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The Alexander Inheritance: Chapter One

       Last updated: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 19:14 EDT



Port Berry, Royal Cay, Bahamas
6:15 AM

    At dawn, the Reliance was alongside and the fuel lines were being attached. Dag Jakobsen watched through his camera feed. There were three flat screen monitors set into the wall next to his desk. One was showing the fuel line hook up, the second would show the fuel flow and fuel levels in the form of a bar graph as soon as fueling started. And there it goes, Dag thought. The third was his computer monitor, which had a form that Dag would be filling out as the fueling proceeded. There was a leak in the fuel line coming from Barge 14, but it seemed to be very minor. Dag zoomed in on the connection and saw that it was only a few drops. He made a note on the form.

    The Reliance and Barge 14 together made up an ATB, articulated tug barge. While attached they were one ship, but the Reliance could detach from Barge 14 in a few minutes to perform other functions while Barge 14 was being loaded or unloaded.

    Dag was lucky to get this slot on the Queen of the Sea. The newest ship of Royal Cruise Line had flex fuel engines and was larger than any other in the line. This was a load of fuel oil, just as a matter of price. They had gotten a bargain on the oil, while the methanol was still pricy. The great thing about flex fuel engines was they could burn anything: fuel oil, ethanol, methanol, even gasoline or crude oil. If it was liquid and would burn, they could use it for fuel.

    Then the power went out. Dag lost his video feeds and heard a boom. The boom was followed by a crunching sound, and the ship shook.

    That was bad. This was a four thousand passenger cruise ship. It didn’t shake. Not unless there was very, very heavy weather or a tidal wave. Dag was already out of his chair, running for the fuel-loading area, when the emergency power came on.



    Arriving at the forward fuel loading station, Dag heard a welter of shouted arguments. The room was a large one with pipes painted in bright colors to indicate the type of liquid they carried, but even on a new ship and with a good crew this was a working area. Dirt, smudges of oil, and the other natural byproducts of work being done were present and so was a bucket with a mop in a corner, ready to fight the never-ending battle against the oil and grime. Sunlight poured into the space from an opened porthole the size of a garage door. Four fifteen-centimeter-wide fuel lines went from the red pipes out the porthole.

    “What was that?” Bayani Pascual asked.

    “Dammit, Bayani. The Princess is gone, and so is that bar on the point. Hell, the point is gone. Will you stop asking what it was?”

    “But what was it?” Bayani almost whined.

    And suddenly Dag was afraid. Because while Bayani wasn’t the brightest crewman on the refueling detail, he was perhaps the most phlegmatic. Bayani was nearly two meters tall and weighed upwards of a hundred kilos. He was the biggest Filipino Dag had ever met, and as calm and unflappable as you could hope for. Besides, Romi Clarke was sounding belligerent, and the little Jamaican was not someone Dag would want to meet in a dark alley.

    “Then tell me, Romi. What happened?” Dag shouted over the hubbub.

    Romi spun, and then visibly got himself under control. His dark skin was gray under the normal color, and he pointed out the port. “The Princess of the Sea is gone, Mr. Jakobsen. Just gone. Like it was never there. There was a flash, like lightning way too close and a clap like thunder right on it. Then everything was different. And something’s happened dockside.” Dockside was the other side of the ship. The Reliance had pulled up along seaside, as was standard practice. “And the Point Bar is gone. Hell, Mr. Jakobsen, the point is gone.”

    Dag almost called Romi a liar, but by then he’d reached the port and could see for himself. To avoid panicking, he focused on his job. He checked the fuel lines. They were still attached. He leaned out the port and looked at the Reliance. Tug and barge were still locked to one another and still tied up to the Queen, but Barge 14’s cylindrical fenders were compressing like marshmallows, as Barge 14 bounced against the hull of the Queen of the Sea. The fenders were big, heavy, rubber cylinders which meant that Romi was probably right about that, as well. Something was disturbing the water and that almost had to be something on shore. There was a shore line visible ahead of the ship, but it wasn’t the shore that should be there. And, sure enough, their sister ship was gone. A vessel weighing almost 150,000 tons had just…vanished.

