Cover Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

 

Against the Tide of Years

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>

 


Chapter 4

March, Year 8 AE
(March, 1242 BC)

Reveille, Marian Alston-Kurlelo thought as her eyes opened, waiting for the pitch and roll of a bunk at sea, the creak of cordage and lap of the waves and the way a ship's timbers spoke as they moved.

But it wasn't a noncom bellowing 'lash and stow'; it was roosters, and someone beating on a triangle. "Rise and shine, sugar," she whispered into the ear of the blond head resting beside her on the feather-stuffed pillow.

"I will rise, but I refuse to shine," Swindapa said, mock-grumpy, yawning and stretching; the cornshucks in the mattress beneath them rustled as she moved to give Alston an embrace and then swing out of the bed.

The ferry had brought them in late last night; it was a chilly fall morning, and the water in the jug and basin beside the window raised goosebumps on the black woman's skin as she washed and pulled on her clothes. The coarse blue wool of the uniform was clean by the standards of Year 8 After the Event --- it didn't have visible dirt and didn't smell. Considering something unwearable after one use had gone the way of electric washer-dryer combos.

Fogarty's Cove's grown a lot since we bought it from the Indians, Marian thought wryly. Not many had been left, after the epidemics. At least they got more than twenty-five dollars worth.

Only an archaeologist would be able to find any trace of the Indians, less than a decade after the Event crashed into their world; the stones of a hearth, a scatter of chipped flint, a tumbled drying rack, gourds gone wild. The Islanders had done considerably more.

Fogarty's Cove was already bustling. Steel screeched on wood in the sawmills, steam chuffed and boilers whistled. Hammers and adzes rang in the boatyard down by the wharves, where a big fishing smack was taking shape. Faint and far in the distance came a soft heavy thdump... thudump... as stumps were blasted out of newly-cleared fields with gunpowder. The streets were full of wagons drawn by ox and horse, bringing in grain and meat, raw wool, eggs packed carefully in straw, pumpkins and apples, peaches and potatoes, wine and butter and cheese -- all from the new farms stretching westward from this outpost. Storekeepers and craftsfolk were opening their shutters and doors; livery stable, blacksmith and farrier, doctor, haberdasher... The air was full of strong smells, horse and cattle, woodsmoke, drying fish. Children ran shouting towards the schoolhouse, satchels of books and slates over their shoulders. Over the rooftops she could see the bright yellows and crimson of autumn trees in woodlots and field-verge, the old gold of tasseled corn, copper leaves in a vineyard, a wide-horned bull drowsing beneath an oak as drifts of mist went over the dew-wet pasture's faded green.

Lively, Alston smiled to herself. Crude enough by the standards of the 20th, but those weren't the standards anyone with sense used any more. A lively little kid, growing fast.

Swindapa came up behind her and wrapped arms around her, resting chin on shoulder. Alston sighed, a sound that mixed a vast content and an anticipation of the day.

In my forties, and with 'dapa I feel as eager for each new morning and horizon as I did twenty years ago... or three thousand years from now, Alston thought.

Words ran through her mind:

I rose from dreamless hours and sought the morn
That beat upon my window: from the sill
I watched sweet lands, where Autumn light newborn
Swayed through the trees and lingered on the hill.
If things so lovely are, why labor still
To dream of something more than this I see?
Do I remember tales of Galilee,
I who have slain my faith and freed my will?
Let me forget dead faith, dead mystery
Dead thoughts of things I cannot comprehend.
Enough the light mysterious in the tree,
Enough the friendship of my chosen friend.

They buckled on their webbing; knife, pouches, binoculars and double-barreled flintlock pistols at their belts, katanas over their backs with the hilt jutting up behind the left ear. Saddlebags held their traveling kit; they carried those downstairs in their arms, slinging them over the benches beside them as they sat at the long trestle tables in the tavern's taproom.

Wild Rose Chance was an example of what 'log cabin' could mean when the logs were a hundred feet long and a yard thick. The big room was already fairly warm with the fire in the long iron-backed fieldstone hearth, and busy -- a score or more sitting down to the breakfast of ham, pancakes, bacon, sausage, cornmeal grits, eggs and fruit. Alston nodded to friends and acquaintances as she loaded her own plate and sank her teeth into a slab of hot coarse wholewheat bread with butter melting on its steaming surface.

At least I don't have to worry about my weight, she thought. Not when things like travelling fifteen miles to Camp Grant meant half a day in the saddle, not five minutes in a car. And that would put her out beyond the edge of cultivation, where the mini-frontier of Islander settlement met untouched wilderness.

"Hey, there anyone here who speaks Fiernan?" a voice called from the open street door.

Alston and her partner looked up sharply. A woman stood there, in ordinary bib overalls, but with a shotgun over her back and a star pinned to one strap. Behind her were a young couple, dressed Islander-style except for their near-naked toddler, but obvious immigrants. Behind them were a clamoring pack -- she thought she recognized several farmers, a straw-boss from one of the timber mills, and the owner of the boatyard among them.

Swindapa began to rise, then sank back as the propriteor of the inn went over, drying his hands on a corner of his apron.

"Thought you did, Sarah," he said.

"Thought I did too, Ted."

Swindapa did rise then, smiling, when mutual bewilderment became too obvious. She returned chuckling.

"They speak Goldenhill dialect," she said. "Thicker than honey -- I'm not surprised the sheriff couldn't make hoof or horn of it," she said. "The poor couple were frightened out of the seven words of English they had between them, and those people were at them as soon as they got off the ferry, pulling on their arms. The sheriff will put them up in the Town Hall tonight and find someone to explain about contracts."

Alston nodded approval and threw down her napkin. Everyone was short of labor, but that was no excuse for taking advantage of ignorance. Her inner smile grew to a slight curve of full lips. Jared's seen to that. By the time the immigrant couple had put in five years they'd speak the language and be eligible for citizenship; a few years more, and they'd probably have a farm or boat or shop of their own, and be down at the docks clamoring for a chance at a hired hand themselves. And their kids would be in school.

There had been times in the Coast Guard when she'd wondered what the hell she was doing; on the Haitian refugee patrol, for instance.

Or 'cooperating' with those cowboy assholes in the DEA and BAFT, she thought. If you had to be hired muscle, it was nice to work for an outfit run by actual human beings.

They took their saddlbags out; the inn's groom had horses waiting, four-year-old crosses between the hairy little chariot ponies of Alba and a Morgan sire. Alston swung into the saddle, heeling her mount out into the road.

"Worth fighting for," Swindapa said, indicating the town with an odd circling motion of her head.

A drift of leaves came down around her from one of the trees left standing to give the raw new town shade; they were no brighter than the mane that fell down her back.

"Let's go tell it to the Marines, love," Alston replied.

@@@

"Yeah, it's coming along OK, man," the blacksmith said, his long sheeplike face neutral. William Walker was always a little careful around John Martins. For one thing, the Californian ironworker hadn't come along to Alba willingly, like the rest of his American supporters. That had taken a knife to the throat of his woman, Barbara. For another, Walker suspected that under his vaguely buddhisty hippy-dippy exterior -- and Martins was the genuine article, he'd dropped out in 1970, gone up into the hills of Sonoma County -- Martins was capable of a really serious dislike.

"Well, should we go for a converter, or should we do the finery-chafery method?"

He looked around the raw litle settlement. Walker had been to Greece a couple of times up in the Twentieth, once on Coast Guard business and once on holiday. This looked very different from what he remembered. The plain of the Eurotas River stretched away on either hand, about forty miles of it from where it left the northern mountains to where it reached the sea. More mountains lined it on either side, and they weren't the bare limestone crags of the twentieth century, either. There hadn't been nearly as much time for the goats and axes of men to do their work; these uplands were densely forested, pine on the higher elevations, mixed with evergreen oak and chestnut and illex further down. The glade in which they stood was waist-high grass, starred with crocus and tulip; the wind down from the heights smelled of fir sap. Not quite like Montana -- for a bitter moment he remembered the snowpeaks of the Rockies and the wild clean smell -- it was warmer, somehow, in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature. Spicier, with scents like thyme and lavender.

"Hey, I'm just a blacksmith, man," Martins said, hefting the sledge in his hand. "You get me iron, and I can work it."

Walker pushed his face closer to Martins'. The Californian was a tall man, as tall as himself, and ropily muscular. Older, of course, in his late forties now, with a ponytail more gray than brown at the rear of a head mostly bald, and absurd small-lense glasses always falling towards the end of his nose.

"Don't try to bullshit me, Martins," Walker said. "I know exactly what you can and can't do, family man. Now, I think I asked you a question?"

The sad russet eyes turned away slightly. Besides Barbara, there was an infant now, and Martins knew exactly what Walker was capable of, too.

"Converter will take six months, maybe a year, if we can do it at all, man -- have to, like, talk to Cuddy too. Finery I can do right away, no shit, and blister steel."

"Then get started on it. We'll go with that and work on the converter later."

Walker turned away and surveyed the worksite. Trimmed timbers were piling up fast, with teams of near-naked peasants and yoked oxen hauling them out of the woods, crashing and shouts and bellowing. The Achaean architect Augewas and Enkhelyawon the scribe were standing near the stream, drawing with sticks in the dirt. Walker paced over, still feeling a little odd in the Mycenaean tunic and kilt -- the tunic was dark blue linen with gold rosettes around the neck. It was comfortable clothing for this climate, at least in the warmer seasons.

"Gwasileus," the two Greeks said, bowing. "Lord."

In Classical Greek that would come to be basileus and mean King, but here-and-now simply the word for chieftain, overlord, bossman.

"How do things go?" Walker said.

"Lord," the architect said, "There is good building stone near here -- limestone, hard and dense, a blue stone. And I can build a wall across this stream."

