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The Alexander Inheritance: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 20:16 EDT



Queen of the Sea, Off Alexandria
September 18

    Sixty-seven hours after the Queen of the Sea started the trip, the passengers and crew got their first view of Alexandria. Not that they could see much. It was a bit after 8:00 PM and there weren’t any electric lights in this time. As well, the famed Lighthouse of Alexandria was yet to be built. It was a work very much in progress and it was being built by hand. Lots and lots of hands. It was dawn on the 19th before they could see much of anything.

    However, the reverse wasn’t true. The citizens of Alexandria — from Dinocrates of Rhodes and Crates of Olynthus, all the way down to the slave workers who were building the outer wall of the bay — could see the mountain of light that had moved into view and sat the better part of a mile out to sea.

    And it was a mountain of light, because the captain had made the decision that they would not try to hide the existence of their technology. Whether to hide the way it worked was another question, and one that was the subject of heated debate onboard the ship.



    Dinocrates of Rhodes, a tall, good-looking man who normally possessed a dignified air, looked out at the device that made all his works and dreams seem little more than a child building sandcastles. Envy and awe warred in his heart and the dignified air that he normally showed the world was notable by its absence. It wasn’t real anyway, just a mask he showed to the world. He was as much showman as architect, and compared to the people on that ship he was neither.

    “I don’t believe it,” Crates said for the third time since they had been called from their dinners to the heptastadion, a seven stadia long mole that connected the island of Pharos to the mainland and created the harbor at Alexandria. Crates was in part responsible for the heptastadion. He was the hydraulic engineer who was in charge of designing the sewers for Alexandria, sewers made necessary by the fact that Alexandria was being built in a swamp. He was a scholar, and at the same time, practical in his works. Dinocrates had never seen him so bereft of sense as he seemed now.

    “It is, Crates. Believe it or not, it’s there.”

    “But it can’t be. Don’t you understand? Look at the length! Look at the height! It’s not as tall as the Great Pyramid, but it’s longer. You can’t float something that big. No tree on earth is strong enough to take the stresses.”

    Dinocrates simply pointed.

    “I know,” Crates complained, “but it can’t be.”

    “Fine, it can’t be. But what are we going to do about it?”

    Crates shrugged. “Send a message to Ptolemy at Memphis.”

    Dinocrates nodded. With the signal fires the news would reach Ptolemy by morning. The satrap of Egypt would probably be here in three days. “What do we do in the meantime?”

    Crates looked at him, then back at the ship. “Whatever you do, don’t piss them off.”

    Dinocrates laughed. “I agree, but I was asking about the rest of it. There are seventeen ships in the harbor and fifty or more boats. If we don’t do something by tomorrow noon, half those ships and more than half the boats will be gone and the news is going to spread.”

    “I don’t see that there is anything we can do about that,” Crates said. “For myself, I am going to get my instruments and make some estimates of the size of that thing. But I’m not going out to it until I know more. And not in the middle of the night.”



    Not everyone in Alexandria was so cautious. Atum Edfu slammed his hand down on the table and glared at the oar captain of his family galley. “I told you to get the men to their oars.” The room was dim, lit with oil lamps. This wasn’t Atum’s home, but his dock office. It had large unglazed windows. Atum didn’t miss glazing. It would not be invented for another four hundred years. He and his clerks worked here most days with the shutters open to let in the sea air and the light, but the office wasn’t designed for nighttime use. The dim lamps in nooks on walls filled the room with shadows, adding a spooky feel that Atum noticed no more than he noticed the lack of glazing.

    “I know, sir, but the men are afraid.”

    “Afraid? Afraid! I’ll give you afraid! Half their job is to be the family’s bodyguards at sea! And they’re afraid of a big boat?”

    Atum was a grain seller of mixed ancestry who spoke Egyptian, Greek, Carthaginian, even the language of the barbarian Latins. He looked at the ship and saw profit. Such a ship would need to feed its rowers, for he saw no sails. He didn’t see oars either, but something had to be pushing the ship, and if it wasn’t the wind, whatever it was probably needed to eat. He had calculated that the first merchant to greet them would have the advantage. So, after his first good look at the ship, he had hurried to the docks and rousted out his crew.

    Atum owned a large number of slaves that he used in loading and unloading boats in the harbor, and for farming and other jobs, but he didn’t use slaves to man the oars on the family galley. For that he used hired rowers who were armed and could fend off pirates. Just at the moment, though, he was considering a change in policy. Slaves wouldn’t be giving him back talk.

    “Well, they will get aboard the galley and they will row me to that ship out there, or they will be looking for new jobs tomorrow morning.”

    It took him almost until midnight to get the crew on the galley, and another half an hour before he could reach the ship.

