Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 33
Queen of the Sea
Captain Lars Floden felt like a coward and a traitor as he turned the Queen to go after the Reliance. But he had a responsibility to the passengers and crew of the Queen. They needed that fuel. They couldn’t afford the chance that some accident in the battle at Rhodes would leave the Reliance aflame and all her fuel up in smoke.
So he did what he had to, hating himself all the while. The Reliance left on the route to Rhodes almost twenty-four hours ago, which put the Queen well behind. It was going to be close, even with the Queen’s higher speed.
Rhodes was in sight and the Reliance had clearly been seen. In the dawn’s early light, the Rhodians were putting to sea. Three triremes were heading out to meet them and Joe Kugan wondered where the rest were. Metello was sure there would be a bunch here.
“Run them down, Captain,” Metello said. “Steer straight for them. My men will deal with any of the crew that manage to board.”
Joe did as he was told. The Reliance, with Barge 14 attached, wasn’t exactly spry. She had powerful engines and controlled thrust, but a barge full of fuel wasn’t easy to shift. She was close to as fast as the triremes, but she couldn’t maneuver like they could.
So what followed was a slow-motion game of tag. The Reliance would head for a trireme, and the trireme would turn and race away, then try to come at the Reliance from the side or rear. One unfortunate trireme managed to close on the Reliance and found out what the backwash from eleven thousand horses did to the local currents. It survived but lost about half its oars, and was out of the fight for a while.
“Reliance, this is the Queen of the Sea. What are you doing?”
It blared over the speakers in the pilot house, and Metello went a little white. He had no idea what was said, but he had to know what it meant. Joe checked the radar and there it was, big as a mountain rising out of the southwestern sea. Still half an hour out, but coming on.
Joe still didn’t have much Greek and he wasn’t of a mind to try just now. He turned to Metello and said in English, “You’re toast, sucker!” Then he grinned like an idiot through his busted lip and missing teeth.
“Go there!” Metello pointed at the harbor, where until just a few years ago the Colossus of Rhodes had stood.
Joe started to comply. He was cowed by this bastard, as much as he hated to admit it. But an ATB the size of the Reliance doesn’t do anything fast. There was time for Joe to consider the consequences. He realized that if the Reliance grounded Barge 14, there would be no escape. In desperation, he hit the emergency stop, and the engines came to a stuttering halt.
Metello looked at Joe, and Joe looked back. Metello reached for his sword, and Joe lunged. He was desperate, but Metello was just that much faster, with reflexes honed by years of combat. Joe never laid a hand on him as Metello sidestepped and brought his kopis down on the back of Joe’s neck.
With the ship stopped, the Rhodians saw their chance and pulled alongside to board. But they didn’t have it all their own way. There were two thousand troops camped on Barge 14, and by now they were at least fairly familiar with the hardware that dotted the hull, making defensive works.
By the time the Queen of the Sea actually got there, the Rhodians had been pushed back to their ships, with considerable losses on both sides.
Queen of the Sea
“Are there any of our people in view?” Captain Floden asked Staff Captain Dahl.
“Not that I can see, Captain.”
“Fine, then. Clear that deck, but keep the muzzle velocity low. We don’t want any of our shells poking holes in the Reliance.” One of the nice things about a steam cannon is that, to an extent, it has a modifiable muzzle velocity, and therefore adjustable penetrating power. The power a one-pound lead bullet needed to pulp a human chest, even an armored human chest, is considerably less than the muzzle velocity necessary for that same shell to punch through one-eighth inch steel plate.
The crew of the Queen had made lots of bullets for the steam guns.
Two thousand armed and armored soldiers crowded onto the Reliance. They couldn’t have spread out if they wanted to and they didn’t know enough to want to. They clumped together to provide mutual protection and support and the one pound rounds of the steam cannon went through two or three men to finally lodge in a fourth.
It didn’t take long for the deadly rain of lead bullets to have their effect. People started screaming that they surrendered. These were tough men who would readily face other men in battle with sword and shield, but invisible death that ripped a man in two and sounded like Zeus on a rampage…? That they weren’t willing to face.
* * *
They surrendered, but could that surrender be trusted? Could Lars send people across to the Reliance without knowing that?
“We’re ready, Captain,” came Daniel Lang’s voice over the speakers.
“All right. Pull us alongside.” Then, into the mike, “Dan, don’t take any chances. If any of them give you any trouble at all, just shoot them.”
“Right, Captain. Police brutality coming right up.”
The Queen came up alongside the Reliance and a massive porthole opened to reveal men in glowing white uniforms with little metal things in their hands. The little metal things looked harmless, and the only ship people these men had contact with till now were the unarmed crew of the Reliance and the equally unarmed work crew. They didn’t know. Still, the rain of death from above kept most of them in check.
Most of them.
Daniel Lang would never know whether the Macedonian soldier who charged him was desperate or just saw an opportunity. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Dan had done twenty years as an MP and another ten as a cruise ship cop, and never even drawn his gun in anger.
Didn’t mean he didn’t know how.
The gun came up, he hollered half in Greek and half in English. He’d been practicing. The man didn’t halt.
Dan fired. Blam, blam, blam! Three in the chest. They punched right through the guy’s bronze armor. That halted him and more. He went down on his back. It was close enough to what had been raining on them, louder even. Now they knew.
The order to drop their weapons was given again. Those who hadn’t already done so dropped their weapons.
* * *
Goran looked at the men. Wait! Is that a woman? Yes, it was. Dark-skinned, long black hair tied back, wearing the same whiter-than-white clothing as the rest. And holding death in her right hand, just like the men. But she had tits. Nice ones too, best he could tell. And no man had a waist and hips like that.
His observations nearly got him killed. Not because the woman was offended, but just because he was so busy staring that he almost missed the order to get on his knees. Fortunately, they were repeating the orders twice before they killed people over them.
Goran got to live. He went to his knees on the decking wet with blood and waited. He put his hands behind his head and interlaced his fingers just as the voice from nowhere told him to, and as he did he realized that it was an effective method of restraint. Not because you couldn’t unlace your fingers, but because it took time and was pretty obvious. These people must be great slavers, they were so practiced at restraining captives.
He looked over at the woman. By now he had seen other women among their captors, but he thought of her as the woman. She had a set of bindings and was going along behind the kneeling men, taking one hand and binding it behind their back to the other hand, while a man with death in his right hand held death pointed at the captive.
Goran let his hands be bound. She wasn’t gentle about it, but neither was she vicious. She was just efficient.
There was a shout in their tongue, and then what sounded like orders. About half the white suits went off to do something. Goran considered. Probably they had found the crew. Goran had come on at Tyre, so he hadn’t had much to do with the crew of the little boat that pushed the big boat.
* * *
“Captain, we have a ship. A galley, but only two rows of oars. It’s heading for us and there is some guy in the front waving some branches at us. I don’t know if he’s suing for peace or trying to drive off evil spirits.”
“I’m not entirely sure, either, Captain,” Marie Easley put in. “I would guess suing for peace. I think those are olive branches.”
“Talk to them, Professor Easley,” Captain Floden said. “Tell them to stand off while we deal with the Reliance. Tell them we’ll send a boat to talk to them after we’re done.”
Marie waited for the comm officer to cue her, then spoke. The ship stopped, but the guy with the branches started yelling. It was too far and the accent was weird enough that she wasn’t sure what the guy was yelling about, but it seemed urgent. Or at least, he seemed to think it was urgent.