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The Alexander Inheritance: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Thursday, June 29, 2017 23:06 EDT



Queen of the Sea, Alexandra Harbor
October 15

    “Do we go after them?” Anders Dahl asked. Not that there was any doubt.

    “Captain, there is a ship heading out from the docks at Alexandria. It looks to be Ptolemy’s galley.”

    “I am tempted to say to hell with it and leave now,” Captain Floden said. “We have people on the Reliance, even if Joe Kugan has been being a horse’s ass about weapons and fuel.”

    “Well, he was apparently right about the weapons, Captain,” Daniel Lang said.

    “Was he? If he had just stayed with us…”

    “He would have been in our way when we ran over the triremes,” Elise said. “Sorry, Captain, but he would have been. It would have made maneuvering more difficult and dangerous for all of us.”

    “Fine. He was right and I was wrong. All the more reason to go after him now.”

    “I’d like to agree, Captain,” said a new voice as Congressman Wiley stepped onto the bridge. “But we are still going to need Alexandria for some time, and showing that level of disrespect for Ptolemy isn’t going to make that easy.”

    “That bastard was behind this attack, Congressman. We had the ships on radar from the time they left the harbor to the time the last of them limped home.”

    “I don’t doubt you, Captain. But we still have to deal with him.” Wiley waved a hand. “We don’t have to let him off easy. We can charge him through the nose. But we are going to have to let him save face publicly.”

    “Fine. We’ll need Marie.” Lars looked around. “Where is she?”

    R#8220;In the wardroom, having breakfast, Captain. After she delivered the warning, she didn’t want to be in the way,” Daniel Lang explained.

    “Doug, would you go fetch her, please.”



    It took Ptolemy’s galley fifteen minutes to reach the Queen, and almost the first words out of his mouth were protests that he had never authorized the attack, and that Gorgias had acted completely on his own and against Ptolemy’s orders. He didn’t try to convince them that it was anyone but Gorgias who had done it, which Marie thought was wise of him. For this meeting, Marie simply watched and translated. Wiley played peacemaker, with Floden in the background, muttering darkly about burning Alexandria to the ground in retaliation. It was a good bargaining ploy, and it worked in terms of getting the royal treasury to pay for the damage and loss of life, while letting Ptolemy save face and act as magnanimous innocent.

    But it took time.

    It was after nightfall by the time all was settled. By then they had received a phone call from Dag informing them that he was pretty sure they were going to Tyre. In a way, that made it less urgent to go after the ATB, articulated tug barge. They knew where they would be, and could go fetch them once the more immediate business was taken care of.

    Internally, the attack cut the legs out from under the Jerusalemites. Yes, the Queen would defeat anything on the sea, but once they got on land, they could be taken prisoner and held for ransom. Not a good plan. Wiley’s plan of going to Trinidad or perhaps Spindletop, Texas and setting up the United States of America early gained a lot of credence and the consensus was that Trinidad was the best place. It was an island, so there would be some protection. And it had oil that was easy to get to.

    They got a second call, but it was breaking up. Dag was out of range of the cell tower, even over water with no competing signals, well before the Reliance got to Tyre.

    On learning that the Reliance had been captured and was on its way to Tyre, Ptolemy again offered a contingent of Greek soldiers to help them. Captain Floden started talking about the trojan horse, and Marie didn’t have to translate that, as Ptolemy’s next words made clear. “I understand the captain’s concern, but I am not Agamemnon.”

    More time as Wiley smoothed things over.

    Then the issue of burying their dead came up. There was a dive shop on the ship. Two of the entertainments available on the Queen were scuba diving and snorkeling, so there was extensive scuba and snorkeling gear. They had been able to recover the body of Eileen Sanders, the woman who had gone over the side in flames during the attack. They had three bodies to bury and they couldn’t afford the bad feeling that would be generated by ignoring the desires of the grieving loved ones.



