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.
Rest and Rejoice
Ash and her friends did nothing the next day, sleeping well past noon and then lounging on the beach through the afternoon and into the night. Behind them, the sailors and soldiers cleaned up the damage done by the siege and battle. Huge funeral pyres burned the bodies of the dead. From the beach, they could hear the slam of hammers and grinding of wheels as they repaired the small fortress and sorted its contents.
In the late afternoon, an officer stopped to convey how the teams had uncovered the treasury. It was buried under the grain in the tower at the courtyard’s center. The mad king had died on top of his hoard, never having the chance to spend it. And all the wealth he had collected, much of it stolen from King Attiball’s subjects, would be returned to the Phoenician King in Tyre.
They did not celebrate on learning of the discovery of the treasure or at any point during that day. They did not chat and joke. They reserved their normal teasing or funny stories for another day. Instead, they looked at the waves marching towards the beach or the sea birds floating above and then diving down to catch fish. They watched the natural world around them and tried to process what they had been through. They all knew that silence was what was needed.
They returned to the ship soon after sunset, and Ash let Duzi wrap her in her arms. He was soon breathing deeply, but she could not sleep. She wondered if the weariness in her body and brain would ever disappear. Part of her knew that the things she had seen, the fights and attacks she had taken part in, would turn into nightmares that would stay with her for the rest of her life. Wondering what form those dreams would take, she eventually fell into a long, dreamless sleep.
She woke up to the sounds of Duzi putting on his armor. She lay there, looking through half-open eyes and admiring him. His body was muscular, and his movements were sure and confident. His black hair fell over his eyes when he looked down to fasten a buckle, and he absentmindedly flicked it back with a quick toss of his head. She found the gesture so endearing.
When he finished his preparations and reached for his sword, Ash asked, “Are we going to battle again?”
He jumped a little, startled by her voice. “I thought you were going to sleep till mid-day again. And no, no battles. But we do have a big pile of treasure that now belongs to the King, and an island full of soldiers and sailors who might think we wouldn’t miss a gem, a small coin, or a gold statue.”
Ash contemplated how the amount of wealth would be tempting. “A good point. But can we not rest for another day?”
Duzi walked over to the bed, the pile of pillows they slept in on the deck of the ship. He kneeled next to her, bent over, and kissed her forehead. “You can rest, my little smart one. But more than one day of me gone will be noticed by those looking for an opportunity.”
He stood up and put his hands on his hip and raised his right hand as if giving a command, looking like a statue of some general. “I spend most of my time pretending to be a feckless sea captain and trader, only able to boss my small crew around. So I will milk being a general for as long as I can.”
Ash said, “Go forth and command, my oh great General Duzi.” She pulled back the blanket that covered her, and added. “But be back for dinner.”
He smiled and said, “True, dinner is going to be special tonight. Takaa is taking a hunting party over to the main island to bring back a boat full of boar, sheep, and birds and cook up a feast for everyone. We will put a feast on for the men.”
Ash pulled the blanket over herself and said, with a smile, “You always think food and your men are more important.”
Duzi’s smiled back. But then his mouth morphed into a deep, sad frown.
Startled by the abrupt change, Ash asekd, “What is the matter, my general?”
“I thought about how much the men deserve such a meal, then I remembered how many of those men we came to this island with are now gone.”
“And that was is why we must celebrate the living.” It was Alim, standing in the entrance to their curtained part of the tent. “They are with Baal now and enjoying the rewards of their valor. We must honor them by enjoying our life here.”
Duzi looked at his former tutor, and a smile came back to his face. “You are right as always. Come, my teacher, let us start the dull task of cataloging the booty. The King’s scribes will want a detailed inventory.”
After Duze and Alim left, Ash stayed in bed, listening to the increasing sounds from the camp. She tried to go back to sleep. But her normal restlessness was welling up inside her. There was little she could do to help the teams repairing or cataloging. But she knew that her mechanical calculator waited for her. She also remembered that she had not texted Alex in some time, and that she should let everyone in the future know what had happened at the battle. With a sigh, she reached for her phone.