    Dag headed to the wall and pushed the intercom button. “Bridge, what’s going on? Should we stop refueling?”

    “We don’t know, Dag,” Apprentice Deck Officer Douglas Warren said. “I’m looking out at a town that ain’t there anymore. I don’t mean it’s wrecked, except the part right next to the docks. I mean it’s gone. As though it had never been built. Even the land is different.”

    “Right, Doug. The point is gone. We can see that from here.”

    “It’s not the point. It’s us. Us and the docks, and maybe half a block of the port. We’re not where we were anymore. Hell, Dag, the sun’s not where it was a minute ago. Look, no one knows what’s going on yet, but it’s a safe bet we are going to need full fuel tanks. Captain says to top them up.”

    “We’ll do that, Doug.” Dag turned away from the ship’s intercom. “You heard, people. We continue refueling.”

    It was then that the regular lights came back on.

    Dag got on the radio and called Joe Kugan, the captain for the Reliance. The Reliance, with Barge 14 attached, had roughly one hundred fifty thousand barrels of fuel bunkerage, a crew of seven and a top speed of twelve knots.



    Captain Joe Kugan was in the pilot house when whatever it was happened. He was looking at the Queen, not at the shore, so he was only momentarily blinded by the flash, but nearly lost his footing as not just the Reliance but also Barge 14 rocked violently.

    When he regained his balance, he looked around and saw that the world had been replaced by a new and different place. Instead of the flat landscape typical of islands in the Bahamas, he was looking at an island which didn’t have much in the way of elevation but had more than he’d been looking at a short time before. The vegetation looked wrong, too, although he couldn’t have said exactly why. Kugan’s knowledge of botany was abysmal and his interest even lower.

    For a moment, he felt a strong desire to panic or beat the crap out of someone. By the time he was back under control, the radio call from Dag was coming in. Given the circumstances, Joe was tempted to tell Dag to screw himself and stop the pumping till they knew what was going on. But he didn’t. There were contracts involved and if he refused to finish the refueling, he would be in a lot of trouble. The Reliance or Barge 14 was still bouncing against the Queen, but most of the wave front was gone on out to sea. The waves had stirred up the water and what had been fairly pristine Caribbean ocean was now a lot cloudier.



Off an unknown island
Late afternoon

    Lars Floden, the captain of the Queen of the Sea, looked down the table at the assembled staff. The conference room on the bridge deck was full. It was on the port side, just aft of the bridge and had one wall of smart glass windows. Right now the windows were set to opaque white. The opposite wall had cabinets and a counter top to hold whatever was needed from snacks to papers. Also a projector, so that the smart windows could be used as large display screens if needed.

    Jane Carruthers was doing a really good stiff upper lip. He wasn’t surprised, as she was very British, even for a Brit. A thin woman, with a ready smile that hid her thoughts admirably. The hotel manager was not in the chain of command, but was — in a sense — second only to Lars in real authority, and in some circumstances, she might hold even more.



    Not these circumstances, though. “How are the passengers doing, Jane?” he asked.

    “Congressman Wiley is threatening to have our whole company barred from operating out of the United States.” Carruthers twitched a half smile for a moment. “I’m fairly sure that he’s playing for the camera phones, though, since he’s not stupid and knows perfectly well that isn’t going to happen.”

    Her smile died. “There was one heart attack — not fatal, thankfully — and quite a few panicked passengers, and some falls.”

    Jane turned to Doctor Laura Miles, the head of the ship’s medical department. Miles had two doctors, five nurse practitioners, and five registered nurses as well as nurse’s aides, in her department. It wasn’t exactly a hospital aboard ship, but it was a decent emergency room.

    “The heart attack is stable and only one of the falls resulted in a broken bone,” said Miles. “So far we haven’t lost anyone on board. The docks didn’t fare so well. It was too early for the shore activities, but a lot of the shops were getting ready. We had over fifty injuries over there and four deaths when the buildings came down. The fatalities included Anne O’Hare, who apparently had an arm cut off when whatever it was happened. She was in the back of a shop and the building collapsed on her, making it impossible for her to do anything or for anyone to reach her in time. At least it was probably quick. She would have bled out in minutes and lost consciousness even faster.”

