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.
Journey to Tripoli
It took all four of them to raise the crossbar and then pull the huge bronze doors back. Outside, the elite soldiers posing as oarsmen had been busy, and the steps outside were covered with more dead men dressed as priests. Without pausing to talk, the soldiers formed a circle around the four travelers, and in a mass, they all began to jog back to Baal’s temple. There was no time to talk or really think about what had just happened. Ash focused on her footing and breathing.
A few hours later, she supervised a group of temple workers who packed up her lab in straw-filled wicker baskets. She had wanted to spend more time in Egypt, to explore so much and learn more about what the ancient culture was really like. But once again, they were off to the next destination. And Ash was filled with overwhelming sadness. She missed home, she did not know where things stood with Duzi, and mostly she was devastated by all of the death she had seen.
The swiftly flowing Nile carried them back towards the sea. As the sun set, they found a place to safely anchor in the maze of reeds that filled the river’s delta. Ash had spent the journey downriver staring at the farms and then wetlands that passed by the ship, not talking with her friends or crew members. They sensed that she wanted to be alone and didn’t try and talk to her. Now she sat by herself at the prow of the boat, leaning back and watching bright stars and the Milky Way in the moonless night sky.
“Can I interest you in some food?” It was Duzi.
She looked at him with surprise and then realized that some company was precisely what she needed. She said, “Even by starlight, with the lamps behind you, I can see your smile.”
He sat down next to her and handed her a wooden bowl. “Some would say it is a curse. But I have to say, it does me well when I need to negotiate prices or wiggle some information from a local official.”
Ash let go of her sadness and let herself smile. They ate for a while in silence.
“Are you going to tell me what is wrong?” Asked Duzi.
Ash thought about things before she answered. She had accepted the slaughter and even the questionable state of their relationship. Those were not what kept her depressed.
“I think all this moving around, this running from one danger to another, is really making me miss my home,” she said.
“I understand that.” Duzi leaned closer and put his arm around her shoulders, letting her rest her head under his chin on his chest. “Sometimes home pulls so hard on our hearts. I think Baal wants us to remember them and our family, so we do not get too confident as we journey around this world.”
Ash let herself relax. The boat swayed gently, and Duzi’s chest went up and down as he took deep breaths. They did not talk. They just looked at the stars and thought their own thoughts. Ash was wondering what her friends at work and her parents were doing.
It was warm, and the insects and frogs provided a broad and sometimes loud natural musical score for their thoughts. Without realizing it, they both fell soundly to sleep in each other’s arms in the prow of a Phoenician trading ship anchored in the Nile Delta.
Ash felt Duzi stir underneath her and, through hazy eyes, could see Verhibitt standing over them, her hands on her hips. She was trying to look stern and disapproving, but the broad smile on her face and the twinkle in her eye gave her away.
“Good morning, Verhibitt.” Said Ash as she leaned forward and stood up. Sleep faced, and Ash realized she had spent the entire night in the arms of a man from an ancient, macho culture where women were considered possessions of men and where men were taught to take what they wanted. And he had not tried to make a move on her. She was not sure if she was pleased or offended.
Duzi said, “Well, that was relaxing. But I have to say I am a little offended that you did not make a pass at me.”
Without thinking, she lifted her arm and pushed Duzi over the ship’s railing. She heard a splash and then laughter as she took Verhibitt by the arm and walked to the rear of the ship.
The journey would take over five days as they rowed along the coast. The wind was not favorable, and it was about twice as far as her first sea journey. This fact made Ash happy, it would give her plenty of time to charge her phone and contact home.
She spent the first day improving design and squeezing baskets full of citrus to make juice. Occasionally Druzi would stop by her makeshift decktop workshop and check on her, not saying much but also linger longer than he needed to. The combination of his interest and her absorption in her work made her sadness go away.
That night they pulled onto a beach and had a wonderful time around the campfire as Takaa and Mnihh’dm shared fanciful stories, trying to one-up each other as the night wore on. Duzi kept catching her eye, and Verhibit kept whispering encouragement in Ash’s ear, making both of the women blush and Duzi’s smile even broader.
When the fire died, and everyone headed towards tents, Ash stayed to watch the new moon move across the sky. Before long, she heard footsteps in the sand and then felt a heavy blanket cover her. She then felt Duzi slide under the blanket and take her into his arms.
“I need to pay you back for pushing me into the water.”
Ash said, “Yes, you do,” and kissed him.
