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.
Time and Travel
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 sailor
Standing alone at the ship’s prow, Ash watched the island of Motya disappear as the small fleet rowed its way out of the estuary and headed southeast, hugging the coast of Sicily. Ash thought about how the Greeks, the Romans, the Normans, and Mafia would invade those brown hills and use violence the rule the people that lived there. Her brain struggled with comprehending the march of history and how the entire Mediterranean would suffer under people like King Gula, who would rise up and try and take from others, killing and enslaving as they struggled for power. Most would end up like the mad king, dead and forgotten by history. Some would succeed. The only thing that would stay constant was the fighting and the death.
She looked up at the seagulls flying above their galley and sighed.
“That sigh had said a lot of things.”
Ash turned around to see Takaa standing behind her, his legs slightly apart and knees bent to adjust to the ship’s rocking.
She said, “I was thinking deep thoughts again.”
Takaa moved to the railing next to her and said, “I say leave that to the Greeks. A cousin who trades with them said they had made a whole profession out of thinking deep thoughts. Imagine getting paid to think and argue with other people who just sit around all day doing the same.”
Looking at the gulls again, Ash asked, “Do you ever get tired of it?”
“Of thinking? No, I try to avoid it.”
“No. Not that. Of all the killing? The death? The greed?”
He joined her watching the birds ride the wind above them. Eventually, he answered, “No. The world was created out of struggle. We are here to struggle. Baal’s and Mot struggled before men and will after.” He paused, then said, “Life and death are, well, part of life and death.”
Ash thought about her experiences since being thrown back in time and realized that, for this point in human history, he was right. They didn’t have the luxury of technology and all the security and safety it brought. And the enlightenment that shaped her view of what is right and wrong, wouldn’t happen for thousands of years.
“But I’m a soldier and a bodyguard. My job is to kill people who want to kill the people who pay me to protect them.” He turned and looked back towards the tent where Verihbitt was resting. “And sometimes it is about more than pay.”
Ash looked for the ship at the front of their formation. She knew Dhuzi there. She wondered if she would kill someone who threatened him.
Ash said, “You know Takaa, if you get tired of your current job, you could go to Greece. I’m sure they would hire you to sit around and think all day. You are better at it than you let on.”
The journey to the island that would someday be called Malta took two full days. Two difficult days for Ash because Duzi was on the large war galley that was now the command ship. Her plan had been to work on the clock mechanism or catch up with her friends. Instead, she stood or sat at the prow and watched the white foam rise up and around the ram jutting forward into the water.
She moved between missing Dhuzi to missing her parents. Between reliving the trauma of battles she had seen to the exhilarating joy of victory won with the blood of others. She dozed off and on during that first day and slept fitfully that night. The second day found them in deep water between Sicily and Malta, with nothing to look at but the ships they traveled with. Even the gulls had turned back during the night. Her friends seemed to be in the same mood. They sat in silence when they gathered for meals, lost in their thoughts.
When they rowed into the natural port that would someday be the home of Knights headed to the crusades, they found a small trading town and a thriving market. Halfway between Europe and Africa, the Levant and Gibraltar, anything and everything could be bought in Tas Silg.
The plan was to spend the next day provisioning the fleet. That night, Dhruv commandeered a house on a hill overlooking the harbor. The group of friends climbed a winding path to find a sprawling villa with rooms and patios facing every direction. They talked, ate, and drank as the sun set and then went to separate rooms. After being apart for two days, Ash fell asleep in his arms and had her first restful night in a very long time.
In the morning, Duzi asked Alim to take Ash to the market where she could buy supplies for the two-week journey back to Tyre. The first thing they did was find a vendor selling oranges and bought his entire inventory. She also found a stall selling metalworking tools and added a new small pair of sheers and a few files to her collection. They also purchased enough food and wine for their whole group.
Back at the ship, Alim supervised the loading, making Ahinadab carry every basket of oranges himself onto the ship and down into the stores below. Verihbitt, Takaa, Alim, and Mnihh’dm were off on other errands, so Ash sat on a pile of bricks stacked next to where the ship was docked, waiting for Duzi to come by and say goodbye to her before they started on their four-day journey to the south of Greece.
