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.
Trapped and Tested
They slowly rocked in gentle swells as everyone looked at Verhbitt. Mnihh’dm looked visibly angry.
Ash asked, “Do we not like Ahinadab?”
Takaa said, “We do not like him. He is arrogant, selfish, stupid, vain, and has an odd odor about him.”
“And,” added Mnihh’dm, “everyone thought he was dead. He has been missing for several years. We not only do not like him, but we also are not happy that he is alive.”
“Why is that? What did he do?”
Verihbitt said, “Besides being a generally bad human being, and the odor Takaa mentioned, he was also supposed to be my husband. We were betrothed when we were young children.”
While they had been talking, the other ship had slipped closer, and Ahinadab was now only a few yards away. Ash looked at him and realized he was truly an ugly man, and something about the way he stood and sneered at them made him seem even more unattractive. As hard as she tried, she could not picture Verihbitt with this man.
“Cousin, so good to see you. However, that frown on your face and the glare from your pet guard and that aged assassin that seems to always be behind you, indicates that you are not so happy to see me.”
“Not at all,” she answered, “It is so good to see that you are alive and the same Prince Ahindab that we all know and love.”
Listening to Verihbitt’s answer, Ash learned how to express sarcasm in the Phonecian language truly.
The prince and princess continued to glare at one another until Duzi said, “Prince Ahinadab, I, for one, am glad to see you again, especially with such a large fleet behind you. May we pass through and dock in Tripoli. My oarsmen are tired, and we could all use a good night’s sleep in something more substantial than a tent.”
The prince walked out to the end of the ram and leaped onto their ship. “Yes, of course. I will come with you.” He walked up to Verhibitt, took her hand, and kissed it. “And you will all be guests in my palace.”
After a very tense hour on the ship, they were finally docked in the natural harbor of Tripoli. Ash knew the city as the capital of modern Libya, and also as a Roman port that was originally founded by Phoenician traders. Low hills surrounded the harbor, covered with houses, shops, and warehouses. Much of the trade in the western Mediterranean flowed through the city, and the size of the villas on the hills reflected that wealth.
A group of soldiers and slaves emptied the ship and escorted them through the narrow streets to a complex of several villas that Ahinadab referred to as his palace. As unpleasant as the man was, they were all delighted to be off the boat and not trudging through sand. When they saw the heated baths, they almost wept for joy.
After they had cleaned up and changed into new robes, they all gathered in the central courtyard for dinner. Verihbitt was still visibly upset.
Ashly sat next to her on the wonderfully overstuffed pillows and asked, “How are you doing? I can tell you are not happy.”
“Ash, I am so upset. My whole life, that annoying little toad has been around, making me and everyone miserable. I honestly thought I was rid of him. I know I have to marry one of my cousins, but I would prefer any of them over him.”
Ash remembered reading about how royal families often married first and second cousins. And from what she had seen, actual marriages were more political alliances than relationships. But she did not envy Verihbitt in any way about this part of royal life.
“Well,” said Ash, “I, for one, am happy that he does have a lovely house that is clean and out of the wind. “
“I guess this will all be mine someday,” said Verihbitt. “Hoorah.”
Once the food and bowls of wine were passed around, the group started to relax and enjoy themselves. Their host had not shown up yet. Ash motioned for Duzi and Alim to join them, and they were soon chatting and talking about their next move.
Ash asked, “Do you think we could find a way to get me a room to set up a lab and a place for me to write? Lots of papyrus and more fruit. It is going to take me a while to convert all that writing onto paper. Then I will need to convert those words into drawings.”
Duze said, “I will venture out tomorrow and gather writing tools and as much citrus as I can.”
“I have already spoken to the porter here,” said Alim, “and he has given you and Duzi rooms next to one another. If you are willing to share one, the other can be your workshop.” Both Ash and Duzi blushed and said nothing. “I’ll take that as a yes. I will assist you along with the blacksmith from the ship and two other oarsmen who asked to help make your next machine. Half of them think you are a witch, the other half that you are some sort of demigod sent to improve the lot of our kingdom in the world.”
“I’m not sure I like being thought of as either, but I will accept their generous offer to help.”
Then Prince Ahinadab arrived. Trailed by servants, he walked up to Ash and her friends and flopped onto some pillows. He soon had a cup of wine in one hand and was gnawing on a leg of lamb in the other. In between bites, he asked, “Betrothed, are you not curious as to where I have been? I heard that everyone in the King’s court thought I was dead.”
No one answered.
“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. I took part of my fleet west, all the way to the end of the sea where a small passage let out into the great Western sea. I sailed out and north and, having angered some got or another, was caught in a violent storm and shipwrecked. It took us over a year to walk across mountains, through forests, and across wastelands to finally get back to the shores of the sea where we were able to, let’s say secure, a few ships and sail back to Carthage, then here. Where I rejoined with my fleet, and we are resting and recovering while we prepare to battle this mad King who is terrorizing all of our trading ports. “
Verhibitt spoke into her wine bowl. “I thank Ball that you survived your adventure and that you are here to defend your Father’s kingdom.”
