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The Alexander Inheritance: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Saturday, June 24, 2017 14:35 EDT



Bridge, Queen of the Sea
October 15

    It was midnight when Apprentice Deck Officer Doug Warren came on watch. Adrian Scott filled him in. Not much out of the ordinary had happened. “They finished up the day’s loading of supplies about sunset, and traffic in the harbor has been fairly light except for a small fleet of triremes that’s headed to Carthage. Dinocrates says it’s some sort of ‘show the flag’ mission.” Adrian waved a hand at the radar screen. “We’re tracking them to try and calibrate the radar for the local’s ships.”

    Doug nodded. Ships were small and the ocean was big. Even back in the twenty-first century when the small craft carried radar reflectors to make it easy to see them, they got missed a lot.

    Two hours later, Doug yawned and sipped his coffee as he noted the change in direction of the radar blips that represented the fleet of triremes. The radar reflection from the wooden ships was very weak, so the computer was augmenting the signal and filtering. They didn’t appear dim on the display, but the databox made it clear just how weak the return signal was.

    Doug took another sip of the coffee. Sort of coffee. Doug, the captain said, liked a little coffee in his cream. Doug was a stocky lad to begin with, and the rich, sweet brew was probably not helping. But the bridge crew still got coffee, even if it was a restricted resource now.

    It was a little after two AM. He had the triremes on radar as they made the turn. They were…he checked his radar readings…they were 3.4 knots out to the west northwest.

    It was the dark of the night and there was a light mist. To the locals, it must be pitch black. It was a good thing the Queen had plenty of sea room. Doug wasn’t frightened, or even worried. He was just mildly curious, but kept the radar focused on the triremes. By about four in the morning, it was starting to get a little weird. They were less than a knot from the Queen, so they ought to be able to see her lights. It looked like the triremes were shifting course to intercept. He reported it to Julio on the Reliance. It was standard practice to share observations.



4:32 AM

    Dag rubbed his eyes. The ship was moving. That was wrong. The Queen shouldn’t be moving. Then he remembered he wasn’t on the Queen. He was on the Reliance. He had been in charge of a work party that was helping set up the toilets for the tents they set up on the deck of the Reliance. Because they would be back at it early in the morning, they had stayed the night. It was then that Dag’s sleep-fogged brain finally snapped to the fact that the Reliance shouldn’t be moving either.

    Dag got up and headed for the pilot house. It took him two minutes to get there and by then the Reliance was a hundred feet from the Queen and turning away.

    “I don’t take orders from you, you little asshole!” Kugan was in a shouting match with Doug Warren on the Queen.

    “What’s going on, Captain?” Dag asked.

    Kugan whirled on Dag. “Those ships you told me not to worry about? They are headed right for us. A dozen galleys, with some sort of rigging on them. My guess is scaling ladders. And they sailed out, and came around to come at us from seaward, so they could get the Reliance even if they didn’t get the Queen.”

    “Let me talk to Doug, please, Captain,” Dag said. He had told Joe Kugan that the ships were on their way to Carthage, just as he had been told they were when the Queen’s bridge watch saw them leave.

    “Go for it. Maybe you can pound some sense into the stupid dick.”

    “What have you got, Doug?” Dag asked.

    “Eleven galleys, triremes. They sailed out of harbor for about three knots, then turned around, and headed back. I don’t think it’s anything important. Maybe they forgot something. And they will come pretty close, but they aren’t headed right for us. I think they’re using the Queen as a lighthouse. There was no reason for Captain Kugan to panic.”

    Dag’s common sense and his education were screaming at each other too. His education said this was impossible and Ptolemy would know that there was no way any ship from Alexandria could attack the Queen. It would be suicide. His common sense and experience with these people was screaming just as loudly that this was an attack. It couldn’t be anything else, and the locals were all total nut job tough SOBs who would kill you over a penny in the street.

    It was a short fight. Dag had been dealing with the locals since they got to Alexandria. “On my authority, Doug, wake Captain Floden and Daniel Lang.” He turned to Captain Kugan. “The cannon will be armed, Captain. The safest place for the Reliance is tucked in close to the Queen.”