Sometime in the early morning, they had said their goodbyes and went to their separate tents. However, the way Verhibitt and the soldiers looked at her all; morning made it pretty clear that everyone knew what had happened. If it was 2021, Ash would not care, but she really didn’t know how Ancient Phonecian’s felt about such things.
She did not see Duzi until the ship was underway, when he walked up to her, kissed her, and then went to the tiller.
Later, as the ship moved along the coast, Verhibitt stopped by Ash’s workshop and said, “So I assume you two are now together?”
“Verhibitt, is that acceptable? Where I am from, it is just fine for unmarried people to have… to have a relationship. How do Phonecians feel about it?”
Verhibitt kissed Ash’s cheek and said, “Sweetie, it is not just acceptable, it is encouraged. Mariage is business and politics. What you call relationships, that is about fun.”
Ash spent the rest of the morning working on her battery and smiling. A silly, schoolgirl crush smile.
After lunch, her phone was at three percent, enough for a short conversation with Alex.
Aleks, you there.
I’m here, so glad to hear from you. We were starting to worry. So much going on here. Are you safe?
Well, I am now. Things are a lot more dangerous in this world than in ours. But I’ve made good friends and they have kept me safe.
Good. Let me give you an update. They are keeping me on as communication. They think they know how this happened, but of course, they won’t tell us. Something to do with string theory and temporal resonance at the quantum level.
OK, I do remember that string theory is about vibrating quantum strings across dimensions or some such crap. And?
And they say that they can pull you back, but they need to know what interdimensional temporal frequency you exist in.
Ummmm. OK. How do we figure that out?
They say they can calculate it, but they need to know the exact date and time where you are.
OK, let me check my GPS and my watch. Oh wait, I don’t have either of those on me! That was sarcasm.
I know, I know. Your sarcasm penetrates time and space. They do have a plan. You need to take some measurements of some stars and where the moon and sun are.
OK, let me get my sextant and telescope out.
OK, let me get my sextant and telescope out.
You need new material.
They say they are have figured out a way to make a device that will calculate the number they need if you enter the relative position of the celestial objects they identify.
I can do that. I’m getting good at building things here.
They are working on the design. Can you text back tomorrow?
Yes, we are at sea for a while I have enough juice, (literally, I’m using citrus juice as the electrolyte) for one more charge.
OK, let’s do that. For now, do you want to send messages to your parents?
Ash spent the rest of her battery charge writing a note to her parents. She told them about everything that had happened. What she had seen, but leaving out the violent parts. She also left out Duzi.
When she finished, all Aleks said was:
OMG. Unbelievable. I don’t know how much they will pass on. I’m worried they may never let me out of this basement. But the part about you being safe will help them feel better.
Ash was composing a witty response in her head when the phone went black.
Being able to send a message to her parents lifted a weight off of Ash’s shoulders. She found herself actually skipping around the deck as they made for shore at the end of the day. The fact that she would be able to be alone with Duzi did not hurt either.
After dinner, some of the soldiers brought out musical instruments, and they all danced in the sand, showing Ash the steps as they went. As she whirled around the fire with Veribitt, she realized that she was in love, she had a way home, she was with friends, and she was safe. She felt good.
When the night was winding down, Alim came up to Ash and told her that all of her things had been moved to Duzi’s tent.
The next morning, Ash raced to the boat as soon as the sun was up, and started charging her phone.
“I see that the magic jar is working well for you.” It was Alim.
“It is working. I can not thank you enough for helping me put it together.”
“The pleasure was all mine. But you can repay me?” added Alim.
“Explain how your tablet works.”
That was a question that gave Ash pause. How does one explain a smartphone to a Phonecian scholar who was born millennia before Steve Jobs.
She said, “It is hard to explain. Would you accept my word if I said that a demigod lives inside and uses his powers to talk with another demigod from back where I’m from?”
“Let’s see.” Ash stood up, took one of the unsqueezed citrus fruits, and tossed it into the still water of the shallow cove where the ship had spent the night. “See how the water ripples out? The way this device works is by controlling waves in the air. Waves that are strong enough to travel long distances. I write a letter or a number, and that is turned into a unique pattern of waves. Those waves travel back to where I’m from, and they send waves to me that the tablet reads and converts back to letters and numbers or me.”
Alim stood at the railing, watching the ripples spread out. “That is very clever. I think.” He faced her and began to stroke his long white beard. “However, your demigod explanation seems more probable.”
They both laughed. Ash and Alim talked about the idea of sending waves and far more things that she could not find a way to explain while the ship left the cove and continued its journey to Tripoli. When the sun reached its zenith and Mnihh’dm brought them a lunch of dates and bread, all of the juice was gone, and the phone was at five percent.
