On this part of the blog PADT will be sharing “information” that may not have a lot of real value, but that we enjoy. Look for links to things of high nerd value, a few jokes, silly pictures, and whatever else we feel might make you smile. There is a strict ban on LOL Cats, unless there is an engineering tie in.
Posted on October 16, 2021, by: Eric Miller
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 –
lease subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment, "Design and Deploy," wherein, the travelers turn to Ash to help them find a way to defeat the machine of death that is threatening them in Tripoli.
Posted on September 13, 2021, by: Eric Miller
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 –
lease subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment, "Trapped and Tested," wherein, the travelers 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.
Posted on July 8, 2021, by: Eric Miller
Temple of Spies
Even though it was hard for Ash to break away from the spectacle of Giza, Alim and Ash headed to where the battery had been before the pirate attack, dodging the crewman as they readied the ship. It was not on the workbench where they had left it.
Ash’s biggest fear had come true - during the battle, the ship had made some abrupt turns, tilting the deck almost verticle to the water.
“I hope it didn’t fall overboard. You search that side,” she told Alim. “I’ll look over here.” Her heart sank as she looked in the stacked sails and supplies that surrounded the work area. She was frantic because her charging cable, and the only iPhone lightning connector that existed in the past, was attached to the clay jar.
She found no trace, not even some broken pottery. When she looked over her shoulder, Alim stood at the workbench, empty-handed.
The boat thudded against the dock, and for the first time on her journey, Ash felt hopeless. The majesty of Egypt stood before her in all its glory. But all she could think of was how she had lost touch with home.
“Well,” she said to herself in English, “I guess I am really stuck now.” She felt Alim’s hand on her shoulder, comforting her the only way he knew how.
“Who is your favorite trader? The master of the sea?” It was Duzi shouting from the far end of the ship.
Ash said to Alim, “I am in no mood for his bragging.”
Duzi kept on as he walked towards them. “Defeater of pirates, procurer of exotic spices, exporter of the greatest olive oil in the east, and importer of the finest rugs from the far west?”
He stopped behind them, and Ash said, “not now, Duzi.”
“But, I have one more claim to fame.”
Ash sighed. “Go ahead, what is it? Purveyor of succulent goat eyes? Seller of ice to Eskimos?”
“The first one is disgusting. And the second, I have no idea what ize or an esk-kee-mo is.”
“I, my skilled, beautiful, and mysterious foreign artificer, am also the finder of lost lightning jars.”
Ash spun around to look at him. He was standing next to the bench, with a toothy grin spread across his face. His arms were wrapped around the battery jar, the charging cable still attached to the two copper contacts. Relief surged through her. But at the same time, she could not look away from his infectious smile or stop thinking about how he had called her “HIS skilled, beautiful, and mysterious foreign artificer.”
She walked up to him, gently took the jar from his arms to place it on the bench, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him all over his face. She found herself lingering a bit on his lips as he started to kiss her back. She lost herself in the feel of his strong body holding her.
The sounds of the dock, the crew moving about, and the blood rushing in her ears blocked out Verihbitt’s not-so-subtle vocal cues to get Duzi and Ash’s attention.
Frustrated with trying to be subtle, she yelled, “Duzi! The customs agent is waiting at the plank to speak to the shipmaster. I informed him that our captain fell overboard, and instead, we have an infatuated boy who is supposed to be in charge.”
The couple broke their embrace and flushed with embarrassment.
Ash said, “Um, thank you, Duzi, for finding my jar. It was very important to me.”
“We can all see how important it was to both of you,” said Verihbitt.
Duzi collected himself, flashed Ash that same smile, and said, “I should find your lost things more often.” Then he went in search of the customs agent.
Placing her backpack over one shoulder and gathering the battery in her arms, Ash followed Verihbitt and Alim off the ship in a daze. They stepped off the plank and onto the stone streets of Giza.
She took in the sites and sounds of the city and said, “I really do not know what came over me.”
Verihbitt laughed and tossed her long hair over her shoulder, “I know exactly what came over you. You need to build up resistance to the smile. He wields it as deftly as he does a spear.”
The oarsmen split into three groups. One in front of and another behind the travelers. A third group stayed on the ship. Duzi and Alim continued to talk to an official in long robes and a faded headdress. Ash saw a knowing look pass between the three men, followed by Alim passing a leather pouch to a slave next to the official. Once the bag was stashed away into the slave’s robes, they all bowed slightly to one another and parted. Duzi shouted an order to his men and joined the rest of the group to begin walking into the city.
The brightness of the painted walls and statues was almost overwhelming to Ash. Raised on pictures and video ruins with weathered stone, she had always pictured ancient cities as brown and gray. Although most of the homes and shops were made of mud bricks, plenty of markets and temples along their path assaulted the eyes with vivid coloring.
They walked up a small hill and turned into a courtyard to find a cluster of buildings that stood out because they were so different. Ash recognized the Phonecian architecture and the image of Baal over the entrance to the temple that stood in the center of the courtyard. A lush, green garden filled the space between the temple and the covered walkway that ran along the edges. Doorways to dark, and cooler rooms, peaked between the plants and columns. A single fountain gurgled off to one side.
Mnihh’dm climbed up on the low wall around the base of the fountain, filled his hands with water, and splashed his face.
He turned to the group and, with a flourish of his hand, pronounced, “welcome to this most sacred shrine to Baal, Lord of the Heavens, the southernmost home to the most divine and magnificent King Attiball, and his most trusted and loyal embassy to the mighty Pharos of Egypt. In that it is also very empty, I suspect that the King’s most honored caretaker is once again taking care of our most trustworthy ambassador, the King’s eighth son, at the most luxurious, discriminating, and expensive brothel in all of Giza. “
The group laughed a little nervously at Mnihh’dm’s irreverence.
“Come, Verihbitt, let us find and purify the women’s quarters for you and our foreign guest while Alim sweeps out the King’s suites and Takaa chases that rats from the barracks.”
Things were not as bad as the Mnihh’dm had implied. They had also found a group of Temple servants sleeping the afternoon away behind the altar. With their help, the quarters were squared away just before the sun began to set. Ash had even found a small workshop in the back corner that she commandeered. The battery was stored in a safe place, and she dispatched two of the temple servants to get her two baskets of whatever citrus they could find.
Ash kept looking for Duzi as they all hurried around the complex. He occasionally popped out into the courtyard to bark orders at his men. But he never glanced towards her. Doubt started to set in as she wondered if he had only responded to her affection out of reflex. And worse, that he now regretted his response.
When she ran out of things to do, she went looking for her friends. She found Verhibitt, Takaa, and Mnihh’dm sitting under a tree in the garden, drinking watered wine and snacking. Ash hesitated. She remembered what had happened that last time she had joined them in a courtyard, under a tree, for a light afternoon snack.
Takaa noticed her and the look of fear on her face. “Ash, please join us. Duzi’s soldiers are guarding the entrance and patrolling the walls. This meal will not be as exciting as the last one we had in a garden.”
Mnihh’dm held out a bowl of wine, and Verihbitt motioned to a spot on the bench next to her. Soon she was laughing with her friends and discussing their adventures since they had met. A witch trial, saving the King’s life, rescuing Verhibitt’s father, and escaping pirates. That was enough to put Duzi and his ignoring her out of her mind. The warmth of the food and wine mixed with the cool breeze blowing down the Nile, and she caught herself yawning.
Excusing herself, she headed off to her new bed. Laying there, she could hear both her friends and the oarsmen talking. She wondered if Duzi was with his troops, but she could not make out his voice across the courtyard. She fell asleep arguing with herself about what she should do first in the morning – talk to Duzi and figure out what was going on with them or charge up the battery and try and talk to Alex.
In the clear morning, contacting the future won out. As soon as Ash was washed, she headed to the workshop and rounded up a couple of the temple servants to squeeze the fruit their compatriots had scrounged up the previous night. Before long, she had a full pot of yellowish liquid. Ash sent them away and then slowly poured the juice into the battery. She then replaced the cloth around the copper contacts.
After testing the current with her tongue, she took a deep breath and plugged the connector into her phone.
She felt the phone vibrate in her hand. Ash was so excited she gave out a small squeak of joy. Then, a simple icon appeared on the screen showing an empty battery with a lightning bolt.
“Yes! It worked.”
She was not sure how long she paced back in forth in that small room. It seemed like hours, but the sun was still low in the sky when she tried to turn the phone on. The screen showed a time and five-percent battery.
Ash was so nervous it took her four times to put her PIN in. The warning about locking the phone terrified her, so she took her time on the fourth try and was rewarded with her home screen. One bar of signal showed in the upper right corner.
The messaging icon soon displayed the number five in its small red circle. Ash opened up the app and read messages from Alex.
Ash, are you there?
Checking in again, I hope your battery is not dead.
“Long one, just in case you get signa .Just to let you know, the FBI is involved now, as well as some other government people who don’t talk a lot. Like men-in-black looking government people. I’ve been “isolated” in the basement. They gave me a cot and bring food. I have some new friends that watch everything I do. Texting now from the bathroom stall. Sorry TMI. Oh, I can only send to you if I’m down in the basement near the fancy secret computer. I didn’t tell them what you told me. Let me know if that is OK. I did tell Harriet. She says time travel is not covered by short-term disability. And that she misses you and is very worried. They have told us to not shut down the quantum temporal server. I think they know it was involved in your disappearance, but they are telling me nothing. Your bossman Doug actually asked if your batch job was still running and if someone could take a look and try and get results from it. Yes, I know. I could not believe it either.”
“Nothing? It’s been another day here. We hope you are OK. Try and let us know how you are and if we should tell the g’ment.”
Ash stood looking at her phone for a long time. So much to take in. She started to type:
I’m still here. Had to build a battery from scratch. It worked! Don’t have much juice, fig n lit 😊 I’m safe. Won’t lie, it’s been dangerous. The ancient world is a ruthless place. I’ve made friends and we are helping each other. Ask H if I have enough vacation left to cover this? Lol. Seriously, tell her I miss her and have her tell my parents everything but to keep it to themselves. Until we figure out what happened, I don’t trust them. I watched too much x-files. Does that make me Skully and you Moulder? 😊 Battery going down, will try again tomorrow with more charge.
Ash reread the message and wanted to make some corrections but was worried her small charge would be gone. She pushed send. The phone made a whooshing sound and said sent.
She leaned her back against the bench and waited. Soon, three little dots appeared next to the “Alexes.”
So glad to hear from you!!!!! wOOt. Will do as you say. Please send any clues to help. Harriet is nice, but no hacker.
The real-time connection with the future sent adrenalin through Ash’s body. Her hands shook as she typed a response.
“Thx! Please send any info you have as text.”
Before she could add more, the phone’s screen went black.
She went to find Alim and asked him to organize a steady stream of citrus fruit and squeezed juice, asking him to have the filled jugs left at the door to the workshop. Once the pitchers started showing up, she replenished the liquid in the battery. It seemed to her that the charging lasted about fifteen minutes. She resisted the temptation to send another message and instead left the phone off and concentrated on building up a full charge on her phone. Her brief time in the past had taught her that she might have to grab everything and run. She could not risk not having a full charge.
She worked like this, alone, taking solo walks around the courtyard between draining and filling the battery. The rest of her group seemed to be out doing other things, except Alim, who occasionally stopped in to check on her and offer help. When the sun set, he brought her an oil lamp and some dinner so she could keep going into the night.
“Ash, wake up. Ash.” Verihbitt was gently shaking her. “It is almost mid-day.”
Ash opened her eyes and saw wood. She had fallen asleep on the bench. She groaned in pain as she straightened her stiff back. With a start she remembered her phone and turned it on. While she waited for it to boot, she thanking Verihbitt and apologizing to her while she waited to see what charge she had.