Just after noon, the order was passed down the quay that it was time to set sail. Verihbitt and Takaa joined Ash as she waited, but still no Duzi. Verihbitt put her arms around Ash’s shoulders, “Ash, I think we need to get on board. It is almost our turn to row out.”
“You are right. I am sure he is busy with all these ships and all these men.”
Soon after they were safely onboard, Mnihh’dm dashed up the plank, breathless.
He looked at the group and said, “Sorry, all, I thought you might leave without me. Supplying a group this size takes time.”
Ash understood, but it still hurt not to have seen Duzi.
Everyone found their place to watch while the ship rowed from the harbor. And just as they pulled out into the sea, Mnihh’dm approached Ash.
He said, “You know he wanted to come to see you.”
“How do you know that? Did he say that?”
“We are talking about Duzi, right? No. He didn’t. But he kept looking towards this ship. And he has become very good at sighing deeply.”
Involuntarily, Ash sighed deeply herself as she looked at the hills of Malta.
“Maybe he learned that from you.”
After many minutes, Mnihh’dm said, “You know he is trying to create a gap.”
“He knows you are going to leave. That you need to leave. And if he pulls you closer, he knows that will be more difficult for both of you.”
Ash grunted, “That is stupid.”
“Young lady, I have known that man since he was a child. He is clever, he is fearless, and usually, he is ruthless. And, until you, women were –”He paused, then said, “Well, let me just say he never let himself get attached.”
Ash said, “Whatever” in her best valley girl English, then in Phonecian said, “And that is supposed to make me feel better?”
Mnihh’dm turned Ash to look at him and said, “No. It is supposed to help you understand how much he loves you. And how that love is why he is letting you go.”
Ash thought about what Mnihh’dm said and thought she might start to cry. But instead, she smiled. This man who had been a general, a slave, and now Duzi’s confidant was right. Duzi was right.
She said, “You are right, damn you. And I think the best thing I can do right now is to get drunk. Show me where you hid wine.”
The five travelers emptied an entire amphora as the wind pushed them northeast toward the southernmost greek islands. At some point, under the stars, they fell asleep on the cushions in the tent. And, according to the sailor assigned to steer the ship through the night, snoring loud enough to wake the gods.
Sunlight brought a headache, nausea that the constant rocking of the ship didn’t help, and a complete absence of the depression that had paralyzed Ash since they had left Moyta. She roused her friends and decided to put them to work, turning the baskets of oranges into juice. Takaa pushed down on the press while the other took turns cutting oranges, placing them in the press, and tossing the squashed skins into the sea. They chatted and laughed as they worked slowly, nursing their headaches and pleased to have something to do.
Once all the oranges were juiced and she set her phone to charge off her improvised battery, Ash set up her work area and started working on the mechanism that would show her how to get home. It took another four days of sailing and occasionally rowing to make their way to Kythira just south of the easternmost tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. The group followed the same schedule each day – sleeping off the previous night’s drinking, doing light chores around their living area while Ash used her phone to chat with the engineers who designed the clock, eating lunch, then working on Ash’s clock mechanism until sunset. Then they would play games, sing, and tell stories as they drained another amphora of wine. Each day she accepted that she was going home a little bit more, and the only time she missed Duzi was at night.
“What has been going on with you all while I was away?”
Ash was unsure if the sound of Duzi’s voice was in a dream or real. Then she felt his familiar touch gently rubbing her shoulder. She tried to open her eyes, but even in the tent, it was far too bright.
She heard Verihbitt whisper, “Stop shouting.”
“I need to make sure I never forget what I am seeing. You have replaced me with an amphora.”
Ash realized with a start her arms and legs were wrapped around a large wine amphora.
She gripped it tighter and said, “It does not snore or wake me up in the middle of the night to go check on the men.”
This made everyone laugh just enough to make their heads hurt, then all but Duzi groaned.
“Well, you all slept through our beaching here in Kythira, one of my favorite Greek trading villages.”
Someone threw a pillow at his head.
“We will get water and let the soldiers rummage around for the day, then leave tomorrow morning.”