    “Ahoy!” he offered in Egyptian. Then in Carthaginian. Then in Greek. He had gone through several more languages before he got an answer in what was probably the very worst Athenian accent he had ever heard. He introduced himself in Greek and explained that he was here to trade. By now, looking up the wall of what was starting to look like iron, and hearing the magnified voice out of the ship, he was beginning to wonder if his avarice hadn’t gotten the better of his good sense. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all.

    A hole opened up in the iron wall of the ship, and a ramp was lowered to tie onto the galley. With trepidation starting to win out over greed, but pride now weighing in on greed’s side, Atum made his way up the ramp and into the ship, and was probably more scared than he had ever been in his life. It wasn’t because he was threatened. He wasn’t. There wasn’t a sword or a bow in sight, much less a spear. The men and women in strange clothing were apparently unarmed, though they wore on their belts a strange device that he thought from their gestures might be a weapon of some sort. But he only noticed those at all because his fear was making him more vigilant than usual.

    What terrified him was the light. It wasn’t coming from fires. Instead they had little bits of the sun locked into the ceiling of the room they were in. They led him through a door, then down a hallway to where a set of doors opened, sliding out of the way, and leading into a small room. One of the guards — he was almost sure they were guards — preceded him into the small room and the other gestured for him to enter.

    Terror had given way to a curious fatalism, and Atum shrugged and went in. The guard pressed a finger against a circle with a character of some sort on it. As the dot was pressed, it lit up, and a moment later the doors closed. A moment after that, the room moved. Up, he thought. Atum stood still for just a moment, then he started to smile. He understood. He had been lifted up on a platform before. It had been an open platform, not a room like this one, but it had moved, powered by a slave in a wheel. It had been used to lift heavy loads gradually to higher places, so that they might be used in making walls. Somewhere on this massive ship, Atum was now convinced, was a slave in a wheel providing the motive power for the moving box. He would have one installed in his town house.



    He looked where the guard was looking and saw symbols like the ones in the dots lighting up in order. Again, his quick mind figured it out. There was a light moving along behind the strip of symbols, lighting each in turn as they moved. He could almost see the gears. He was familiar with gears. They were all the rage in Athens for astrological calculating devices.



    That lasted till the doors opened and he was led into a room with leather-covered seats, more like thrones than the sort of stool Atum was used to. There he was introduced to an older woman named Marie Easley and a younger woman called Eleanor Kinney. The older woman spoke something approaching passable Macedonian Greek. She didn’t speak it well, and there was much too much of the Athenian about it to be proper Macedonian, but it was closer to understandable than the pidgin Greek he had heard up to now.

    “Welcome. I am Marie Easley, a scholar of this time,” the woman said.

    “Explain, please. You study the present? Recent history perhaps?”

    “We are not of this time. We on this ship come from far in the future. We have learned a great deal and I am an historian, one who studies Ptolemaic Egypt.”

    Atum didn’t believe her, but he couldn’t say that. For now at least, he was in these people’s power. So he leaned back in the seat and considered her words as though they were true. Ptolemaic Egypt? That would mean that Ptolemy would become pharaoh. Alexander’s empire would collapse. Or would it? Would Ptolemy become the next king of Alexander’s empire and move the capital to Egypt? That seemed possible, certainly. Even though Ptolemy protested his loyalty to Alexander’s heirs in every second sentence. “What is Ptolemaic Egypt to be, then?”

    The scholar pursed her lips and tilted her head slightly. “We aren’t sure. The truth is, we don’t know how it happened that we came here, or really even what happened. We have no record of a ship such as this arriving off Alexandria at this time. I assure you, there would be such a record. And there are causes and effects, so we must assume that history will take a different path in this time than it did in our history. If that is not too confusing.”

    “I think I understand, at least in a general way,” Atum said. “What happened with Ptolemy and the generals in your history is not necessarily what will happen now.”

    “Yes, that’s the conclusion we have at least tentatively drawn. But what brings you to brave this ship? You said something about trade?”

    “Yes. I assume you will need food and provisions. If you have goods or money, we can deal. I am a wheat merchant, and I buy from the farmers up the Nile and sell to the construction crews. I can arrange for grain to feed your rowers.”

    “Rowers?” she asked.

    Atum shrugged. “You must have something to propel your ship.” Seeing the confusion on her face, he rephrased the question. “Something to push the ship through the water.”

    She turned to the young woman and spoke. The young woman wore her hair short, but not shaved with a wig as was sometimes done by women in Egypt. She had a heart-shaped face, with brown eyes and hair. The hair had blond streaks, bleached by the sun, Atum thought. The woman was attractive and the style made her more exotic than her features did. The woman spoke back to the scholar and they turned to a young man who seemed to be the chief of their guards. He took a device from his pocket and touched it, held it to the side of his head with one end next to his ear and the other near his mouth, then spoke and apparently listened. He pocketed the device and spoke to the women, all while Atum looked on and tried to understand what was going on.

