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.”