ASH: Hello Alex. I’m still alive. We all are.
After a few minutes, Alex answered
ALEX: Ash! We were starting to really worry. The last you told us, you were headed into a big battle.
ASH: It was not as big as it could be.
ALEX: But you are all right?
ASH: I am, not a scratch. The mad king we have been chasing, he didn’t do so well.
ALEX: Did you capture him?
ASH: No. He had a problem with one of his eyes?
ALEX: His eyes?
ASH: It seems he ended up with an arrow through it.
ALEX: Um, OK. Maybe you have been there too long, going a bit native.
ALEX: Eye piercing arrows are not LOL worthy back here.
ASH: ☹ You are right. It may be time for me to come home.
ALEX: How is the calculator coming?
ASH: I’ve got all the big parts done and the two main assemblies working. I’ll work on the little parts while we are sailing.
ALEX: So you are going to move, not use it where you are.
ASH: No, it will take me at least two weeks to finish, and we are setting sail as soon as we load all the booty on the ships
ALEX: Aye Matey. Avast ye pirates. Their be treasure. Does a parrot come with the booty?
ASH: No parrots here yet. Besides, I’m out of citrus, and there is none on this island.
ALEX: Sounds like a plan. Reach out if you need anything.
ASH: Please tell my parents that I’m OK. And that I’m starting my way home.
ALEX: Will do, Matey.
ASH: Would an eye patch joke about King Gula be good here?
ALEX: Too Soon
Takaa’s hunt had gone well, and his ship was full of beasts of various kinds, already skinned and ready for roasting. He also brought some vegetables they had found growing on a farm not too far from where they had landed, trading a few boar for baskets full of root vegetables and big, green leaves that Ash didn’t recognize. The flour they had found in the fort was already baking in makeshift ovens on the beach. By late afternoon the smells from those ovens and the roasting fires filled the camp. The men started to gather in small circles around campfires.
Duzi climbed to the top of the small bluff overlooking the camp and the beached ships when the sun was setting. Flanked by the senior commanders, he blew a horn to get everyone’s attention.
The men grumpily stood from where they had been lounging and headed towards the bluffs. Ash, Verihbitt, Mnihh’dm, Takkaa, and Alim stood behind the mass of fighting men, but close enough to hear.
Duzi stepped to the edge of the bluff and struck the same pose he had jokingly used in the morning. But this time, in the orange glow of the setting sun and under the adoring gaze of his men, he was not posing.
“Men! Those who came with us from Tyre, who joined us on the sea, and who traveled from Tripoli. All of you came in the name of King Attiball, King of Kings, Lord of Tyre and Our Sea, I thank you!”
A shout came back from the men. Ash could not make out a word or a phrase. She realized it was more of a growl or a grunt than anything else.
“Well, men, unlike the now one-eyed and now dead, King Gula, we are not thieves. We serve our king, King Attiball. Anointed by Baal to rule this world, to control this, our sea, and to protect trade around it. King Gula thought he could feed off that trade. He even thought he was a god of thunder and lightning. Well, with Baal’s help, we showed him a thing or two.”
Duzi turned, reached behind him, and held forth a gold statue, about a meter tall. Ash recognized it as a Baal Hadad, the most important member of the Phoenician pantheon. The men greeted it with a chant of “Ba’al, Ba’al.”
“Tonight, we will celebrate and sacrifice in Baal’s honor, for the gifts he has given us.” Duzi paused to let the crowd chant some more. “And speaking of gifts. I need some help to bring down something else we found in mad King Gula’s treasury.” He reached behind him and then held up a clay amphora. “Men, we have enough Etruscan wine to get very drunk tonight.”
The crowd cheered and surged forward as a group of men helped Duzi hand the clay amphora down to a sea of upraised hands.
Verihbitt placed a friendly hand on Ash’s shoulder and said, “He does cut a dashing figure up there.”
Ash said, “Maybe your uncle can make him an admiral? He seems to be good at it.”
“I don’t think so. He may be good at this, but he and his little trading galley are needed. Sometimes a small group like his can do the work of an entire army.”