Alim grunted, “Wake us when we get to Tyre.”
“But my friends, this place is famous for its seafood.”
“In fact, they have an incredible salty fishhead stew that I haven’t had in years.” More pillows struck his head as his friends all involuntarily grabbed their stomachs. “Get up, and let’s have some for breakfast. Something with lots of pork and maybe some tripe.”
Gagging, Verihbitt stumbled up and out of the tent.
Duzi called after him, “Go to the stern, so you don’t make a mess on the beach.”
Ash opened her eyes enough to see him standing, smiling. Fresh and confident in a white linen tunic with a big wide leather belt. She pushed the amphora away and pointed where it had been, signaling Duzi to take its place.
When the sun was high in the sky, Duzi convinced everyone to join him in town with the promise of the local Greek baths. The group made its way into the town and found the right building, splitting into the male and female side. Ash assumed that a Greek bath was like a Toman bath, with a hot, warm, and then cold bath. To her horror, she soon discovered that heated baths had not yet made their way into Greece, and she could not help but scream a little when she and Verihbitt jumped into the old water.
More refreshed than she wanted to be, they joined the men to find some lunch and explore the market. She stood close to Duzi, enjoying his company and his smile.
When they were in the market, she admired some painted vases. They were not the black vases with light red figures that she thought of when she thought of Greek pottery. These were older and cruder and had patterns painted in light red pastels on yellow clay.
“Duzi, do you think I could have one to take with me? Everything in my bag made it with me to now. If I put it into my bag, it should make it back with me.”
In her excitement of bringing a real artifact from early Greece to her time, she had forgotten about leaving Duzi and her friends. She looked up from the small vase she was holding to find Duzi looking at her with sad eyes.
He said, “Yes, my smart one. Only if you keep it with you to remind you of me.”
Together they picked out a small jug.
That night, they all returned to the ship for dinner after Duzi’s constant complaining about not being included in their new nightly ritual. As he lifted his first bowl of unwatered wine to his lips, Ash kissed him on his forehead and said, “I want to teach you two words in my language.”
“I can try, but your words sound very strange to my ears, and sometimes, when you talk to yourself, I do not even recognize the sounds.”
“Yes, you are missing a few letters we have now. But you should be close. Take another drink, and I will teach you.” She took a drink herself, then said in English, “self medication.”
Saying goodbye the following morning was a little easier because the next leg of the journey was only two days, and Ash knew it would be a busy time. All of her work on the gears and levers was done, and it was time to put her mechanical calculator together. By the end of that first day, as the light was fading, it was working.
Mnihh’dm had been helping her, and when she put the front cover on, he asked, “Is it done?”
Ash thought for a few seconds. “Yes. We will need to test it tomorrow.” She stood from her stool and added, “but now it is time to eat and drink.”
Turning to smile at Mnihh’dm and thank him for his help, she suddenly felt her head spin, and she started to fall forward. At first, Ash thought they had hit a giant wave. He reached out to steady her as her vision filled with dark spots and her legs completely gave out.
It was dark when she awoke. She was on the pile of pillows she slept on in the tent, and her friends were sleeping around her in the weak light of an oil lamp. Except for Mnihh’dm, who was sitting beside her watching the night sky outside the open tent entrance.
She asked, “How long was I out?”
“I think it is around mid-evening now, so a quarter of a day almost.”
In English, she said to herself, “I hope I haven’t picked up a virus.” The thought terrified her. If she had a virus that modern humans were no longer immune to, it could kill her and she could be the source of a deadly pandemic.
“Can you bring me the little tablet I talk to my people with?”
Mnihh’dm left to retrieve her phone from her workbench where it was charging.
ASH: You there Alex?
ALEX: I am, always waiting for your texts. It’s what they pay me to do now. Did you finish the calculator?
ASH: Yes. I did. But…
ALEX: But…? There is always a but…
ASH: I’ve got bad news. I think I may have picked up a virus. I don’t feel so good.”
ALEX: Can you describe the symptoms?
ASH: I ache all over, my muscles went weak. And my head is throbbing.
ASH: And no, before you ask, not from drinking.