The phone turned on and showed 97%. There were no new messages from Alex, so she turned it off and put the phone into her backpack’s pocket.
“Your magic clay tablet is working again?”
Ash said, “Yes, thanks to all of your help. It will be useful. I was so focused on fixing it that I let the day get away. Did I miss anything yesterday?”
“Let’s take a walk around the garden, and I’ll fill you in.”
A short time later, Verihbitt and Ash shared a sedan chair while Takaa and Mnihh’dm trotted behind the oarsmen who carried them. They were headed to the Temple of Montu, the Egyptian falcon god of war. While Ash had been charging batteries, the rest of the group had been out trying to find out more about the mysterious king that was terrorizing the eastern part of the sea. An Egyptian, recently returned from that part of the world, agreed to meet them there and fill them in on what he had seen.
When they arrived at the temple, Ash was once again so awed by what she saw that she was speechless. The tall, thin building had giant carved pillars at the entrance that depicted Montu’s consorts. Every wall was covered with colorful hieroglyphics. Ash wanted to stop one of the priests who scurried around the entrance and ask them to read the passages.
Verihbitt pulled on her arm and said, “Close your mouth and come inside.”
The massive interior was dimly lit by torches and a single shaft of light that came through the ceiling. More carved columns stretched on either side of the space. A huge statue of a falcon-headed man sat at the far end of the chamber. The three Phoenicians walked purposefully towards an altar at the base of the statue. Remembering to close her mouth, Ash scurried after.
A man in elaborate robes stood to the side of the altar, gazing up at the statue. When the group got close, he turned towards them and asked, “did you bring the sacrifice?”
Mnihh’dm stepped forward and deposited a wrapped bundle on the altar.
“We have brought a sacred cat to honor the god Montu.”
The package was bigger than any cat Ash had seen, and she thought she heard the sound of clinking coins when Mnihh’dm placed it on the altar. The robed man picked it up to gauge its weight, and Ash clearly heard the coins. Once her eyes adjusted to the gloomy interior, Ash noticed more robed men milling about all around them, their faces hidden in large hoods.
The man bowed and said, “The god will be pleased.” He spoke something in what must have been Egyptian towards a dark alcove in the side of the chamber, and a thin man in a tattered tunic stumbled forward.
The man fell to his knees and began to mumble a sing-song chant towards the statue.
“You can pray later.” Said the robed man, who Ash assumed must be a priest. “Now, you need to tell these people what you saw. In the language of the traders.”
The prostrate man rose to his feet, and in broken Phoenician, began to talk.
“We were five weeks in voyage, traveling with a wealthy tax collector. He wanted to show his wife the west. Past Tripoli, we were. We see the black towns.”
He stopped and dropped to his knees again, and began to pray. Ash could sense the terror in his voice, even though she did not know the language he spoke.
The priest pulled the man back to his feet and shook him.
“After many places we find black, we turn back to Tripoli. We see it there and then the thunder brought the sun to us and flames. Death. I jump in the sea. Grab piece of wood. Wake up on shore near Tripoli. Our ship gone.”
Verihbitt stood in front of the man and gently grabbed his shoulders. She asked, “What did you see before the thunder, before the sun came?”
The man looked away. He began to shake and cry. Finally, he said, “We see the largest ship we ever see. It long and –“
One of the hooded priests was running towards the man, a large club raised above his head. Before Ash or any of her companions could gather what was going on, he brought the club down and the man’s head. Brains and blood spattered over the altar and the base of the statue.
Ash heard a loud banging and turned just in time to see the large bronze doors at the entrance to the chamber slam shut. Several groups of hooded priests slowly moved towards them.
Takaa shouted, “Behind me.”
Ash muttered, “not again” in English, and dashed to get behind the bodyguard. Both he and Mnihh’dm pulled long bronze knives from beneath their cloaks. Verihbitt leaped up onto the statue and pulled a spear from the stone hands of the god.
They slowly backed to the side of the statue, a hieroglyphics-covered wall behind them. The priests continued to move forward. Each one carried a large club like the one used to murder the man they had been questioning.
Their guards were outside, locked outside of the bronze doors. Ash realized, with a cold hard shiver, that they were trapped.
Her three friends took a defensive stance in front of her as she tried to reason out some solution. She thought about taking her phone out to text a message to Alex and her parents. Then she remembered the flash on the phone and how the people in the market had been terrified by the bright light. She quickly took the phone from her backpack pocket and turned it on. The priests got closer, forming a semicircle of at least a dozen men.
The phone turned on and she hit the photo icon, turned the flash on, and snapped a picture of the men approaching them.
They shouted in fear and covered their eyes, shouting the Phoenician word for bright lightening. Noticing their distraction, Verihbitt stepped forward and smashed an oil torch hanging from the wall, sending flames towards the priests. That stopped enough for them for Mnihh’dm and Takaa to jump forward, slicing and stabbing their long knives. Ash flashed the camera again, and Verihbitt joined the two men to hack and slash at their foes. Before she could push the button for a third flash, all of the priests were fleeing, bleeding on the floor, or screaming in agony from the burning oil that covered them.
Verihbitt leaned on the sacred spear she had borrowed from the god and said, “These are no Egyptian priests of Montu. They were speaking fluent Phoenician.”
Takaa said, “You are right, and look.” He bent to pull the robes off the chest of one of the dead priests. She reached down and pulled a necklace of the corpse. “They are all wearing these.”
The necklace had a large bronze disk that was clearly a stylized sun. Below the shiny disk, a half-dozen lightning bots shot from the sun in different directions. Ash had never seen anything like it in any of the Phoenecian jewelry she had studied.
Verihbitt took the necklace and looked at it more closely. She turned it over, looking for writing or any additional marks. She handed it back to Takaa. Then she walked to the base of the statue of Montu and gently placed the spear in its lap.
“Most honored Montu,” she said, “I am sorry we desecrated your shrine. But these men are not your priests. They are adherents to a cult that worships Reshef and Shapash. A cult that I thought my uncle had exterminated. Thank you for protecting us here in your shrine and for the use of your spear. We ask for your protection and guidance as we travel further west.” She then backed away from the statue, head bowed.
Verihbitt turned around when she reached the altar, grabbed the oversized coin-filled cat, and said to the group, “I think we should take this sacrifice with us to Tripoli. It might come in handy.”
– To Be Continued –
Please subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment, "Journey to Tripoli,” is released, wherein, after a brief stay in Egypt to gather supplies, Ash and friends sail westward again to the ancient Phoenician city of Tripoli (well, it ended up being called Tripoli later) and Ash learns of a plan to get her home and learns how Duzi feels about her.
Posted on June 9, 2021, by: Eric Miller
City on the Nile
Sailing in a Phoenician trading ship was nothing like a Disney Cruise. Ash quickly found a spot in the rear where she could wrap her arms around a piece of railing to keep herself from being launched over the side while she emptied what little was left in her stomach into the blue Mediterranean. At first, the oarsmen had laughed when they heard her retching. Then, after several hours of obvious misery, they shouted out suggested remedies and appeals to various gods, many Ash had never heard of.
Eventually, the sun began to dip closer to the horizon, and Duzi gave the order to head back towards shore. Verihbitt had been sitting in silence with Ash for some time, occasionally offering honeyed water or a wet rag to put on her forehead.
She said, “Tomorrow, you will feel better. And in a day or two, you will be walking about the deck like an old trader.” She gently stroked Ash’s hair and asked, “do you usually get sick when you sail? When you came to Sur from your land, that must have been a very long journey and on rougher seas than this?”
Ash was startled by the question. The answer she wanted to give was, “the quantum temporal thinga-ma-jigger that tossed me across the time-space continuum does not seem to cause motion sickness.” Then she realized coming up with a Phoenician word for quantum was the least troubling aspect of that statement.
Instead, she said, “I am better at traveling by land. But will get used to it.”
Verihbitt looked at Ash for some time and said, “I can tell there is much you chose not to tell me. I understand that. However, when you agreed to come on this mission, you agreed to share our danger. And if we are all going to survive, let alone succeed, we have to be honest with each other.”
The coastline was getting nearer, and Ash searched it for the correct response. Her heart told her that Verihbitt was right. Hiding so much about who she was could be dangerous for everyone. The growing trust between the two women was also something that Ash was beginning to cherish. Alone in the past, the connection was becoming critical to her sanity.
Weighing her options, she decided to try and shade the truth with what she understood of the world she found herself in.
Ash asked, “What are your thoughts on the gods?”
“Oh, them. We have a difficult relationship.” She laughed. “I do my part. I leave the building of temples and most of the sacrifices to my father and uncle. Most of the gods seem to stay out of my business, and I try to stay out of theirs. Now and then, I think a few play with me.”
She stopped, turned to look at the setting sun, and added, “especially when it comes to men. Maybe I should make some of my own sacrifices.”
This hint at Verihbit’s personal life was fascinating, and Ash wondered if it involved Takaa. She avoided the temptation to go down that road and instead contemplated how to describe her journey in a way that Verihbit would understand.
“The truth is, this is my first voyage by ship. I did not sail or travel on land to get here. I am still unsure what exactly happened. In my land, I made a request to what I thought was one of our minor gods, who we call FLUENT. It seems that two other far more powerful gods saw my request and decided to send me here.”
“I do not know the gods of your land, but they sound like ours. They like to meddle and mix things up. Sometimes I think they are simply bored and do such things for entertainment. Which gods were they? Maybe we have a name for them.”
Ash was relieved. So she continued, embracing the mental translation of physics to mythology. “Yes, I think you are right. One of these gods is Quanta. She controls how very, very small things behave. She is the queen of randomness, and you can never get a yes or no answer from her. And you never know what she has decided till you look closely at what she has done. Before that, she often appears to be doing two different things at the same time”
“This sounds like Hadad, our god of storms and chaos?”
“I think that is different. We call Hadad Entropy. But you will recognize the other god that sent me here, Aion. We call him Temporal. The god of time.”
She stopped and looked at Verhibitt. This complicated woman had taken her, a stranger, into her life. Ash was not sure what she was afraid of. Maybe it was being called a witch and having a crowd call for her to be burned. Perhaps everything was happening too fast.
Veribitt smiled at Ash, and it was not that different from the beauty of the sun setting over her shoulder.
This mythical version of events was starting to make sense to Ash as well. Attempting to understand how a computer system coupled to a virtual reality room sent her through time and space hurt her head. Blaming it on a cable of temperamental gods had its appeal. Ash decided to keep going.
“You see, these gods did not just move me across the world. They moved me across time.” She paused to let it settle. “Verhibitt, I come from the future. And not just tomorrow or next harvest season. I journeyed here from thousands of years in the future.”
Ash waited to hear her friend’s response, watching the white beach move closer as the oarsmen continued their steady rowing, their rhythmic splashes meshing with the sound of waves to form a soothing song that helped settle Ash’s anxiety.
Eventually, Verihbitt stood and shrugged her shoulders. “That makes no sense to me, but who am I to question the gods. I am just thankful they brought you to us. And I chose to believe they did it in answer to the sacrifices and prayers from all those priests the King pays for. Yes, that does make sense. You were sent here to help us.”
She leaned down and gently kissed the top of Ash’s head. “When we arrive in Egypt, we will find a temple for each of your two gods and make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. No harm in bribing them. But that is days away. Now it is time to prepare to beach the ship and make camp.”
Behind Ash, the crew and passengers rushed around the deck. The wind was now behind them, and several of the oarsmen opened the sail. Others stowed the oars. The ship surged forward, riding the wind and waves.