Reliance, Approaching Tyre
Dawn, October 16

    Dag, bloody and subdued, watched a bloody and subdued Captain Joe Kugan show Admiral Metello the sonar depth gauge. Dag knew Joe Kugan well enough to know that Joe was protecting the Reliance from going aground more than he was protecting himself from another beating. The Reliance and Barge 14 together made up a sea-going ship that was more seaworthy than anything from this time. They were designed to transport fuel across the high seas. In essence, Reliance and Barge 14 constituted a small tanker, except at need the massive fuel bunkerage in Barge 14 could be separated from the Reliance so that one of the two could receive maintenance or repair while the other part of the system was still in operation. That had happened several times before The Event. About half the time the Reliance had been attached to Barge 15. For a moment Dag was distracted by the question of whether the Reliance and Barge 14 would ever be separated again. It almost certainly would, he decided as he looked back toward the stern. It was a waste of fuel to lug around Barge 14 when you were towing triremes.

    From the pilot house, Dag could see the steel cables that went from the stern of the Reliance to the bow of a trireme. After that was another cable from the stern of that trireme to the bow of the next, and so on until all six of the triremes under Metello’s command trailed the Reliance like ducklings. After Julio’s death, the crew had cooperated. In exchange, they had been mostly left alone.

    Most of the crews of the flotilla were camped on the Reliance, with only steersman and a few sailors on the triremes. The campers were being careful to avoid dark places, the holds especially, and mostly not touching anything. Partly that was because of the guys who had died from the fire suppression system, but it was reinforced by how strange this giant ship made of steel was to them.

    Dag had managed to make one covert phone call shortly after dark on the fifteenth, and confirmed that they were headed for Tyre. Everyone in the work party had phones. They were standard issue for the Queen’s crew. Pretty decent phones, not the most recent, but about two generations back. After making his point, Metello was surprisingly gentle with them. He had taken all the cell phones, but they hadn’t searched anyone and missed Dag’s.

    Keith Seiver had a cell charger in his pocket, but there had been no opportunity to use it. The charger was, in Dag’s opinion, a silly gadget. At least, it had been before The Event. It was a battery to recharge your cell phone through the USB port. But this battery was shaped like a cellphone and had one side covered in solar cells. The idea was that you could just leave it in the sun and it would charge the battery, which could then charge the cell phone or tablet computer. The problem was the solar panel was small. It would take the solar panel a couple of days in the sun to fully charge the battery pack, then you could use the battery pack to charge the cell phone in a couple of hours. Given enough time, the solar panels would charge a cell phone, a slate, even a laptop, but that meant putting it out in the sunlight. As soon as they did that, it would be seized. At the moment Dag’s cell phone and Keith’s battery pack were both fully charged because they had managed to plug them into the ATB’s power grid last night. But who knew how long it would be before they had another chance to do that.

    Dag looked out at the island they were approaching. Tyre was an island with an artificial causeway to shore. The causeway was about ten meters wide and nearly a kilometer long. Dag knew the history. Alexander the Great had built the causeway under the eyes and arrows of the defenders, then sacked the city. It hadn’t yet fully recovered, though a lot of Phoenicians still lived there, and the defenses had been mostly rebuilt. Now it was Attalus’ home base on the east end of the Mediterranean and currently the residence of Roxane and Alexander IV.



    Dag and his work crew were pulled off the Reliance when they got to Tyre and put on a galley that took them into shore. A very beautiful, dark-haired young woman, surrounded by a bunch of grizzled old vets, was there to meet them.

    “Why are these people tied up and what happened to them?”

    Dag didn’t find the girl’s accent hard to follow. It was a bit different than the Macedonian accent, but was a lot closer to it than Metello’s. The girl had black hair done up with a sort of gold chain hat, dark eyes, pale olive skin…and she was built. This must be the famous Roxane. She looked a bit like Elizabeth Taylor.

    The commander of the galley started to answer back, but apparently thought better of it and just said, “Admiral’s orders,” in a sulky tone.

    “Release them.”

    “Admiral said to…”

    “I don’t care what Metello said, and I doubt Attalus will either,” Roxane said.

    “You are not Alexander,” the commander said. “You’re not even Macedonian.” That struck Dag as strange, because from his accent and appearance, the commander was probably Phoenician from right here in Tyre. Not that Dag was an expert.

    Roxane looked like she was about to back down, then an older guy moved up beside her. “I am! Release them.”