They had to shout to be heard over the singing of the men. Ash yelled, “they seem to be enjoying themselves already, and they have not even opened the amphoras.”
Alim added, “They are alive. They have lost many of their comrades and many of their friends. Perhaps even a lover or two. Tonight they will just want to feel alive.”
“And that means,” Verihbitt took Ash’s hand as she talked, “You and I should head for the ship and pull up the planks. Takaa and Duzi can sleep in the sand tonight. Over her shoulder, she added,” you too Alim and Mnihh’dm, go celebrate life. Drink, eat, and pass out in a soft pile of sand.”
The next morning Ash and Verihbitt made their own breakfast of bread and olives. In the daylight, the beach looked like a battlefield after both sides had annihilated one another. Fires smoldered and sent up gray and white tendrils of smoke, and men lay haphazard in the sand where they had passed out. The gold statue stood on the bluff where Duzi had left it.
She pointed it out to Verihbitt, “The statue of Baal is still there, unguarded. It’s worth more than most principalities – enough to pay for an entire army. I have to say I’m shocked no one tried to take it.”
Verihbitt spat an olive pit over the side of the ship, trying to hit a group of Duzi’s rowers who had given up trying to climb back onto the ship and gone to sleep with their back against their beloved vessel. “I’m not surprised. I am sure that every one of them thought about it. But first, it’s Baal. Dishonoring him by taking one of his images will bring a lot of very bad luck.”
She popped another olive in her mouth, aimed, and launched the pit. She smiled when she heard one of the men grunt. “But most importantly, they know if they take it, the rest will hunt them down and they will end up like our mad king, or worse. And, if they stick with it and help escort the treasure home, the King will reward them with a nice cash bonus and, for the veterans, some land in one of the colonies. They would rather have that than take their chances stealing a god.
Satisfied with Verihbitt’s explanation, Ash joined her friend in trying to tag the snoring men below. They even started scratching their score with tick marks on the bannaster they leaned against.
“Why are you attacking my men in such a vile, and may I say, childish way.”
It was Duzi, standing in the sand to their left, where the boarding plank should be. Ash had never seen him look worse. He was covered in sand, his hair was going in every different direction possible, and he had lost the grieves from his left leg and right arm at some point.
Ash stood and smiled at him, “We are just engaging in target practice. You never know what foes and circumstances we will face on our journey home.” Both women ate an olive and launched pits towards Duzi. “And we will put the plank down after you strip and swim in the sea for a bit. There is no way we are letting you on board,” she smiled at Verihbitt, “OUR ship until you clean up a bit.”
The two women sent another pair of projectiles his way, and Duzi stepped back, out of range. “Your ship? I don’t remember signing over the ownership rights.”
Verihbitt leaned over the side of the railing, trying to reach him one more time, “We have claimed this vessel in the name of the goddess Astarte. We made it into a temple last night. So,” She took a pit from her mouth and tried to throw it at him, “this is now a temple to her. Only women and eunuchs are allowed on these sacred planks.”
While Verihbitt was talking, Ash had fed the plank out onto the sand below. She said, “I, for one, never agreed to this. I’m a big fan of the goddess, but I like my men in one piece.”
When Duzi started up the plank, she added, “But please, if you want to get anywhere near me, go take a swim first.”
The following two days were very busy, with everyone pitching in to repair ships and move the treasure into the holds. Ash helped one of the shipwrights modify several of the barges to carry all the copper sheeting. They had to remove the keel stones from several ships and replace them with bars, coins, and statues.
On the third day, at high tide, the men grabbed onto ropes and pulled the ships one-by-one into the water. Ash had enough charge on her phone to send one more text as they rowed away from the island of Motye.
ASH: Hey Alex.
ASH: Just letting you know.
ASH: Almost out of power
ASH: We are headed home now.
ASH: Guess I’ll be heading home, back to you all, soon.
– To Be Continued –
Watch this space for the final chapter of our story, “Time and Travel” wherein everyone finds the way home.
Click for a short but interesting website on Phoenecian “Ship Building and Seafaring.”