He nodded. The creek was about chest deep in the middle and twenty feet across. By southern Greek standards it was a major river; according to the locals it shrank by about half in summertime. Flow was seasonal here, but not nearly as much as it would be up in the twentieth. The greater forest cover held water longer, and so runoff was slower. There were more springs, too; he wasn't sure if the actual rainfall was greater, but it certainly felt as if it was.

"But lord, why do you wish it to be built this way?" Augewas aid, indicating the ground. He'd sketched the slight narrowing a hundred yards east where they were putting in the dam, and a curved line across it with the convex end upstream.

Ah, that's right, they don't have the arch or true dome, Walker thought. He drew his sword and used the tip as a pointer.

"The weight of the water pushes on the dam," he said. "If the wall is straight, only the strength of the wall holds it back. If it is curved, the water pushes the earth and rock into the sides."

"Lord?" the architect said, baffled.

Walker sheathed his sword and looked around. Don't underestimate them, he reminded himself. These people had built the walls of Mycenae, and those were taller than a three-story house and thick enough to look squat. They built good roads for this era, and aqueducts, bridges, towers of great cyclopean blocks; they knew how to handle stone, in a solid rule-of-thumb, brute-force-and-massive-ignorance-fashion.

The problem is that they've got a set of rote answers to known problems but no concept of calculating stresses and forces.

Ah, he thought after a moment, and cut a branch. "Here," he said, holding it straight between his palms. "Push downward."

Augewas did, and the green stick curved under his finger. "Now," Walker went on, "I will bend it upward like a bow." He did so. "Push again. See how it resists the push? Now put it between your own palms and I will push. Held straight, only the strength of the stick opposes my finger. Now bend it into an upward arch. Feel how the push goes against your hands when it is bent?"

The architect looked down at the stick; Augewas was a dark grizzled man with a shaven upper lip, one who travelled throughout the Achaean lands from patron to patron. He and his father had helped build the great fortress at Gla, in Boetia north of Athens, and the tunnels and embankments which drained the lakes and marshes around it. Walker spoke on, feeling an almost physical effort as he tried to get across the concept of transfering stress.

"So... so the force of the water will push against the sides of the embankment, where it butts into those ledges of rock!" Augewas said, pointing. Another thought struck him. "And we will not need to build it so thick, to be just as strong!"

"Exactly. That will flood all this land here."

Augewas nodded brusquely; Enkhelyawon looked slightly shocked at the lack of formality. Walker let it slide. He recognized the attitude, and it was a professional focusing on his work, not somebody dissing the boss.

"That, yes," he said. "That will give you a head of water. But where do you wish to take it, lord?"

He waved towards the valley of the Eurotas. Clustered, flat-topped peasant huts of mudbrick showed here and there, occasionally the larger house of a telestai, a baron. On the edge of vision was the megaron-palace near the site of classical Sparta. Like that later city, it was unwalled, but for a different reason -- the High King in Mycenae forbade stone defenses, as he did at Pylos and a few other places directly under his gaze.

"We might use some of it for irrigation, eventually," Walker said. "But come, I will show you what the first use will be."

He led them over to a trestle table of logs. On it stood a model three feet high. "These are my handfast men Cuddy and Bierman," he went on. "And this is a... replica in small... of what we will build below the dam."

It showed a wheel of timbers forty feet across, with a chute to bring the water to its top and spill onto the curved blades within -- an overshot wheel, if you wanted to get technical. At Walker's nod, Bill Cuddy poured a small bucket of water into the pan at the top of the model, letting it run down a wooden chute. The wheel turned on its axle, and the cams on the shaft moved hammers, pumped a piston bellows, turned a small round grindstone.

Augewas looked on in fascination as Cuddy explained the operation of the machine with patient repetition, turning frequently to look at the dam-site, blinking and visibly struggling to turn the model into an image in his mind. Cuddy had worked in Leaton's expanding machine-shop back on Nantucket, and before that as a mechanic; before that he'd been a Marine, in a combat-engineer unit.

"The first thing the water-mill does," Walker went on, backtracking occasionally to explain when he had to use an English word with no Achaean equivalent, "will be to drive the bellows for the blast furnace."

"For the iron, lord?" Augewas said eagerly. He'd seen samples from the tons the Yare had carried, and these people knew about iron in the abstract -- they bought small quantities through the Hittites for ornament or special uses. They just didn't know how to smelt it or work it properly yet. "There is ore, near here?"

Bierman put a sack of cracked rocks down on the table and spoke in slow, careful Achaean: "About sixty-five percent... that's six parts in ten, I mean... iron. Haematite ore, real nice, except I think there may be traces of nickel, maybe a little chrome."

"Besides the ore of iron," Walker said, "we need charcoal in large amounts, and very pure soft limestone for flux. We will need many hundreds of laborers to cut and burn trees for charcoal, to dig and crack the ore and lime, to bring them and all the other things necessary together. Metalworkers must be trained, I have a master ironsmith and a dozen men who have been learning from him. Then when we have the iron from the blast furnace, it must be further worked with heat and hammers -- very heavy hammers..."

Enkhelyawon tossed his head in a purely Greek gesture. "The wannax has decreed that this must be so, authorizing labor-drafts from every plot in this valley, and food and working stock from the royal estates. Spend and spare not what is needed; I heard him say so, the royal word from the King's own lips."

Augewas nodded himself, more slowly, a beatific smile spreading over his lined face at the prospect of an unlimited cost-plus contract or the Bronze Age equivalent. "That is a command worthy of a King indeed. One seldom heard in these sad times, when great lords clutch their bronze and silver hard and trade is so troubled. Then besides the dam, we must build channels for the water," he went on. "This furnace itself..."

"It will be of stone, shaped like a tower that tapers from the base to the top, but it must be lined with a special type of brick," Walker said. "My men are looking for it -- fire-clay, we call it. There must be ramps to the lip of the stack..." he went on, pointing out details.

Augewas stood silent for a moment after he finished. "I see, lord," he said at last. "Then there are these buildings... And we must have roads, roads in the hill country here, to fetch the materials. Barracks and storehouses of food and other goods, for the workers. Houses for the masters and overseers. A great project, lord, one worthy of my skill. Here I will learn much, as well as do much."

Walker smiled. Great, he thought. An enthusiast. Now he could get back to Mycenae for a while and do some intensive politicking.

@@@

"Everything's a tradeoff," Jared Cofflin said.

Martha made a noncommittal noise from behind him. "This one is an expensive tradeoff," she noted.

Cofflin grunted in his turn and pushed harder on the pedals. The two-person tricycles were the transportation of choice for those who could get them, and he didn't feel easy commandeering a horse-carriage now that Martha wasn't lugging around a nursing infant any more. Maybe they'd buy one in a year or two, when horses were cheaper. Of course, then I'd have to rent space in a stable, and it'd take forever to get the damned thing ready. Animals couldn't just be parked until you needed them.

They were moving out Hummock Pond Road, south and west of town. It was a bit eerie, having so many different landscapes in your mind's eye. The thick tangled scrub that had covered the island since long before he was born, hawthorn and feral rose and barberry and scrub oak, all laced together with wild grapevines and honeysuckle. Then the frantic chopping and burning, and there were fields of grain and potatoes fertilized with ash and fish-offal... and now changing again, to pasture and orchard. There was a sweet smell of new-mown hay, mixed not unpleasantly with the grassy odors of horse and cattle, and occasionally the rank aroma of a pigpen.

Now and then they passed people at work, a farmer on a sulky-plow turing furrows as he rode behind two horses, wagons scattering fertilizer or pulverized oyster shells, long rows of harvest-workers gathering late vegetables, a herd of sheep flowing around the bicycle like lumpy white water as it was driven by two teenagers and an extremely happy collie. The little beasts looked comically naked after the shearing. A wagon driven by a policeman went by with a dozen resentful-looking, hungover men in it; drunk-and-disorderly convictions, he thought, going out to work off a couple of days helping to mine Madaket Mall -- the old landfill dump, which was full of irreplaceable stuff. He nodded and smiled to the peace officer. That was lousy work, worse than shoveling garbage in its way.

"Getting old for this," Cofflin puffed, glad of the excuse to stop when a hauler did, dropping off bales of coarse salt-marsh hay from the mainland.

"Not as old as you were the first year," Martha said, and he chuckled.

True enough. God, the way my thighs ached! He felt stronger now than he had the day of the Event, and he'd certainly lost the small pot that had been marring his lean boney frame.

Farm wagons loaded with milk-tins and butterboxes and turnips and tomatoes and crates of gobbling turkeys passed them on their way into town. He felt a little glow of satisfaction every time one went by, nodding and waving to the drivers. That was life itself, for his people and his family. Hard won life; none of them had known a damned thing about farming at all except Angelica and a few others. And even they hadn't known how to manage things with the tools they had available. Nobody on this world did, since the makeshifts they cobbled together out of books and relics were more futuristic to the locals than they were old-time to the Islanders.

They came to a new turnoff, marked Bessemer Casting Plant #1. "Well, here's Starbuck's Nightmare," Martha said, as they wheezed up a slight rise.

Cofflin chuckled breathlessly as they coasted down the new-laid asphalt and braked to a halt. This thing had swallowed a lot of money; and he'd gained a new appreciation of the way money represented crystallized sweat, since the Event. The trillions in the US budget had never been real to his gut, but the thousands in the Republic of Nantucket's expenditures all represented people shoveling dirt and hauling ropes and lifting and hammering... and using it for one thing meant not using it for another.

Ronald Leaton was waiting for them in front of the office shack, wiping his hands on the inevitable greasy rag. He was a hands-on boss, not a desk jockey so-called manager, one of the many things about him that Cofflin liked.