Prince Ahinadab tossed the leg bone on the floor and stood. “Cousine, your attitude has always been poor. It does seem that your years of independence have made you even more disagreeable. When I am done with this self-proclaimed King of thunder and lightning, I will deal with you.”
He stormed out of the room, servants still in tow. All Verhibitt said was, “I can not wait.”
Ash slept soundly that night, comfortable not just in Duzi’s arms but also in a huge feather bed that was clean, sand-free, and didn’t move under them. The next day was a busy one as everyone settled in. Duzi, Alim, and Ash focused on setting up the lab and gathering supplies while Verihbitt, Mnihh’dm, and Takaa ventured out to wine bars to gather information from the loose network of spies and informants that the King had in every port.
As soon as she had something to draw on, Ash sketched a side view for a simple lever-activated press they could use to squeeze the fruit faster that was starting to arrive in large baskets. It used a long shaft with a pivot at one end and a small pressing block attached one-tenth of the way up the shaft. This gave a ten to one ratio of force compared to the way they were squeezing the fruit now. The oarsmen went to work building it as she made a list of other supplies she would need to build the device that the government scientists had sent her.
Lost in their work, the day went fast and as the sun dipped below the hills outside the city, they gathered for dinner to catch up.
Mnihh’dm summarized what they had learned from the informants. “It appears that this bandit king has set up on an island a few days sailing north of here. He has a large fleet and some magical devices that shoot lightning and burns everything they encounter. His pattern is to show up at a port town and burns some ships in the harbor. Then he demands a ransom. Every day they do not pay, he burns something else. Some towns end up in ashes. Others hand over the gold and silver, and the King and his ships move down the coast. “
Verhihbitt added, “And it looks like Tripoli may be next. We think the best step for us is to take our ship and row out to try and spot them, try and understand their tactic. But we have time. We can let the crew rest a few more days. They will need to row fast for us to avoid being caught by this lightning.”
Unfortunately, they did not have a few days. They spent the morning continuing the work of the previous day. Ash’s press was done, and the oarsmen delighted in taking turns smashing fruit and draining the liquid into large pots. When noon approached, she had more than enough to start charging her phone.
But before she could start, she heard a loud horn. Alim informed her it was an alarm that signaled an attack. They raced to the balcony that overlooked the harbor. From that position, they could see the Phonecian fleet in flames. Beyond the line of ships that had been protecting the harbor were around twenty galleys, not too dissimilar from the Phonecian warships. What was different was a series of large barges in the middle of the attacking fleet. They were low, flat-topped vessels with some type of shiny structure on the top. Ash would have done anything to get her hands on a good pair of binoculars.
As they watched, a loud rumble would come from the barges and a bright light would envelope one Phoenecian galley after another. Within a few seconds, the illuminated ship would begin to smoke, then burst into flames.
“Now I get it!” shouted Ash. “The shiny things on those barges, they must be large polished pieces of copper or brass. They are focusing the sunlight on one ship at a time!”
“It is not lightning and thunder?” asked Duzi.
“No, it is concentrated sunlight. You know how hot the sun can be. Well, if you reflect it, you can point that heat. And if you do it with dozens of mirrors, the heat adds up and can be hot enough to catch almost anything on fire. They just be banging on the back of those brass plates to make the thunder sound.”
“Well, witch, that is wonderful that you think you know how this mad King is doing this.” It was Ahinadab. He must have joined them while they watched the attack. “But that is not going to save my fleet.”
They stood there for some time as the enemy galleys and the Phoenician warships battled. The barges focused sunlight on one ship after another until the few that remained had no choice but to row away, leaving the city undefended.
The attacking ships then began to row towards Tripoli. When they got close enough, Ash could see that her guess was correct. Each barge had a line of polished brass mirrors suspended from a wooden structure. Each panel was about 12 feet wide and 4 feet tall. A soldier stood behind each, pulling on ropes to point reflected sunlight from each panel at the same spot. Another soldier banged on the panels with a wooden club, making the sound of thunder. The waves and distance made it hard for them to all focus on the same location at the same time, but when they did, their target burst into flames. They were showing how it all worked as they picked off one small ship after another in the harbor.
With a shout of horror, the group of travelers realized that the beam was focused on their own ship. It quickly began to smoke, and then flames enveloped the deck and mast. Ash could hear Duzi sobbing as his pride and joy burned and sank.
The attack stopped soon after. Everyone assumed that the ransom demand was being sent. As the sun was starting to dip towards the horizon, a runner appeared and spoke to Ahinadab.
“Well, cousin, I hope you didn’t leave any gold on that ship of yours and that you brought it up here, because we are going to need it.”
“Why?” asked Verihbitt.
“Because we have no choice but to pay the ransom, you stupid cow. My fleet is gone, and they will start to burn down this city next.”
Verihbitt’s face turned red. Without uttering a word, she walked up to her cousin, her future husband, and a son of King Attiball, and slapped him so hard on his cheek that he staggered and fell.
“Over my dead body,” shouted Verihbitt. “This ends here.”
The people gathered on the balcony stood in silence as the princess walked up to Ash and whispered into her ear, “my smart friend, I am really going to need your help to get us out of this one.”
– To Be Continued –
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