ALEX: Hold, please. Let me check with our experts here.
Ash put her head down back on her pillow and closed her eyes. She really didn’t feel well. After what seemed like a long time to her, she felt her phone vibrate.
ALEX: We were expecting this. We don’t think it’s a virus.
ASH: What is it then?!?!
ALEX: They are calling it ‘Quantum temporal resonance drift.’ Let me copy and paste what they sent me.
ALEX: Quantum temporal resonance drift is caused by a slight shift in the interdimensional vibration of the collapsed quantum state of the sub-atomic particles in a temporally displaced object. The location in time determines the n-dimensional resonance of the particles. Transport in time, as shown in the Asghleith Jones incident, can occur if the particles in an object are entangled, and the resonance of those entangled particles is changed to align with a different point on the timeline. However, that induced resonance is not permanent, and eventually, the resonance will randomly change. This, in turn, will cause the atoms, the molecules, and therefore the biological cells to phase slightly from the dominant time point. This phase shift can cause normal biological processes to fail as molecular bonds cannot be made between two molecules with different phases. The only solution is to resynch the entangled control particles we have in temporal isolation in our timeline to our timeline, returning the temporally displaced object.
Alex: Did you understand that? I should have paid more attention to my physics classes.
Ash: Let me think about it for a while. I think I do understand.
She put her phone down and tried to wrap her head around the concepts. But her brain hurt, and her mind was foggy. She could think clearly enough to realize that thinking was an electrochemical process, and this resonance drift kept her brain from functioning normally. Her mind whirling, and feeling very tired, she closed her eyes and went to sleep.
The next morning, she felt better and texted Alex.
ASH: Good morning
ALEX: Well, it’s late afternoon here, but good morning to you. How are you feeling?
ASH: Better. I can walk, and my brain is clearer.
ALEX: They told me that was to be expected. The drift will come and go, but their equations predict it will get worse each time.
ASH: How much time do I have? And don’t say “that’s relative.”
ALEX: You have gotten to know me well.
ALEX: They said maybe ten days before you will stop having periods where the drift settles back to your dominant time point. You won’t be able to function after that.
ASH: OK, I’m going to tell my friends that we must head straight for Tyre.
She put the phone down and looked up to find Verihbitt standing beside her makeshift bed.
Verihbitt asked, “Are you feeling better?”
“I do. But.” Ash lifted her hand towards her friend, wordlessly asking for help getting up. “But, I’m going to get sicker. I have to go home as soon as we land in Tyre. And we need to get to Tyre as soon as possible.”
Verihbitt pulled Ash into her arms and held her tight. “Being here is not good for you, is it?”
Tears filled her eyes as Ash said, “No, no it is not.”
It was an eight-day journey to Tyre from southern Greece. After two days, they stopped in Crete for a rest and to top off their water before the six more days to their home port. Ash used the time ashore to tell Duzi about what was going on. She asked him if she could go to the lead galley or if he could stay with her on his smaller trading ship. She did not hear his answer because she passed out again while he talked with his officers.
The next day she found him sleeping next to her on his ship. She just laid there silently for several hours, listening to him breathe and gathering her strength to test the calculator. She was able to work for an hour or two each day, calibrating and adjusting the device until it was working as expected. The ship was never steady enough for her to try it out, but she felt confident it would work.
She was resting in the tent when she was not working on the device. The pain was getting worse in between her lengthening spells of unconsciousness. Takara had to carry her from her makeshift workshop on the deck to the tent by the fifth day, their second to last at sea.
That night, she asked everyone but Verihbitt to leave.
When they were gone, Verihbitt asked, “What is it, my dear friend? I become fearful when you only want to talk to me.”
Ash said, “I like that you call me your dear friend. That is what I want to talk about.”
In between deep breaths, Ash shared her thoughts:
“This has been an adventure beyond my wildest dreams, and I have some very wild dreams. I have experienced a time and a culture in a way no one else ever has. I have been in battles and invented machines thousands of years before their time. Can I have some more wine? And yet, the thing I will treasure the most is the friendships I have built with you and the others. And especially Duzi. I have tried to tell him. I tried to tell all of you at dinner. But I just start to cry. So I saved up all my energy today to tell you, and I want you to promise me you will tell them.”
