There is not a lot of good literature out there, or even bad literature, for and about engineers. So, we decided to fix that by writing a silly, non-literary, and often poorly written serialized story about an engineer, time travel, and using engineering skills to solve problems. We hope you enjoy reading along as much as we enjoyed coming up with the story and the characters.
“Tastes like sand.” That was the first thought Ash had as she began to wake up. The crunch she felt on her teeth and the nasty flavor reminded her of the time her brother buried her on the beach.
It was definitely sand.
As she became more aware, she realized it was in her nose as well. When she moved her hands, she felt more hot, dry sand. Laying there, trying to figure out what happened, she noticed the sound of waves and then seagulls.
The last thing she remembered was trying to keep her balance after submitting her CFD batch run on PADT’s new supercomputer. Passing out and waking up on what appeared to be a beach was not the usual result of pressing return on a batch command. Even if it was the wrong command. For a few seconds, she wondered if she was in a virtual reality simulation. But the gritty sand in her mouth was real. Her slowly reviving brain latched on to the idea that a good next step was to open her eyes.
She said, “OK, seagulls, let’s see what you look like.”
Ash was met with a view of a blurry beach with waves slowly working their way up and down a stretch of sand about thirty feet away. She tried to lift her head to look around, but her body did not cooperate.
“Let’s try toes.”
She was able to move those, but didn’t feel sand. Good, it seemed her hiking boots were still on. She was able to move her arms slightly across the warm sand.
“Progress,” was her comments to the gulls she could see skimming the shoreline, occasionally diving into the water.
Before she found the strength to lift her head again, she heard voices. It sounded like two children. As the sound became louder, she could tell they were not speaking English. With a start, she realized they were talking to each other in a heavily accented version of Phoenician.
Ash heard what sounded like a little girl shout, “On the beach, see, it’s a goddess!”
This was followed by a boy’s voice responding, “No, it’s just a foreigner. Probably a slave.”
Ash said in English, “I am neither a goddess nor someone’s slave, thank you very much.”
Using as much strength as she could muster, she raised herself up and faced the two kids.
Ash spat out some sand and croaked, “Where am I?” in her best Phoenician.
Both the kids were thin with dark olive skin and long, kinky black hair. They were both wearing torn and dirty tunics, and they stared at Ash with a mix of fear and curiosity. The boy held a long stick, which he raised and used to poke Ash in the shoulder.
The girl said, “She talks as funny as she dresses.”
Ash took a deep breath and tried again, speaking slowly. “What. Place. Are. We. Near?”
Poking her again, the boy answered, “Sur. The center of the world.”
Ash recognized the Phoenician name for the ancient city of Tyre on the coast of what is now Lebanon. She remembered studying it in college and how it was built on a rocky peninsula that jutted out into the Mediterranean. Looking up the beach, she could now see beige stone walls rising from cliffs that protruded into the water. Smoke rose from behind the walls and a few tall masts poked up above the city.
This made no sense. Ash’s head began to spin as the craziness of the situation hit her. She was sitting on a beach, speaking with two children in ancient Phoenician, and what appeared to be an actual ancient walled city was within walking distance.
In English, she said, “This is crazy. It must be a dream.”
She tried to stand and became very dizzy. Her vision blurred and then began to fade to black.
When Ash woke up, she found herself on a pile of straw in a small room. It smelled of smoke and animals. Light was streaming in from an opening about two-thirds up one of the mud walls.
Her head did feel clearer. When she tried to stand up, she realized that her backpack was still on her back. She unclipped it and swung it to the floor as she walked to the opening. Looking out, she saw a collection of buildings clustered around a small harbor that was full of boats of different sizes. The paths that weaved between the buildings were full of people wearing tunics and robes. It was loud. I was also very smelly.
Ash struggled to get her head around what she saw. After a few minutes, she stopped trying. Realizing that the best way to deal with this was to just go along with it, she bent to open her backpack and took out her Phoenician clothes.
“When in ancient Phoenicia, do as the ancient Phoenicians do.”
Minutes later, Ash found herself moving with the flow of people down a narrow street. The sights and sounds began to excite her. This was an excellent simulation of what Tyre must have been like. She passed stalls full of food, cloth, pottery, and bronze implements.
Stopping in front of a pottery stall full of beautiful pieces of different sizes and shapes, she said to herself in English, “I need to share this with everyone.”
Without thinking, she reached into her pocket, took out her mobile phone, and raised it to take a picture. The stall was in the shade, so the flash went off.
That was when the merchant, followed by what seemed like everyone in the street around her, turned on Ash.
They were all shouting. She heard, “Magic!” “Foreign Sorcery” “She’s a Demon!” “Witch!”
It was the term “witch!” that took over. Soon they were all shouting it while grabbing her and pulling her down the street. Several women started to grab bright pieces of cloth from stalls along the road and put them over her head. At one point, someone stole some sort of root vegetable and tied it to her nose.
Over the chaos of the growing crowd, she was able to see they were approaching a large open space raised platform in the center.. Pushing her forward, she found herself at the base of a small stage. The merchant that had started this whole thing jumped onto the platform and shouted, “we have found a witch!”
The crowd continued to shout, “A Witch!.” “Burn Her!” “A Witch!”
A well-dressed man joined the merchant on the platform and asked, “how do you know she is a witch?”
Someone in the audience answered, “She looks like one!”
Ash shook her head to try and bring some sanity to the insane scene around her. She called, “I m not a witch!”
The well-dressed man walked towards her, looked her over from sandals to scarves, and said, “ehh… but you are dressed like one.”
“They dressed me up like this!”