    “Bullshit, Dag,” Kugan said. “The safest place for my ship is out of the line of fire. Besides, it’s too late anyway.” He pointed at a screen. It was showing a feed from the radar on the Queen. Two of the galleys had shifted course and were following the Reliance.

    “Captain Kugan, I’ve seen those suckers move. They can get up to fifteen knots in a sprint.”

    “Which is why we’re running at full power. I’m just hoping we can keep ahead of them long enough to wear out the rowers.”

    “You’d be safer back with the Queen.”

    Kugan looked at him, and Dag could see the fear on the man’s face. But all Kugan did was shake his head.



    Daniel Lang and Captain Floden reached the bridge at almost the same time. The captain got a quick report and waved at the comm rating. “All hail channel.” Then he picked up the mike. “All hands, prepare for boarding from seaside. Man the steam cannons. All watches to stations.”

    “When do we act, Captain? We don’t have proof they are attacking till they do something, and by then it’s going to be hard for steam cannon to depress enough to hit them.”

    “I’m not waiting. Weigh anchor just in case, but if those ships get within five hundred meters, we will open fire on them.”

    “Captain, you have to at least warn them,” Doug Warren blurted, then blushed at Staff Captain Dahl’s look.

    Daniel couldn’t help but sympathize with the kid. Doug Warren had never been shot at in anger, and he had a deep belief in fairness and the rule of law. Daniel agreed that the rules were what kept people civilized. That was why he was a cop. “He’s right, Captain.”

    Captain Floden looked at them. “You have a good point, Doug, but my first concern must be the passengers and crew on this ship. We’ll use the loud hailer to warn them off. But if they don’t heed the warning, we will destroy those ships.”

    Daniel looked at the comm rating. “Get Marie Easley up here to deliver that warning.”



    General Gorgias watched the ship as they approached. It was still showing lights, but fewer than it had the first night it arrived. They were conserving the LED lights, not the electricity that powered them. Besides, at this time of night, they would mostly be asleep, and they were not soldiers, to wake ready to fight at the sergeant’s call. They were sheep who would spend hours bleating at each other before they worked themselves up to acting. Kugan was quicker to respond than Gorgias hoped, so that meant that both ships knew they were coming. Their best hope now was speed. He had to get his forces aboard both ships fast.

    Then, on the night, there came a voice to frighten a god. At least in its volume. Gorgias knew that voice. It was the voice of the scholar, Marie Easley. “Go back! Any galley that approaches within three stadia of the Queen of the Sea without prior authorization will be sunk!” Marie was using Greek units of measurement since the metric system meant nothing to the people she was hailing. Three stadia was about five hundred and fifty meters.

    Gorgias turned to the timekeeper. “Increase the rate. We want to get in fast.” Then he turned to the artillerists. “Load the catapult with jars of Greek fire. If they have some sort of weapon, we will need to silence them. It won’t damage that steel monster. Just clear the decks for our boarders.”



    “They aren’t turning, Captain,” Daniel said.

    “I can see that. Call the gunners and have them put a shot across their bows.”

    The shot went out and made a splash about a hundred feet in front of the lead galley. By now, lights were coming on all over the ship. Passengers looked out their windows, and then headed for the Promenade Deck to see what was going on.



    There was apparently not a consensus among the passengers about whether the Queen should shoot.

    There was motion on several of the galleys, and a shout hard to hear in the distance. Four of the rigs on the galleys went into action, flinging burning jars of something. None came near the guns, but one reached the Promenade Deck and two hit windows below the Promenade Deck. The windows both cracked, but neither broke. However, the passengers watching from the Hoi Polloi Lounge got a much closer view of the fight than they were expecting.

    The results of the one jar that reached the Promenade Deck were much more serious. Twelve people hit, with everything from minor burns to two who were burned to death, and one who went over the side on fire.

    As soon as that report came, Captain Floden lost all interest in waiting. “Sink those bastards, Lang. Sink every last one of them.”



    “About damn time,” Romi Clarke muttered when they got the orders. He’d been wanting to shoot this thing since they built it. He took careful aim, using the camera’s rangefinder and the little program that adjusted the sights automatically based on range and input windage. Then he pointed the camera at the sucker banging the drum and fired.

    As it turned out, either the programming was off or he had guessed wrong about the wind. The wide-angle camera recorded the round hitting the water forty feet to the right of his target. The shot didn’t even hit an oar.