In a rush that threatened to turn Ash’s stomach inside out once again, a gust pushed the ship forward and onto the beach. Ash felt the ship slide across the sand and settle with a pronounced tilt toward the side she still clung to. Without hesitation, she climbed over the railing and jumped down into the sand. She wasn’t sure if the overwhelming relief she felt was because the constant rocking had stopped or because she was no longer hiding her secret from Verihbitt.
Drained from a day of sea sicknesses, Ash found a place to sit in the sand as the crew set up around an existing fire pit. Some of the oarsmen went into the scrubby forest that started just past the beach, while others set up tents and camp tables in the setting sun.
The night was Ash’s most enjoyable since arriving. She didn’t know what she was eating or where it had come from on the small ship. She only knew it tasted good. Alim insisted she drink two bowls of wine that were not watered down. As the others talked and laughed, Ash felt herself drift off to sleep.
The following morning Ash stalled as long as possible before boarding the ship, finally walking up the thin plank onto the deck as the tide was starting to lift the keel off the sand. Fearful of another day of seasickness, she took up her position at the railing. Thankfully, nausea never came, and she soon joined the other passengers on the forward deck under a striped tent that kept both the sun and the wind away.
Duzi, Verihbitt, and Mnihh’dm were huddled together, whispering and planning. So Ash found a pillow next to Alim.
He looked up from the papyrus scroll he was reading and said, “Good morning, my lady. I see you have your sea legs today. That is good. We were worried that this would be a long voyage for you.”
“Thank you, Alim. Yesterday was difficult, but today I feel almost normal. As long as there are no storms and the swells stay small.”
“Duzi had the men capture some birds when we landed, and he sacrificed them to this morning, asking for smooth sailing. There is not much else we can do.” He went back to reading his scroll.
Before too long, Ash became incredibly bored. Since middle school, she had had a phone in her hand. A tool that connected her to everyone she knew and an endless stream of videos, social media posts, and articles. Until now, Ash had been dealing with one crisis after another. Now, under this tent as the ship slowly made its way south, she began to panic. She saw her backpack on a pile of supplies in the corner of the tent. She walked over, removed her phone from the front pocket, and held it to her chest.
In English, she said, “This is just stupid. Maybe gramma was right. Maybe I am too attached to this thing.”
Under her backpack were the supplies she had hastily gathered from the market before they departed.
She felt a zing in her brain as she called across the tent, “Alim! Want to help me build a –“ there was really no good word in ancient Phoenician for battery – “a lightning jar?”
The idea of building anything intrigued Alim. Something as magical as a jar full of lightning had the older man behaving like an eager schoolchild. He was full of questions while they gathered the raw materials on the deck before them.
Ash said, “Maybe I should draw a picture. Do you have something I can draw on?”
Alim dashed up and ran to his supplies, returning with a wooden plank and sharpened pieces of charcoal. “I have not clay or papyrus.” He said. “I use this board to make my notes, and then I have a scribe put it down on something that lasts longer.”
“This will do just fine,” Ash said.
She placed the flat board on her lap and picked up a piece of charcoal, saying, “This is the clay pot.”
She drew a cross-section of the clay jar, with a neck and an opening on the top.
“And this is the iron rod in the center.”
She sketched a thick line in sticking out the top and down to almost touching the bottom.
“Next is the copper cylinder,” she said. She rummaged through the charcoal pieces till she found a gray one.
“And this is this is the linen we will use to keep the copper from touching the iron and hold it up at the bottom.”
She then picked up the black charcoal again and drew a wavy line across the top. Two lines for the wires attached to the copper and iron, and a + and – on each wire.
“Then we will fill it with the fruit juice.”
She showed it to Alim, and he studied it closely. He then asked, “You want to keep the fruit juice away from the space between the copper and the iron?”
Ash looked at the sketch. The linen at the bottom would keep the liquid from moving freely between the two electrodes.
“You are right, “ she said, and used her thumb to smudge away the linen at the bottom. Then in English, “this is why we do design reviews.”
For the rest of that day, they huddled around the small stone anvil at the bow of the ship, trying to make the copper blocks they had into a sheet they could turn into a cylinder. It did not go well. As soon as they pounded it thin enough, it would tear. Or when they thought they had a good enough sheet, it ripped when they tried to roll it around a broken piece of oar they were using as a pattern.
The elderly scholar and the young engineer were so engrossed by their task that they were shocked when the ship slid onto a beach. Duzi and Verihbitt were standing next to the pair, laughter in their eyes.
Duzi said, “We are putting in early today. The coast between here and the Nile delta is not safe. You two can continue your attempt to be artisans once we set up camp.”
As he talked, he picked up another piece of rounded wood from the broken oar and jabbed it into a pot of sand sitting next to the anvil.
Ash rushed towards him, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek
Ash said, “You are brilliant, Duzi. I was trying to form the copper cylinder. I should have been casting it.”
She pecked him on the cheek again before realizing that Duzi’s face was bright red and everyone around them was utterly silent. She also became aware of how warm his body was and how firm his shoulder and neck muscles were. Reluctantly, she let go and took a few steps back from him.
“I am sorry. When I figure something out, I get very excited.” In English, she added, “I’m glad there is no HR here.”
Once camp was set up, Ash and Alim built a small fire and placed copper in a stone crucible which they set above the growing flames. They also dug a deep, round hole and placed the wooden rod in the middle. While the copper melted, Verihbitt, Mnihh’dm, Takaa, and Duzi formed a circle around the improvised casting facility. One of the oarsmen also joined them.
When the copper looked fully melted, Alim used long iron tongs to lift the cup from the fire and pull the molten copper into the hole around the wood. Flames leaped up from the wood. Everyone gasped and took a step back. Once the cup was empty, the oarsman stepped forward and tossed sand on the burning wood.
He took the tongs from Alim and said, “You know, old man, I am the ship’s maker. All you had to do was ask, and I can build anything from wood or metal. Go have your meal. I’ll pull it out when it cools.”
Ash felt embarrassed. Of course, the ship would have someone on the crew who could make new tools and repair broken ones on their journey. At the same time, she was glad she had not known. Making this part had been so much fun.
The group walked to the tents and the smell of dinner. Ash realized Alim was shuffling his feet in the sand, his head bowed. She stopped and waited for him to catch up.
“It is just fine,” she said. “I always wanted to make something that way. I really enjoyed our day.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek before dashing ahead to join the group.
Ash slept well that night. The next morning, as soon as the oars touched the water, she and Alim were at their shipboard workbench assembling her battery. The rest of the passengers joined in when it was time to squeeze the citrus. Working as a team, the steady rowing marking their time, the morning past swiftly.
After a brief break for lunch, she returned to their invention to try it out. Taking her spare charging cable from her backpack, she cut off the large USB connector and pulled the wires out of the insulation. Trying to remember which ones were the power lines, she wrapped one around the rod and one in a hole she punched in the cast copper. She then carefully poured the juice in, then lowered the copper cylinder and iron rod assembly down, pushing till the linen wrapped around the top of the copper part wedged into place.
Not knowing how else to test it, she placed the lightning connector in her mount.
“Ouch!” she yelled. And then began to laugh. “My friends, with your help, we have lightning in a jar.”
Everyone wanted to try the device, delighted in the shock it delivered to their mouth.
Once everyone had given it a try, she said, “Thank you all for your help. Now I need to see if it works with my –,“ she had to come up with a name for her phone. “My special tablet.” That sounded good to her. She went on. “Given to me by one of our minor gods, Stevejobs.”
Pleased with her inside joke, Ash headed to her backpack to get her phone. Halfway there, she heard the lookout yell, and what he said stopped her dead in her tracks.
She looked aft and saw the lookout pointing into the wind. Turning to see what he was pointing at, Ash could see two ships upwind from them, large sales open to catch the wind.
Duzi yelled, “Turn to put the wind behind us, drop the sail.” The crew leaped into action. Ash had to sit when the tiller was thrown to the side, and the deck leaned so far that the railing touched the water. She heard the sail drop and felt the ship leap forward as the wind pushed to ship ahead.
The two ships behind them were thinner and had more oars and larger sails. The oarsman rowed in two teams. One keeping a steady pace while the other group rested and drank water. Even with their strenuous effort, the two perusing ships continued to grow in size as they came closer.
With worry on his face, Duzi told the passengers, who had all moved to the bow of the ship, “We won’t be able to outrun them. We will have to turn and fight.”
He gave a single command, “four!” to the oarsmen. As one, they lifted their oars from the water and started to count with the same rhythm they had used to row.
One, two, three, four.” On four, they all stowed their oars.
With the next four, they stood and faced their benches. At the end of every count, as one, they made what was obviously a well-rehearsed move. First, they lifted the top of the benches, Then they removed shining armor. In three counts, they had all put the armor on and lifted bright helms onto their heads. Next, they remove spears and bows from the storage area beneath the benches.
They counted to four one last time, then turned to face the left side of the boat, bows raised.
Ash heard Takaa say, “I actually feel sorry for those pirates. They have no idea who they are attacking.”
Duzi shouted, “One!”
The helmsman pushed the tiller arm slightly to the right, veering the ship at an angle slightly away from the pirate vessels that were now close enough for Ash to see faces.
Ash lost her balance as the ship turned sharply to the left. The wind was no longer behind them, and their forward momentum was spent. They sat dead in the water, their left side facing the attackers.
A loud twang of bows preceded a rain of arrows that fell on each ship. Ash could tell that some had landed because many of the oars had stopped moving.
The two black ships were now close, and those aboard who had not been hit by arrows fell to well-aimed spears.
The next five minutes were complete chaos. When the ships were close enough, the remaining pirates boarded. But none of them made it very far. They were dropped by arrow, spear, or short sword if they did get close enough. Ash was no expert, but she could tell that the muscular men who had rowed their ship for three days were no galley slaves. They were well-trained and seasoned soldiers who dealt death with casual professionalism.
Through the entire battle, Takaa guarded the passengers with his sword drawn. But they were never in any real danger. Duzi had joined the fray, directing the soldiers as they pushed forward. Eventually, they jumped over to the pirate ships.
When the sound of battle stopped, Ash heard Duzi yell, “One!”
In answer, the soldiers responded with vigor and abandon that can only come from realizing that they had survived another battle. “two, three, FOUR!”
Ash felt Alim’s thin hand rest on her shoulder and squeeze. He said, “It can be overwhelming, no matter how many times you see it.”
The world was spinning for Ash. She had certainly seen war in movies, even played at it with her friends. But CGI effects, video game gore, and foam-covered wooden swords did not prepare her for the amount of blood, the sounds of flesh being sliced, or the pitiful crying of the dying. The encounter in Verihbitt’s garden, her first experience with the brutality of hand-to-hand contact, did not soften the mental blow of seeing the compliment of two ships methodically slaughtered in front of her.
Alim said, “Come, let us retire to the tent.”
Ash was asleep, collapsed into the fetal position on a large pillow before the soldiers had returned to their benches to row them on to Egypt.
They spent the next night on the ship, anchored in one of the many small rivers in the Nile delta. Ash stayed in the tent the next day as they rowed through the maze of the delta. She could only see green reeds and muddy water through the opening of the tent.
When her friends gathered for the mid-day meal, she joined them around dried fish and olive platters. Their simple chatter about things that were not important brought her out of her shock. By the end of the meal, she was laughing and talking with them. However, inside she was still dazed.
When the meal was done, Duzi asked, “Would you like to see something amazing?”
“Yes, I could use that.”
“Good, come with me. You will only see this for the first time, once in your life.”
He led her out of the tent and to the very front of the ship. The channel there were in was wider and full of small boats and a few merchant ships. Low hills blocked the view in front of them. To the sides, green fields lined both sides of what, Ash realized, must be the Nile river itself.