    She looked at Floden. “Captain, that many injuries put a major strain on our supplies. We need resupply and we need them soon.”

    Staff Captain Anders Dahl cut in. “We have all the shore side personnel on board for now. It’s unsafe on the docks and worse in the shops behind them.” Anders paused for a beat. “Captain, should I have people going through the ruins for salvage?”

    Lars Floden looked back at his number two. Staff Captain was the same rank on a cruise ship that executive officer would be on a warship. The cruise lines did it that way so they could have two captains, and thus two captain’s tables. Regardless of the titles, the staff captain had much the same job as a warship XO, including bringing questions to the captain that the captain would rather avoid.

    Questions like this one. They didn’t have a clue what had happened. It was possible that they were going to need everything in those buildings, down to the toilet seats. But the buildings over there were half-collapsed and Lars wasn’t prepared to send his sailors into a situation like that if he didn’t have to.

    “No, at least not yet, Anders,” he said. “I doubt there’s anything over there worth risking our people’s lives for.”

    “The Cabana Drugstore,” said Doctor Miles. “Unless we can get medical supplies, we are going to start losing people to chronic conditions that are treated with drugs.” She looked at Lars. “And one of the losses is going to be me. Our supply of warfarin is very limited, and my prescription won’t last forever. We can use aspirin and it will help, but people like me who have heart issues are going to be in real trouble if we can’t get back in touch with civilization, Captain. Most of our passengers aren’t nursing home ready, or at least they weren’t before this. But a lot of them were assisted living ready.”

    “Sorry, Doc,” Anders said. “I was over there just after the event. The part of the Cabana that held the drugs was on the other side of the –” He paused, apparently looking for the right word. “– line of demarcation. Whatever brought us here left the drugs in the Cabana Drugstore behind. There was some of the over-the-counter stuff on this side of the line.” Anders looked over at Captain Floden.

    “Sure, Anders. Grab anything that’s out in the open. Just don’t risk our people digging through stuff.”

    “Captain, where are we?” Daniel Lang, the chief security officer, blurted.

    The sun hadn’t set, though it had shifted in the moment of transition from early-morning to mid-afternoon, east to west. Time of year was harder to say. It depended on where on Earth they were. There were people on the island they were next to but they were staying out of sight, at least for now. The sun was farther south than it should be even in midwinter in the Caribbean. If the compass readings were right, they were in the northern temperate zone, not the tropics.

    They had lost satellite communications. Both radio and GPS were gone. So were all the familiar works of man, aside from the Queen of the Sea, the Reliance, the dock and about a block of Port Berry, the little town on the company’s private island. The dock and the block or so of town weren’t in great shape. They had ended up partly over water instead of land and had tilted. Most of the buildings had collapsed.

    Lars couldn’t help feeling that whatever had happened had to be the work of someone or something, because it didn’t make sense that any sort of natural occurrence would pick up his ship and the fuel barge and not chop them into little pieces. The lozenge-shaped zone of transference had to be just the right size and shape and had to have just the right orientation. To have that happen by accident was like having an avalanche build the Taj Mahal. Well, not really. But it sure wasn’t the sort of thing that happened by chance.

    He’d read a magazine article a couple of years ago analyzing the Grantville and Alexander disasters, which had included speculation by some scientists that whatever caused the catastrophes didn’t seem to be simply random cosmic accidents. But he couldn’t remember any of the details. When he had time, he’d have to see if he could find copies of the article — or, better yet, find a passenger who had some real expertise on the subject. The odds that such a passenger was aboard the ship were actually not bad. People who went on cruises tended to be better educated than average and included a fair percentage of scientists and academics.

    All of that had been circulating through Lars’ mind since the event, bouncing off his assumptions and being modified as more information was added. The ship’s sonar was working just fine and the bottom of the ocean was different in an oval-shaped patch below the ship. Or, more accurately, the bottom of the ocean was different outside that oval-shaped patch just under the ship, taking into account the chunk of dock and shore that had come with them.