    Romi adjusted and fired a burst of five. The “potato gun” used steam to propel a heavy object down a four foot long barrel and fired a forty millimeter round that weighed about half a kilogram. They had a muzzle velocity of three hundred meters per second. It took the bullets a second and three quarters to reach the target and the first burst didn’t seem to do much. It had hit the trireme but the ship hadn’t slowed. So Romi tried again, raking his fire from one end of the ship to the other.



    When a one pound lead bullet hits a thin piece of wood, it doesn’t slow much. And if the wood is thin enough, all it does is poke a hole. That was what had happened to the first five-round burst. They had poked five neat holes in the bottom of the galley. The displaced water from their exiting the boat had actually done more damage.

    The longer burst hit the rowers on the port side of the galley. The same one pound round that went through the boat’s planking like it was paper, went through the chests of men like they were so many watermelons. Then it went on through the man behind, and the man behind him. The steam cannon weren’t silent, but they weren’t all that loud either. Besides, the pop pop pop of the cannon was over well before the men started to die.

    Captain Heron saw the slaughterhouse that the port side of his ship had become and turned away from the battle. He didn’t have a lot of choice. He had lost a third of his rowers on the port side, and the rest were trying to get away from the bloodbath.

    Gorgias didn’t see what had happened to the lead galley. He did hear the screaming but he ignored it. Screams, cries of rage and fury — those were inevitable in a battle. Gorgias was an experienced Macedonian soldier. He had been in battle many times and was not a man to run from a fight. He gave orders to speed up the beat. The remaining triremes raced for the big ship as though their life depended on it.



    “Get us moving, Elise,” Captain Floden said. “I don’t want to be a sitting target if any of those triremes get through.”

    The huge ship started to move. They had been anchored with plenty of sea room, as much for the comfort of the locals as because they needed it. Now they moved landward to keep sea room from the attackers. And they continued firing the steam cannon.

    Two more ships pulled away from the fight after being raked by the stern port steam cannon. But the sonar was showing shallowing. And another, if smaller, volley of Greek fire was flung at them.

    “Enough,” Captain Floden said. “Reverse engines, Elise. Run over those idiots.”

    The engines on the Queen of the Sea ran generators which, in turn, powered huge electric motors located in turnable nacelles. This allowed the Queen to travel forward, backward, or at need, sideways. But even so, it didn’t happen immediately. The Queen was a massive ship. Even though they had barely started moving, it took them a minute to slow and reverse. But Elise Beaulieu, First Officer Navigation, was a skilled ship handler and no more pleased to be the recipient of Greek fire than her captain.

    It took Gorgias a bit too long to realise what was happening. When the Queen started slowing, he thought he had won. He was unable to give up that belief in time to dodge. His flagship was run over by a 150,000 ton cruise ship traveling backwards at four knots.



    Gorgias leapt over the side just as the Queen’s stern contacted the flagship’s port quarter. He was a good swimmer and thought he had a chance. He hit the water hard and had both the wind and the sense knocked out of him for a few moments. He managed not to inhale the water. His fingers worked desperately at the leather straps holding his armor on, and piece by sodden piece, he got it off. By that time he was deep in the water. Deep enough that the water pressed on his chest, making his lungs feel even emptier than they really were.

    He swam desperately for the surface, but he was disoriented and confused by oxygen deprivation. He had to breathe, but he couldn’t.

    It didn’t really matter. Though he would never know it, Elise Beaulieu had shifted the nacelles and an Olympic swimmer in top form couldn’t have competed with the riptides produced by those massive props. Gorgias never saw the propeller blade larger than he was turning at full speed.

    It squashed him like a grape.



    The reason for Elise Beaulieu’s adjustment of thrust was because the trireme behind Gorgias’ was rowing with great desperation to try and get out of the way of the Queen of the Sea. But like Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as they could barely kept them in place, for the currents of the massive motors caught them and pulled them toward the big ship even as the motors of the big ship pushed it at them. The Queen backed over them to the noise of cracking timbers and screaming men. The heavy wooden ribs of the triremes broke like so many toothpicks, and men in those ships were masticated between the Queen and the unforgiving sea.