Ash said, “It is beautiful.”
“Wait, this is nothing.” Said Verihbitt
The rest of the group had joined them. A strong breeze pushed up the river, and she could hear the oarsmen strain against the current and the wind. The ship dodged a group of fishermen who were casting large nets into the water and hauling them back onto their small boats, bursting with wriggling fish.
They rounded a gentle bend in the river, and Ash gasped in amazement.
In front of the ship, amongst a vast complex of colorful buildings, a gleaming white pyramid rose up towards the sky. It was the Great Pyramid of Giza. Not the brown, crumbling structure surrounded by sand and tourists that Ash had seen her whole life on TV. The structure was covered in white limestone sheeting and gleamed in the sun. The top was painted and inlaid with gold and silver. Temples, obelisks, and statues crowded around the base.
Alim said, “It is hard to find words, is it not?”
All Ash could say was, “Yes.”
The ship made its way up the Nile, and the two smaller pyramids came into view, initially blocked by the great pyramid. Ash said in English, “I can not believe I am on a Phoenician trader, rowing into the harbor at Giza, and the pyramids are there, right in front of me.”
Being a person from the 21st century, her impulse was to pull out her phone, take a picture, and post it on social media. With a physical jump, she remembered the project she had been working on before the pirate attack.
Ash turned to Alim, grabbed him by the shoulders, and shouted in his face, “Alim, the lightning jar! Was it damaged in the attack?”
– To Be Continued –
Posted on May 17, 2021, by: Eric Miller
Off to Sea
Ash could not believe what she was seeing. Somehow her phone was getting a signal, and she was able to text with Alex. After starting to text him, she realized talking would be much faster. So she clicked on his name at the top of the screen and then the telephone icon. A message popped up informing her that there was no voice service.
She said, "then I guess we will text," to herself and began to type with her thumbs.
ASH: "I know this will sound strange. "
ASH: "But I woke up in ancient Phonecia."
ALEX A: "You mean at that camp you were going to? The cops said you never showed up."
ASH: "No. I mean ancient Phonecia. Somehow your augmented reality contraption shifted me back in time!!!"
ALEX A: "That makes no sense. I know that room had some wacky fancy sensors and emitters that projected directly into your visual and audio nerves. But time travel ?!?!!?!?!"
ASH: "Well, they projected me right back into the past."
ALEX A: "I need to check something. Hold please"
ASH: "I have millennia or three. No hurry."
ALEX A: "Well… hmmm… I looked at the log file. You told the system to start your job at 2022 BC and gave phoenicia as the server name. The feedback from the job controller said:"
ALEX A: "Batch Job Submitted. Engaging Quantum Temporal Solver."
ASH: "What is a quantum temporal solver?"
ALEX A: "Well, there is a quantum computing project in the back of the basement. Some government project. They paid for the AR interface you were using. It's connected to the compute cluster too."
ASH: "What does that have to do with time travel."
Alex A: "Hmm… It's all classified. But I wonder…"
Ash started to type "I wonder what" when her screen went dark, replaced by an empty battery icon. She looked at the moon outside her window. So bright and clear in the sky, and she yelled a four-letter word that would not exist for four-thousand years.
Moments later, Takaa burst into her room and asked, "My lady, are you safe?" while he scanned the room, spear in hand.
Verihbitt and then Mnihh'dm soon followed. The room was suddenly crowded.
Ash took a deep breath, looked at her now blank phone, and said, "I'm fine. I had a bad dream. I must have yelled in my sleep."
Verihbitt looked at Ash. "I can hear the fear and frustration in your voice." She then walked to Ash and enveloped her in her arms. The unexpected empathy broke Ash, and she began to sob in her new friend's arms.
That night, Ash slept well. When a servant came into her small room and woke her, the sun was already high in the sky.
"My lady, I have been asked by the Princess to bathe and dress you."
Ash sat up in the bed while a half dozen girls and women streamed in with pots of steaming water, containers of oil, and piles of clothes. Before she could say no, they pulled her to her feet and removed the robe she had been wearing.
Ash said, "be careful. I made that myself…"
One of the older serving women looked at the robe then at Ash, and said, "My lady should leave the sewing to her slaves." She then casually tossed the robes onto the brazier burning in the corner of the room.
Ash's protests were stifled as more women lead her to a couch and began to smear scented olive oil over her body. She was not used to be naked in front of a group of women. She had always avoided PE classes for that very reason. However, she hat to admit it felt excellent.
When they started to scrape the oil from her skin with long bronze scrapers, she relaxed and said, in English, "When in Phoenicia."
Over an hour later, she exited into the courtyard dressed in flowing red and brown robes, her hair stacked upon her head with bone pins and a heavy, blue lapis lazuli necklace around her neck. She had to admit to herself, she felt pretty good.
A servant guided her across the courtyard into a larger room where her friends, the King, and other court members sat or lounged on couches arranged in a circle. Verihbitt's father was there lying next to Verihbitt. His exposed legs were bruised and scraped. When he saw Ash, he smiled and moved to get up.
"Father, no. You stay where you are. She can come to you," Verhibitt said as she stood and greeted Ash with a hug. She then looked Ash up and down at arm's length and said, "You look much more presentable."
Another servant appeared out of nowhere and lead Ash to an empty couch and put a table covered in food in front of her. When the smell of the fresh fruit hit her, Ash suddenly felt very hungry.
Ash was able to devour a pile of grapes before King Attiball sat up upon his couch and addressed the group. "Now that we are all here, I must ask more of all of you."
Everyone stopped eating and chatting and gave the King their attention.
"A trader just returned from the western end of the sea with bad news. Two of our colonies west of Carthage have been sacked and burned to the ground. I will not and can not stand for this."
A large man dressed in armor stood up and said, "I will prepare an army. We can sail on the full moon."
"General, as much as I would like to strike out with our might, right now we don't know where to strike. This was not the act of another prince. Nor was it the local slaves revolting. The cities are gone. There is no sign of an army or a rabble hiding nearby. You will get your time, and you should prepare the men and provisions and position them in Carthage. But, before we can strike, we must know who to strike."
The King walked to Verihbitt's couch and said, "Princess Verihbitt, I need you to go on a voyage. I am asking you to take whoever you need and join the trader on his return to the west. This will be a dangerous journey. But I fear staying here may be just as dangerous."
Pacing back to the center of the room, the King continued. "We tortured the men who cut the ropes yesterday. They would not say much before they died, but we discovered that they came from the far west, where our sea opens up to the endless sea. When they cried out in pain, they called to someone name Gula, and they called him the Master of Atlas. I don't know if it is a western god or a Prince."
Verhibitt kneeled before her uncle. "My King," she said, "we will go west, and we will send word back on what we find. "
Soon after the King left, Verhibitt, Mnihh'dm, and Takaa huddled with Verhibitt's father. Ash tried to stay out of the discussion, but she soon found herself drawn in. After they had planned their route to Egypt, Carthage, and then further west to what Ash assumed was the coast of Spain, she could no longer contain herself.
She asked Verhibitt, "I know you just met me, and I am a stranger here, but I would be honored if I could travel with you. I have never been to Egypt or Carthage, and I do think I might be helpful, even though I don't know how to fight or spy."
Verhibitt smiled and made a sound that Ash assumed was the ancient Phoenician equivalent of "Duh."
An hour later, Ash and her companions were back on a chariot headed to the city. They were also accompanied by four war chariots with a driver and archer in each. The trip was uneventful and they went directly from the city gate to the port, stopping in front of a ship. It had a single mast in the center and a huge wooden rudder at the rear. Ash could see rows of benches for oarsman. A carved figure of a woman with elaborately styled hair decorated the bow.
There was not much for Ash to do in the chaos of loading a ship for a long voyage. After noticing her standing on the pier, Mnihh'dm took her to a pile of cedar timbers piled next to the ship. She climbed up and sat on top of the pile to get a better view. The process was fascinating. A steady stream of people arrived with clay pots and woven baskets. They moved in a coordinated way with no direction, doubtlessly having each done it hundreds of times before.
Over time her thoughts also turned to her phone. She started by pondering the physics of being able to communicate with the future. Then her mind turned to problem-solving. She needed a way to recharge the device. Every idea she had seemed to be a non-starter. She even thought about the potato battery she had made in elementary school. Then she remembered that potatoes came from South America.
Her reverie was interrupted by a loud crashing sound behind her. She stood and turned around. There she saw that a cart full of clay pots had run into a cart full of some sort of citrus fruit. That reminded her of a project she had started during a LARP'ing week a few years ago. She and another engineer in the the group had made a Babylon Battery from a clay pot with an iron rod, a copper tube, and some orange juice.
She pivoted towards the ship, spotted Mnihh'dm, and yelled as loud as she could, "Friend! I need your help!"
Sword drawn, Mnihh'dm rushed towards Ash.
"No, I'm not in danger. I just need your help. I need to make something for our journey. I can't explain what it is, but it is very important to me. Can you lend me someone that knows the markets here? I need supplies. And coin?"
Mnihh'dm relaxed. "Yes, my Lady. And some soldiers to watch over you." By the time Ash lowered herself off the stack of cedar logs, Mnihh'dm had returned with two soldiers and an older woman.
"These three will help you." He then handed Ash a heavy leather bag, "And you will need this to pay for your supplies. But, please be careful. Do not do anything that might attract the attention of our brilliant magistrate."
An hour later, Ash and her three helpers returned with baskets full of her supplies. Finding the copper sheeting and wire had been the hardest part. When they were about to give up their quest, they had found a jeweler who had both.
She led her group onto the ship and had them deposit their findings in a pile against the mast.
Phoenician ships did not have cabins or a hold. Cargo and supplies were piled between the rowers, and passengers could travel in tents erected on small decks at the front and back of the ship. Ash knew that they would row or, if the wind was favorable, sail during the day. They would have to pull onto shore at night to camp. Looking at the cramped area around her, she realized that the next few weeks would be long and difficult. Working on her battery would help pass the time.
Her supplies safely secured, she thanked her helpers, then moved to the front of the ship where Verihbitt stood with some men she did not know.
Verihbitt said, "Ash, I am glad you are back. We are loaded and about to leave. And I would like you to meet our captain, guide, and owner of this fine vessel, Duzi."
He was a tall man with a mane of long, flowing brown hair tied with a simple leather thong behind his head. Ash could not help but notice that he wore a short, sleeveless tunic that showed off his muscular build.
Bowing slightly towards Ash, he said, "Princess, you mentioned that you would be bringing a foreign girl with you, but you did not mention that she was so beautiful." And then he smiled at her.
Ash felt her face flush. She managed to say, "Thank you, um, we are pleased you could help us, on, um, our journey." All she could do was look at her own feet.
Verihbitt laughed and gently grasped Ash's arm, then whispered in her ear, "Careful, this one could sell eggs to a chicken farmer."
The awkward moment was broken by an older man standing next to Duzi. "Since no one will introduce me, I shall do it myself. I am called Alim by this shark, although I have better names that are too long for his silly brain to remember."
Duzi laughed and said, "My apologies, teacher. Indeed, this is Alim, and he is responsible for my silly brain. My father purchased him in Egypt to be my tutor when I was still a boy. Ignore his complaints. He wanted me to be a scribe, bent over clay tablets all day to count the corn as it goes in and out of a warehouse. He finds my current profession beneath him. And therefore beneath me. One of those long Egyptian names translates to angry old man."
"Ignore most of what he says," said Alim, "He was dropped on his head before he was given to my care, and I have not been able to do much with him. More importantly, the Princess tells us that you are a scholar yourself and a builder of tools?"