"'lo, Chief, Martha," he said.

"Morning, Ron. Well, I'm glad we persuaded you to put this out of town, at least," Jared Cofflin said, dismounting and peering around with his hands on his hips.

Not too far; the metals and charcoal still needed to come out from the harbor by steam hauler. The complex itself was built on cleared scrubland, the buildings constructed of oak-timber beams and brick beside new asphalt roadways, with a tall wooden windmill creaking beside an earthen water-resevoir. Smoke-smut and charcoal dust coated everything fairly thickly, making even the fresh-cut wood look a little shabby.

"It ain't pretty, but it works," Leaton said. The engineer was grinning, the way he usually did when showing off a new toy. "This is the smelting stack of the furnace," he said, pointing to a squat chimney-like affair of red brick fifteen feet high with a moveable top like the conical part of a giant metal witches' hat.

"So that's a blast furnace?" Cofflin asked. It looked formidably solid. A crane beside it creaked and clanked and let the witches' hat down a little.

"Cupola furnace, if you want to get technical, since it's for remelting metal, not for refining ore. Working fine now we've got really good firebrick at last. That's where we melt down the ingots. Now, we could just melt down scrap and cast it straight -- I've been doing that for a couple of years, on a much smaller scale -- but we don't have an infinite supply of scrap. And we are getting cast iron in some quantity from Alba. Pretty damned good iron, too; those little charcoal blast furnaces can give you excellent quality."

Jared found himself giving the riveted boilers an occasional uneasy glance. There had been some nasty accidents with those in the beginning.

"That's for blowing the blast into the stack," Leaton said, pointing to the larger engine.

A long chuff came from the little donkey engine, and the tender threw a lever. The wooden links of the endless belt rattled, and the ingots began to lift towards the top of the furnace stack. When they reached it they fell against the side of the conical plug with a loud dull clanging and down into the furnace. Another wagon brought up big wicker tubs of charcoal, and they went up the conveyor likewise.

"So once we've tapped the molten iron from the furnace... over here, Chief --"

They walked around the massive construction. A long spout-like projection overhung a little tramway of rolled-steel beams. On it stood a torpedo-shaped cart, gobbets of frozen metal sticking around the opening on top of it.

"-- we take it in the holding car here, and bring it over to the converter."

That was the second structure, twenty yards away. The core of it was a tubby egg-shaped construction of riveted steel plates twelve feet long, pivoting on trunions set into heavy triangular structures to either side; it was rather like a fat cannon pointing at the sky. Beneath it was more rail, and men and women in stained coveralls were unbolting the bottom with wrenches a yard long and lowering it onto a waiting cart with jacks and levers.

"You can see where they've got it open, the inside is firebrick and calcinated limestone... we really should have two, one up and one being relined. Anyway, we pour the molten iron in the top, and blow air in through that removeable bottom -- it's called a tuyere, the long pipe thingie over there swings in and we get the blast from a blowing engine, two double-acting steam pistons."

"That what created that almighty racket last night? Had a couple of people riding into town hell-for-leather screeching that the Event had happened again."

"Ayup. Better than fireworks -- 'fraid we had a bit of a party afterwards... Endothermic reaction, great big plume of colored lights, flame... that's why we've got tile on all these roofs. Oxygen in the air hits the carbon in the iron and it burns. That's why we went for this, rather than an open-hearth, even though quality control is harder. Lot lower fuel costs. Took a while to get from theory to practice, but we're getting useable batches now. And heck, even the slag from a basic-process converter is useful, ground up fine for fertilizer. It's all phosphate and calcium."

Leaton's slim middle-aged features took on a look of ecstasy; he'd run a computer store back before the Event for most of his living, but the little engineering shop in his basement with its five old, lovingly maintained machine-tools had been his real love. He'd done non-standard parts for antique automobiles, prototypes for inventors, miniature steam engines for collectors, more parts for the Electric Company. And he'd had a big collection of technical books; one of the most useful had been a World War Two government handbook on how to do unorthodox things in small machine-shops.

Seahaven was the island's biggest single employer now, if you didn't count fishing, and it had spawned dozens of smaller enterprises.

"And here's where the steel goes," Leaton went on. "We're using carefully graded scrap in the smelter to alloy it. Hard to be precise with this Bessemer process, but it works in the sort of more-or-less fashion that a lot of our stuff does. Eventually we'll have to get manganese and alloying materials of our own, but for now... anyway, the converter tilts over on its trunions and pours the steel into this crucible on wheels, the insulation keeps the steel molten while we put a couple of batches in, we close it up and rotate it to mix 'em up and get a homogenous product, and then we pour that into the mold."

The shape being swung up out of the timber-lined casting pit on an A-frame crane was nearly as long as the converter itself, but much thinner. A soda-bottle shape with trunnions of its own, still radiating heat as it lay on its cradle with bits and pieces of sand and clay sticking to its rough-cast exterior.

"That's no steam engine cylinder," Cofflin said grimly, nodding to the smooth shape laying in it its girder cradle.

"Nope," Leaton said regretfully. "Twenty-four pounder muzzle-loading cannon. Still have to turn the exterior and bore it out, of course. The boring mill's going in over there." He pointed to a set of stone foundations and a pile of timber. His expression clouded slightly. "Marian did say her project had priority?"

"Ayup," Cofflin nodded grimly. "The Meeting agreed. Right now, that's the form progress takes. First priority, now that the Emancipator is off on its trials."

"You can see this is a lot of work, hard-sweat work, though," Leaton went on. "About that immigration quota --"

"God-dammit, Ron, save it for the Council meetings!"

Their laughter was drowned by a belching noise from the stack of the cupola furnace, and a spray of sparks and black smoke starting up towards a sky thick with wedges of migrating geese heading south. The honking cries sounded distant and forlorn though the iron rumble of burning metal.

@@@

Odikweos of the Western Isles heard the flat banging, cracking sound of metal on hard leather, and then the unmusical crash of blade on blade. He flung up a hand to halt his followers -- right now, only a boy with a torch and a single spearman -- and listened.

"Nothing so dark as a city at night," he murmured.

Not even a forest before the rising of the Moon. Nothing that stank quite so bad, either, even with the drains and other big-city conveniences. Sometimes he was glad his own rocky fiefdom was too poor to support such a warren.

The narrow alleyway where they walked twisted so that the light of the burning pine-knot didn't travel far. High mudbrick walls rose on either side; this late at night few of the small windows set under the flat roofs showed lamplight between them. Only a scattering of stars glittered overhead, hidden by the high roofs -- many of the buildings were enormous, three, even four stories tall, looming like black cliffs.

Voices now, men shouting in rage, and one shrilling scream of agony. He rubbed his beard. It's the High King's business, to keep order in his stronghold, he thought, looking up to the citadel of Mycenae on its hill above. Plenty of lamps glowing there, even at this hour.

"But perhaps we should take a look," he said. "Follow me, and be careful."

He drew the sword hung on a baldric across his body and shifted forward the round shield slung over his back, taking a firm grip on its central handhold. The sword glinted cold blue-gray in the torchlight; it was the new type, steel as it was called, straight and double-edged and nearly three feet long. The hilt was bound with silver wire and the ring-and-bar guard inlaid with gold, as befitted a royal man's weapon -- it had come as a gift from the Agamemnon, part of the new wealth he'd found. Harder to put an edge on than a bronze sword, but sharper once you did, and much more durable.

The spearman closed up on his left, and the torch-bearer fell a little behind, holding up the burning wood until their shadows passed huge and grotesque before them.

The alleyway gave onto an irregular open space perhaps two or three spear-lengths in any direction, covered with worn cobbles; thuds and groans and clatterings echoed off the mud-brick. The light here was a little better, and the torch had room to spread its sputtering, flickering glow. Against the wall opposite two men fought four; the two had an injured friend down at their feet, and the four had a fifth man sitting on the ground behind them moaning and clutching his belly. The attackers all had shields; three fought with spears, the fourth with a nobleman's bronze sword. The defenders... Odikweos' brows rose under his headband. One of them was helmeted, dressed in a tunic of some strange rippling dark-gray stuff that reached to his knees, and carried a round shield marked with a wolfshead. A short leaf-shaped sword flickered around the edge of it. His companion was in cloth, but he bore a sword that curved, long as a man's leg, and he wielded it two-handed. It moved in smooth blurring arcs; a spearhead winked as it spun away from the shaft, severed, and the spearman staggered back with a gashed arm.

Rumors clicked together in the Achaean's mind. Here was a chance to see all that his curiosity had desired.

"Gods condemn you, bastards!" he roared, running forward. "See how you like an even fight!"

The retainer beside him also called on the gods, although in a rather different tone. Odikweos met the attack of one dim figure head-on, ducking under a spearthrust that kissed his ear with the ugly caress of sharp bronze, levering the other man's shield aside with the edge of his own. That took a grunting twist of effort, but it left the man staggering and open. He ran the long steel sword through his body, careful to strike below the ribs. There was a soft, clinging resistance, a bubbling scream as he wrenched the blade back and brought the shield up with desperate quickness. In a melee, you weren't likely to see the man who killed you. Still less in the dark, but he intended to try.

His alertness was wasted for once. His retainer had taken the wounded attacker, a short underarm thrust through the gut. Now he braced one sandal on the sprattling form and stabbed downward with a force that crunched his spearpoint through the dying man's neck and into the cobbles beneath. The strangers had moved forward promptly, blades flickering. The attacker with the bronze sword simply took to his heels while they were dealing with the last of his followers. The curved sword bit low and hamstrung that unfortunate, and the odd shortsword rammed forward into his gut in an economical underarm stroke.