    Atum didn’t speak the language they were speaking, but he didn’t need to. He was good at reading people. It was a large part of his business. It was clear that the women were in charge in this room, but that the young Gaul was high in their trust. He had been asked about something and Atum, after his earlier experiences, guessed that the device he had used was some sort of a speaking horn. And he wanted one. As he watched, it seemed to Atum that they at least believed their tale of traveling through time. Either that, or they were much better liars than they seemed to be.

    “We needed to speak to the captain of the ship,” the scholar explained. “The ship uses burning naphtha — or any liquid that will burn, for that matter — to push it through the water and to power many of our devices.” She pointed at the lights in the ceiling and then at the slates, like the one the young Gaul had presumably used to talk to the captain. “But we do need grain and other foodstuffs. Sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, fruits and vegetables.”

    Then they got down to business. For the next hour, Atum dealt with Eleanor Kinney through the scholar. He guessed that Kinney was a skilled negotiator, and they had a series of goods brought in. Including account books, and a box of writing implements that the scribes in the royal palace would be lining up to buy at almost any price. Eleanor warned him that they would run out of ink eventually. It wouldn’t be soon, months of use, perhaps as long as a year. That would lower the price, but the “pens” would still be valuable, as would the very fine papyrus they used, neatly formed and lined.

    Ten minutes in, Atum knew he wasn’t the only person in the room who could read people. The fact that the women were doing the dealing didn’t upset Atum. He was half-Egyptian after all. But it did make it clear these people weren’t Greeks. They appeared to be of every tribe imaginable — and some he had never imagined — but were all of one culture. Or seemed to be, at least.

    He bought a backpack. What a useful device that! How odd that people who could come up with such devices would accept barbarian Gauls into their ranks! He sold, for a backpack full of pens and paper and five thousand “dollars” in ship’s credit, a ship’s boat full of wheat. This agreement was a bit of an experiment, both on his part and on theirs. It would take him a little time to find the resale price on the pens and paper, and they would need to examine the grain. It would give everyone a chance to judge the value of what they were buying and selling.

    They showed him around the ship. He had a meal in one of the “restaurants,” and he looked around the shops. Then they reached the “casino.”

    Atum didn’t lose his head. He was careful. But he did, gradually, gambling till dawn, lose three thousand of the five thousand “dollars” credit. He would win some, lose some, win some more. It was great fun and very exciting, if a little overwhelming with the noise and the lights. He realized that the wrong person could lose a kingdom in a night in this room. Or, if the gods were smiling, win one.



September 19

    The next morning as the sun came up, an exhausted Atum boarded the boat he had promised to fill with grain. It was a small ship almost the size of his family’s galley, and escorted Atum’s galley back to the docks. The small ship had no rowers, but it was obvious to Atum that it could have made circles around his galley if it had chosen to. Atum was on the small ship and found it comfortable, if noisy.

    “How is it powered?” he asked in Greek and got no response other than pointing at ears and shaking heads. He pulled out the tablet and pencil he had bought at one of the great ship’s “gift shops” and wrote in Greek.

    He passed the tablet over to the young man in the white clothing and the peculiar hat that was called a “uniform,” and watched as that man pulled out one of the magical “electronic devices” they had and tapped it with his fingers. Atum was almost getting used to that, and this Dag seemed a nice enough lad for a barbarian Gaul.



    Dag pushed a final button and the device spoke. It was Greek of the horribly accented, almost unintelligible version Atum had heard on the great ship. It said almost what he had written. Almost, but not quite. He corrected the missed word and Dag tapped some more. Again that voice from the magic slate, and this time Atum nodded. He was getting used to the horrible Greek by now, or at least starting the process of getting used to it. Now the translation to that strange speech, and Dag tapped again. By this point Atum had almost forgotten the question, but the funny Greek answer brought it back.

    Atum had learned quite a lot in the last ten hours. He was shocked and amazed by what he had seen, but he had tentative agreements with the travelers from the future who occupied the great ship. It was named Queen of the Sea and it could well rule all the world’s oceans. And its coasts as well. Or it would have been able to if it were a warship, but it wasn’t. It was filled with people who had boarded it for a pleasure cruise, not soldiers.



    The slave, Abd Manaf, looked out at the big white ship sitting just outside of Alexandria harbor with his mouth agape. The overseer, also a slave but of higher status was gaping too, as were most of the rest of the slaves in the work crew. Partly it was just the size of the enormous ship, but partly it was the smaller ship that was moving toward shore with no oars or sails, as though being pulled along by an invisible team of horses. One of the brighter slaves got back to work and that got the attention of the overseer, who started shouting at the men in the work crew.