Someone behind her said, “Naah. No, we didn’t. No.”
Ash said, “And this isn’t’ my nose, it’s a false one.”
The man who seemed to be in charge reached down and lifted the nose off.
“Well, we did do the nose,” admitted one of the men holding her.
“Just the nose?”
“… and the scarves. But she is a witch!”
The crowd joined in. “Burn her. Burn her!”
The man motioned for Ash to be moved onto the platform and then spoke to the crowd. “I am Azmelqart. The King’s magistrate. Who here can tell me why you think she is a witch?”
Ash could now see the throng filling the square. A filthy man was working his way to the front. Once there, he said, “she turned me into a newt!”
“A newt?” asked Azmelqart.
The dirty man looked at his feet, then the crowd, and replied, “I got better,” in a small voice.
The crowd didn’t care. They started shouting “She’s a witch!” and “burn her!” again.
Azmelqart motioned for silence. “There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.”
“Are there? Well then, tell us!” demanded the merchant.
“Tell me… what do you do with witches?” asked Azmelqart.
Azmelqart nodded his head and then asked, “What do you burn apart from witches?”
Someone in the crowd answered, “More Witches!”
Azmelqart shook his head. A small boy walked forward and tentatively asked, “Wood?”
“Correct! So, why do witches burn?”
The boy looked at his feet and kicked at some stones. He then offered, “Cuz they’re made of… wood?”
Azmelqart smiled and said, “Goooood! Now, how do we tell if she is made of wood?”
Someone answered, “Build a bridge out of her.”
“Ahh, clever, but bridges can also be made out of stone. Does wood sink in water?”
“No,” said the merchant.
The boy added, “No. It floats!”
Someone in the crowd added, “Let’s throw her in the harbor!”
“What also floats in water?” asked Azmelqart.
Someone said, “bread.” Another guessed, “apples.” A third offered, “very small rocks.”
This last answer annoyed Azmelqart. People continued to make even more ridiculous suggestions until a clear, deep voice added, “A Duck!”
Bannal turned to face a man wearing bronze and leather armor on a horse. “Exactly! So logically…”
The merchant thought about it. Then he said, “if she weighs the same as a duck… she’s… MADE OF WOOD!”
“And therefore,” said Bannal.
The merchant thought some more and suggested, “a witch?”
The crowd took it up. Chanting “Witch,” “Witch,” “Witch” as they jumped up and down in the square.
With a look of triumph on his face, Azmelqart leaped from the stage and said, “We shall use my largest scale!” and the crowd followed him towards the harbor, leaving Ash alone on the platform.
“This is insane,” said Ash to the backs of the disappearing crowd. “I feel like I’m in a bad Monty Python skit.”
The only people left in the square were a young woman and an older, heavyset man. She was wearing a beautiful, ochre-colored dress that draped perfectly over her tall, thin frame. He was wearing a simple, very white tunic with a wide leather belt around his paunch.
“You certainly know how to get noticed when you come to a city for the first time,” said the woman. “I am Verihbitt, daughter of Batnoam. And this is my slave and faithful assistant in all things, Mnihh’dm.”
Ash walked towards them. “I’m Ash, daughter of…” She hesitated but could only think of her father’s real name. “Daughter of Alan.”
“Welcome to Sur, the center of the Phoenician Kingdom. You are obviously not from here or any other land I’ve been to. Where is it you come from?” asked the tall woman in a pleasant voice. Then she added, “but before you answer, let us leave the square and go to my father’s house. Before that idiot, Azmelqart, realizes he forgot to drag you to his scales.”
Mnihh’dm darted down the closest alleyway, and the two women followed.
Before long, Ash found herself in a small courtyard filled with olive and fig trees. Verihbitt motioned for her to sit on a stone bench as Mnihh’dm disappeared into a dark doorway.
“My guard,” said the young woman as she sat on another bench, “Takaa was the one that offered up the idea of a duck. I think it worked well, do you not?”
Ash caught her breath. “Yes, thank you so much. It was so strange, I did not know what to do or say. I cannot thank you enough. How can I repay you?”
Verihbitt’s face changed from stern and concerned to a beautiful smile. “Well, my father always tells me I am far too curious for my own good. And I am curious about you. Your payment must be telling me where you are from and why you are here.”
Ash contemplated what to say next. She could not tell this woman the truth. But she could stretch the truth to fit the situation.
“I was traveling in my land, a place far west from here, near where the sun goes to sleep each night. I was… working on calculating some numbers and made a mistake that must have angered a god. Before I could fix my error, the room I was in began to shake, and all went dark. When I woke up, I was on the beach just south of the city walls.”
Verihbitt stared directly into Ash’s eyes as if trying to see if the tale was true. She began to twist her hair in her fingers. Then she said, “that is an amazing story, one that a song should be written about. Even if it is not, I sense, the complete truth.”
The two women looked at one another, not really knowing what to say. Ash was starting to panic when Mnihh’dm returned with a platter filled with bowls. He set it down on a tripod between the two women, turned to Verihbitt, and said, “I like her. I think she needs a friend.”
Ash looked at Verihbitt more closely. She had to be about the same age as Ash. Her hair was black and curly. Her skin was the same dark olive as everyone in the city. She could tell that this was a smart, confident, and caring woman. And that was precisely what Ash needed.
Ash ventured, “I truly could use a friend.”
Verihbitt leaned forward and lifted her cup. “To friendship then, and to the adventures that it brings!”
– To Be Continued –
Continue reading with “Like an Owl,” wherein the new friends fend off not one, but two attacks, a secret is uncovered about one of them, and Ash realizes she has a connection to the present day.
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