    There were no survivors. Not off the flag ship trireme, or the two others that hadn’t been able to get out of the way in time. The rest ran for shore. Of the nine triremes that had actually taken part in the attack, four made it to shore. None made it without massive casualties.

    The two that had peeled off to go after the Reliance had better luck. After an hour of rowing, they gave up the chase. The worst thing that happened to them was the crew of the Reliance leaning over the back rail, yelling taunts at them.



    Sound carries over water, even for miles. Metello of Carthage, admiral of Attalus’ fleet, heard the battle. He heard the strange noises — to him — of the Reliance at full power forcing her way through the waves. He gave orders for the fleet, six triremes, to spread out and to douse all lights. And to row quietly. When he saw the lights from the Reliance, he ordered his trireme to get to that ship, but as it happened, he wasn’t the closest.

    Closest was that idiot, Ithobaal. And Metello knew what that meant. The motherless jackal would try to claim the whole ship. Metello leaned over to the aulates, whose job it was to play the rhythm for the oarsmen and whispered to increase the pace. He would rather have Ithobaal get there first than have that monster of a ship warned.



    The first Dag knew of the new trouble was when he heard a crashing sound on the port bow of Barge 14. He looked back and saw the black outline of a mast and rigging. The Reliance was attached, slotted into Barge 14. That was important because it meant that the people who were scrambling onto Barge 14 were going to have no difficulty reaching the Reliance.



    He wasn’t the only one who noticed the crash, not that it was going to do any of them any good. They had no guns, none at all. And even as he watched, dozens of men, armed with swords and shields — even spears — vaulted onto Barge 14.

    “Where the hell did they come from?” Kugan wailed.

    “I don’t know, Captain,” Dag said even as he grabbed the radio mike. “Mayday! Mayday! We have armed men on the Reliance and are under attack.” He looked at the readings and continued. “By the inertial compass, we are twelve knots east northeast of Alexandria and I see no way to hold the boat.” Dag was struck by a thought. “Captain, can you disconnect the tug from the barge?”

    “If I had a few minutes,” Kugan said, but even as he said it the pirates were running along Barge 14 to the Reliance. Dag guessed the pilot house was the obvious target for anyone trying to take the Reliance. Dag had his phone in his breast pocket. Now he turned it off, and slid it down into the crotch of his underwear. In all the old movies, that was the safest place. Though this was ancient Greece, close enough, so that might not help.

    Then the Greeks were among them, except these guys weren’t speaking Greek. It was a different language. And when they didn’t respond, Julio was knocked to the floor with the flat of one of those short, curved machete-like swords they carried.

    “We surrender,” Dag said in Greek. At least that was what he tried to say. It seemed to work too. Their captors immediately started giving orders in Greek. It was a weirdly accented Greek, unlike what they spoke in Alexandria, and Dag could barely make it out. The rest of the crew were totally lost.

    A swarthy bastard with a curly, oiled, black beard started in. He wanted the Reliance to stop. Once the Reliance was stopped, he started asking questions. “Is this the Queen of the Sea?”


    “Then it is the fuel ship?” The word he used was the Greek word for lamp oil, but that was close enough and what they had been using with Atum and the Greeks in Alexandria.

    “Strong boat?” That took a little explaining, but apparently the guy with the curly black beard, who Dag learned was named Ithobaal, had gotten some sort of briefing on what the Reliance was. And someone, probably Dag himself, had been a bit too free with information about the power and functionality of eleven thousand horsepower engines.

    “Good. You will pull my other ship, while we go back to Tyre,” said Ithobaal.

    Then another voice arrived, and with it another man with a curly black beard. Fancied up whiskers seemed all the rage with these people. This one was called Metello and seem to be in charge of the fleet of pirates that had captured them. Metello said something in the Semitic-sounding language, which Dag was guessing was Phoenician, then in Greek. “I claim this ship as a prize of war since you strangers have sided with the traitor, Ptolemy.”

    Ithobaal started screaming in Phoenician, and some of the pirates started pulling their big knives. Then other guys were pulling their big knives. The knives were a type that Dag saw a lot in Alexandria. They were called kopis. They bent forward and were heavier near the end, sort of a compromise between a machete and a cleaver. They were made for chopping. Arms. Legs. Chests.