    Abd Manaf wasn’t the smartest slave in the crew. He was still staring when the overseer’s eyes fell on him. The overseer hollered and laid into Abd Manaf with a reed whip. The whip, a piece of wood thin enough to bend in the swing and to leave welts or cuts, snapped against Abd Manaf’s back, leaving a welt. Not the first. There were a welter of them on Abd Manaf’s back. And the backs of the other slaves, if not as crisscrossed by red as Abd Manaf’s, were still marked. The cries of pain and the smell of blood added to the miasma of the port, along with the smell of dead fish and salt water.

    Abd Manaf’s back wasn’t the only one laid open that morning. But, in spite of the whippings, there were a lot of people watching the strange boat approach the docks.



    On reaching the docks, Atum climbed out and waved away the guards that the arrival of the magical boat had brought out. He spoke to Ahmose, one of his foremen, giving orders that the boat be filled with sacks of unthreshed wheat till the Gaul said it was enough. Then he went home to bed.



    Dag watched as the Egyptian workers carried the bags of wheat to the boat. It was a lifeboat that had been modified to act as a tender for the Queen. It was limited in that it was restricted to fuel oil, not having the flex fuel engines that the Queen and the Reliance had.

    Dag watched as naked men carried sacks of grain on their backs, up to the pier where the lifeboat was tied up. He was uncomfortable at first with the nudity, but that changed quickly. What bothered him more was the sacks on their backs. They seemed to weigh as much as the men themselves did. Wheelbarrows and dollies occurred to Dag as items of trade. He would have to talk to Romi about that. Still another first priority to add to the list.

    For most of the day, they loaded grain onto the boat, and by the end of the day the ship had probably broken even on food. That is, they had added enough to equal what the passengers and crew had eaten. He was approached by people speaking to him in Egyptian and Greek and who knew what, but he couldn’t understand more than a word or two, which he had to make clear with gestures. Luckily, Atum’s guards were doing a pretty good job of keeping the riffraff back. Atum had given them instructions before he left.

    By this time, Dag was pretty sure the men doing the loading were slaves and a part of him was ready to pull the pistol and make a point. At the same time, Dag had seen poverty before, and seen employment that was as close to outright slavery as made very little difference. Besides, this was likely the ship’s only source of enough food to keep the passengers and crew going. He couldn’t afford to do anything that might jeopardize that.

    Around noon, two sources of lunch arrived. Another ship’s boat brought sandwiches, and some women brought up a cart with bowls, soup, and flat bread. The soup was vegetable and pretty good, but the bread was tough and grainy. Dag really preferred the ship’s bread to the Egyptian flat bread. He gave the chief guard a roast beef on rye with mustard and pickles. The guard tried it, and apparently found it good. The guard spoke Greek and yet another language that Dag didn’t know, but it sounded sort of like what you heard among the Arabs on the ship, or what you might hear in a synagogue. The guy was wearing a long dress, and he had a sword at his side. He also had purple tassels on his “dress.” Dag didn’t know what to call the thing, and didn’t think it represented anything effeminate, but it sure looked like a dress to him. He would learn later that the guard captain, Josephus, was a Jew, though a somewhat Hellenized one.



    Atum got back to the pier about the time they were finished loading, and he had brought his wife, Lateef, who was a black-haired lady of middle years with a long nose and sharp features. She had a pleasant smile, though, and a friendly manner, and Dag liked her. Also with them were two Greeks, one called Crates of Olynthus, the other Dinocrates of Rhodes.

    Dag got the impression that they were important people. Then he made the connection. He remembered from Wikipedia that Dinocrates of Rhodes was the one whom Alexander the Great appointed to design Alexandria. It piqued Dag’s interest in the man. Dag was interested in how systems interacted. That was what had led him to his job as the Environmental Compliance Officer on the Queen. In spite of the job title sounding like a rulebook pain in the ass, it was actually about making sure that the ship worked and that it didn’t screw up the ocean it was traveling through. There was a lot of practical engineering, knowing where you could cut corners and where you couldn’t. Not that Dag was all that concerned about the environmental impact of a single cruise ship. Even if they dumped oil over the side by the ton, it wouldn’t have any significant effect on the oceans of the world. It was back in the future, where there were hundreds of cruise ships and thousands of cargo ships, that it had a cumulative effect. But the Greek guys were talking and Dag didn’t have a clue what they were saying. He looked to Atum.

    Atum pulled out his pad and wrote. Dag pulled his comp-pad from its case and typed in the characters. What he got back was: they want to go to the ship.

    “Right,” Dag said. “Let me call it in.” He used the phone function on his pad and called the ship. He got Adrian Scott. “Hey, Scotty. We have Dinocrates of Rhodes here and he wants to come by for a visit, along with a guy named Crates.”

    “Who’s Dino of Rhodes and why should I care?”

    “Ask Marie Easley. In the meantime, tell the captain that we have important company coming.”

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