Dark spots began to fill Ash’s vision, and she felt herself losing consciousness again. All she could get out before she drifted off, was, “tell them that I love all of them and always will,”
When Ash was next aware of her surroundings, she realized the ship was no longer moving gently beneath her. Opening her eyes, she saw Verihbitt sitting beside her.
She said, “Hello. Are we home?”
Verihbitt stroked Ash’s hair and said, “Yes, for several days now. We are at our home. Are you ready to go to your home?”
Ash nodded but didn’t have the strength to say more.
Verihbitt rose and said, “Let me tell everyone you are awake. And there is someone who wants to see you.”
A few minutes later, the tent flap opened, and Duzi was followed by Verhibitt, Takaa, Alim, and Mnihh’dm. Once inside, they all turned and bowed towards the entrance, and King Attiball strode in.
Ash struggled to sit up so she could bow her head but fell back onto her pillow.
The king said, “They tell me you are sick. Sick from being here with us. That makes me sad.”
Ash was able to get out, “It makes me sad as well, your majesty.”
“My Niece has spent much time telling me about your mission, especially your contribution. I can not express how grateful I am to all of you, and in the name of all the gods and Baal, the lord of all, I thank you for ridding our sea of that mad predator.”
Duzi said, “It was our privilege, my King.”
The king continued, “And also your benefit. The royal treasurer has prepared your portions of what you brought back as a thank you from me and all Phoenicians.” He turned to Verhibitt and added, “And you, my Niece, get the extra treasure of no longer being betrothed to Ahinadab, as he is officially no longer my son and is somewhere in a trading caravan headed to Assyria.”
He then snapped his fingers, and a servant came in with a small box. Then King Attiball said to Ash, “But they tell me that you can not take your share with you. Instead, I had an artisan make this for you. They have told me that in your tongue, you are called an in-ja,” he struggled with the j sound, “in-ja-neer. I have therefore declared you to be the Royal in-ja-neer to the court of King Attiball.”
He handed Ash a gold medallion on a jewel-encrusted chain. It had an image of the king’s profile and the Phoenician words for Royal Engineer to the Court of King Attiball written across the bottom. She clasped the necklace to her chest as she once again lost consciousness.
That night, she vaguely remembered Duzi’s sailors carrying her in a sedan chair from the ship and onto a cliff overlooking the port of Tyre below. All of her friends stood around her. Rising from the chair with Duzi’s help, she discovered a bench with her phone, backpack, greek vase, necklace, and the mechanical calculator.
Overcome with fatigue and emotion, she could not say anything other than, “Thank you,” as she sat on a small stool in front of the bench and picked up her phone.
ALEX: Hi Ash. You had us worried again.
ASH: I’m pretty sick. My conscious times are getting very short. It’s time to do this time thing.
ALEX: OK. Let’s get started. They tell me we need your point in time in order to modify the particles we have here that are entangled with all of your particles. Find Venus on the horizon, then use the second site to locate the Moon. Tell me the number.
ALEX: Now keep it on the Moon and put the first site on another planet.
Ash looked at the stars and recognized Jupiter. She adjusted the site, being careful not to move the calculator on the table.
ALEX: OK. Can you find the North Star?
ASH: I can. 12544
ALEX: Hold, please.
ALEX: We are ready on our end. Take your time, we have what we need.
Ash motioned for Verihbitt to help her put her backpack on. She then called Duzi over for one last kiss. He picked up the median the king had given her and placed it around her neck, whispering in her ear, “I will miss you, my clever in-ja-neer.”
Brushing away tears and holding the vase in her arms, she said to her friends, “Live well, my friends. I love you all and will miss you deeply.”
Then she typed one last message.
ASH: Alexa, take me home.
In an instant and without a sound, she disappeared, and the greek vase and the necklace fell to the dirt below her.