    The new curly black beard, who had claimed the Reliance as a war prize, turned out to be the admiral of this little fleet. He worked for Attalus, Roxane and Alexander IV. At least Dag was pretty sure that was what he was saying. Between Dag’s poor understanding of Greek and Metello’s accent, he couldn’t be sure. But he knew that Roxane and Alexander IV were in the custody of Attalus. That much had come back to them by way of the signal fires. Marie Easley was calling it a major change in the course of history.

    By now there were other ships tied onto the Reliance. Six, including the first one.

    Metello was talking again. “You will tow the galleys.” He pointed.



    Baaliahon looked at the metal and, being a fairly bright guy, figured out that it was a door. After some experimentation, he figured out how to open it. He turned the handle one way, then the other, and then when he thought it was loose, he pulled up the hatch. There was a ladder going down, and Baaliahon started climbing. He took a breath, then another. Then he went unconscious and fell the rest of the way down the ladder into a tank of fuel oil.

    Baaliahon had no way of knowing just how dangerous inert gases like nitrogen are. When you hold your breath, you’re keeping your lungs full of air, and slowly the oxygen is taken up and CO2 takes its place. But when you go into an inert atmosphere, you exhale all the oxygen in a couple of breaths and there is no buildup of CO2 to warn you that something is wrong. So you lose consciousness quickly, with no warning. Baaliahon was with Baal before his mates knew he was missing.



    In the pilot house of the Reliance a light went red, indicating that the port three hold had been opened. Then, when it stayed open, an alarm sounded. Not a very loud alarm, but an alarm, and a sound that none of the locals had ever heard. It was a beep beep beep in a pure tone and it caught the attention of everyone in the pilot house.

    “What is that?” asked Metello.

    Joe Kugan looked at the console and grinned grimly. Joe didn’t have Dag’s daily practice at understanding Greek and spoke not one word, but he knew his instruments. He saw the light and said in English, “Looks like one of these assholes opened the P3 tank. Think they used an oxy mask?”

    Dag looked back and forth between them, Metello curious and Joe smiling, and wasn’t sure what to do. He knew what Joe meant about the oxy masks. Also, some of the safety systems had been let slide in the days since The Event. They were reworking the fuel barge to multi-purpose and Joe Kugan had been protected in some ways. He hadn’t dealt with the locals the way Dag had and he hadn’t seen the level of casual violence that was an everyday event on the docks in Alexandria.

    “Joe, if they didn’t, then one of these guys is dead and the rest of them are probably going to take it out on us. So grinning is a pretty bad idea, don’t you think?” Then Dag looked at Metello and explained what the alarm meant.

    Joe didn’t get the grin wiped off his face quite quickly enough. Julio wasn’t even trying.

    Ithobaal was frowning, but Metello seemed almost as amused as Julio. Metello ordered everyone to stay out of the holds, but it took some time. Several more people had either followed the first guy down the hatch or opened another. Two more lights came on and a total of seven of the pirates died in the holds of Barge 14.

    Metello didn’t seem all that concerned with the deaths. He went on with business, asking what job each person on the Reliance had. “What is this one’s task on the ship?” He pointed to a crewman and was told his job, then another, and another. He got to Julio and asked in the same tone of voice as the ones before. He identified all the crewmembers of the Reliance and Dag’s work crew. When he had everyone’s job, he turned back to Julio.

    “It is unknown word to see your enemies die from their gibberish maybe stupidity maybe ignorance.

    “You thought it was unknown word that Ithobaal’s crewman didn’t know of your unknown word air. Well, so did I. But I am an admiral, not a deckhand. For you to show unknown word was as stupid, maybe ignorant, as breathing unknown word air.” He gestured to two of his men. “Kill him.” And never lost his smile.

    They fought — the rest of Reliance’s crew, Dag and his work crew. But the truth was they weren’t nearly as good at hand-to-hand fighting as the locals. They weren’t SEALs or Green Berets. They were working people who spent their time working, not training to kill. They were quickly restrained, then beaten for fighting.

    Dag looked at the admiral through bruised eyes. “Even admirals can face consequences. It’s worth remembering.”

    Metello looked back at Dag and shrugged. “Maybe, but life is risk.”

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