    Hours later Dag felt better. He was washed, bandaged and even to an extent, briefed, by Kleitos, the guy who had backed Roxane. There was another man in the room, the commander of the Silver Shields, named Evgenij. Older and harder looking than Kleitos, he didn’t talk much. Kleitos was something between her bodyguard and jailor. Not one of the official bodyguards who had been appointed in Babylon, four for Philip and three for baby Alexander, but none of them were present. They were all out trying to raise armies to bite off their own chunk of Alexander the Great’s empire. Kleitos was a man for hire who would keep her safe or kill her, depending on the orders from the paymaster. That paymaster had been Perdiccas before his untimely demise, then Peithon for a couple of weeks, then Attalus. The Silver Shields were almost worse. They had appointed themselves and were halfway between guards and extortionists. As long as the money kept coming, they would keep Roxane and little Alexander safe. If the money stopped, they would sell her to the highest bidder.

    And they were all quite disgustingly straightforward about it.

    Kleitos had backed Roxane because he didn’t like Phoenicians, and the Silver Shields had backed him because they were mean old bastards who didn’t take crap from anyone.

    “Roxane is pretty enough, I’ll grant, and smart too,” Kleitos explained. “But she has all the guts of a rabbit. You, on the other hand, look like you have at least a little bit of guts.” Kleitos waved vaguely in the direction of the Reliance. “So tell me all about the ship out there.”



    Dag looked at the old reprobate and did. “First, you need to know that Metello made a bad mistake by taking the Reliance. The Queen of the Sea is almost twice as fast and a lot bigger.”

    “The sea is a big place. It’s going to be hard to find a single ship. Even a ship the size of that one.”

    “Not that hard. They know we were headed for Tyre.”

    “How would they know that?” asked Evgenij in a voice like gravel. He had a scar along his neck and apparently didn’t like to talk.

    “I told them,” Dag said. “Building big ships isn’t all our people can do.”

    Evgenij looked frightened, then angry.

    Kleitos, though, looked intrigued. “From what we heard and from what I saw you people are just very skilled crafters so if you told them, you had to have some way to signal. Some device? That’s right isn’t it?” He was watching Dag like an eagle watching a mouse hole, and Dag wished he’d kept his mouth shut.

    Kleitos was still watching him, not saying anything, and Evgenij was starting to fidget like he was getting ready to do something Dag would regret.

    “Yes, that’s right.” Dag said. He was being careful now that it was too late. And he realized that Kleitos would make a really good poker player if someone taught him the rules.

    “Is the device still on the ship?”

    Dag started to lie, hesitated, then told the truth. “No.” He pulled the phone out of his pants and Evgenij laughed and said something that was probably obscene.

    Kleitos laughed too, then said, “Show me how it works.”

    Dag turned it on and Kleitos lost his smile. Something approaching wonder was on the face of Evgenij. Gears and springs these men understood. Even ships made of steel made a kind of sense to them. But a flat piece of black glass that glowed to life with images and strange symbols? The Greek of the third century BCE didn’t have distinct words for science and magic. Learning and trickery were all one to them. Invoking the favor of the gods, just another skill, like knowing how much to slant an aqueduct, or how to arrange a phalanx of infantry to best advantage in a battle. And if invoking the gods didn’t always work, neither did arranging the phalanx. This was magic. This was learning, but of power and subtlety well beyond anything they had ever seen, even the Reliance sitting out in the harbor.

    “There are devices like this on the Reliance, and other devices. And though this small one is out of range now, the emergency beacons on the Reliance will lead the Queen of the Sea straight to her.” Dag had tried to say that in Greek, but Greek didn’t have all the words. At least, Dag’s Greek didn’t. He had the phone out, so he used the translation app. It was out of range of the ship, but it had been updated with the most recent lexicon only day before yesterday.

    Kleitos exchanged a look with Evgenij that Dag couldn’t read. He suspected it was something to do with the Reliance, and Dag wondered if they would warn Metello about the beacon.

    As it happened, they didn’t. Neither Kleitos nor Evgenij was fond of Metello, who was arrogant in a way that Macedonians found objectionable in anyone but another Macedonian.

    “It will run out of power soon if I use it too much,” Dag explained, then turned the phone off.