The three years after Ash returned to her own time were spent isolated in a top-secret facility in the Nevada desert. As the only human to have successfully traveled in time, hundreds of scientists wanted to talk to her, and they did not want her talking to anyone else. Her parents opted to move into the facility with her. The government also asked Alex to “volunteer to participate in additional research” at the facility. Having them there made her heartache fade a little faster.
Once the new time travel agency was fully established, both she and Alex were given a commission in the new Time Corps. That came with a lifelong salary that, they were repeatedly told, would be replaced by lifelong imprisonment in solitary confinement if they ever talked about their experience. Alex stayed at the base, taking over as manager of IT, while Alex got her second PhD and then accepted a position at UC Berkeley as a professor of history specializing in Ancient Phoenicia.
As the years passed, her memory of her adventure became more surreal and distant. She met and fell in love with a German archaeologist names Hans she met on one of her many trips to Phoenician sites in the Mediterranean. Together, they had four children who grew to truly hate their unspellable and unpronounceable names, especially Mnihh’dm.
Dr. Asghleith Gerbtdorf-Jones slid into a quiet middle age, often forgetting she was the first time traveler. She had looked into the possibility of going back for a short visit, but was told that you could only entangle and change the quantum resonance of someone’s particles only once.
She settled into her quiet life of research, accepting and treasuring her experience. She focused on her kids and her students and traveling the world with Hans. Except for one day in late October, over forty years after her trip through time
After class one day, she got a text to meet her husband from his dig site in Tyre to come to see him immediately. After establishing that he was OK and wanted to share an important find with her in person, she hopped on the next flight to London, then Lebanon. The next morning she and Hans climb up a small hill overlooking the ocean and the city of Tyre. She realized this was the exact spot where her friends had set up her bench, and she had said goodbye to them.
He motioned to her and said, “Ash, come over here.”
She walked into a shallow pit excavated on the clifftop. Hans lifted a canvas sheet and revealed a stone tablet that had fallen over and broken in half. He delicately brushed dirt from the surface and asked, “How jealous should I be?”
Then he began to read in ancient Phoenician.
“I, Duzi, son of Adad, merchant, owner of ten galleys, and servant to King Attiball and his son King Hailama after him, Vanquisher of Mad King Gula, and Loyal Servant to Lady Verihbitt and Lord Takaa, do leave this stone to time to send my love to Ash of P’ad’it, Engineer to the Court of King Attiball, and the cleverest and most beautiful woman of our age, and the ages to come. We also leave these things you left behind hope they find their way to you. In the name of Baal and the Everlasting Mother of All Creation.”
Hans then said in English, “We found these under one of the tablet halves.” Ash looked down and saw the gold necklace and the greek vase. The scientists explained that the subatomic particles in both objects were never entangled with hers, so they could not travel with her back to her home time.
Putting the medallion around her neck and grasping the vase in her arms, Ash looked out towards the ocean. And she also looked back through time and into her memories to once again see Duzi standing on that bluff after the big battle that ended mad King Gula’s reign of terror across the Mediterranean. Confident and strong, he flashed his smile through the years to her, and she felt herself blush.
– The End –
And so Ash’s journey comes to an end. We hope those of you who have read along enjoyed her trip. She didn’t go where we expected, nor did things finish the way we planned. It also took a lot longer, with a big break of over six months in the writing, to get her home. Maybe someday we will take all the chapters and put them together and edit the heck out of it. We never really got back to the imaginary employees of the fictional version of PADT and how they reacted during all this. They were going to play a bigger part in the story but then the people Ash met in the past turned out to be a lot more interesting. Observant readers may notice that although the main bad guy, our mad king, was killed off, the secondary villain, King Attiball’s son, was sold to the Assyrians, leaving the door open for a return.
Additionally, if you happen to be reading this and you know a thing or two about Phoenician civilization and history, deepest apologies! Research for any topic that dealt with these wonderfully interesting ancient traders consisted of maybe two minutes on a given Wikipedia page. They certainly don’t get the attention they deserve for how they impacted Greek, Roman, and Jewish religion, myths, writing, language, and art.
This was fun and thank you for coming with us on the trip! And if you happen to run into any engineers who are as smart, funny, and clever as Ash, please have them send their resume our way.
– Eric Miller