She said to both men, “That should be enough for Alex to send instructions.”
Taking a deep breath, Ash powered up the phone.
Alex, I’m back. Just have five percent. Need more fruit juice. Can you send the instructions?
Hi Ash, we have been waiting for you. And yes. But let me tell you, we had a dozen of our engineers helping these people form an unnamed government agency. We had to convert everything into words.
Oh no. I didn’t think about that. But yes, that makes sense.
So here goes. The first bit will consist of a description of every part. The second chunk will be the assembly instructions. It is going to take a lot of copy and paste, but here goes.
Ash’s screen began to scroll as the messages came one after another. She could see a consistent description of each part – a number, name, material, and dimensions. Her excitement turned to dread as she realized the complexity of the device they were asking her to make. Then panic when she realized that she could not print out all this information.
When the messages stopped coming, she texted Alex.
Is that all (sarcasm)
Hey, I’m the one moving the stuff from a text file to a text. My thumb may be permanently sprained.
I know, it’s a lot. How much battery do you have left?
It says 1%
OK, enough to send this from your parents
Dearest Asghleith, we miss you so much. They won’t tell us where you are. They deleted most of your message. But we loved the part we got to read. We are glad you are safe, and we hope you are making “smart choices.” We are so proud of you and hope that whatever you are facing, you are staying safe. After getting your message, both of us slept through the night for the first time since you disappeared. They did tell us you are with strangers, and we worry that you can be so shy sometimes. Hopefully, you are making friends that will help you get home. We told them you are smart and stubborn and not afraid to work hard. We know you will be OK. We love you so much and can not wait for you to tell us everything.
Just as she read the last words, Ash’s phone went black. Then she began to cry. Reading their message had brought home how much she missed her parents and made her face the fact that they must be worried sick. She let go and had a good cry.
“Crying is good for the soul, or so they say,” consoled Mnihh’dm. “Is there anything we can do to help you?”
Ash wiped her eyes and said, “We are going to need some papyrus, a pen, and lots of ink. And more fruit, as much fruit as we can get. It’s going to take days to transcribe all of this.”
With her phone dead and no more citrus on the ship to power her makeshift charger, Ash found herself with nothing to do. After watching the coast slowly go by, she joined Verihbitt, Takaa, Duzi, and Alim sitting in the tent. They were all silently lounging on pillows. Ash found a spot next to Duzi and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. All she could hear was the steady drumming that counted out the rowing and the matching splash of their oars. As she relaxed, she could also hear the creaking of wood and the occasional seagull.
The rest of that day and the following days were the most uneventful she had faced since she woke up on the beach. No pirates, no Kings, no assassins posing as priests. They talked some, played music and sang, and mostly napped. Each beach they spent the night on was different, and the time she spent with Druzi was something that filled her heart.
That all ended late in the afternoon of their fifth day at sea when their napping was interrupted by the sound of a loud horn.
The travelers exited the decktop tent to a row of Phonecian warships. They each had two levels of oarsmen and large, brass reinforced prows that were obviously designed to sink other ships. Archers and spearmen crowded their decks. Further down the coast, they could just make out a walled city in the afternoon haze.
Duzi said to the group, “Welcome to Tripoli, and I would like to introduce you to the Phonecian royal fleet.”
Presently, three ships left the line and headed towards them in a pincer movement. The ship in the middle stopped just short of ramming them. A soldier in a gleaming breastplate stood on the bow and shouted.
“This harbor is closed, turn around, or we will sink you.”
Duzi shouted back, “We are a trading vessel with wares to sell and coin to buy a new cargo.”
The soldier answered, “This harbor is closed. Go back.”
Verihbitt stepped up next to Duzi and, in a surprisingly loud voice, said, “I’m Princess Verihbitt, daughter of Prince Batnoam. We are here at the behest of the King, my Uncle. Let us pass.”
The soldier didn’t respond. He turned and walked to the aft of his boat. Everyone waited with nervous anticipation. Before long, a short, muscular man in a purple tunic came forward and surveyed the traveler’s ship. He climbed out to stand on a small platform secured to his ship’s ram and shouted, “Welcome to Tripoli, Cousin.”
Ash heard Verihbitt say under her breath, “Oh shit. It is Ahinadab.”
– To Be Continued –
Please subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment, “Trapped and Tested,” wherein the travelers are stuck in the siege of Tripoli, Ash buys up all the citrus in the city to run her phone, and she and her friends learn more about the mysterious king, his cult, and the superweapon he is using to burn cities to the ground. All while battling Verihbitt’s annoying relative.