    “Well, you’re wealthy enough,” Kleitos commented. “You should be able to pay your ransom, so you won’t end up a slave. Will your people pay the ransom of your common soldiers?”

    Dag froze for just a second. Somehow, unconsciously, he had been thinking that he was still in the twenty-first century. No. He hadn’t been thinking at all. He had just assumed that there was civilization here. Then he spoke, parsing every word carefully. “I think you should assume that the Queen of the Sea will do whatever is necessary to get us all back.”



Queen of the Sea, Alexandria Harbor
October 19

    Eileen Sanders, Jose Clavell, and Owen Kalusza were buried in Christian ceremonies in the Gabbari necropolis two hundred thirty years before the birth of Christ. That, at least, is what archaeologists would call it when it was rediscovered in 1997. The locals just called it the necropolis. Josette Easley attended the funerals both as a representative for her mother, and because she had met Eileen. Their staterooms were just across the hall from each other and they had drinks together at the first night party. Eileen was killed by Greek fire. Her husband wanted her buried, not “dumped in the ocean.” Ptolemy was most accommodating.

    More delays while they had people in the hands of pirates. Meanwhile, the signal fires confirmed Dag Jakobsen’s report. The Reliance arrived at Tyre at dawn on the sixteenth. Now Josette, back on board in the Nobles Lounge, was having a drink in memory of a woman she barely knew.

    “Why are we wasting time going after them?” the drunk whined. “We should just go ahead and go to America. Let these European barbarians kill each other. And let that stuck-up bastard Kugan take care of his damn fuel barge himself. He was busy telling everyone the barge was his. Let him and his crew protect it. We don’t need them. There’s oil in Trinidad, plenty, and the engines will use it without refining. We should go to America and never come back to this hell hole.”

    “We have people on the Reliance, Mr. Stuart,” said Romi Clarke. This was said more in the way of a threat than the simple providing of information.

    “We have people right here too,” Stuart said. “Paying passengers.” One of the changes over the weeks in 321 BCE had been the dropping of the rules about below decks personnel staying below decks. Crew and staff were, by the captain’s orders, allowed into all the public areas of the ship. They could buy booze at the bars, swim in the pools, and so on. Not all the passengers appreciated that, but Captain Floden had been firm. Apparently, Mr. Stuart was one of those displeased by the crew’s admittance into passenger territory.

    Josette Easley wasn’t the history scholar her mother was. She was an electrical engineer who had gone on the cruise to celebrate her recent divorce from her mechanical engineer husband. Since she was on the ship, she studied it and was working part-time with the electrical systems managers. So she knew the specs pretty well. “Mr. Stuart, the Queen of the Sea has a full tank range of just over eight thousand miles. But we don’t have full tanks. Even sitting in one place, just running the lights and other electronic devices, plus air conditioning and water purification systems…all that takes power. From here, Trinidad is over five thousand miles. We might have enough to make it to Trinidad, but we would be close to out of fuel when we got there. We need the Reliance. We need her fuel and we are going to need her in the colony, to take that oil from shore to the Queen. And to do all sorts of things that a very powerful tug boat can do, like helping to dredge canals and harbors.

    “But even if none of that were true, it takes a truly contemptible coward to advocate leaving our people in the hands of barbarians when we have a height advantage of over a hundred feet, not to mention steam cannons.”

    Suddenly there were people standing and applauding. Romi looked at the skinny little white girl. He’d seen her around, but hadn’t really noticed her. Now he decided he liked her. He walked over, took her hand, bowed with a flourish, and kissed it. “Well said, pretty lady. On the money.”



    Meanwhile, something similar was going on all over the ship. Joe Kugan and, to be honest, most of his crew had been less than subtle in harping on their newfound wealth, and the need the Queen had for their fuel. And how rich that made them. Finally, Captain Floden got on the ship’s intercom and made an announcement saying basically what Josette had said. Then the Queen of the Sea headed for Tyre.



Royal Compound, Alexandria
October 19

    Ptolemy watched the Queen of the Sea sail out of the harbor and worried. He hadn’t imagined the steam guns, and he should have. He had seen ballistas and catapults. He had underestimated the ship people. But he hadn’t been wrong. They were soft. The loud lamenting over casualties so light as to be meaningless proved that. He simply hadn’t realized how powerful their tools made them.

