Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 24
Eumenes sat at a camp stool doing the books. He was making a record of the horses he had taken from the royal herds. He had kept the Argead royal family’s books honestly since he was thirteen years old and wasn’t about to stop now. It was all coming apart and all he could do was keep the books as the pieces fell. He had defeated Neoptolemus twice and killed the traitorous bastard the second time. Unfortunately, he had had to kill Craterus in that second battle and Craterus was a good and well-respected Macedonian general. The Macedonians hadn’t liked that — even his own troops, who had been right there with him. Word was that the troops who had betrayed Perdiccas to Ptolemy had declared him traitor for having the gall to win against Macedonians.
He was making another entry when a knock came. “Enter!”
“A message, General,” said Dardaos, one of his Thracians.
“We’re getting it from Apelles. He got it from Alexandria.”
“What? Ptolemy hates Apelles’ guts.”
“Ptolemy is in Memphis. The message is from Dinocrates. Well, Crates, butâ€¦”
Eumenes held up a hand. “Give me the message.”
Dardaos handed over the scrolls and Eumenes started to read.
Out of fond memories of our time together in Philip’s court, I decided to forward this to you, risking Ptolemy’s wrath. It is unlikely that anything will make him more angry at me than he already is. That man has no sense of humor.
Eumenes remembered the sketch that Apelles had made of Ptolemy trying unsuccessfully to sexually mount a bull. The look of bored disgust on the bull’s face had been particularly well done. Still, on balance, he thought that Ptolemy might be justified in his upset. He went back to reading.
Crates writes to tell me of a ship that came to Alexandria harbor on the eighteenth of September. The next day he had occasion to board it, and he dictated a detailed report to his scribes. I would think that he had taken to drink, but I know Crates and he is a careful and meticulous man. I believe what he wrote to be true and accurate, though I can’t explain it.
He sent off several copies and as we have been friends for years, I got one. I am staying here in Colophon with Nausiphanes, a friend and a great wit, if his humor can be a bit cruel, which is why I happened to be so close by. I send you the letter I got from Crates and ask that when you have finished reading it, you send it back. I would go to Alexandria to see for myself, but that would be almost as unwise for me as it would for you.
Eumenes nodded to himself. There had been rumblings in his own army when Craterus died, and even now his hold on the Macedonian soldiers was not firm. Some of the Silver Shields had come to his defence and had kept the core of the infantry from abandoning him. But the Macedonians, especially the Macedonian nobility, still resented him. That was why he had recruited additional cavalry and why he was taking horses from the royal herds to mount them. “What do you think, Dardaos?”
“I don’t know, sir. My gut tells me this changes everything, but I have no idea how.”
“All right. Here’s what we’re going to do. You make two copies of all of this, then send one copy to Cleopatra. I’ll write a note to go with it, asking for another meeting.”
Eumenes went back to his work, but his mind — all on its own — tried to imagine a ship as tall as a lighthouse.
Queen of the Sea, Alexandria Harbor
Allison Gouch, the sommelier on the Queen of the Sea, went over the wine list with considerable dismay. The Queen had been in Alexandria for fifteen days now, and the holds were full of food. Not of the quality or the variety that the passengers or even the crew was used to, but edible food nevertheless. Ground grains, frozen meats, local fruits and vegetables. But the wines of half-built Alexandria were not up to twenty-first-century standards. On the other hand, Egyptian beer was a sweet, rich brew, only mildly alcoholic but rich in flavor and nutrients.
Meanwhile, the passengers and more than a few of the crew were getting restless. Two weeks stuck on a ship with little to do but study Greek and look at primitive Alexandria while the food got worse and the crew got less attentive hadn’t made the passengers happy. But it had made them thirstier. Before they got to Alexandria the cost of spirits on ship had more than doubled, and now a shot of good whisky cost a small fortune. Ship wines were still for sale, but the price had gone through the roof. It had to. There would be no new rieslings for the foreseeable future. Allison knew that the lack of good wine was among the least of their troubles.