Odikweos lowered his own sword and waited, panting slightly. The dead added their bit to the sewer stink of the town. Pity, he thought, as the stomach-wounded attacker jerked and went still. We might have made him talk.

"Odikweos son of Laertes, wannax of Ithaka among the Western Isles," he said.

"Walker son of Edward, hekwetos to Agamemnon King of Men," the other man said, in fluent Achaean with a slight guttural-nasal accent. He looked as if he recognized the under-king's name, somehow, even panting with effort and the pain of his wound. Odikweos swelled slightly with pride at that.

"My thanks," he went on; not an Achaean phrasing, but the western lord caught the meaning.

Walkeeahr, he thought, shaping the word silently with his lips. This close Odikweos could see more of the man, the one of whom he'd heard so much. His missing left eye was covered by a black leather patch, and his brown hair held back with a strap of gold-chased doeskin; a very tall man, six feet or more, well-built and strong-looking, and quick as well, from the way he stood... except that he kept a hand to his side where a spreading stain turned the fabric of his tunic dark.

"Since we've fought shield-locked, shall I bind your wound?" Odikweos said.

Walkeearh shood his head. "We're not far from my home, and it isn't serious. Come and take hospitality of me, if you may." He looked around. "We'll have to get my man here back as well, he's got a spearthrust through the leg." Walkeearh's hale retainer was binding it with a strip torn from a cloak.

"Indeed," Odikweos nodded in approval. A lord must look to the needs of his men. "That's not a matter of difficulty."

He turned to the nearest door and slammed the pommel of his sword against the beechwood panels. "Open!" he roared. "Open, commoner -- a kingly man commands you!" It was a large house; there would be a door or bedstead within, and men enough to carry it. "Open!"

There were. The Achaean walked beside Walkeeahr up the hillside road with its switchbacks and through under the massive gate with its twin lions rearing above the loaf-shaped lintel stone. Their bronze fangs shone above him, for there were many torches and numerous guards there. They exclaimed at Walkeeahr's wound, but passed him through at his bitten-off command. The house he led them to was a fine one, a hall and outbuildings; Odikweos' own palace in the west was no better. He accepted that with only a slight pang of envy. Mycenae was rich in gold and power, Ithaka wealthy only in honor and the strength of her men.

He looked about keenly as they walked into the antechamber. It was brighter than he'd thought an inside room could be. Lamps were fixed to the walls, with mirrors of unbelievable brightness behind them -- far brighter than burnished bronze, or even silver. The lamps were strange as well, with tulip-shaped tops of some clear crystal-like substance above them. The flame of the wicks burned with an odd bluish color and a fruity smell. The light made it easy to see the gear of the men who crowded around; their armor was tunics of small metal rings joined together. Odikweos smiled at the cleverness of it, harness as flexible as cloth yet as strong as the new metal, iron.

Although, hmmm, those rings look good to ward a stab or cut, but it wouldn't be much protection from a crushing blow.

Besides spears and swords, they carried wooden forms with short thick bows at the front. His eyes widened at the equally stubby arrows held in grooves on the top of the wooden forms, and at the bowstrings held back by some hidden means. You could make the bow very strong that way, stronger even than the horn-backed eastern type.

They were hustled into the main megaron-hall. That brought his eyes even wider. A great hood of polished sheet copper stood over the central hearth, with a pipe of copper running up the full two stories to the teracotta smoke-pipe in the ceiling... and he'd thought smoke-pipes were the last word in elegance. There was a cheery blaze on the big round hearth, but despite that little or no smoke drifted up to haze under the painted rafters. More of the wonderful lamps were being turned up by the servants, giving fine light throughout the great room, shining on weapons racked around the pillars and doorways. There were chairs in plenty, more than you'd expect even in a great noble's home, and fine hangings over them. Skilled slaves took his weapons and cloak and brought him heated wine with honey, and a footstool. Another undid his sandal-straps and wiped his feet clean.

Walkeeahr swore as they lifted the tunic over his head, leaving him dressed only in his kilt. Odikweos looked at the wound with an experienced eye. Not too bad. A clean-edged gouge where the spearhead had plowed his side, perhaps touching a rib a little. It bled more freely without the wool of the tunic packing it, but it should heal if it didn't mortify, which was always a risk even if you washed the cut with wine as he did -- an old Shore Folk woman had taught him that trick. His earlier impression was confirmed as he watched muscles moving like shapes of living bronze beneath Walkeearh's skin; this was a fighting-man you'd be cautious of offending. From the scars, he'd lived through many a battle.

Two women with a flutter of attendants came down the staircase from the upper story of the house, straightening their indoor gowns. One was tall and blond with braids down her sides to her waist, well-shaped but only passable of face. The other was...

Odikweos fought not to gasp in astonishment at the exotic loveliness. The other was short, with skin the color of fine amber and hair raven-dark. Above a tiny nose and impossibly high cheekbones her eyes slanted, with a fold at their outer tips. Who had ever seen the like?

nd a wisewoman as well. She washed her hands in water and some sharp-smelling liquid that her attendants brought, then examined the wound before speaking in a sharp, nasal-sounding foreign language.

"Speak Achaean, Alice," Walkeeahr said. "We have a guest."

"That needs some stitches," she said, then bent to examine the warrior with the wounded leg. "I'll have to debride this -- that'll take a while. Kylefra, Missora --" that to two young women who looked alike enough to be sisters "-- get him to the infirmary, and prep him, stat."

Walkeeahr stifled a gasp as she swabbed out his wound, then set his teeth and ignored it as she brought out a curved needle and thread and began sewing the wound together, as if it were cloth.

"Sit, be at ease," he said tightly. "This is my captain of guards, Ohotolarix son of Telenthaur." A big yellow-haired man, young but tough-looking. "And my wives Ehknonpa --" the fair woman "-- and Alice Hong. Ladies, here's Odikweos son of Laertes, who probably saved my life tonight."

Odikweos bowed his head politely. Ekhnonpa spoke to Ohotolarix in a strange almost-familiar language, of which he caught a word here and there, then thanked him in slow accented Achaean.

Hong kept at her work. Strange name, he thought. Is she human? Perhaps she was a dryad, something of that sort -- certainly this Walkeeahr was otherworldly enough to wed an Otherworlder. When the wound was closed she painted more of the clear fruity liquid on it and then bandaged it, securing the pad with a roll of linen around her man's chest and over a shoulder to hold it.

"Don't strain it," she said. "I'll go look at Velararax now, after I touch up that ear of your friend's -- this is going to hurt a little."

Odikweos made himself sit still as she came up beside him. No, human enough, he thought; she smelled like a well-washed woman roused from her bed. The fingers touched his ear, and then something that stung like liquid fire.

"Here, lord Odikweos," she said. "That will heal cleanly."

When the women had left a grave housekeeper brought basins of water to wash their hands and trays of food, bread and sliced meats, olives and dried figs. While she mixed the wine half-and-half with water and poured into fine gold cups Walkeeahr shrugged into another tunic, moving cautiously. "My thanks again," he said. "The gods witness --"

He poured a libation, but curiously not on the floor. Instead he used a pottery bowl with a rush mat inside it. Courteous, Odikweos did the same; it was always best to honor a man's household customs.

"-- that I and mine are in your debt."

"May we fight again side by side some day," Odikweos said. That wasn't unlikely, given the coming war. "Who were your foes, men sent by some rival?"

Walker smiled. "I have enough of those," he said.

"True, you've risen far among us in only one winter," he replied. "Far and fast, for an outland man." He looked around the curiously altered hall.

"And where one man rises, other men envy and hate," Walkeeahr said. Odikweos nodded; that went without saying. "You're in Mycenae for the muster against Sicily?"

He tossed his head in affirmation. "My men and horses are camped outside the city," he said. "We came by sea to Tiryns. I've a guest-friend here and sought his dwelling, but he has blood-kin sleeping in rows like the ribs of a sheep on the floor of his hall, and I was leaving again to seek my tent."

"Stay here," Walkeeahr said. "There's room in plenty, despite the war."

Odikweos nodded, smiling. That was just what he'd hoped. "I will take the hospitality you offer gratefully," he said. Curious to see how this Walkeeahr reacted, he went on: "Although I'd be even gladder to be sleeping beside my own wife, at home. If this was a war against other Achaeans, I would have found some way to refuse the summons."

Walkeeahr smiled, an odd lopsided expresion. "Pretending to be mad, perhaps?"

Okikweus laughed. "You have a godlike wit; perhaps so, perhaps so. Well, there may be plunder in this war, at least."

You had to be more careful when the hegemon called his vassals for aid against a foe or rebel, of course; dodging that call looked too much like rebellion itself. He had no desire to see the black hulls of a hundred hollow ships drawn up on the beach before his home.

The foreigner didn't bluster about glory. Instead he nodded thoughtfully. "Spoken like a man of cunning mind," he said. "When men who should be vassals of the same High King war with each other, the realm is weakened."

Odikweos blinked; that hadn't been exactly what he meant... although when you thought about it, the idea made some sense in an odd twisty way. "Certainly the King of Men won't get much tribute from dead bronzeworkers and peasants," he agreed. "Or from flocks the warriors have eaten up. And besieging a strong city, well, the arrows of far-shooting Paiwon Apollo rain down on such a camp." There was always sickness when too many men stayed in one spot for long.

"Leaving the realm weaker if outsiders attack, as I said."

Ah. A real thought. "I know of none such who threaten the Achaean lands," Odikweos said. "Although the Narrow Sea north of my holdings swarms with pirates these days. Many more than in my grandsire's time; of course, we do more trade there, too."

"And the savages hear of the wealth of the Achaeans," Walker pointed out. He yawned, then winced. "It's time for sleep."