    Ptolemy turned from the harbor and re-entered the palace. “Call Dinocrates,” he told a guard. “And Crates and every scholar in Alexandria. We need a library.”

    Hades, Ptolemy thought, I’ll even send for that idiot, Apelles. He was a very good artist and a fair scholar. And Ptolemy was going to need all the scholars he could get. There was no way that he was going to be able to reproduce the Queen of the Sea. But he might produce the steam cannon on another ship. Cannon like that, on the Nile with a powered ship, would control the Nile.



Royal Compound, Tyre
October 20

    The sun was setting and Dag decided to check. He was rationing his checks, especially since the Reliance had sailed off. He didn’t know where the ship was headed. He hadn’t had a meeting with Roxane. Kleitos had kept him busy, then let him check in with his work crew. They were being treated well. He pulled out the cell and turned it on. He had bars. Well, he had one piddly little bar. But it told him the Queen was on her way. He needed to find out where the Reliance was going.

    Dag put his phone away and went looking for Kleitos. Dag wasn’t entirely sure why Kleitos and Evgenij had let him keep his phone. He would like to think it was because they were afraid to touch the magic, and there was probably something like that in their attitude, but it felt more like a plumber insisting they get an electrician in to work on the wiring. They knew that there was potential danger in it and wanted it left in the hands of the expert.



    “I would like to speak with Her Majesty.” Dag smiled. #8220;In fact, there is someone else who would like to speak to Roxane, even more than me. A scholar who studies your time, as some of your scholars study Troy.”

    “A story teller, then.” Kleitos laughed.

    “She knows a lot,” Dag explained.

    “She? A woman scholar?” Kleitos laughed again, though there seemed a bitter edge to it. Dag didn’t know why. In any case, Kleitos finally shrugged. “Why not? She’s been pestering me all day, wanting to interview our ship people.”

    “Isn’t she in charge?”

    “Rabbit,” Kleitos said. “I told you that. Rabbits aren’t in charge of anything when the foxes are around, and that girl’s been surrounded by foxes her whole life.”



    Dag struggled through the greeting and the woman seemed to be almost enjoying his difficulty.

    “Thank you for your greeting,” she said. “I know it must be difficult for you. I had a great deal of trouble with Macedonian and I already spoke some Greek. Please sit and tell me of the ships from the future.”

    About then, a little boy with a painted wooden sword came running in, shouting about the hydra, and chopping off the imaginary hydra’s imaginary heads.

    Well, he was yelling “Hydra” and chopping the air. Dag went to one knee to put his head on eye level with the tyke, and said, “Greetings, oh great warrior.” At least, that’s what he thought he said. Whatever it was that actually came out, it was enough to stop the kid in his tracks and the little replica of a kopis stopped chopping hydras and went into the kid’s mouth like a pacifier. Dag, without thinking, reached out and took the sword away from the kid.



    Little Alexander resisted, but it came out of his mouth if it stayed in his hand, and the co-king of the Alexandrian empire started screaming. “Quiet,” Dag said, and for just a moment there was quiet. Following up quickly, Dag looked around for something, anything, to distract the kid from the painted sword. Nothing in his pocket. It wouldn’t help to keep the kid from lead poisoning, then have him choke on a button or keys.

    There, in his back pocket, a plastic comb. He gave it to the kid.

    Then he looked up at Roxane. She had come out of her chair when Dag grabbed the sword, and was now kneeling next to Dag, ready to snatch her son out of danger. Dad tried to explain, but he didn’t have the words for paint, lead, or poison. All that came out was “Sword bad.”

    “Not for a son of Alexander the Great, they are not.”

    Dag pointed at the teeth marks in the sword blade and said, “Sick.” He pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. Then he called up the translation app that Marie Easley had been working with programmers to tweak. He spoke in English. “Poison in the paint.” The app translated.

    Roxane grabbed the blade away from her son, and threw it across the room. “How do you know?”

