Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 27
Bridge, Queen of the Sea
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.
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.