Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 31

Dag looked at the old reprobate and did. “First, you need to know that Metello made a bad mistake by taking the Reliance. The Queen of the Sea is almost twice as fast and a lot bigger.”

“The sea is a big place. It’s going to be hard to find a single ship. Even a ship the size of that one.”

“Not that hard. They know we were headed for Tyre.”

“How would they know that?” asked Evgenij in a voice like gravel. He had a scar along his neck and apparently didn’t like to talk.

“I told them,” Dag said. “Building big ships isn’t all our people can do.”

Evgenij looked frightened, then angry.

Kleitos, though, looked intrigued. “From what we heard and from what I saw you people are just very skilled crafters so if you told them, you had to have some way to signal. Some device? That’s right isn’t it?” He was watching Dag like an eagle watching a mouse hole, and Dag wished he’d kept his mouth shut.

Kleitos was still watching him, not saying anything, and Evgenij was starting to fidget like he was getting ready to do something Dag would regret.

“Yes, that’s right.” Dag said. He was being careful now that it was too late. And he realized that Kleitos would make a really good poker player if someone taught him the rules.

“Is the device still on the ship?”

Dag started to lie, hesitated, then told the truth. “No.” He pulled the phone out of his pants and Evgenij laughed and said something that was probably obscene.

Kleitos laughed too, then said, “Show me how it works.”

Dag turned it on and Kleitos lost his smile. Something approaching wonder was on the face of Evgenij. Gears and springs these men understood. Even ships made of steel made a kind of sense to them. But a flat piece of black glass that glowed to life with images and strange symbols? The Greek of the third century BCE didn’t have distinct words for science and magic. Learning and trickery were all one to them. Invoking the favor of the gods, just another skill, like knowing how much to slant an aqueduct, or how to arrange a phalanx of infantry to best advantage in a battle. And if invoking the gods didn’t always work, neither did arranging the phalanx. This was magic. This was learning, but of power and subtlety well beyond anything they had ever seen, even the Reliance sitting out in the harbor.

“There are devices like this on the Reliance, and other devices. And though this small one is out of range now, the emergency beacons on the Reliance will lead the Queen of the Sea straight to her.” Dag had tried to say that in Greek, but Greek didn’t have all the words. At least, Dag’s Greek didn’t. He had the phone out, so he used the translation app. It was out of range of the ship, but it had been updated with the most recent lexicon only day before yesterday.

Kleitos exchanged a look with Evgenij that Dag couldn’t read. He suspected it was something to do with the Reliance, and Dag wondered if they would warn Metello about the beacon.

As it happened, they didn’t. Neither Kleitos nor Evgenij was fond of Metello, who was arrogant in a way that Macedonians found objectionable in anyone but another Macedonian.

“It will run out of power soon if I use it too much,” Dag explained, then turned the phone off.

“Well, you’re wealthy enough,” Kleitos commented. “You should be able to pay your ransom, so you won’t end up a slave. Will your people pay the ransom of your common soldiers?”

Dag froze for just a second. Somehow, unconsciously, he had been thinking that he was still in the twenty-first century. No. He hadn’t been thinking at all. He had just assumed that there was civilization here. Then he spoke, parsing every word carefully. “I think you should assume that the Queen of the Sea will do whatever is necessary to get us all back.”

Queen of the Sea, Alexandria Harbor

October 19

Eileen Sanders, Jose Clavell, and Owen Kalusza were buried in Christian ceremonies in the Gabbari necropolis two hundred thirty years before the birth of Christ. That, at least, is what archaeologists would call it when it was rediscovered in 1997. The locals just called it the necropolis. Josette Easley attended the funerals both as a representative for her mother, and because she had met Eileen. Their staterooms were just across the hall from each other and they had drinks together at the first night party. Eileen was killed by Greek fire. Her husband wanted her buried, not “dumped in the ocean.” Ptolemy was most accommodating.

More delays while they had people in the hands of pirates. Meanwhile, the signal fires confirmed Dag Jakobsen’s report. The Reliance arrived at Tyre at dawn on the sixteenth. Now Josette, back on board in the Nobles Lounge, was having a drink in memory of a woman she barely knew.

“Why are we wasting time going after them?” the drunk whined. “We should just go ahead and go to America. Let these European barbarians kill each other. And let that stuck-up bastard Kugan take care of his damn fuel barge himself. He was busy telling everyone the barge was his. Let him and his crew protect it. We don’t need them. There’s oil in Trinidad, plenty, and the engines will use it without refining. We should go to America and never come back to this hell hole.”

“We have people on the Reliance, Mr. Stuart,” said Romi Clarke. This was said more in the way of a threat than the simple providing of information.

“We have people right here too,” Stuart said. “Paying passengers.” One of the changes over the weeks in 321 BCE had been the dropping of the rules about below decks personnel staying below decks. Crew and staff were, by the captain’s orders, allowed into all the public areas of the ship. They could buy booze at the bars, swim in the pools, and so on. Not all the passengers appreciated that, but Captain Floden had been firm. Apparently, Mr. Stuart was one of those displeased by the crew’s admittance into passenger territory.

