Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 11
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.”