Ash felt an immediate connection with this older man that reminded her of so many of her favorite professors. "It is a pleasure to meet you," she said. "I am not so much of a scholar, but I do enjoy making things."
Duzi, playfully pushed the old man behind him. "We have a long journey before us, and you two will have plenty of time to discuss the stars or casting metal or whatever it is that interests this crazy old man. However, that will have to wait."
He bowed to Verhibitt and Ash and said, "Everyone and everything seems to be on board. The tide has just started to head out. If you will excuse me, it is time for us begin." He reached down and untied a rope holding the front of the ship to the dock, signaling someone to do the same at the rear.
Then, In a loud, clear voice, Duzi gave the order to the oarsmen, "Off to sea."
Ash felt the ship rock gently under her as the oarsmen bent to the task, and the ship left the port.
- To Be Continued -
Please subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment, "City on the Nile," is released, wherein Ash has time to work on her battery and visits the ancient land of the Pharos. Oh, and there are pirates.
Posted on April 14, 2021, by: Eric Miller
Like an Owl
It was comforting for Ash to learn that food tastes had not changed so much over the millennia. Sitting in that courtyard under those trees, the marinated vegetables and stewed meats in the bowls Mnihh'dm had brought out tasted wonderful. And the bowls of watered wine quenched her thirst and had just enough flavor to taste good and alcohol to kill the microbes living in the local water supply.
Verihbitt explained each dish and sampled them with Ash.
She then drained her bowl of wine and reached over to touch Ash's leg. "You have eaten and drunk. Are you ready for questions?"
Ash was ready. "Sure, I guess now is as good a time as any."
"Are you a witch?"
She was a little stunned by the question but had to remember that everything about Ash's world was magic to this woman. It was best to address that head-on. How do you explain to an ancient Babylonian what an engineer is? She gave it a try.
"No, I am not a witch. But I am a scholar and an artisan. I study the world around us, and I use what I learn to make things that make life better. Tools that people use."
Verihbitt thought for a while. "Like the King's architect?"
“In a way." Ash pushed down some of the jokes about civil engineers that she had learned in college. "I get paid to solve problems but not to build structures." She could not resist. "Nor do I design ditches."
"It is normal for a woman to do such things where you are from?"
Ash laughed, remembering all the meetings where she was the only woman in the room. "Not as normal as it should be. But it is getting better."
"Well, here it is good for a smart woman like yourself to speak through a man. Some will listen to a wo-"
The sound of shattering wood interrupted Verihbitt as the gate to the courtyard exploded and rained splinters down on the two women. It was quickly followed by the angry shouts of three men who rushed through the opening, spears in their hands. They stopped momentarily to scan the courtyard, then rushed towards Verihbitt.
Without thinking, Ash stood and kicked the low table, bowls and all, towards the approaching men. It slowed them down enough to give Verihbitt time to dart behind the nearest tree. She reappeared with her own spear, and in one fluid motion, launched it at the closest attacker.
Another spear flew by Ash's head before it thudded into the chest of another attacker. She looked back as Takaa, who must have been sitting in the far corner of the courtyard behind a thick pillar, grabbed another spear. He sent it past her ear, and she heard another thunk as it landed. She ran towards Takaa and dived behind the column.
"Fight or flight," she said between gasping breaths. "I guess flight wins out today."
The sounds of a struggle grew louder. There were grunts and cries of pain, but no screaming. After only a few seconds, the sound stopped, and she heard heavy boots approaching her.
"Are you harmed, my lady?" It was the voice of Takaa. Ash relaxed.
Ash stood and came out from behind the column. "I am just a little shaken. I didn't help much."
Verihbitt appeared behind Takaa and said, "Well, we know you are not a witch. You cast no spells. But kicking the table at them did slow them down. Thank you."
Minihh'dm came flying through the door into the house, short sword at the ready.
"My princess, Verihbitt, you are covered in blood. Are you injured?"
Stunned, Ash looked at Verihbitt and could only say, "Well, I may not be a witch, but you appear to be a princess?"
The next half hour was another blur of activity. Takaa ran outside and returned a few minutes later with a chariot let by a beautiful gray horse. All four of them clambered on, and Takaa steered them down a maze of narrow passages, knocking over stalls and more than a few people who could not get out of the way fast enough. At some point, Ash had to close her eyes and hold on as hard as she could to the two-wheeled cart's railing.
She opened her eyes when Verihbitt told her that they had exited through the eastern gate. Farmland stretched out along the rolling hills. There was still some dodging around donkey carts, and it was too loud to talk. Which was good. Ash needed the journey to process all that had happened. She had never seen someone killed before. And certainly never with a spear.
Takaa guided the cart off the main road up a dirt track that led up a small mountain. A large stone building stood on top. Mnihh'dm yelled over the din into her ear, "The King's summer palace. We will be safe here. And no, to answer your next question, your hostess is not the King's daughter, but she is his niece."
Ash did not know what to expect as the chariot passed through the gate to the building. The outside was simple stone, and she had only seen artist's guesses at what a Babylonian summer palace would look like.
The bright colors were stunning. There were statues and frescos everywhere. What Ash had seen in books and online was not even close to what she saw in front of her. The large courtyard was surrounded by two stories of buildings. And every surface she could see was covered with paintings or sculptures.
Ash got off the chariot when it stopped, and she was thankful for Verihbitt's steadying hand.
She said, "that was some ride. I was not sure I would be able to hold on much longer."
Verhibitt laughed. "In my line of work, you often have to make a quick escape on a chariot."
"As a princess? I always thought that involved sitting on pillows and being fed by servants."
"No." Verhibitt looked at Ash sideways, smiled, said, "I am also a spy," and ran across the courtyard towards a man in bright robes.
Ash looked more closely at the far side of the courtyard as she walked towards it. The man stood with Verhibitt at the bottom of a large dirt ramp, and hundreds of shirtless men were pulling a stone slab up the ramp on large wooden rollers using two ropes. She could tell there was a carving of some kind of the top surface of the slab. The wall was covered with scaffolding, and it looked like they were going to hoist a giant stone carving up onto the top of the second story.
Verhibitt was waiting for her at the foot of the ramp, her right arm entwined with that of the older man in bright robes.
"This is my father, Prince Batnoam. One of the King's brothers and, more importantly, the King's Architect. He is one of those people who build walls and ditches."
Feeling a little embarrassed, Ash bowed to Batnoam.
The prince nodded his head in acknowledgment and said, "welcome, my child. My darling Verhi has been breathlessly telling me about your adventures today. I have to admit I could not follow half of it, so I want to know more at dinner."
He snapped his fingers, and two women in simple robes appeared as if from nowhere. "Please prepare rooms for my daughter and her friend."
"While we wait for that, let me show you our latest project. This is a piece that shares the story of my glorious brother's latest conquest in the East. It took almost a full year to carve and most of the summer season to bring up the hill on rollers. Today, we will pull it up to the top of the wall and secure it. We will then spend another week digging out the ramp under it to lower it down against the wall."
"And you will spend even more of my money doing so."
Ash turned to see a tall man dressed in shining brass armor taking purposeful steps up the ramp. A dozen soldiers and a cluster of men in robes struggled to climb behind him.
Everyone bowed to him, so Ash followed their motion.
Boatnoam said, "My brother, when you came back from the East you told me you wanted something grand to celebrate your victory. Nobles will flock to the summer palace just to see this story immortalized in stone."
"Yes, yes. That is what you always say. Then you ask for more money, and it is always too late for me to back out."
While listening to the Prince and King jest with one another, Ash looked up at the slab and how they were lifting it. Iron rings were attached to the top of the wall and, ropes went from the slab, through rings, and back down to the teams of men who were pulling. Up next to the rope, she could see two boys were slathering grease onto the rope to reduce friction.
The teams pulled, the King and prince argued, and the boys kept applying grease as the slab slowly moved on the wooden rollers. Ash soaked in the pure joy of seeing ancient engineering at work.
And then, for the third time that day, someone tried to kill Ash.
Two men who had been walking next to the ropes on either side of the ramp pulled out large axes and, in unison, swung down on the taught rope. With a loud twang, the ropes split, and the slab began to roll down the hill. It headed right towards Ash, her new friends, and the King.
She screamed, "The slab is loose, run!"
She raced to the side as others ran down the ramp in front of the slab. The air was filled with dust, but she could see the stone crash onto the flat courtyard and stop. There were shouts and screams from a large crowd gathered around the slab. Ash ran down the ramp to find Prince Batnoam trapped. A split roller kept the slab from crushing the prince completely, but it was apparent that both of his legs were trapped.
The King screamed for everyone to come out and to fetch new ropes. But Batnoam saw the same thing Ash did. If they pulled the slab in any direction, it would come off the roller and crush him.
"Brother, I think we need to lift it." In between gasps of pain, the architect described his latest scheme. "Put stakes in the dirt mound to keep the slab from moving. Then attach ropes to the far end up through the iron loops. Then pull to tilt it up and off of me."
Ash looked at the geometry. The angle was too low. There was no way they could lift the slab. She decided to speak.
"Your highness, although this idea is close, I do not think it will be enough to lift the stone. In my land, we use a different method to lift large items. Might I try that?"
"No." Said the King. "We will do as my brother's asked, not the musings of a foreign girl."
The next half hour was busy. The workers were able to wedge some more wood under the stone to relieve a little pressure. But no matter how many men or oxen they put on the ropes, they could not lift the stone.
As the sun started to set, Batnoam gestured for the King to come closer. "Brother, it is getting late, and we are losing light. And I do not want to miss dinner." The King laughed at his brother's bravado. "Bring torches and, maybe we should let the foreign girl try."
The King reluctantly nodded towards her, and Ash sprang into action.
"Someone bring that scaffolding over here, the tall one there, and put it over the end of the slab."
She walked to a group of men who had been pulling on the ropes and said, "You need to gather me two of thickest rollers you have. And more rope, lots of rope." She shouted after their retreating backs, "And lots of grease."
It had been years since Ash had studied how a simple tackle worked. But, while others had been attempting to lift the stone, she had been sketching her idea in the dirt. The top roller would be attached to the scaffolding. A rope would be attached to either end of the lower roller, looped up over the top roller, back down around the bottom roller, then over the top roller again. This configuration would provide four times the lifting force, minus all the drag from the ropes rubbing on the rollers.
It took close to an hour to build the rig. No one had spoken to Ash while it was being created and they followed her orders with obvious irritation. But, the King had sanctioned this approach, so they worked at it.
When the rig was ready, she had two teams of twelve men at the ends of each rope.
"You need to pull together so that it lifts the same on both sides." She shouted to them. "At first, it will not move much. But it will move. Try now."
Ash put her hands behind her back and crossed her fingers. In English, she whispered, "Freshman statics, don't fail me now,”under her breath.
They pulled, and the scaffolding creaked. And then the ropes began to stretch. The slab didn't move.
The men just stood and looked at her.
The King shouted, "Pull, you dogs, or I'll toss all of you off the top of that wall."
With the King's orders, they pulled again, and the lower roller began to rise, pulling the slab with it.
"One more pace back!" shouted Ash.
They heaved one more time as one, and the slab lifted again. Other builders quickly placed wood blocks under the slab while a soldier pulled the King's brother from under the stone.
Once clear of the stone they moved him to stretcher. Batnoam took his daughter’s hand and says, “I do like this new friend. She is wise, like an owl.”
Everyone was focused on the prince and getting him to his rooms, and they stopped paying attention to Ash. So no one noticed when she lost consciousness and crumpled to the stone paving of the courtyard.