"It is good to yield to drowsy night," Odikweos agreed.

The housekeeper showed him to a room, offering to have a bath drawn first if he wished. "Tomorrow," he said, looking instead at the lamp she carried.

It lit the dark corridor off the megaron well; a tall wax candle in a bronze holder with a handle, with another bulb of the beautiful crystal-like substance around it. A linen wick burned atop it with a steady flame... and the bulb keeps a draught from making it flicker or blowing it out, he thought. Clever, very clever.

"What is that called, that crystal?" he said. "From what is it made?"

"It called glass, lord," she said, looking surprised at his curiosity. "I know little of these things, but I heard the master say it was made from sand, in fire."

This man must be beloved of Hephaistos, the Achaean thought. He'd seen beads of glass, from the eastern lands, but nothing like this solid air-stuff. Nor is he shunned by Ares Enuwarios either. An odd combination, the gods of craftsmen and of war.

They came to a bedchamber; unusually, it had a door of wood rather than an embroidered curtain. Another candle on a table beside the bed gave light. The girl waiting within turned down the blankets... another new thing, Odikweos thought. Over the mattress was a sheath of linen fine enough for a lady's undergown, and another atop it, beneath the blankets and sheepskins. He looked back at the door. Instead of turning on an edge-pole in sockets above and below it was hung on iron straps that pivoted from others bolted into the frame.

The mixer and winecup beside the bed were usual enough. He filled the cup as he stripped and sat on the bedside. The girl unbuttoned the shoulders of her gown, stepped out of it and waited with her hands clasped and eyes cast down; young and comely, with good breasts and hips. He patted the bedside, and instead of mounting her at once gave her unwatered wine.

"Tell me your name, little dove," he said.

She gave him a grateful smile and sipped. He smiled back at her; Odikweos son of Laertes was a man of medium height, his hair black with reddish glints and his eyes hazel, face still unlined despite a weathered bronze tan. Though not tall his shoulders were very broad, his arms and legs thick with knotted muscle, scars running white under heavy body hair. His hands were callused from work as well as sword, spear and bow, for in the poor and backward Isles they were not like the high haughty houses of the mainland kingdoms, and a king might well put his hand to axe and plow as well as a noble's weapons.

"I am called Alexandra, master," she said shyly. With an accent, so that was probably not the one she'd been born with.

"I don't think you are a repeller of men, though," he said, punning on her name, for that was its strict meaning. The male form, Alexandros, made more sense.

She laughed, and he spent some time soothing her before he put his hands to her waist and urged her back, which made her ready to welcome him. Afterwards they talked more, and it was easy to lead her mind.

Many men forgot that women and servants had ears, and tongues to talk with. Such men were fools. You could learn invaluable things from underlings, and he intended to learn all he could of this strange house. The gods had given him rocky islands on the edge of the world for his demense. That wasn't to say that they meant him to spend all his life as a poor under-king.

He didn't think this foreigner chief was a fool of the more obvious kinds, either. Something could come of that.

@@@

"It seems Moon Woman has sent stars to guide my feet on the path of War," Swindapa said, with a sigh.

Marion Alston-Kurlelo looked over at her partner. After most of a decade together her mind translated automatically; the words were English, but the thought was Fiernan. An American would have said: No getting around it. Swindapa's birth-folk were a fatalistic lot.

"We've spent more time exploring and building ships than fighting," she pointed out gently.

"Truth," she said with another sigh, and reached over to squeeze the other woman's hand. "Moon Woman turned the years themselves in their tracks to give us that."

Alston laughed. "You know, that's about as good an explanation as I've ever heard," she said.

Swindapa stroked a hand down the neck of her mount. "The ships are wonderful," she said. "And horses are almost as much fun as babies."

They rode side by side, in the shade of the belt of trees left uncut on either side when the Nantucketers drove what was becoming known as the Great West Road down Long Island's north fork. Leaves fluttered down to meet those already in swales by the ditches and thick on the gravel, drifts of old gold and dark crimson. To their right were patches of wood, of salt-marsh in a waving sea of green-brown reeds noisy with wildfowl, and glimpses of the Sound. She reined in for a second to watch a schooner beating eastward, its sails white curves of a purity that made her throat ache for a second, the long slender hull cleaving the whitecaps.

The other side of the road was a mixture of forest and ploughland set out in big square fields -- the Meeting had handed out square-mile farms to homesteaders, leaving half the land in forest preserve. Cornstalks rustled sere and dry in stooked pyramids amid thick-scattered orange pumpkins, next to the almost shocking green of alfalfa; where it had been mown for hay the scent was as sweet as candy. Wheat and barley stubble was dun-yellow and thick with the clover that grazed herds of crossbred sheep. Where teams of oxen or horses pulled disk-plows the turned earth was a rich moist reddish-brown, swarming with raucous gulls squabbling over the grubs exposed by the turning steel.

The riders waved to the workers digging potatoes, to shepherds and their barking dogs, nodded to passers-by -- farm wagons drawn by calm-eyed oxen, a steam hauler pulling articulated loads of whole logs, the odd rider, now and then a pedestrian, once a herd of Angus-Alban cattle restive enough to block the roadway, as if they knew the fate that awaited them in Fogarty's Cove. Orchards of cherry and peach and apple were young, the vineyards still a spindly geometry across the grey-brown soil.

Alston smiled at the miles of post-and-board edging the fields, remembering the experiment with splitting black walnut for Virginian-style rail fences. Theoretically that should have been cheaper, but it turned out that the use of wedge-and-maul was something Abe Lincoln must have learned at his father's knee.

Sure as shit nobody on Nantucket could do it! she chuckled to herself. Anybody could nail boards, though, and one of Leaton's people had come up with a simple pile-driver mounted on the rear of a wagon to set the posts.

The road dipped into a belt of trees along a creek; planks boomed beneath the hooves of their mounts. Alston felt her horse take a sudden sideways skitter as something squealed angrily. A sounder of pigs erupted from the mud beneath the pilings, scattering into the trees in a twinkle of hooves and brass nose-rings. The air was full of a cool damp musty smell, leaf-mold and turned earth.

"Gone wild," Swindapa said. Her eyes raked the woods by the side of the road; those were closing in, as they reached beyond the settled zone. "Like that... and that..."

Deer Dancer had the Spear Mark tatooed between her breasts. That was the sign of a hunter among the Fiernan Bohulugi of Alba, and Alston was still surprised sometimes at how sharp her eyes were. She pointed around; at a patch of plantain, dandelions, dock, nettles, a honeybee buzzing between the flowers of white clover, a starling flitting between branches.

All things from Nantucket that sailed upstream against the tide of years, Alson thought. "Like me, sugar," she went on aloud. "Worse things than being a weed. Means you're hardy and difficult to get rid of."

Their laughter echoed into the cathedral stillness of the forest, and they kneed their horses into a canter. Traffic would be thin until they reached the training-ground where the Republic prepared an answer to Walker's ambitions.

@@@

"Rejoice, Oh King," Walker said, bowing low.

"Rejoice, ekwetos Walkeeahr," Agamemnon said, nodding regal benevolence as he stepped down from his chariot.

The wind was blowing small whitecaps across the Lakonian Gulf, cutting the summer heat where the Eurotas River met the sea. All was bustle in the cove sheltered by the rocky headland; workmen, women with jars on their heads, slaves pushing curious little boxes with handles behind and a wheel in front moving loads of all types, wagons full of grain or timber -- he'd passed many of them coming down from the mountains, the wood already sawn to beam and plank. Rows of mudbrick huts had been built a little inland, and a tall structure with long arm-like sails going around and around. Curious, he walked towards it and through the broad doorway at its base.

"Ah, another of your mills, Walkeearh," he said.

They were no longer so strange that they shed his eyes in bafflement, although this was different from the ones moved by falling water and the interior was dim and dusty, full of loud creaks and grinding stone. Up above a long pole turned with the sails outside... driven by the wind, Agamemnon thought. Clever. As if the circle of sails was the wheel of a chariot, and that pole the axle. That turned a toothed wheel, which turned another wheel on a vertical shaft, and that ran down to ground level. More wheels drove a giant round quern taller than a man, shaped in profile like an old figure-eight shield. Peasants walked up a ramp and tipped jugs of grain into the top. Below flour poured out of a spout into still larger pithoi, storeage jugs as tall as a man's chest. Slaves dragged them across the stone platform and into waiting oxcarts, some of them the big four-wheeled type that Walkeeahr had made.

"Swift," Agamemnon said. "But surely you don't let your slave-women sit in idleness? They can't earn all their keep lying on their backs."

The outlander laughed politely at his overlord's jest, along with a couple of the courtiers who'd driven down from Mycenae with the High King. Walkeeahr bowed his head again:

"True, lord, they don't have to spend all day kneeling at the hand-quern; this wind-mill does the work of five hundred women grinding grain. Then the women can do something else -- work in the fields, or make cloth."

Agamemnon grunted and scratched his beard. That sounds... sensible, he thought dubiously.

Just as the women in the palace at Mycenae could make more cloth and better, with the new looms and spinners Walkeeahr's wife the wisewoman (his mind carefully avoided the word sorceress) had shown them. Many of the slaves the outlander was using in his mills and mines and other projects had been bought with that cloth -- still more with the silver from new deep shafts in Attica that he'd shown the High King's men how to make.

And didn't Wannax Lakedwos of Athens bawl like a newborn calf when I took those for my own, the Achaean ruler thought with an inward chuckle.

