barbarian Greeks, and they’ll start to wonder what they are going to do for the rest of their lives. This isn’t a stable situation, and I don’t see any way of making it into one.”

Lars nodded. He knew Jane was right. He just didn’t have a good answer. He had an answer: dump the passengers. That, at least, would work. But he couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t. He had a responsibility for everyone on board. In a way, he had even more of a responsibility to the passengers than to the crew. This needed a political solution and Lars wasn’t a politician.

However, Lars did have a politician on hand. As much as he didn’t care for Al Wiley and distrusted his judgment, he was going to have to call on his skills.