The Macedonian Hazard – Snippet 10

Eumenes’ smile died as his mind turned to Cassander. Cassander was no general, but he was smart and had a flexible mind, and that might well be more important in this new sort of warfare than personal courage.

Finally the unloading was finished, and another ship’s boat pulled in and started unloading supplies and equipment. The Queen would be heading for Alexandria as soon as the boats were back aboard.

Queen of the Sea, Alexandria Harbor

November 10, 320 BCE

Ptolemy sat in the Royal Lounge, reading the constitution of the United Satrapies and States of the Empire. The USSE constitution was interesting, and it was going to require him to reconsider his options. He looked up at Thaïs and waved the document. “What do you think?” 

Thaïs tilted her head in a gesture that Ptolemy knew well. It wasn’t quite a nod nor a head shake. Thaïs wasn’t sure or, more exactly, liked part of it and disliked other parts. “What do you like about it?”

“It’s a good framework,” Thaïs said. “For the most part, it will leave you as ruler of Egypt and give you a level of legitimacy that even the agreements at Babylon didn’t.”

“And what part of it do you dislike?”

“You are probably going to have to give back Syria, Israel and Judea. And you may well be called on to contribute troops to Eumenes. If the constitution is valid, so is the appointment of Eumenes as strategos for the empire.”

“Frankly, that bothers me less than giving up Syria. I bought that territory with good silver and quite a lot of it. What bothers me isn’t the specific of having to send troops to Eumenes. It’s the general principle of placing the defense of the realm under the over government that they establish.”

“Federal government,” Thaïs said, using a ship people word. “You will be able to appoint a representative to the upper house, the one they are calling the House of States.”

“What about the elections?”

“That’s mostly ship people influence, but the Greek city states piled on in a hurry. Especially Athens. Representation will be allocated by population and elected by the citizenry. That includes free women as well as all free men, no matter their wealth. But not slaves. We went round and round on that and I am not sure we made the right choice. The compromise that we finally agreed on was that slaves didn’t count for representatives. Not even war captives, much less two-footed livestock. That at least encourages manumission in order to increase a state’s or satrapy’s representatives, in the House of the People.” 

Thaïs used the Greek words. The world of fourth century BCE had lots of types of slaves and each had their own word, most of which didn’t translate to twenty-first century English. Not directly. They had words for chattel, slaves, serfs, and war captives–who were in some ways more like chattel, but had higher status.

Ptolemy looked at his long-time lover and–given the new situation–possible future wife, with a sardonic lift of an eyebrow. He knew her background. Born a slave, she’d been sold to a school for hetaera as a child and then required to work off her debt. She had every reason in the world to dislike the institution of slavery. But at the same time, she had managed to go from slave to only one short step down from a queen through her abilities. “What do you really think? Are the ship people right about slavery?”

Thaïs stood up and walked to the window, then turned back to face him. “No, but they will be.”

“What does that mean?”

“The way the world is now, we couldn’t survive the abolition of slavery. There isn’t enough wealth to pay all the freed slaves for their labor and with everyone weeding their own garden, we would fall into barbarism. But that’s right now. It will change as the ship people’s machines magnify the productivity of individual workers. In a hundred years, perhaps less, they will be right about slavery. We need to be ready for that day, or our children and grandchildren will live in a world even more soaked in blood than this one.”

“So, do you think I should sign it? Commit to this new nation?”

“No.” Thaïs frowned. “Not yet. Don’t commit either way. See how Eumenes does against Cassander, at least. Perhaps even wait to see how he does against Antigonus and the eastern satraps. Don’t tie yourself to this new ship of state until you know whether it will float. Stay neutral as long as you can.”

Ptolemy nodded. One of the things he liked best about Thaïs was that she gave good advice. Even when it wasn’t entirely in her best interest. “You’re right, as usual, my very dear. And I have missed you.”

When the Queen of the Sea left again, it would leave Thaïs and the children here.

“I do want to send someone to keep an eye on the ship people. Who do you recommend? I considered Dinocrates or Crates or one of the fellows of the library, but I am concerned that they will be seduced by ship people knowledge.”

“It’s not just the ship people on the Queen of the Sea that matter. We need relations with New America too. You would be shocked at how much they accomplished in a year and I suspect they are just getting started. We will be able to buy impossible devices from them soon.” She paused a moment in thought. “The Queen will visit New America regularly and we will have the radio to keep in contact so perhaps we only need one watcher. Menelaus?” Thaïs voice made the name a question. She wasn’t fond of Ptolemy’s little brother and aide.

Ptolemy grinned at her. “It will get him out of the palace, but he’s not going to like giving up his slaves.”

“My heart bleeds for him,” Thaïs said, using a ship people expression directly translated into Greek. 

224-226 12th Street, Fort Plymouth, New America

November 10, 320 BCE

Crack! The sound jerked Daoud Khoury around. He looked at the red hot door of the furnace. He moved up and, using a long, heavy wooden pole, opened the small door. Holding up his hand, he tried to look into the fire. He couldn’t. It was much too bright to see anything, and it made him feel like his eyeballs were going to boil.

He went back to the table and got the tinted glasses from the Queen of the Sea and looked again. The cracking sound was what he was afraid of. The crucible was cracked, and the molten iron was pouring down into the bottom of the furnace.

Quickly he went to the shutoff valve and shut the oil feed. It took five minutes for the fire to go out and an hour for the furnace to cool to merely scorching hot.

Cool enough for him, using tongs, to lift out what was left of the crucible. It took another day for the furnace to cool enough for him and his crew of locals to remove bricks to make an opening to pry out the melted iron. Then it was brick the whole thing up and start over with a new crucible, as his money got lower and lower and he got deeper and deeper in debt to the Bank of New America.

It didn’t help that he couldn’t keep a trained crew. The locals came and worked long enough to get the money to buy what they wanted. Then they went back home. Some few locals stayed, but far more of them just wanted what they wanted, then back to their own ways. Daoud couldn’t really blame them, either. He’d give anything on this Earth or another if only he could go back to his own ways. Accounting might have been boring except at tax time, but trying to make steel with primitive tools was one hell of a lot worse. He wondered when the Queen would get back. At least somewhere still had air conditioning.