Much of it was being stamped into little disks with Agamemnon's face and titles on them; convenient, since you didn't have to weigh the silver, and it spread his fame widely. A year ago he wouldn't have dared to seize the mines and might have gotten a rebellion if he had, but with cannon and mortars vassal kings suddenly felt far less secure in their fortified hilltop palaces. He chuckled, imagining Nestorios in Pylos or Lakedwos in Athens sitting at meat and looking up now and then, expecting a bursting shell to crash through their roof-trees.

Still, there was something about all this that made him uneasy. Not something that he could pin down, like a man beneath his spear, but it still gave him something of the feeling of a chariot whose team had run wild, or even of an earthquake. He quickly made a sign of the horns with his left hand and spat to avert the omen.

"Show me the ships you are building," he said, as they came back into the sunlight and slapped flour-dust off their tunics.

"This way, my king."

There was one floating at a pier with men swarming over it, and another half-built in a timber cradle at the shore. Agamemnon bit his lip in puzzlement at that one. It was a big vessel, seventy feet long and deep-hulled. The way the carpenters worked on it was very strange; instead of morticing the the planks together with tongue-and-groove joints and then putting in ribs to strengthen the shell, they were putting up thick ribs and cross-beams and then nailing a shell of planks to them. Several forges stood around it, and smiths sweated as they hammered and filed. Red-glowing iron hissed as it was quenched in vats of oil or water.

"Doesn't that take much metal?" he asked, pointing to the crews nailing the long oak planks to the frame.

"My lord sees as clearly as Horus, the Falcon of Egypt," Walkeeahr said. "But now we have much metal. And building a ship in this way is so much quicker than the old manner. Less skill is needed, and it's stronger as well."

Agamemnon almost rubbed his hands. All tin and most copper for the making of bronze had to be imported, and it was so expensive, especially the tin. Iron came from within his kingdom, and it grew cheaper by the day. Cheap for him, and it was all his. The mines and smelters were a royal monopoly, by Walkeeahr's suggestion and his decree -- under Walkeeahr's exclusive management, and Walkeeahr could not be a menace, an outlander who owed everything to the King of Men's favor.

That gave him a hand on every vassal's throat. Gunpowder and cannon gave him a spearpoint held to their eyes.

"Show me the finished one," he said.

"This way. It's called a gullet, lord King."

Footsteps boomed out along the wharf. He looked keenly at the ship; unlike any he'd ever seen before it was fully decked, a smooth sweep of planking from pointed prow to rounded stern. Two masts stood tall, whole pine trees and not small ones either, smoothed down and glossy as a table. His eyes went wide as he took in the tangle of yards, blocks, pulleys, furled sails. On either side six small cannon waited, on stubby oak carriages with four little wheels. Crewmen scattered from the king's path as he came up the gangplank, and from the ready spearpoints of his guards. They glittered steel-bright in the noonday sun.

"How is it steered?" he said, going to the stern and looking over.

There was a single steering oar, pivoting like a door on its post, but no apparent way to turn it.

"This wheel," Walkeeahr said. "It turns ropes which draw pulleys under the deck, pulling the tiller -- the bar attached to the rudder, the rear steering oar -- either way. Here in front of it is the compass, the north-pointing needle."

Agamemnon shuddered a little to see a sacred oracle displayed so casually. Perhaps one should be put in the shrine of Zeus the Father and of far-shooting Apollo, he thought. Yes, with sacrifices and celebratory games.

"Shall I show you how she sails?" Walkeeahr said.

"At once," he said. Then: "Hold, a minute -- who are those? Are they doing a sacred dance?"

Men in tunics were walking about in lines and blocks not far away, holding sticks. Overseers shouted orders, and the lines turned, advanced, marched away again. They might almost be soldiers, save that they're not armed, the king thought.

"Oh, those?" Walkeeahr smiled charmingly. "Just an idle thought of mine, lord king. Men to handle a new type of cannon. Very small cannon, such as might be useful in rough country. Men of little account -- younger sons, mercenaries, farmers."

"Oh," Agamemnon said dismissively. "Poh. Well, perhaps you can get some useful work out of them. Let us sail; I hear that your ship can sail against the wind."

He laughed again, and Walkeeahr with him. "Not against, lord king, unless it is rowed. But closer to it than the old ships, yes."

@@@

Superior violence and intensity, Major Kenneth Hollard read on the last Recruit Evaluation Form. That translated as 'beats the hell out of opponents in bayonet, Empty Hand and pugil-stick training'. The DI's notes went on: Problems with discipline largely overcome. That usually meant 'no longer goes berserk and has to be dragged away with ropes'.

"We've got visitors," a voice said, breaking through his concentration.

He looked up; it was his second-in-command (and younger sister), Captain Kathryn Hollard. Sweat stained her khaki fatigues and darkened her sandy-blond hair; on her the long knobby family face looked reasonably good even under a flat-top-short-on-sides Corps haircut She'd had Second Recruit Battalion out on a field problem, open order in forest country -- they'd gotten field drill down well, but you had to be flexible; it was part of the Warrior Month portion of their training cycle. Massed formations were great for fighting spear-chuckers, but that would be too dangerous with Walker's men. Arnstein's spies said the renegade was doing far better than expected with firearms, and so were the Tartessians.

The sounds of a working day at Camp Grant filtered in through the outer room where his orderly had her desk; the rippling thump of marching boots with someone calling cadence, hooves clopping, a distant shoonk... wonk... shoonk... wonk from a mortar team practicing on the firing range, the crackle of rifle shots, the rythmic sound of a smith's hammer.

His eyes flicked across the rough plank of the office to the board that had his schedule for the day chalked on it. As usual, it contained enough work for about twenty hours, which was fine if you left out little luxuries like sleep. Hell, farming would have been easier work, he thought. He could have gotten a six-hundred-forty acre grant on Long Island and a loan from the Town for start-up; all the veterans of the Alban War had been offered that, his older brother had taken one. He'd decided to stay in the Corps instead; memories of his father, perhaps, and things with Cynthia hadn't worked out the way he expected.

Dad would have laughed himself sick, seeing me a major, he thought. Gunnery Sergeant Hollard had refused promotion to commissioned rank four times. Always said he preferred to work for a living, Ken remembered with a wry smile. Not to mention the way he'd get a rise out of a Marine Corps that was part of the Coast Guard.

Commodore Alston had firmly squelched suggestions that her command be renamed the Republic of Nantucket Navy. Ken Hollard understood that fierce devotion to symbols, too. His father had had a dog, and taught it quite a few tricks. If you asked Semper Fido 'Would you rather be in the Army, or dead?' he'd roll on his back, put his paws in the air and do a fairly good dead-dog imitation.

"Who the hell is it this time, Kat?" he asked. Visiting firemen had been far too common over the last month or so. "Maybe I can unload it on Paddy..."

"I don't think so," she said. "It's the Commodore."

Oh, Christ, a surprise visit from the boss, Hollard thought, shooting to his feet reflexively and looking around like a private caught in his skivvies by a snap inspection.

"Thanks for the warning," he said.

His sister gave him a snapping salute. "And I have a perfect excuse to get back to my troops, Major, sir," she replied.

"Thanks," he said again, returning the courtesy.

He supressed an impulse to smooth down his hair and beard and tug at his khaki uniform jacket. Instead he contented himself with a quick look in the mirror. He saw someone a few years closer to thirty than twenty, with close-cropped sand-colored hair and beard and the tanned, roughened skin of someone who spent much time outdoors in all weathers.

The face beneath was long and lantern-jawed on a long skull, with a jutting nose and high cheekbones. It was a face common enough among old-stock Nantucketers descended from the seventeenth-century migration -- those lines had intermarried until there was a general family likeness. At least Kat and I didn't get the receeding chin. Six feet and an inch tall; he'd been a skinny teenager, but the training and the passing years had put solid muscle on his shoulders and arms. The Sam Browne belt held a double-barreled flintlock pistol and katana-style officer's sword; his helmet lay on the table he used as a desk, out in his office-cum-ready-room. He took a deep breath and scooped up the flared metal shape as he went through, tucking it under his left arm and waving to the orderly to keep working.

If she wanted everything prettied up, she'd have given us some warning, he thought. Commodore Alston made him nervous -- she had that effect on just about everybody -- but she had a reassuring tendency to concentrate on function rather than form. There are a lot worse people to work for.

She was waiting not far from the HQ block with her hands clasped behind her back the way he remembered her on the quarterdeck of the Eagle, with her aide Lieutenant-Commander Swindapa by her side -- Guard seafaring rank, easy enough to remember given their blue uniforms. And Domestic Partner as well as aide, remember that. Wouldn't want to commit a social gaffe.

"Welcome to Camp Grant," he said, saluting. "Commodore, Lieutenant-Commander."

Commodore Alston-Kurlelo returned the gesture, with the same precision he remembered from they gymnasium of the high school over on the Island, that day he'd volunteered for the first expedition to Alba.

"Needed to talk over a few things, Major," she said. "Readiness, and potential assignments."

He nodded stiffly, feeling a rush of excitement like a hand squeezing at his diaphram. Assignments. Hot damn! Real work? He didn't like combat, not being a lunatic or an Alban charioteer, but peacetime soldiering could get monumentally dull. Plus there was workmanship to consider; the Regiment was a finely-crafted tool, and a tool was made to be used.

"Ma'am!" he said. "Would you care to inspect the troops, ma'am?"

"I'll observe briefly, Captain. I don't want to interrupt training schedules, and we have some matters to discuss."

"Ma'am."

The blocks of troops on the parade ground flowed together into a column. Another series of commands, and the formation split and moved forward, opening out like a fan until there was a two-deep line stretching across the parade ground travelling in the same direction. Another, and they halted in place, the first rank going to one knee and the second rank standing. Another, and each left hand flashed down to that hip, drawing a long sword-bayonet. A long rattling click, and the knife-edged blades shone in precise alignment, pointing towards an earth-and-log berm along the far side of the parade ground.