Josette Easley wasn’t the history scholar her mother was. She was an electrical engineer who had gone on the cruise to celebrate her recent divorce from her mechanical engineer husband. Since she was on the ship, she studied it and was working part-time with the electrical systems managers. So she knew the specs pretty well. “Mr. Stuart, the Queen of the Sea has a full tank range of just over eight thousand miles. But we don’t have full tanks. Even sitting in one place, just running the lights and other electronic devices, plus air conditioning and water purification systems…all that takes power. From here, Trinidad is over five thousand miles. We might have enough to make it to Trinidad, but we would be close to out of fuel when we got there. We need the Reliance. We need her fuel and we are going to need her in the colony, to take that oil from shore to the Queen. And to do all sorts of things that a very powerful tug boat can do, like helping to dredge canals and harbors.

“But even if none of that were true, it takes a truly contemptible coward to advocate leaving our people in the hands of barbarians when we have a height advantage of over a hundred feet, not to mention steam cannons.”

Suddenly there were people standing and applauding. Romi looked at the skinny little white girl. He’d seen her around, but hadn’t really noticed her. Now he decided he liked her. He walked over, took her hand, bowed with a flourish, and kissed it. “Well said, pretty lady. On the money.”

* * *

Meanwhile, something similar was going on all over the ship. Joe Kugan and, to be honest, most of his crew had been less than subtle in harping on their newfound wealth, and the need the Queen had for their fuel. And how rich that made them. Finally, Captain Floden got on the ship’s intercom and made an announcement saying basically what Josette had said. Then the Queen of the Sea headed for Tyre.

Royal Compound, Alexandria

October 19

Ptolemy watched the Queen of the Sea sail out of the harbor and worried. He hadn’t imagined the steam guns, and he should have. He had seen ballistas and catapults. He had underestimated the ship people. But he hadn’t been wrong. They were soft. The loud lamenting over casualties so light as to be meaningless proved that. He simply hadn’t realized how powerful their tools made them.

Ptolemy turned from the harbor and re-entered the palace. “Call Dinocrates,” he told a guard. “And Crates and every scholar in Alexandria. We need a library.”

Hades, Ptolemy thought, I’ll even send for that idiot, Apelles. He was a very good artist and a fair scholar. And Ptolemy was going to need all the scholars he could get. There was no way that he was going to be able to reproduce the Queen of the Sea. But he might produce the steam cannon on another ship. Cannon like that, on the Nile with a powered ship, would control the Nile.

Royal Compound, Tyre

October 20

The sun was setting and Dag decided to check. He was rationing his checks, especially since the Reliance had sailed off. He didn’t know where the ship was headed. He hadn’t had a meeting with Roxane. Kleitos had kept him busy, then let him check in with his work crew. They were being treated well. He pulled out the cell and turned it on. He had bars. Well, he had one piddly little bar. But it told him the Queen was on her way. He needed to find out where the Reliance was going.

Dag put his phone away and went looking for Kleitos. Dag wasn’t entirely sure why Kleitos and Evgenij had let him keep his phone. He would like to think it was because they were afraid to touch the magic, and there was probably something like that in their attitude, but it felt more like a plumber insisting they get an electrician in to work on the wiring. They knew that there was potential danger in it and wanted it left in the hands of the expert.

* * *

“I would like to speak with Her Majesty.” Dag smiled. “In fact, there is someone else who would like to speak to Roxane, even more than me. A scholar who studies your time, as some of your scholars study Troy.”

“A story teller, then.” Kleitos laughed.

“She knows a lot,” Dag explained.

“She? A woman scholar?” Kleitos laughed again, though there seemed a bitter edge to it. Dag didn’t know why. In any case, Kleitos finally shrugged. “Why not? She’s been pestering me all day, wanting to interview our ship people.”

“Isn’t she in charge?”

“Rabbit,” Kleitos said. “I told you that. Rabbits aren’t in charge of anything when the foxes are around, and that girl’s been surrounded by foxes her whole life.”

* * *

Dag struggled through the greeting and the woman seemed to be almost enjoying his difficulty.

“Thank you for your greeting,” she said. “I know it must be difficult for you. I had a great deal of trouble with Macedonian and I already spoke some Greek. Please sit and tell me of the ships from the future.”

About then, a little boy with a painted wooden sword came running in, shouting about the hydra, and chopping off the imaginary hydra’s imaginary heads.

Well, he was yelling “Hydra” and chopping the air. Dag went to one knee to put his head on eye level with the tyke, and said, “Greetings, oh great warrior.” At least, that’s what he thought he said. Whatever it was that actually came out, it was enough to stop the kid in his tracks and the little replica of a kopis stopped chopping hydras and went into the kid’s mouth like a pacifier. Dag, without thinking, reached out and took the sword away from the kid.