The Macedonian Hazard – Snippet 08

“I’m sorry, General Eumenes, but the Queen of the Sea can’t involve itself in the internal politics of the United Satrapies and States of the Empire. Quite aside from logistical concerns, which are real and serious, we have to maintain our neutrality . . . at least officially.”

“Officially?” Roxane asked, lifting a sculpted eyebrow. She very much reminded Marie of Sophia Loren. Since the arrival of the Queen, she had added golden highlights to her black hair and now wore artfully applied makeup. Roxane’s lush but athletic figure was much the same as before her arrival, save perhaps a bit healthier. Roxane liked to listen to audiobooks while she worked out in the cruise ship gymnasium.

“Officially,” Lars agreed. “I’ve been in contact with President Wiley by radio, and New America expresses a willingness to ally with the U.S.S.E. On the basis of that, we will help where we can, within the limits of our situation. That doesn’t mean using the Queen very much, I’m afraid, but we should be able to supply you with some gunpowder.”

“Gunpowder,” Eumenes said studiously, “is a flash in the pan.”

Marie Easley looked at the general in something partaking of both disgust and admiration. Disgust because the statement was patently ridiculous. Admiration because the expression “flash in the pan” was utterly unknown in 321 BCE, since it was based on a gunpowder misfire–the priming powder flashing in the pan but not igniting the charge.  A bright flash, then gone with no effect. For Eumenes to use it here indicated that the man had managed to understand and internalize the concepts involved in a very short time. 

“It will remain so till we get pans for it to flash in.” Eumenes shook his head. “And barrels to hold the charge and shot with touch holes to transfer the fire from the pan to the charge. It’s like so much of what you brought–of great potential use but needing an industry built before it can be used effectively. For now what we can build will make a great display, but no real difference. We don’t have cannons and we don’t have the means to make cannons in any numbers.”

The Queen of the Sea was the only facility that was yet able to make the sort of cannon that were used in their time. Also the only facility that could make cannons of any sort quickly. But aside from the steam cannons on the Queen and the Reliance and some black powder cannons for Fort Plymouth, the Queen wasn’t making cannons. It was making the tools to make the tools to make cannon. And most of those were made for and sold to New America. Cannons for Eumenes’ army would be made by Greek craftsmen, hand-carved from bronze. Neither cheap nor fast. 

“What about rockets?” Dag asked.

“A flash in the pan, as I said. Pretty fireworks, signifying nothing.”

“Not necessarily,” said Daniel Lang. “First, because we can make good rockets using venturi and fins to provide spin. We know how and we have the basic technology here on the Queen. We even have a stock of venturi, though a limited one. That will give you rockets almost as good as you might have found in World War I, or even World War II.”

Eumenes was looking interested, but Olympias interrupted. “What is world war? The only world-spanning war was my son’s. There–“

“Olympias,” Roxane said, “you insisted on being here and promised to listen, not interrupt.”

“I will have my say. I am Alexander’s mother, and Philip’s wife.”

“No,” said Marie, as pedantically as she could manage. “You were Alexander’s mother and Philip’s wife. But your Philip and your Alexander are gone. Now, Roxane is Alexander’s mother and regent, and Eurydice is Philip’s wife and regent. You have paid your fare, but you are simply a passenger on the Queen of the Sea. Not a ruling monarch.”

Olympias stood and spoke in a version of Greek that was even more archaic than that spoken in the fourth century BCE, something that went back to Agamemnon or maybe Hercules. Assuming that there had at some point been actual men that Agamemnon and Hercules were based upon. She also waved her hands in obscure and spooky gestures.

Marie stared at her. Then, quite unable to help herself, she started to laugh.

Olympias stopped gesturing and speaking. She sat back down, not as though she had intended to, but simply as though shock left her legs unable to hold her up.

“I’m sorry,” Marie said, trying to get her laughter under control. “Your error is in assuming that everyone shares your mythology. In the time we come from, essentially no one shares it. We have our own. I didn’t mean to denigrate your beliefs, honestly I didn’t. But the gestures you were making looked like something that a carnival fortune teller might use.”

Marie snapped her mouth closed about a paragraph too late, as she finally realized just how demeaning and infuriating her response would seem to Olympias. She looked into the woman’s eyes and knew that she had just made a mortal enemy.

Considering Olympias’ history, mortal enemy wasn’t hyperbole. Not in the least. 

“To get back to the point,” Anders said, “we can provide you some black powder rockets and you have the formula and techniques to make black powder.”

Anders didn’t sound thrilled about that last. The secret of black powder hadn’t stayed a secret. It was listed in Wikipedia and by now copies of the formula were available from Venezuela to Babylon. Nor was black powder the only ship people secret that was no longer secret. 

“What about cargo?” Eumenes asked.

“What do you mean?” Anders asked.

“I mean I would like to buy wheat and rye here and have it delivered to Iskenderun, so that Pharnabazus can keep the pressure on Antigonus while I go after Cassander.”

“The Queen is not a cargo ship, and we have a schedule we need to get back to,” Lars said before Anders could.

“Also, if we deliver fifty tons or so of provender to the Mediterranean coast when your army isn’t there to protect it, it’s likely not going to be there by the time your army gets there,” Dag said. “You’d be better off hiring a local ship and maybe seeing if you can get a steam engine to move it. That way Pharnabazus can move his cavalry to meet the provision ship. It’s still means going to Izmir first.”

The discussion continued and Eumenes didn’t get what he wanted, but did get considerably more than Antigonus’ representatives would have approved. Arrhidaeus would be livid if he knew how much Eumenes was getting in terms of ship credit. The Queen of the Sea had a great deal of silver and gold by this time. Part of it from trading in Europe, but much of it from South America, where the locals used it as decoration. Gold was a soft, malleable metal, often with a pleasing color, and it was shiny, unlike lead. So masks and bracelets were made from it in South and Central America. The natives were happy to trade the yellow metal for steel knives on a pound for pound basis . . . at least at first.

Eumenes would be getting some of that gold, but he would also be getting a drawing account that would be recognized throughout the Mediterranean. That was half of what the radio teams that the Queen was sending about the Med were for.

“The amount in the account will be known?” Eumenes asked as he looked at the paper.

“Not unless someone gets bribed,” Eleanor Kinney said. “Which could happen.”

“How much is it?” Olympias asked.

Eleanor looked at Eumenes, Eumenes looked at Roxane, and so did Eurydice.

“It’s a drawing account and it takes Eumenes to access it,” Roxane said.

“How much is in the drawing account?” Olympias asked, not to be put off.

“That,” Eurydice said coldly, “is a government matter and you are not a member of the government.” She turned to Roxane. “I told you it was a mistake to let her in here.”

“Please, everyone, calm down,” Roxane said. But from the looks Olympias and Eurydice gave each other, it was too late.