The first of the drugs were running out. The birth control pills were gone, either into the purses of private individuals or used up. Anticoagulants like warfarin were getting low. The insulin was gone, but retired scientists on board and doctors using the ship’s mirror of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica were trying to use jerrybuilt centrifuges to purify insulin from cattle and pig pancreas. They thought they would be able to do it. Whether it would be in time to keep the diabetics on board alive was another question. Two of the Type One diabetics had already died, which was another reason the passengers were restive.
There had been a dozen fights that security had had to break up. In the worst instance, one man had wrested a gun from one of the security guards and had to be shot when he tried to hijack the Queen and force it to take him back to Miami.
So far at least, the troubles had all been isolated incidents, but there were almost constant rumblings about holding elections, and signs showing Wiley for President were appearing on the ship. Allison was getting scared.
She was also disgusted. There was no question now. Hadn’t been since the first. The builders of Alexandria were slaves, dmÅs in Greek, which Marie Easley said meant “slaves captured in war,” but other kinds as well. There was even a word for “human-footed livestock.” Like people were cows or goats! Allison wasn’t the only one upset. Her husband Pat, who ran the excursions, or had before The Event, was normally an easygoing guy. But what he’d seen while he was trying to arrange a safe excursion for the passengers in Alexandria left him furious.
The problem wasn’t the abstract injustice of slavery, either. Even more, it was being forced to witness the actual fact of it in front of their noses. The level of casual, almost unthinking, brutality visited on the slaves was simply astonishing to people brought up in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Astonishing — and outrageous. In the world they’d come from, even police officers or prison guards caught inflicting that level of violence on convicted felons would be charged with criminal behavior.
Dag Jakobsen and Romi Clarke were ready to kill the Greeks and start the revolution. Romi was just looking for an excuse to use the new steam cannons on the promenade deck.
* * *
“You’re worrying over nothing, Professor,” Daniel Lang said. “I’ve been looking at the tactics these guys employ. They’re toast if they try anything. I don’t doubt that individually they are some tough SOBs, but they use pikes. Not even pikes and muskets, or pikes and arrows, just frigging pikes. A hundred guys with crossbows and they are toast.”
“Even if you’re right — which I doubt — you don’t have a hundred guys with crossbows,” replied Marie Easley. “You don’t have a hundred crossbows. You have twenty-seven. Granted, they are excellent crossbows, low carbon steel bows and machined parts. But still each one had to be individually made and the people and machines that made them had to fit them in between other work.”
“We have the steam cannons.”
“All four of them. One on the port bow, one on the starboard, and two at the stern. And even at that, Captain Kugan is screaming bloody murder about the Reliance being shorted. And not without reason. He has none of the guns and none of the crossbows.”
Daniel gritted his teeth. Marie Easley could be irritating. She was one of those people who read all the time and had an excellent command of the facts. What Daniel wasn’t convinced of was that she understood the implications of those facts as well as she thought she did. Sure, the Macedonians and their allies had kicked the crap out of all the other late-Bronze early-Iron age countries in their neck of the woods. But even Alexander had started incorporating mounted bowmen, and his Macedonian phalanx had never faced even Henry’s bowmen from Agincourt, much less a machine gun. Warfighting technology had moved on. Ptolemy had to realize that without them wasting ammunition or giving away their tricks.
Daniel had people working on a design for a reloader and others looking for ways of making modern gunpowder, but those projects were going to take a while. They would need a lot of charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre even to make black powder. They would probably need some sort of land-based industrial complex to make what they were going to need. In the meantime, every round of twentieth-century ammunition they had was likely to be needed to keep control over the increasingly restive passengers and staff.
Most of the crew were okay. They had jobs and they knew it. But the staff who took care of passengers lacked a lot of the skills that were needed to run the ship. Truth be told, once the passengers were off loaded, they weren’t going to need four thousand beds made every day. A lot of the staff weren’t needed by the Queen unless it was acting as a floating luxury resort. That was the real danger Daniel had to deal with, not some phantom army of hoplites.