    Dag was ready and pushed the translate button and got the words in English. But Roxane was still talking and the app only worked one way at a time. It had to record the words in ancient Greek, then translate them, or record the words in English and translate them the other way. It couldn’t just work in conversation. Dag recorded a message in English. “You have to say the words to the phone, then wait for it to translate them, then say another phrase. Just say the words when the front of the phone is facing you.”

    Then he had the phone translate. Roxane looked at him and nodded slowly with emphasis. Then she waited.

    Dag pushed the record button and turned the phone to face her. Then she spoke two phrases with a short pause between them and nodded again.

    Dag had it translate and “How did you know?” A pause, then, “Who tried to poison Alexander?”

    “No one tried to poison him. It’s the lead in the paint that is a slow-acting poison. It takes a lot of it over a long time, but it’s unsafe, especially for children.”

    The guards were all watching this. “So, not a plot,” said Kleitos. Dag had enough Greek to make a good guess, and shook his head no.

    Roxane pointed at the phone imperiously, then at herself. Once Dag had pushed record and had the phone pointing at her, she asked, “How does that work?”

    Dag tried to explain using the translation app and pointing at symbols on the phone’s screen. In the process, he noticed that the little battery was less than half full. So he explained that.

    “So it will be useless when the charge is gone?” Kleitos asked.

    Dag thought he understood, but had Kleitos repeat the question to the phone.

    “Yes, sort of. There is a charger, but it’s not mine.” More questions and answers. Finally Keith was brought from holding.

    “What’s up, Mr. Jakobsen?”

    “What would you want for your charger, Keith?”

    Keith looked around the room. It was a luxurious room with golden candelabras and expensive wall hangings. The chairs were throne-like. Dag could see Keith getting greedier by the moment. “Don’t go overboard, Keith. They can always just take the thing. And kill us both in the bargain.”

    “How about a couple of talents of silver?”

    “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

    “I’ll let them talk me down, Mr. Jakobsen,” Keith said with a grin. “Let’s see what they say.”

    Kleitos was playing with the hilt of his sword, so Dag guessed that he had at least understood the term “talent.” A talent of silver was enough to pay the two hundred man crew of a trireme for a month. A trireme crew weren’t just casual labor. It required skill to handle those oars, and the men were also the boarders in battle.

    Dag made the offer. Roxane started cursing in Greek and some other language, and all the guards were fingering their swords now.

    Finally, she calmed down and pointed out that the charger wasn’t of any use without the cell phone. Apparently she had understood Dag’s explanation fairly well. Then the real haggling began, using Dag’s phone with the translating app. Roxane called Keith the worst kind of thief, and Keith protested his desperate straits. It went back and forth, and a couple of minutes in, Dag got the feeling that Roxane was enjoying herself.

    Kleitos was clearly amused and a bit impressed by Keith’s audacity, and was kibitzing. It was Kleitos who pointed out that if they bought the charger and not the phone, they had nothing. Suddenly Dag was in the bargaining too.

    They finally settled on one silver talent for both charger and cell phone. Dag was to receive two-thirds of it, while Keith Seiver got the remaining third. Since both were necessary, Keith wanted an even split. That didn’t fly with Roxane. She was very clear on the issue of officers versus common sailors. Dag was an officer/noble, he would get more. Dag would be required to help Roxane handle her new cell phone. Keith was sent off to fetch his solar power charger.

    Dag checked his bars. He had three now. The Queen was on its way, but was still probably a hundred miles out.

    He borrowed Roxane’s new phone and used the app to ask, “Where has the fuel ship gone?”

    “Rhodes. That idiot Metello has decided that he will take the island and all of the Rhodian ships.”

    Quickly, Dag pushed the button and called the Queen. He had enough bars. The call went through and he was talking to Adrian Scott. “Adrian. First, the Reliance is headed for Rhodes. Now I need you to get Marie Easley up to the bridge so that she can talk to Queen Roxane. Then I need you to come get us.”

    “You’re on your way to Rhodes?”

    “No, not us. When we got here, they dumped me and my work party off and took the Reliance, with her crew, off to conquer Rhodes. They have her packed to the deck heads with soldiers.”

    “That could be a problem, Dag,” Adrian said. “The passengers are pretty mad about the attack and the Reliance running off like that.”