“bzzzzzz.” “bzzzzzzzzzz.” “bzzzzzz”
Ash wasn't sure if she was dreaming or not. She opened her eyes to a dark room. The full moon was shining through open windows and a light sea breeze filled the room with humid, salty air.
“bzzzzzz.” “bzzzzzzzzzz.” “bzzzzzz”
Sitting up, Ash looked around the room. She was a little light-headed but felt better than she expected. The moonlight illuminated her backpack in the corner of the small room. She walked towards it, and the buzzing got louder. It was her phone.
Fumbling a bit, she found it in the outside pocket.
“bzzzzzz.” “bzzzzzzzzzz.” “bzzzzzz”
She turned it over in her hand and pressed the action button. The screen lit the room, showing her a single text message.
ALEX A: "Where did you go? One second you were here. Then you were gone. The system has locked me out. I thought you had gone on your vacation, but the police came looking for you just now. Are you OK?"
At first, Ash thought this must be a message that he had sent right after she had been tossed back into time. She checked the time. It said 5 min ago. The signal strength in the upper right corner showed one bar.
She quickly typed a message.
ASH: "I'm here. OK, all things considered. Let me know if you get this."
She waited for a second, bathed in the moonlight that shined through an open window of a Babylonian King's summer palace.
ALEX A: "Whew! 😊"
- To Be Continued -
Please subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment, "Off to Sea," is released, wherein our engineering hero finds out if she has sea legs and tries to communicate with the present.
Posted on March 12, 2021, by: Eric Miller
“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 and 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.
Please subscribe to our newsletter, so you will know when the next installment is released
Posted on February 11, 2021, by: Eric Miller
Everyone’s work cubical is different. Some develop a zone of chaos. Some use it as a place to display the things they care about. Some, like Ash, keep theirs stark and clean. She found it difficult to focus if one item was out of place or if her monitor was not at the perfect height and angle. She started and finished each day with the same ritual. A ritual that guaranteed that at least this little corner of her world was controlled, clean, and understood.
Most days, it worked. But no matter how hard Ash tried, she was going to end up in a place that she could not control, keep clean, or even understand. If she knew that facilities would soon start using her cubicle to store large, blue water bottles, she would have thrown a fit. At this point, she had no idea how unusual things would soon become. But, we are getting ahead of our story.
On this particular day, she walked into her cubicle with an extra bounce in her step. She straightened the diploma on the wall that said, “Asghleith Jones, PhD, Computation Fluid Mechanics.” She even made sure her tape, stapler, pen holder, stack of sticky pads, and metal straight-edge were in their proper position. She realized that the only picture in her office, a group photo of the Phoenix Phoenicians LARP’ers, had been moved by the cleaning crew again. With a gentle nudge, she put it back into its proper position.
Ash was on the taller side with a fit figure that she usually kept hidden under baggy khakis and a polo shirt. She had bright, intelligent green eyes, dark olive skin, and a mass of black, curly hair. Hair she almost always kept tied back behind her head and down her back. After turning 27 the previous month, she had recommitted to her regimen of running and yoga that kept her feeling healthy and energetic.
The large backpack she placed on the floor next to her desk, and the bounce in her step were related. After work, she was heading to a campground outside of Tucson, Arizona, to meet up with the group in the picture. They were going to spend a whole week pretending to be a group of Ancient Phoenician traders. Live-action role-playing, LARPing, was her passion. A passion she could not wait to indulge. She just needed to get this huge fluid flow simulation set-up and solving on the server before leaving. Then she could relax and slide into her alter-ego.
“Hey, Ash, ready to go a’LARPing?” She looked up from her monitor to see Harriet Rumanicci, PADT’s HR manager and her best friend at work, standing in the door.
“Don’t make fun of me,” she answered. “It is relaxing and good therapy. No computers, no meetings, no nosy co-workers, and best of all, no deadlines.”
Harriet came in and sat on the guest chair in the cubicle. Petit, blond, and full of energy, she was the only person keeping the various employees at PADT socially connected. She also truly enjoyed teasing Asghleith.
She continued that teasing with, “How can someone who is a neat freak like you spend a week living in the desert? Do you sweep your tent every hour?”
Ash stopped typing and looked directly at Harriet with the most severe look she could muster. “As the manager of HR, you should know that my OCD is a disability, and making fun of me is discriminatory.”
“I don’t know. In your line of work, it may be an asset.”
They both laughed.
Harriet slightly adjusted the position of Ash’s stapler and then asked, “Are you going to be able to submit the big job before you take off?”
“Yes,” said Ash, adding a sigh. “If I am not interrupted and if they get the server back up and running today.”
“Oh, you need the help of IT?”
“I do, and they are being very nice and responsive. Because they like engineers. But, the new hard drives may not be here in time. I’ve got an email into someone named -” Ash stopped speaking to click on her computer screen. “ - Alex Adalopopolopolus in the government projects team, to see if I can run on their cluster. I heard it was massive with lots of new, super-duper-magic-fast hardware.”
“I know Alex. But then that is my job.” Harriet smiled at her little joke. “He seems a good guy, doesn’t talk much. In fact, he never leaves the basement.”
“Well, he will be this project’s lifesaver if he can get me a login and peel off some nodes with dual GPU’s, 128 gigabytes of memory, and four terabyte RAM drives for me to solve on.”
“I heard, lifesaver, blah, blah, dual goats, blah, blah, solve on,” joked Harriet.
Harriet sat comfortably in Ash’s cubical, checking and responding to emails as Ash continued to type and click at her computer. They often worked like this, not saying much, just sharing the same space and tossing the occasional comment back and forth. The silence, and their productivity, was broken when Oren Barnett’s well-coifed head popped up over Ash’s cubical wall.
“Hey, Ash. How is that big run coming? Is it done yet? I got a big order that should drop as soon as you give them results.”
Harriet said, “Oren. Bringer of anxiety. Can’t you see the lady is busy?”
Oren raised himself a bit higher so he could see where the unexpected voice was coming from. “Oh, I see HR is here. Isn’t making fun of me against some sort of corporate policy?”
“Let me check.” Harriet pretended to scroll through her phone. After a few seconds, she said, “No.”
Ash chuckled as she continued to work. She then said, “I should have it submitted this afternoon. A few more hours to get the boundary layer on these critical surfaces, then I’ll re-mesh one last time to get everything in its place. The new drives won’t make it in today, so Alex in IT just gave me a week on the government cluster in the basement.”
Oren climbed up on the chair that he kept on his side of the cubical wall, resting his arms on top of the divider. “Perfect, thank you, Ash. It’s an important project that could lead to a seven-figures worth of HPC if we, well you, can show them how they can fix their problem.” He paused to look at Harriet and considered if he should continue or not.
He decided to continue.
“Ash, once you get that job submitted, can I take you to dinner as a reward?”
Harriet’s face darted up from her phone to glare at Oren. Asghleith tried to ignore the proposition by typing faster and harder on her keyboard.
“Come on. You have worked hard all week. All month, really. Let me pay you back the best way I know how." He smiled at her. “Time with me.”
Ash felt a bit trapped. The truth was, as annoying as he could be, Oren made her laugh, and even though he put pressure on her all the time, he was always supportive and did everything he could to help her get her job done. And she could not deny, his smile was charming. On the other hand, Harriet didn’t like him at all. She was also continually sharing stories of past office romances that had ended disastrously, often with HR involved.
As much as she felt tempted to give in to Oren’s constant attempts to get her to go out with him, she had a valid excuse this time.
“Sorry, guy. I’m leaving town for the week right after work.”
Oren’s smile faded. “Oh. Darn. Going someplace fun?”
Ash continued typing and said, almost to herself, “I certainly hope so.”
At around four-thirty, the model was ready. While Ash copied it to her thumb drive, she straightened her office up. Everything was moved into the proper drawer or put in its perfect place. She smiled a bit when she realized that Harriett had moved her stapler and then put it where it belonged.
Moments later, she was headed down the stairs to the basement. Most people didn’t know that PADT even had a basement. The entrance was back behind a pile of old furniture stacked in the rear of shipping and receiving.
At the bottom of the stairs, she pushed a simple red button with a small sign under it that said: “Push Me, All who Wish to Enter.”
A voice said, “You must be Asg-ha-leeth Jones?”
“Yes, No. Ash-Lee or Ash. Parents thought it was a sophisticated way to spell my name.” A flood of memories came back of her explaining to people since kindergarten that her name was Ashley.
“Anyway,” she continued, “that is me. Do you need some ID or something?”
“No, you are good. Please enter.”
The door buzzed and slid open. Ash stepped through into a small room with glass walls. All around, on the other side of the glass walls, were rows and rows of computers.
“So cool,” she said to herself.
The same voice from the door said, “It is, isn’t it. Literally and figuratively. We keep the room at sixty-two degrees. And it is a lot of very fast computers. Some with some pretty cool new technology. Which, I cannot tell you about.”
Startled, Ash asked, “Umm, who is this?”
The voice calmly answered, “I am the AI that lives on this computer. Although, we could debate if I actually live or exist.”
This was a shock to Ash. She thought the computer was used to run really large simulations for the government, she had no idea it could host an AI algorithm that sounded so human.
“Just kidding.” Said the voice in the ceiling. “This is Alex Adalopopolopopulus. You can just call me Alex A.” He paused. “Alex-ah. I am just kidding, again. Alex is fine. It is a pleasure to talk to you in person instead of through email.”
“Likewise. Thank you so much for getting me time on this machine. I feel like a kid in a candy store. And I do like the idea of calling you Alex-ah. Might as well, since you are a disembodied voice.” She looked around for a terminal to sit at and realized there was no desk, no keyboard. A large monitor was hanging from the back wall, next to the door where she had entered.
“Welcome to the Phoenix Cluster, our state of the art hybrid quantum-digital compute cluster. It integrates eight-thousand-one-hundred and ninety-two cores with six quantum compute nodes. It also has a state of the art passive augmented reality interface.”
All Ash could say was, “so cool.”
“Indeed, my young padawan. Let’s get you loaded and started. There is a USB port under the monitor. Go ahead and put your thumb drive in. Then stand on the yellow pad in the corner.”
Ash shifted her large backpack on her shoulders and walked to the monitor, more than a little nervous. She slid the thumb drive in. She then took a few steps to stand on a yellow circle in the corner by the monitor.
As soon as she had both feet on the pad, her skin felt tingly. The room around her and the computers on the other side of the windows all faded, and she saw a cartoon version of the room. A mouse, keyboard, and monitor floated in front of her. She reached out and touched the keyboard. As her fingers made virtual contact, she felt something pushing back against them.
Before she could say it herself, she heard Alex’s voice in her ear, “I know, so cool!”
“I am kind of speechless. This is so awesome. As much as I want to play with this interface, I gotta get on the road, so here goes.”
Ash started to type on the keyboard and saw her command form on the monitor.
Ash--> cfdsolve1 -s fluent -t 2022-03-12-23:00 bc -loads-c1.txt -c Phoenicia -jn t75-c1-a
The command Asghleith typed in was supposed to start a batch script that ran Ansys FLUENT starting at eleven that night on the Phoenix cluster. As she pressed the virtual enter key, she realized that she put the dash on the boundary condition flag, bc, in the wrong place and had typed Phoenicia instead of Phoenix.
She thought it would be no big deal. The script would error out, and she would type it in correctly. Instead, she felt a jolt as if she was in an old elevator that had started to move up. On the screen, she saw the words, “Batch Job Submitted. Engaging Quantum Temporal Solver.”
She struggled to stand as the whole room began to jump and shake. Her head began to spin. The keyboard and monitor faded in front of her, replaced by blindingly bright light. She closed her eyes, but that did not help. The spinning got worse.
As she began to lose consciousness, she said, “Alex-A, I think I entered the wrong command.”
