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On the Oceans of Eternity

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

 


Prologue:

August, 1240 B.C.
August, 10 A.E. (After the Event)

"But Lord Cuddy, why does the interior of this furnace have to open out?" the Achaean architect Augewas said. "It made the construction much more complex than the earlier ones."

William Jefferson Cuddy, one-time corporal in the United States Marine Corps, one-time machine-tool operator with Seahaven Engineering, and currently ekwetos and Master of Engineers to the High King of Great Achaea, stopped his thoughtful pacing. Production scheduling for something as big as a steel mill was a nightmare, even for this miniaturized antique... especially when even the executives were he had to rely on were mostly ex-peasants who could barely comprehend that 'on time' didn't mean 'in a while, maybe'.

Even if you explain twice about the big hand and the little hand, with diagrams and a boot up the ass, Cuddy thought. A simple technical question was a relief.

"Ummmm." he said, racking his brain and looking up. The interior of the furnace was dimly lit by a shaft of light from above, more brightly by the kerosene lamp the slave behind them held. It smelled of rock and fresh brick and mortar, and the special firebrick and calcinated limestone that lined it.

"Ah, stuff gets bigger when it gets hot, right?"

Augewas nodded.

"So when we put the ore and flux and coal in at the top, they're pretty cold..."

Behind Augewas Cuddy could see the Achaean's son and apprentice Philhippos rolling his eyes, left hand resting proudly on the cased slide-rule at his belt, and fought down a grin. Adolescent, the younger Greek was at the stage where you just couldn't believe the ignorance of your old man... just about the age Cuddy had left home in Milwaukee to enlist in the Crotch with parental curses and a flung beer-bottle following him.

Of course, Philhippos had grown up in the new world Cuddy and the other Americans of William Walker's band were making of this Bronze Age kingdom. He really did know a lot more about this stuff than his dad. Hard to remember they'd been here a decade or so now.

The young man spoke: "And this coal" -- he used the English word, there being no equivalent in Mycenaean Greek -- "is it better than charcoal because it burns hotter, or because it is a stone like ore and can support more weight, or what?"

However grimly the telestai might cling to old useage on their baronies, language had grown less formal among the new elite of Great Achaea under the influence of 20th-century English. Philhippos' father disliked that particular trend; he raised a hand, and the boy added hastily: "Lord Cuddy."

Cuddy nodded; the kid reminded the American of himself at the same age, but with more direction to his restlessness. "Both, and because there's more of it. Now that we've got the mines up in Istria going, we can ship it down by sea cheaper than burning charcoal up in the hills; and besides, eventually we'd run out of trees."

He whistled, and the workers at the top let down the inspection platform. The overlords stepped onto it, and it rose smoothly up to the summit and the heavy iron-coated collar of timbers around it. From there he could look down on the raw, brawling town of Neayoruk, down to the smoke and thronging masts of the harbor enclosed by a mole running out to an island half a mile from shore, and to the hammered-metal brightness of the Laconian Gulf beyond. Sweat sprang out on his forehead and he turned gratefully to a cooling wind from the water, bringing the tang of salt, coal-smoke, the hot metal of the forges whose hearths scent trails of smoke up to the azure Mediterranean sky.

"We're on schedule," he said with relief.

"That is good," Augewas said. "The Wolf Lord will be pleased."

"Yeah," Cuddy said, shivering slightly at the thought of William Walker, King of Men. "That's real good."

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