    Lars looked back at Daniel. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what universe we’re in. It appears we’re at least on an analog of Earth, but we clearly aren’t in the same place we were” — Lars looked at the clock on the wall — “three hours ago. For all I…” He took a breath and reined in his speculation. “We may know more after the sun goes down and we get a look at the night sky. In the meantime, we need to keep the passengers and the crew as calm as we can and avoid useless speculation.”

    Lars turned to Staff Captain Anders Dahl. “Anders, where are we on food?”

    “We have seven days’ worth without rationing. We can stretch that a day or two by just limiting the servings in the all-you-can-eat buffets, and with real rationing we can double it. With severe rationing, starting right now, we might last a month. That would be pushing things a lot. We’re going to need resupply of food probably sooner than drugs.”

    The meeting continued and not much new was discovered. However, things that were minor before had suddenly gained much greater significance.



    Congressman Allen “Al” Wiley, Fourth District, Utah, sat in his stateroom and fumed. He was here because his daughter Charlene was marrying that moron, Dick Gibson, and wanted to be married by a ship’s captain. Romantic, she called it. Al called it crap, though never in public. They could have made a lot of political capital out of this wedding if they had just stayed in Provo and done it there.



    But Charlene had wanted “romantic,” and her mother agreed with her. Darn Doris, with all her silly romance novels. And now some sort of disaster had happened. They were stuck out here on the company’s island and he wasn’t being allowed to make a call back to Washington to get some help. Wiley didn’t believe for one minute that the ship’s communications with the rest of the world were out. Any sort of disaster that would cause that would have wrecked the ship entirely. The lights were working. Hell, his phone had bars, all five bars, and if his phone was working, the only reason he wasn’t getting through to Washington was that damn Norwegian captain was blocking his calls. That had to be it.

    Al’s mind cycled back around. Maybe it was a conspiracy. Royal Cruise Lines had screwed the pooch somehow and were trying to cover it up. He called Amanda, his aide. “Amanda, you get me a meeting with that captain. Not the hotel manager, the captain.”

    “Yes, sir,” Amanda Miller agreed.



    Amanda stopped pacing when her cell rang with the congressman’s ringtone. After he finished, she sat down on the bed in her stateroom and called Jane Carruthers. She made the request as tactfully as she could. “I know that this is an emergency situation, Ms. Carruthers, but the congressman is on several committees that have oversight over corporations like Royal Cruise Lines. So, if you could free up a few minutes for the congressman to make sure he and the captain are reading from the same playbook…Believe me, it will save us all trouble in the long run.”

    “I’m sure you’re right, Miss Miller. And under other circumstances, the captain would be happy to make time for the congressman. But we are still trying to figure out what’s going on.” She sighed audibly — and intentionally, Amanda was sure. “There isn’t anything that the captain could tell him that hasn’t been part of the announcements already made.”

    Amanda bit her lip. There had been announcements, one almost immediately after the event, explaining that the ship was in no immediate danger, but that something out of the ordinary had happened and for the moment the crew asked that people stay inside and off the Promenade Deck. Fifteen minutes later, the prohibition against going on the Promenade Deck had been removed, but shore excursions were still off limits. Amanda had immediately gone up to the Promenade Deck and looked out on a disaster. The dock was tilted, actually tilted, and the block or so of buildings behind it were in ruins. The crew was running around doing rescue work, trying to save the people who had lived and worked in those buildings. She reported to the congressman and Al immediately tried to call Washington to get some help. It was the fact that he couldn’t get through that made the congressman so angry. He wanted to help, and they weren’t letting him.

    By now, Amanda was convinced that the satellite receiver on the ship was down for some reason. And it was clear that something drastic had happened to Royal Cay Island. “You need to get the captain to tell the congressman what the problem is with the phones.”

    “We don’t know what’s wrong with the phones,” Jane said. “Whatever it is, it’s not on the ship. Everything on the ship is working just fine. The problem is…Amanda, I honestly think the problem is with the satellites.”

    “That’s impossible. Nothing could take out the satellites, not even a nuclear war. So unless we’ve been invaded by Martians, it can’t be the satellites.”