    “Hey, Adrian. I didn’t run off. That was Kugan’s doing.”

    “I know that, and you know that, but the passengers don’t want to believe it. I’ll tell you, Dag, I’m starting to think we ought to dump the whole bunch of them off in Ashdod and let them stew in their own pot. Hold on, I have Professor Easley on the line. Patching her through now.”

    Dag handed the phone to Roxane, and was then left out of the conversation while Marie Easley talked to Roxane about what was known, and Roxane explained what she knew about the players involved. It was a few minutes later that Roxane looked up and said something in Greek. She listened to the phone again, then handed it to Dag.

    “Dag, this is Captain Floden. We need to get the Reliance back before it gets us involved in the political mess that Alexander’s successors are involved in.#8221;

    Dag felt the color drain from his face. He understood. He wished he didn’t, but he did. Right now the Queen of the Sea was walking a political tightrope. She was virtually impregnable, but she needed food and supplies that she couldn’t force anyone to sell them. So she couldn’t afford to be banned from any port, especially not Alexandria. That was why the captain had decided to go after the Reliance before rescuing them.

    But it might be worse than that. It might be that they would have to leave Dag and his crew right here in Tyre rather than alienate Attalus. Dag could be here for months.



    Dag Jakobsen was a nice guy, but he was neither an idiot nor a coward. He realized that they were liable to need some form of weapon and that his captors were unlikely to sell them swords. Not that Dag could use a sword if he had one. But Dag had known how to make black powder since he was a small boy. His family made their own fireworks. Besides, he was a fan of Nobel and had studied the arms manufacturer’s life in school. “Keith, I want you to do me a favor.”

    “What’s in it for me?” Keith asked resentfully. He wasn’t pleased that Dag got the lion’s share of the money for the phone and charger combination.

    “Get over it, Keith. We don’t have time for that crap.”

    Keith came to a parody of attention, snapped an open-handed British-style salute and said, “Sir, yes, sir. Anything the officer requires, sir.”

    “Sit down, Keith. We need to make some black powder.”

    Keith looked around sharply and Dag shook his head in disgust. He wished he had Romi Clarke with him. “Keith, how many people on this island know what the term black powder means?”

    “Seven. You, me, and the other members of the work crew.”

    “Right. So just don’t make a big deal of it. You want to make a poultice. For your aching backside, or your legs, or your forehead. I don’t give a crap. The poultice will contain…” Dag proceeded to give Keith the ingredients for black powder, along with some other stuff that was essentially useless, but would mask the purchase of the ingredients a little bit. “Any of the local apothecaries ought to have all of it, so we are going to have to be fairly careful. One thing about black powder is it needs to be ground moist, and then dried, then ground again. For that second grinding, you want a brass mortar and pestle to avoid sparks. We’re also going to need clay or iron pots, little ones. Hand grenade size. And nails or other bits of metal for shrapnel.”

    “What are you planning, sir?” Keith asked, serious now.

    “I don’t know, but we’re prisoners. I believe the captain is going to come for us, but what do you think these people are going to do when he does?”

    “They won’t turn us over. They’ll try to ransom us.”

    “Right. How much are you worth?” Dag asked. “How much will Wiley and his people think you’re worth? I can hear him now, being noble. ‘We will not negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers.'”

    “Yeah. Me too. Funny thing is, I sort of agree with him in principle.”

    “As do I. However, it feels a bit different when you’re the one being sacrificed for his principles.”

    “Don’t it just?” Keith agreed.

    “The day we arrived, Kleitos asked me if the Queen would ransom us or not. If not, we will be sold as slaves. I figure they can get a really good price for us on the auction block, considering we’re such unique items. I’d rather avoid that, Keith. So I think that we might want to be in a position to get out on our own. Or at least close enough to out that the captain will be able to come get us.”

    “You think there’ll be enough time to make black powder grenades before the Queen gets back from Rhodes?”

    “Again, I don’t know. I do believe it’s better to try than not.”

    Keith saluted again, but this time it was casual and real. “I’ll get right on it, Mr. Jakobsen.” He coughed experimentally. “I think I’m developing a chest cold.”

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