Each right hand went to the knob on the back of the rifle's stock, and a lever came up like a monkey's tail to expose the breech. Another movement of the right hand, to the cartridge box at their belts. The nitrated-paper cartridges dropped into the open breeches of the rifles, to be pushed home with a thumb.

Slap. The levers went down again, their tails lying along the upper stocks of the rifles and held there by an internal spring catch. Click, and the hammers were pulled back to half cock. Hands dropped to the belts again, this time to bring up the spring-loaded priming flasks. Those rattled against the frizzens, knocking them forward to expose the pan and drop in a measured amount of fine-grain powder. Snick, and the frizzens snapped closed over the pans once more, the sparking surface in position to meet the flint in the hammer's jaws.

"Ready..."

Three hundred and sixty thumbs pulled back the hammers of their weapons to full cock, a ratcheting metallic sound.

"Aim..."

The rifles came up; there was a slight ripple as each muzzle pointed to one of the man-shaped timber outlines staked to the berm. That had been one of Alston's ideas; as she put it, being able to blast hell out of a round bullseye didn't matter shit. Better to make the targets as close as possible to what the troops would actually be shooting at.

"In volley... front rank... fire."

BAAAMMMM.

A small fogbank of dirty beige smoke drifted sideways, smelling of fireworks and rotten eggs... smelling of death, he thought. Volley fire from the leaf-spring crossbows they'd taken to Alba had been deadly enough on the massed, packed targets this world presented. The thought of what these breechloading rifles would do was satisfying in a technical sense, but the pictures in his mind's eye were best put aside.

The both ranks came to their feet, grounded the butts of their rifles with a rattle and stood braced. Alston walked down the files, face an unreadable mask and eyes appraising; he followed at her right hand, the courtesy position.

The uniforms were gray-khaki-brown linsey-woolsey four-pocket tunic and trousers with deerskin patches on elbows and knees, flared samurai-style helmet, rifle, a utility knife and a twenty-inch bayonet, webbing harness and pack. The faces were less uniform, under the rigid brace and stubble-cut hair. Few of the rankers were Islander-born; many more of the noncoms and nearly all the officers, of course. A scattering of Indians, they made wonderful scouts, but most were from Alba, about evenly divided between Fiernan Bohulugi and Sun People.

"Interesting," Alston said to him sotto voce. "I can't always tell which are which." He nodded, pleased. You weren't supposed to have a past, in the Corps.

She stopped in front of one. "What's your name, recruit?"

"Ma'am, this recruit is Winnifred Smith, ma'am!" The voice carried a harsh choppy accent that had never been bred on the Island.

Must be an Immigration Office name, he thought. Replacing something a Sun People tribeswoman on the run from her kinfolk didn't want remembered. Probably on the run from something that got a woman pinned face-down in a bog with her head shaved and her throat cut. "What's your tribe and clan?" Marian Alston asked.

"Ma'am, this recruit's tribe is the Republic of Nantucket and her clan is the Corps!"

Alston gave a small crisp nod and walked on; Hollard hid his gratified smile. The Republic of Nantucket had found them one way or another, from its bases in Alba or the docksides on this side of the Atlantic; adventurous youths, runaway slaves, absconding wives, taboo-breakers, the ambitious attracted to the promise of Islander citizenship and a land-grant for six years service at what was high pay by Bronze Age standards. Many were simply uprooted from home and folk and custom. The Alban War and the flood of Islander trade and tools and ideas after it had left growing upheaval in their wake.

They smelled of dust, sweat, leather, gun-oil, burnt powder and healthy meat-fed, well-washed young bodies. Kenneth Hollard kept his face impassive, but he felt a glow of pride; this was his work, built from small beginnings -- the Marines had started out as landing-parties for Guard ships.

Following along behind the Commodore, he could see eyes flicking towards Alston reflexively as she passed. To the Fiernan Bohulugi... the warrior who'd come from beyond the world to take the Spear Mark, rescue and court a priestess of the Kurlelo line, lead Moon Woman's people to victory and crush their ancient enemies. There was a star named for her now, folded into the endless chants that they sang at the Great Wisdom, the circle of monoliths later ages would call Stonehenge. To the Sun People she was more of an ogre, word spread by the few who'd gotten back alive to their homes from the Battle of the Downs. Her race heightened things in both cases; the Sun People had a tradition of dark-skinned demons they called Night Ones, and almost none of these Bronze Agers had seen a non-Caucasian before.

Not that there are many in Nantucket, either, he thought. Memories of trips to mainland America before the Event and the enormous variety of peoples there seemed distant and dreamlike now.

"Very good, Major. Dismiss to duties, if you please."

"These are the people at the end of their training cycle," he said; a little redundant, but necessary.

The battalion scattered, trotting to their barracks and then to classrooms and workshops around the parade square. They were first and foremost fighters, but doctrine held that every rifleman should learn a craft or trade as well, so that the Regiment could be as nearly self-sufficient as possible abroad. And the teaching included the three R's and a citizen's rights and duties.

He took a deep breath. "The next thing you should see concerns more recent recruits, ma'am. Punishment drill."

"What's the offense and sentence?" Alston asked.

"Article Seven: sexual harassment; punishment gauntlet, defendant's choice."

With the alternative choice being dishonorable discharge and five years penal servitude on Inagua in the Bahamas, digging salt from the lagoons. Not many chose that; he'd rather have a few weeks of pain himself.

"Ah," she nodded. "We use towing behind the ship, at sea, for the equivalent. What were the circumstances?"

"Section Seven, basically," he said.

Hollard had read the old Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as the stripped-down version Commodore Alston-Kurlelo had drafted for the Republic of Nantucket's armed forces. The UCMJ looked incredibly complex, and far too focused on proceedure at the expense of results; but then, the old-timers were like that, generally speaking. Not Chief Cofflin or the Commodore, of course, but too many of the others, always going on about things before the Event, the Lost Geezers as slang put it. The new Code was quite simple on sexual matters as on much else; no fornication on duty; none up and down the chain of command in the same unit, except for married couples and registered domestic partners; no unauthorized pregnancies; and a catch-all clause allowing administrative penalties for actions or speech prejudicial to discipline and good order. Apart from that, what consenting adults did on their own time was their own business.

"This was the usual thing," Hollard went on. "Sun People man -- he's from the Zarthani tribe, to be precise -- and Earth Folk woman. She decided she didn't like him any more, and he couldn't get it through his head she could tell him to get lost. Thought it was just a fight, until it came out at the Mast."

He thought he heard Alston's aide mutter scumbags under her breath, but it wasn't loud enough to hear. His inner smile was wry; having Fiernan and clansmen from the charioteer tribes in the same unit was murder sometimes, they just didn't like each other and their customs were about as distinct as you could get... and neither always meshed with Americans, either, to put it mildly. A complete set of national stock-figures had grown up already, with the same underlying element of truth most stereotypes had -- to the Americans, the Fiernan seemed like good-natured, happy-go-lucky slobs, and to the Fiernan the American Eagle People were workaholic detail-obsessed control freaks with a serious pickle up their butts. And both thought the Sun People were homicidal maniacs with hair-trigger tempers, and lazy to boot.

It would have been easier to have an all-Islander unit, like the Battalion had been back during the Alban War; he wouldn't have to waste so much time drumming Basic English into their heads, and running elementary literacy classes. The problem there was that there just weren't enough Islanders; everyone was in the Militia, of course, but that was for home defense and major wars declared by the Meeting. For that matter, things would have been a little simpler if the Marine Expeditionary Regiment was all-male, but that ran up against the same objection -- not enough recruits -- and of course there was the long-term to think about. Alston certainly wouldn't have stood for that sort of precedent, or Martha Cofflin, and he couldn't blame them. He wouldn't have stood for it himself.

"That is a problem," Alston said, in her soft drawling voice. "Those tribes, they've got a confirmed case of the Good Girl/Bad Girl, Virgin/Whore complex."

"This gets it out of them," Hollard said grimly, as they came to an area behind C Barracks. "Or at least convinces them to keep it to themselves. Second offense and it's off to Inagua, no choices, or the hangman, depending on circumstances."

A young man stood shivering and naked before a table. His eyes flicked to the newcomers, and grew wide as they saw Commodore Alston.

"Carry on, Lieutenant," Hollard said.

The Islander at the table was young, around twenty. His voice was stern but not unkindly as it went on:

"You understand the nature of the offence and sentence of the court martial, Private Llandaurth Witharaxson?"

"Yes, sir," the recruit said.

The junior officer paused for a translation; Llandaurth nodded again and spoke in his own language. A corporal said:

"He understands, sir. He says he took the Eagle People's salt, and agreed to obey their laws. The woman wasn't his, and he did wrong. He's ready to face his punishment."

"You chose the gauntlet?"

The man straightened, his pale skin flushing against the tow-color of his hair and an archipelago of freckles: "Llaundaur Witharaxson is no coward, to run from hurt," he said in slow, careful English with a strong choppy accent.

The lieutenant nodded. "Good. And remember, Private Llaundaur, that your offence is not only against the law, but against your comrade in arms... your oath-sworn shield-br... sister. In battle, you must each ward the other's life. What you did is as if you turned away in battle and left a comrade to the enemy." A pause. "Translate that, please."

The fixed look of endurance flickered into puzzlement for a second, then a slow nod.

"Sergeant, execute the sentence."