-To Be Continued -
Please enjoy the next chapter, "New Friends."
When we next join Ash she will encounter a mob, a wise man of science, ducks, and of course, a princess.
And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter, so you know when the next installment is released.
Posted on December 8, 2020, by: Eric Miller
Here we are, the second week of December in the year 2020. This is the time of year when we usually look back on the year and see what went right and what didn't. In a normal year, it's a fun exercise. You can conduct the review two ways, something like a global pandemic that completely disrupts supply chains, decimated key industries, disrupts how we do our jobs, eliminates almost all travel, and brings real death and injury to people we know and care about. The first is focusing on the negatives, and the second is to acknowledge the challenges and then point out the bright spots. Let's go with that second option.
Responding to the Challenge
We got wind of what was coming early. One of PADT's owners was visiting Taiwan when it started to spread in China. He saw how seriously the Taiwanese government was taking it and let us know. At first, it didn't impact business, but as the global supply chain started to show weakness, our customers started to let us know that they needed to make changes. As working from home became more common, our team helped where we could to get their users set up for Ansys usage at home. We moved meetings to online, and we helped users do their own 3D Printer repair over the phone when we couldn't enter their facilities.
New ways of using 3D Printing & Simulation
As a longtime leader in 3D Printing, a big part of our adaption was to lend our connections and machines to the effort to use additive manufacturing to get protective equipment into the hands of those who needed them. By the time the supply chain was back working, we had manufactured thousands of face masks, consulted with dozens of people seeking our advice, and helped get material into the hands of those who needed it.
We also established a couple of panels on how our customers stepped up with both 3D Printing and Simulation to battle the virus's spread. Take a listen to the recordings to learn more about some very clever applications of these two key technologies.
Even nine months into this pandemic, we are working with several companies on products or processes related to dealing with the virus.
New ways of doing work
We got a head start on cleaning and social distancing because we saw what was going on in Taiwan, and we started prepping our infrastructure for work from home (WFH). When things started to worsen in the US, our employees stepped up and made the changes they needed.
For us, Microsoft Office365, Teams, and OneDrive have been a wonderful toolset for collaboration and communication. We even got our ancient, over 20-year-old phone system swapped over quickly to forward to cell phones and email. Thanks to our amazing IT team, we were soon meeting with customers and vendors worldwide, collaborating, and pretty much back on track.
Essential employees adjusted their schedules to reduce the potential of contamination, and we doubled-downed on social distancing. All the machines kept running, our IT infrastructure stayed solid, and we really didn't see much of a disruption to making deadlines.
Without travel or meetings, interacting with our customers and the community was a challenge. PADT has hosted nine networking events for the Arizona technology business community since late spring and also hosted three panels for tech company executives and owners to discuss how to deal with COVID-19.
New and improved offerings and territories
We started the year by announcing our new community resource in March, 3dprinting-glossary.com. This free reference site offers definitions for over 250 terms used in Additive Manufacturing. It is slowly making its way up the list on Google search, and every month we see more and more users. As the industry grows, we will continue to keep it up to date.
Speaking of 3D Printing, our next big milestone was our expansion into Texas for Stratasys sales and support. We have been selling Ansys in the Lone Star state for several years and were pleased when, as a Stratasys Elite Channel Partner, we were asked to add Texas to our existing territory of Ansys, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.
We kept the ball rolling when Art Newcomer relocated to New Mexico to support our growing customer base in that state. Art is one of our field service engineers and is an expert in maintaining and getting the most out of Stratasys AM systems.
Then just last month, we officially announced a new EOS M 290 system at PADT, greatly increasing our ability to provide Metal 3D Printing Services. The new system will be used to manufacture components for customers and conduct R&D projects.
Simulation also saw some new offerings. As Ansys, Inc. continues to add new simulation tools to their portfolio, our team works to understand what they offer and introduces them to and supports them for our customers. In 2020 we saw noticeable growth in new users and consulting around LS-Dyna, Sherlock, and SPEOS. Ansys also added some new acquisitions in 2020 that we see great interest in: AGI for mission-level aerospace simulation and Lumerical for the modeling of photonics components.
New team members
This year also saw new employees joining the team. Over the year, we have added 5 engineers and 4 salespeople. That is good growth in any year but fantastic in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
On top of these new team members spread across simulation, product development, and 3D Printing, we added two critical senior staff members to help us grow to the next level.
- Dr. Keng Hsu, a recognized expert on Metal 3D Printing who joined us as Principal R&D Engineer, Additive Manufacturing.
- Dr. Tyler Shaw also came on board in the second half of the year as our new Director of Engineering, leading our consulting team.
New challenges in 2021
Which brings us to 2021. Like most people, we will be working under #covidrules through the first quarter and maybe even a bit into April or May. With this schedule in mind, here is what we plan to do while still dealing with the pandemic and after:
- Keep our employees safe
- Add some new and exciting 3D Printing technologies.
- Grow our recent expansion in California and Texas with additional staff and activities
- Listen to our customers and deliver what they need to be successful.
- Find new and interesting ways to get information into the hands of our customers. We are all a bit "zoomed-out."
- Upgrade our compute infrastructure and continue to explore cloud solutions for business and engineering applications.
- Host more events for the community
- Remember to unmute at least 75% of the time.
- Look back on what worked and didn't work, and modify how we travel, meet, and communicate to take advantage of what we learned.
- Get out and see as many of our customers as possible face-to-face.
- Make further investments in people and resources in Texas and California, building on our growth in both states in 2020.
- Go to lunch with our co-workers.
- Have an Arizona Tech Business Networking event in person.
- Throw our annual Nerdtoberfest Open House at PADT's headquarters in Tempe, Arizona
- Have a 3D Printing Users Meeting in Colorado, outside, at a brewery.
This post has been purposefully upbeat. Although the business side of things has gone well, all things considered, it has been a stressful year, and many in the PADT extended family have struggled and dealt with serious health issues because of this virus.
As we close out 2020, a truly memorable year, we simply want to thank everyone who joined us on this journey for both helping us along the way and for letting us help you get through it.
Posted on December 3, 2020, by: Eric Miller
For our Christmas parties at PADT, we generally have over 50 employees so a traditional secret Santa gift exchange takes too long. At some point, we downloaded a right-left gift exchange story from the internet and it was a big hit. When we ran out of stories on the internet, we started writing our own, usually in some sort of over-the-top style. This year's theme was "Vegas, Baby." So our story is a never-before-revealed true story (not) of how the Rat Back kept Santa from losing it all.
Here is how it works:
Everyone gets their gift and forms a big circle in the middle of the room. Someone with a strong voice reads the story, and every time the word LEFT is read, everyone passes the package they have to the left. Every time the world RIGHT is read, everyone passes the package they have to their right. You should pause a bit at each LEFT/RIGHT to give people a chance to pass.
You can find previous years stories here
– Vegas Christmas (2019)
– Hollywood Golden Age Christmas (2018)
– Elf Family Christmas (2017)
– Western Christmas (2016)
– Star Wars Christmas (2015)
– Fairy Tale Christmas (2014)
– Science Fiction Christmas (2013)
– Romance Christmas (2012)
– Film Noir Christmas (2011)
How the Chairman of the Board Saved Christmas
Let me tell you, young people, a story. I got lots of stories. But RIGHT now, I want to tell a story about the night in Vegas when Frank Sinatra saved Christmas.
I was RIGHT there. 1958. Working as a dealer in the casino at the Sands. Back then, the Sands was RIGHT in the middle of everything. It’s where the high-roller came, and the best entertainers in the world performed RIGHT there on the stage in the showroom.
That night, morning really, most everyone had LEFT. The Rat Pack, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, and Frank Sinatra had performed a great show. I caught it from the service door LEFT of the stage. But RIGHT after it finished, most people LEFT, going to other casinos or back to their hotels. After grabbing drinks and some steaks in the restaurant, Sammy, Dean, and Frank decided to gamble. And that is when it happened.
My poker table was on the RIGHT side of the room. I was LEFT speechless when all three of my idols walked in, looked RIGHT, looked LEFT, and then sat… down at my table. After a few seconds, Dean asked, “You all RIGHT, kid? You look kind of pale, like you seen a ghost or some’ting.” Frank added, “Yah kid, your jaw is hanging down RIGHT on the table. Pull it closed and deal us a hand.”
And with that, I starting dealing the most exciting evening of poker in my life.
The three icons, sitting RIGHT in front of me, played for about an hour. A small crowd started gathering, and soon there was no room LEFT around my table. It was magical. I tell you, those guys sure could sing. But they were also funny as hell. The way they ribbed each other. It LEFT me in tears.
About an hour in, things went from strange to surreal. A large tall man was pushing people to the LEFT and to the RIGHT as he made his way to the table. He had long white hair and a long white beard that covered his ample belly. He came up and sat RIGHT next to Sammy, on his LEFT. Sammy looked at his cards and then to his LEFT and said. “Hey, you. I promise I’ve been nice this year. These other two, there is no nice LEFT in them. Definitely need to be on your naughty list.”
The old man laughed and winked at all three men. I heard Dean say, as he sipped from his whiskey glass, “Santa, how’s tricks. Don’t you have any gift wrapping LEFT to do? ”
It was Santa Clause. At my table, from LEFT to RIGHT, I had Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, and RIGHT at the end, Santa Clause. Only in Vegas.
I won’t bore you with details. I’ll just jump RIGHT to the end. They played poker for ninety-minute or so, and Santa was losing badly. When he had no chips LEFT, he bet the gold watch he kept in his RIGHT hip pocket. When he lost that he reached into the inside RIGHT pocket of jacket and put a piece of paper on the table, saying, “This is all I got LEFT, boys.”
Across the top of the paper, I could read “Deed, North Pole Christmas Factory.”
Sammy blinked and said, “Man, Santa, Man, that ain’t so cool. If one of us wins RIGHT now, what are we gonna do with the north pole? Dean here is too fat to fit in a chimney, and Frank is too stingy to hand out gifts. Man, take it RIGHT back.”
Santa shook his head. “No boys, I’m betting the figurative farm. My hand is that good. I’m LEFT with no choice.”
Dean and Sammy folded, but Frank stayed in. Pushing his chips RIGHT into the middle of the table. “One card LEFT Santa.” Frank said, “And the fate of Christmas is decided. You win, you have enough money to buy a new, bigger sled for that fat ass of yours to fit into. You lose, and RIGHT here, RIGHT now, I become the big guy, and I run Christmas.”
I dealt the last cards.
Frank looked at his and winked RIGHT at me. I still remember that wink and his blue-blue eyes. He muttered a cuss word, hit Sammy in the back of the head, and tossed his cards in. “I fold.” He said.
Santa took the chips and the deed and LEFT without a word. No ho ho ho. No jolly. He just LEFT. So did the Rat pack, slapping each other on the back and headed to their next adventure. Frank must have LEFT forty thousand dollars in chips in that pot. What a guy.
When they were all gone, you know what I did? I flipped those cards RIGHT over. First Santa, on my RIGHT. Three duces and to the RIGHT of those an Ace and a King. Frank’s hand? Your RIGHT to ask me what is in Frank’s hand. RIGHT there in front of his chair, I saw all hearts, Ten- Jack-Queen-King and yes, Ace. He had folded with a royal flush and LEFT his money for Santa to take.
That night in Vegas, RIGHT there at the Sands Hotel. Frank Sinatra sang, he drank, he played poker, and he paid forty-thousand dollars to save Christmas. There are not a lot of people LEFT like Frank. Guys that have the world RIGHT there in their hands. And when they are LEFT with making a call about giving something up and doing what is RIGHT. They decide to do what is RIGHT.