    “Amanda, the sun moved,” Jane said. “Look at your watch. It’s supposed to be 10:00 AM in December in the Caribbean. The sun should be to our southeast — but it’s west of us, and obviously a lot closer to sunset than sunrise. It’s also farther south than it should be, by a considerable margin. Like fall in Maryland or Spain.”

    Amanda did look. She knew where the sun should be and she saw where it was. “Thanks, Jane. For telling me.” She hadn’t noticed till Jane mentioned it, too focused on the broken buildings and injured people. Now she did notice and became truly frightened.

    Then, perhaps for the very first time since she had gotten her job with Congressman Wiley, Amanda put herself before the congressman. She turned off her phone, went to the bar, and got plastered.



Off Formentera Island
After nightfall
September 15, 321 BCE

    The sun had gone down. Elise Beaulieu, the first officer for navigation, adjusted the sextant with careful fingers. Instruments from fifty years ago were being brought into play and combined with ship’s computers. So far they had found that the North Star, Polaris, was not in the right place. Even in the two hours since sunset, they had been able to detect motion in Polaris. That was enough to tell them that they were before the birth of Christ, or at least not that long after it.

    The planets were giving more precise data, and as soon as Mars came up they ought to be able to get a year…

    And there it was, just on the horizon. Elise plugged the numbers into the slate’s program and got a date. According to the computer, they were in the year 321 Before the Common Era. That was using the standard calendar of the twenty-first century and counting backward, using modern knowledge and technology.

    She tapped another icon and called the captain. “Captain, we’re in 321 BCE. From the moon, September fifteenth.”



    Lars Floden nodded. “Thanks, Elise.” He tapped off the phone. “Did you get that, Jane?”

    Jane Carruthers pulled up the date from the encyclopedia. “The experts aren’t in agreement about how the dates line up with the events of this time. It’s a safe bet that Alexander the Great was — is — dead, but whether he’s been dead for six months or six years is less certain.”

    The Queen of the Sea, in order to save bandwidth, updated the most popular — read, most accessed — web locations every time they hit the Port of Miami. It saved the satellite link for things like email and instant messages. They had a complete and up-to-date mirror of Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, online New York Times website, and even Google Earth, all stored on a set of computers in the IT section of the ship and accessible instantly through the ship’s wifi or any of the half-dozen internet cafes on board. “Alexander the Great is two years dead. Rome is a republic, but what they meant by republic isn’t what we mean by it. Besides, Carthage is the big dog in the Mediterranean.”

    “What about the rest of the world, Jane?” the captain asked.

    Jane clicked the mouse, then read for a moment. “China is a bunch of warring nations. Qin Shi Huang won’t be born for a couple of hundred years.” She looked up from the computer. “In the Americas, the Olmec have collapsed and, according to Wikipedia, it was because something happened to the land so it wouldn’t support farming.”

    That doesn’t sound like good news, Lars thought, because we are going to need farmers. We have almost five thousand people to support, and we can’t feed them on nothing except fish.

    “Any idea where we are?”

    “Best guess, Captain, somewhere in the Med,” Anders said. Then he got a distracted look. “Give me a second.” He called up a camera view. “I know where we are, Captain. We’re on the south end of Formentera Island, about seventy miles off the coast of Spain. My wife and I vacationed on the island of Formentera for our second honeymoon. About two years ago. Nothing else is the same, but the coastline is.”

    “So what’s happening in Spain in 321 BCE?”

    “Nothing we want any part of, Captain,” Jane Carruthers said. “I think the Carthaginians owned it at this time in history, and if I recall my third form history, they sacrificed babies to their gods.”

    “Is there any place in this time where they didn’t?”

    “I’m not sure, Captain. But we can’t just sit here forever.”

    “All right. I’ll talk to Joe Kugan and we’ll get some sea room. Meanwhile, find me someone who knows something about this time.”

    “Also, Captain, we need to tell the passengers and crew what we have found out.”

    “I don’t want a panic, Jane.”

    “Better one now than one later. One later, that is laced with mistrust because we were hiding things. Panics wear themselves out, sir. If nothing drastic happens, then people get back to business.”

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