A drum began to beat, and the drummer fell in beside the prisoner. Llaundaur turned and began to walk in step with it, a pause between every step, towards an alleyway made of thirty-seven standing figures. All of them were women, all the women in his company; they had their rifle slings in their hands, buckle-end outermost. The first was a private with a black eye and a puffy swelling along the side of her face. She gripped the leather strap with both hands, whirled it around her head and struck. Brass and cowhide snapped into flesh; a bloody welt and gouged wound appeared across the man's back and buttocks. Another strike smacked into his shoulders. He grunted in involuntary reflex, cupped one hand over his genitals and the other to protect his eyes, and kept walking to the slow beat of the drum as the musician paced down beside him outside the gauntlet.

Hollard pursed his lips. Some of them are hitting almighty damned hard and fast, he thought. The straps whirled as if they were threshing grain with them, and the sound of the blows merged into each other and the huffing grunts of effort. On the other hand, this is supposed to hurt bad. If the offense had been a little more serious -- real injury to the victim, for instance, or an actual rape -- the punishment would have been a noose.

Halfway down the condemned man's grunts changed to hoarse cries, torn out past clenched teeth. Llaundaur went to one knee for a second, and the drummer marched in place. That meant extra blows as he staggered back to his feet, some of them curling around to slam the buckles into his belly. Three-quarters of the way, and his body and scalp were a mass of blood and welts, sheening crimson in the sunlight. The rifle slings were spraying drops of red now, and the man fell forward, crawling the last dozen paces like a crippled dog. The drum gave a final flourish and fell silent. Two troopers with a stretcher came forward, and a medic hurried to his side.

"Carry on, Lieutenant," Hollard said again, as they walked on past the dispersing crowd. One of the women who'd administered the punishment looked pale, and two others were helping her sit and put her head between her knees.

"Unpleasant, but necessary," Alston murmured.

Swindapa nodded vigorously. "The Sun People don't know how to behave with a woman unless you kick them," she said. Grudgingly, she went on: "Some can learn from that."

"I've met Americans who could use the same treatment," Alston said thoughtfully, her full lips pressed together.

"We've given a few Americans the same treatment," Hollard said. "Equal rights and obligations here, ma'am, just as you laid out in the instructions. Now, this is our armory; every recruit is trained to use the repair tools --"

When the inspection was finished he lead them into his own office; an orderly brought glasses of fizzy sasparilla on a tray. The room was plain boards for the most part, with a window opening on a porch and the main parade ground. Soon it would be sundown, time for everyone to fall in as the flag was lowered and then be trooped off to dinner.

"Very satisfactory, all in all," Alston said after a long moment's silence. "What's your appraisal of the training program as a whole, Major?"

Oh, Christ, now isn't that a question. Alston had the kind of face that revealed nothing unless she wanted it too, as well. Right now it was registering 'polite interest' and absolutely nothing else.

"Ma'am, it's going smoothly now. Geometric progression, of course -- train one, he or she trains two, two become four, four become sixteen, and so forth. Right now we can turn out as many per year as the original plan called for and expand that on short notice."

"Good," Alston nodded. "And you're satisfied with your training cadre?"

"Fully satisfied now, ma'am. In fact... well, a lot of them have much more experience than I do -- pre-Event experience, that is. I'm surprised I got this appointment."

"We're not cursed with a seniority system here, Captain, and you did very well in Alba." She paused, looking at him; he met eyes so black that you couldn't see the pupil. It was more than a little disconcerting.

"In a way," she went on, "pre-Event experience is worse than irrelevant here. Commandin' this sort of unit isn't much like drivin' tanks into Kuwait City." At Swindapa's raised brows she went on: "That was a war we had, a little before we came to this time." To Hollard: "In any case, I couldn't spare any of my Guard officers; they're needed for the ships. I thought you'd do well here, and you have. In fact, you've pretty well worked your way out of a job."

"And into another?" Hollard asked eagerly.

"Anxious for a fight?" Alston asked, her voice unaltered.

I must be nuts. Kathryn certainly thinks so. He remembered the battles of the Alban War well enough. The way his balls had tried to crawl back up into his gut as the enemy host came out of their dust-cloud, the light sparkling on their edged metal from one end of vision to the other, the sound of their chant as they advanced and the rythmic boom of weapons hammered on shields. The way a man screamed with an arrow through him, the ugly pounding sound of spearpoints thudding home in chests and bellies. The wounded later, lying across the field like a lumpy carpet that twitched and writhed, calling for water, or their mothers. Kathryn limp on the medic's table, her leg a mass of blood around the wooden shaft. And the stink...

He also remembered what Alston had asked him in the high school gymnasium, back right after the Event, when he and his younger sister had volunteered for the Battalion.

"There's a job needs doing, ma'am."

She gave a small cool nod of approval, and he felt oddly heartened. As he had been that day on the Downs, watching her ride by with the banner fluttering... and now I have to provide that to my people. Christ.

"'dapa," she said. "Let's see it."

Her aide opened a satchel at her side and spread a map on the desk. All three of them leaned forward. "This is our latest appraisal," she said. Only the slightest trace of the musical sing-song lilt of Fiernan was left in her voice. "Including what we've gotten from our Babylonian, Shamash-nasir-kudduru."

She managed to roll the guttural Akkadian syllables off her tongue readily enough -- Hollard was supposed to learn it himself, in his plentiful spare time. He'd made a fair start, but...

Well, she did learn good English in a couple of months. He'd learned a good deal about Fiernans himself in the course of the past couple of years. The Priestesses of Moon Woman had to memorize enough information to rupture a mainframe, starting when they were toddlers -- although, oddly enough, they were formally known as the Grandmothers. Doing astronomy and fairly complex mathematics without written symbols absolutely required a science of memory.

Hollard examined the map carefully; it showed the Mediterranean basin and the lands beyond as far as the Persian Gulf. The outlines of coast and mountain were much the same as the maps he'd seen in high school -- although the courses of some rivers were marked in red as conjectural. The names of the countries were utterly different.

Swindapa's finger touched southern Iberia, just west of Gibraltar. "Tartessos holds the Straits, and Tartessos is no friend of ours -- King Isketerol has an alliance with Walker."

"He also has fairly up-to-date sailing craft with cannon," Alston said. "Not as good as our ships, or our cannon, but there are a lot of them. We can't really expect to get steamers that far in any numbers, either." Her finger made a circle on the map. "He controls the whole of southern Iberia and northern Morocco now, and he's consolidating it fast. But the real problem is further east."

Her finger slid over the blue Mediterranean, past Italy.

"From what we've been able to gather -- some of the Tartessians visiting here talk, and the Arnsteins have agents in place at our embassy in Tartessos -- Walker arrived in Greece about six months after the end of the Alban War, with more than a dozen Americans and over a hundred of his local followers. Since then he's been hard at work, taken over here and here and here. We have to stop him. If he gets control of much of this area --" her pink-palmed black hand spread long slender fingers to cover Greece, the Aegean Sea and much of western Anatolia "-- we're in deep trouble. Half the population of the world in this era lives between Greece and western Persia, countin' Egypt -- and from what we've heard, he's got an embassy in Egypt, too."

"So we can't leave him be, and we can't get at him," Hollard said.

"Not directly," Swindapa cut in. "But there's a back entrance to that compound."

She set out another map, ranging it below the first. It was a world map; again, the physical characteristics were much the same, but the information was even more sparse -- whole continents were blank, or had only a coastal entry or two where the Eagle or some other Islander ship had made a passing visit. Her finger started on Nantucket and silently traced a path south down the coastline to the bulge of South America, then across the South Atlantic to the tip of Africa and up the Indian Ocean.

"Not through here," she said, tapping the Red Sea. "Egypt is too close to Walker these days, and it's bad sailing anyway. Here." The finger veered eastward, up the Persian Gulf to the point where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers joined and flowed into the sea.

Hollard whistled soundlessly. "Iraq..." he said.

His own finger moved on the first map, up the rivers and over the mountains to Anatolia; a vague area marked Hittite Empire, centered on the city of Hattusas, not far east of where Ankara would have stood, in a future that included a nation called Turkey. As far as anyone knew, the remote ancestors of the Turks were living somewhere in southeastern Siberia at this moment.

"Even with firearms and cannon, that would be a long way to march and fight," he said neutrally.

"Granted," she said dryly. "However, what we've got in mind is a diplomatic mission with heavy military escort... and also with enough specialists, plans and machinery along to be largely self-supporting, given local help. Land here --" she tapped the head of the Gulf again "-- make arrangements with the authorities, move north to the Hittite area, and organize resistance to Walker. Hopefully, keep him busy, keep him off-balance, and limit the amount of territory he controls, until the Republic's in a position to open the Mediterranean and deal with him directly."

Hollard kept his face expressionless. Well, the Council isn't thinking small, he decided after a long moment's silence.

"Ma'am, that's not within my area of expertise," he said carefully.

Alston nodded. Swindapa suddenly broke into an urchin grin; he felt his own lips tug upward involuntarily.

"Glad you see that," the Commodore said. "Actually, our diplomatic experts will handle that -- the Arnsteins. You'll be along to provide an escort, to exert force to accomplish the political objectives the Arnsteins -- and the Council, we'll be in radio touch of course -- set, and to help organize local forces."

"Oh." A wave of relief made his knees feel weak; for a moment he'd been terrified he was going to be set a task far beyond his abilities or experience. "Thank you, ma'am. I think... well, I can at least give that a good try."

"Excellent." At the black woman's nod, Swindapa set a heavy stack of files in front of him, all marked Confidential. "You'll start studying these, and also setting up Camp Grant to operate under your successor -- make your recommendation as to that. We want to get goin' as soon as possible, in order that you don't get there too much behind the news of your coming."

"Walker," Hollard said.

"Walker indeed."

@@@

Cover Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Copyright © 1999 by S.M. Stirling <joatsimeon@aol.com>


These sample chapters have been converted to HTML by Bo Johansson

Home! Index Book page smstirling.com