Thanks, Frank. Thank you for doing it your way.
Posted on December 3, 2020, by: Eric Miller
For our Christmas parties at PADT, we generally have over 50 employees so a traditional secret Santa gift exchange takes too long. At some point, we downloaded a right-left gift exchange story from the internet and it was a big hit. When we ran out of stories on the internet, we started writing our own, usually in some sort of over-the-top style. This year's theme was "a Hollywood Party," red carpet and all. So our story takes a look back at the golden age in Tinseltown.
Here is how it works:
Everyone gets their gift and forms a big circle in the middle of the room. Someone with a strong voice reads the story and every time the word LEFT is read, everyone passes the package they have to the left. Every time the world RIGHT is read, everyone passes the package they have to their right. You should pause a bit at each LEFT/RIGHT to give people a chance to pass.
You can find previous years stories here
– Vegas Christmas (2019)
– Hollywood Golden Age Christmas (2018)
– Elf Family Christmas (2017)
– Western Christmas (2016)
– Star Wars Christmas (2015)
– Fairy Tale Christmas (2014)
– Science Fiction Christmas (2013)
– Romance Christmas (2012)
– Film Noir Christmas (2011)
Brock’s Star-Studded Christmas Adventure
The Hollywood sign showed brightly in the rearview mirror of Brock “Lefty” Johnsons’ 45 Cadillac convertible on that fateful Christmas Eve. Right now, he needed to focus. He was nervous because two of the biggest stars in the world were in the back seat. On the left was Catherine Hepburn. On the right, Jimmy Stewart. And to top it off, in the front seat to his right was Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart’s co-star in the soon to be released “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Brock was a mid-level producer for the studio who was at the right place at the wrong, or maybe the right time. The studio boss, Robby Leftensteen had picked him to drive the stars to a Christmas Party right smack dab in the middle of Palm Springs.
They left the studio at four PM, right after Miss Hepburn had finished filming for the day. They were late, so Brock stayed in the left lane once they got on the freeway. Mrs. Read turned and talked to her friends over her left shoulder as they sped out of town and climbed right up the hill to the desert.
About an hour into the drive Brock heard Jimmy Stewart say, “Ah, l-l-Lefty, I think you should slow down. Um, Ah, over there. On the right side of the road. Looks like someone had a bit of a spill.” Brock looked out the right side of the car as he slowed and he could just make out the bottom of a big red vehicle. Strangely, on the right and left of the wreck, a group of deer stood chewing on the desert shrubs. He turned on his right turn signal and crossed to the opposite side of the road and drove slowly off the pavement to towards the wreck.
In his panic, he parked right next to some cactus, so they all had to exit from the right side of the car. He and Jimmy Stewart walked to the right side of the large red vehicle, noticing that it had no wheels. It was a slay. When they got to the other side, he could not believe what he saw.
Right there, right in the middle of the desert, right in front of him was Santa Clause laying with his legs pinned right of a giant bag of gifts. And he was obviously unconscious.
Kathrine Hepburn let out a scream and ran right to Santa’s left side, and Donna Read crouched on his right side. They gently slapped his face till he woke up.
“Ho Ho Ho! That was the biggest goose I’ve ever seen!” said Santa Clause as he shook his head left and right. “I thought I was left for dead! Ho Ho Ho!”
“W-W-We are right here to help. You lay right here while we get this bag off of you.”
With much grunting and struggling, Jimmy Stewart and Brock pulled the bag off, which left Santa’s legs free. The big jolly man rolled onto his left side then slowly stood up.
“Ho Ho Ho! That goose left me knocked out. Right now I want to focus on righting my slay and deliver all the presents I have left.
That is when Brock “Lefty” Johnson found himself pushing on the right end of a giant red slay with Jimmy Steward, Kathrine Hepburn, Donna Read, AND Santa Clause. They rocked the sled left and back until it rolled right over onto its runners. Santa let out a whistle and the reindeer lined up right in front of the sleigh.
While they all stood lined up right along the side of the road, the sound of jingling bells filled the air around them as the sled leaped straight up in the air and moved in a slow right-hand turn above them.
“Ho Ho Ho! Jimmy and Kathrine, Donna and Lefty! Thank you for always doing the right thing and for making movies that have left me crying and laughing!”
Brock felt Miss Hepburn lean against his left shoulder as she whispered “Merry Christmas Santa” into the cool desert night as the giant red sleigh left their sight.
Posted on July 2, 2020, by: Eric Miller
The Winners From PADT's 2020 Nature Photography Day Contest
Every month we try to do something fun at PADT, and before the evil spikey ball of death ruined everything we would usually do something food-related. Pi day = Pie. Chocolate Day = Chocolate. Anything = pizza. However, since most of us are working from home we could not all show up in the lunchroom at noon for team-building (chowing down).
So we have been looking at a few websites that list fun, often fake holidays, and found out that June 15th was "Nature Photography Day" After setting up some channels in Microsoft Teams we let everyone submit pictures. Then after a week of submitting, employees voted.
Some were downright stunning. All were beautiful.
We present the winners here for your viewing pleasure.
For those who are interested, here is how we did the contest:
- We created MS Teams channels for each of the categories we chose:
Amature, Pro'ish, and Kids
- Within each category, there were five topics: Desert, Not Desert, Water, Plants & Flowers, Animals in Nature, Human Structures in Nature.
- Employees uploaded their images to the proper channel and shared a bit about each one.
- We used the emoticon capability in Teams to "vote" on each one. A heart was worth 3 points, a laughing face 2, and thumbs up 1.
- After the voting was done we added up the points for each category and that determined the winners.
Posted on March 7, 2019, by: Eric MillerWow!. It has been 25 years since Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies, Inc. went downtown to file incorporation papers on March 7, 1994. Now we are ninety-some people with offices in six states. It has been an incredible journey with so many people playing key roles. Please read our thoughts on this momentous event in the press release below. You can help us celebrate by coming to our party! Learn more at www.padtinc.com/padt25. You can also share your thoughts about working with or at PADT by filling leaving a comment here. Please find the official press release here in PDF and HTML. If you have any questions, reach out to email@example.com or call 480.813.4884.
Posted on March 4, 2019, by: Eric Miller
There were Chevys and Fords, Porches and Harleys, Teslas and Acuras. Big trucks and little sports cars. And of course, there was pizza. Our first ever Motorsport Day was a blast. Mechanical engineers have a special relationship with cars. For those of us who studied machine design, statics, dynamics,
Employees, as well as family and friends of employees, brought their rides. The best part was to see the love and passion that the owners put into their vehicles. These are far more than just a way to get to and from work. One thing we can't share in words is the sound of each machine. From the purr of the Porche to the throaty roar of the two drag cars to the rumble of the Harley, each one had its own unique and special sound. And the Tesla, not wanting to be left out in the sound department, cranked up its stereo did a dance for us.
This was our first attempt at this type of event, a practice run to see if anyone was interested. Duh. It was a huge success. So, watch your email and this blog for an announcement of our 2020 Motorsport Day when we will open it up to customers and vendors who are interested in sharing their ride or
Words don't do these marvelous machines justice, so here is a gallery with this year's entries. And for the car fans, a table after that gives specifics on each vehicle.
|Rob R||1935||Chevy||Standard Three Window Coupe|
|Tom S||1950||Chevy||3100 - Resto Mod Patina Truck|
|Ralph G||1964||Chevy||Nova SS (Chevy II)|
|Steve G||1968||Ford||Mustang Cobra Covertible|
|Vince E||1969||Chevy||Nova SS|
|Mark M||2001||Dodge||RAM 2500|
|Ted H||2003||Acura||CL Type S|
|Tom B||2011||Chevy||Camaro SS|
|Teri S||2015||Harley Davidson||Dyna Lowrider|
|Tim M||2015||Porsche||911 Carrera S|
Posted on February 7, 2019, by: Nathan Huber
I was on the gondola up at Keystone for night-skiing a week ago, after a long day at Beaver Creek, because the last thing I am going to do at 3:00 pm is try to make it back to Denver, as everyone knows it's hardly more than a parking lot at that point. As it gets later, there's nothing like a solo gondola ride, however, a solo ride would stop this story right about now.
On the gondola, I overheard a conversation where one gentleman was discussing how he was unable to open the hatch of his vehicle when his skis are in his roof rack. That's fair, I know older WRX wagons with the spoiler would not be able to open with skis on the roof no matter what, so I figured that was the case. It turns out, that was NOT the case. The reason his hatch would not open was that he orients the skis with the tails forward because it is 'more aerodynamic' that way... I was skeptical, but held my tongue, knowing that I had the tools at my disposal to investigate!
I decided to make a model that would allow me to simulate various conditions to get to the bottom of this. My initial hypothesis is that the addition of the ski rack and crossbars is what has the largest effect on aerodynamics, and orientation of the skis probably has a negligible effect after that. As a side note, I am solely concerned with aerodynamics in this case, and am not worrying about the amount of the ski's base material that is exposed for a given orientation. I am of the mindset that tree trunks and hidden rocks on the mountain are more of a danger to your bases than small rocks on the highway anyway. If you are waiting to comment, "Just get a roof box!", I understand as I own both a box and a rack at this point, and they both have their advantages, and I will not be exploring the aerodynamics of a box...
I was able to start by finding some faceted geometry of a Subaru Forester online (I'm from Colorado, can you tell?) and was able to import that into ANSYS Spaceclaim. Once in Spaceclaim, I was able to edit the faceted geometry to get nice exterior panel surfaces, which I then combined to get a single clean faceted exterior for the car.
After that, I used Spaceclaim to generate the remainder of the rack and skis, including crossbars, a ski rack, and a pair of skis (Complete with the most detailed bindings you have ever seen!). I made a combined part of the crossbars, rack, and skis for each one of my orientations, as this allows me to report the forces on each combined part during the simulation.
For the simulation, I used ANSYS Discovery Live, the newest tool from ANSYS that allows for instant and interactive design exploration. This tool lets me actively add my CAD geometry and shows results in realtime. I was able to start with just the car and then add and swap my ski/rack geometry with simple button clicks. With traditional simulation tools, I would have needed to create a mesh for each one of these cases, analyze them one at a time, and the post-process and compare results after the fact. After launching Discover Live, it's as easy as selecting the type on analysis I want to run.
Once I have selected 'Wind Tunnel' for my solution, I can select my geometry, and then am prompted for the direction of flow, as well as selecting the 'floor' of my domain. Once that is done, results show up on the screen instantly. I only needed to modify the flow velocity to ~65 mph. I am most interested in the force on the faces of the combined crossbars, rack, and skis in each orientation, so I created Calculations for each one, which is done by simply selecting the part and using the popup toolbar to create the graph.
I was already off and running. I ran each one of the cases until the force plot had become steady.
Seeing that the force results for the Tips Forward vs. Tails Forward cases were very similar, I decided I should also run a 'Bases Up' Orientation, even though I STRONGLY advise against this, as UV wrecks the base material of your skis/snowboard.
In addition to the contour plot shown in the images above, you can also use emitters to show streamlines and particle flow, which also give some pretty neat visualizations.
The graph plots show values for the Total Y Force for Tips Foward, Tails Forward, and Bases Up orientations to be 37.7 N, 39.1 N, and 37.1 N, respectively. Using Discovery Live, I was able to quickly run all 3 of these simulations, showing that there is not a major difference in the forces on the ski rack between the three orientations. So, put the skis on the roof in the direction that makes life easiest for you, and keep those bad boys paired to protect your bases from the sun, because splitting them isn't going to help with aerodynamics anyway!
Next steps would be taking a specific case and running in 2D, then 3D, in ANSYS Fluent.