The Sicilian Coil

The impact of the time transposition that brought a twenty-first century cruise ship to the Hellenic world right after the death of Alexander the Great continues to unfold. The world of the Greeks, Macedonians, Egyptians and the peoples of the Levant and Mesopotamia has already been turned upside down. Now the Romans and the other Italian states have also been cast into turmoil.


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The impact of the time transposition that brought a twenty-first century cruise ship to the Hellenic world right after the death of Alexander the Great continues to unfold. While President Al Wiley is building a new America in Trinidad and Captain Lars Floden is trying to use the Queen of the Sea to spread enlightenment around the world, Rome is experiencing a wakeup call—and so are its neighbors. If things don’t change, the Roman republic is going to become a dictatorship. And if things don’t change, the Samnites, Etruscans and other Italian states will become subjects of the Roman Empire.

And what’s worse, the heirs of Alexander the Great aren’t the sort of people who are going to stay within their borders and let the rest of Europe—or Asia, or North Africa—work out their own destinies.

It would be bad enough to be subjects of Rome. To be subjects of the Macedonians was something you wouldn’t wish on a Gaul.

Something must be done. And with the help of the radio teams that give Rome and the other Italian states access to the knowledge from the twenty-first century, something will be.

Chapter 1: Not Livy’s Rome

Location: Ship People House, Rome
Date: September 16, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Dani Bottenfild stepped out onto the street, and smelled the fresh morning air, which was spiced with animal dung and rather too much human dung for Dani’s preference. Rome in 320 BCE, 433 After the Founding of Rome wasn’t like the history books said it was. At least not entirely. There was a Senate. There were plebeians and patricians, and there were conflicts between the two, but the whole situation was a heck of a lot more complicated and nuanced than writers like Cicero, i.e. Kikeru, and Livy, i.e. Liwi, reported. Kikeru and Liwi were more propagandist than historians and they both had a strong bias in favor of the optimates, or patrician class, than they would have their readers believe.

Also neither of them would be born for three centuries or so. Who knew? By the time they lived in that other timeline, maybe their names would be pronounced Sisero and Lavi. But Dani had already met two Cicero’s and they both pronounced their names with the K or hard C. And the Livi’s made a W sound, not a V. All those years teaching Latin class were almost a disadvantage. She knew how to speak church Latin, which was vulgar beyond vulgar Latin as these folks saw it.

And that wasn’t the only difference. There was no Coliseum. The Circus Maximus was mostly wood. And Rome, in general, was a city of mud brick and wood, not stone. The art was still more Etruscan than Greek, and the mud bricks weren’t even the shape that bricks were supposed to be. They were shorter and fatter, almost but not quite roofing tile thin.

A patrician walked by, surrounded by a gaggle of clients and slaves. The patrician didn’t nod to Dani, but several of the clients did. Dani looked around from the front walk. Here she could see the Forum at the bottom of the Palatine Hill, with the temples and government buildings surrounding it.


Sam came out. “Radio’s up and running.”

Dani looked at her husband. “What does the Queen have to say?” Sam was in his mid-sixties and his hair was more white than black these days, but he was still active and clear eyed.

“Not a lot. The Constitutional Convention is still arguing about everything and Floden promises us tubes for a broadcast transmitter just as soon as they get around to it.”

Dani and Sam weren’t great fans of either Al Wiley or Lars Floden. That was part of the reason they were here. Rome had possibilities in a way that New America and the Queen of the Sea didn’t. There was a republic in Rome, an actual republic with representatives of a sort and a senate. “At least there was supposed to be,” Dani muttered.

“I know it’s not what we’re used to,” Sam said, walking over to give her a hug. “But the potential is there. In a way that it’s not in Mad Alexander’s crumbling empire. Damn that Easley woman. I wish she’d studied plumbing rather than history.”

It had been Marie Easley’s influence that had sent the Queen to Alexandria instead of Sicily, which was almost as much of a bread basket as Egypt. It was Easley who had gotten the Queen involved in the politics of the Diadochi and gotten several of the people on the Queen killed.

Dani and Sam figured that by focusing on Alexander’s empire, not the Roman republic, they’d missed the Ship People’s best chance at shaping the history of western Europe.

But not their only chance. That was why they’d taken this job. Rome could still be influenced, still be turned into a true republic. It wouldn’t be as easy with the Queen and the Reliance gallivanting all over hell and gone, but it was still doable.

Harold George Horten came out. “You two busy plotting the overthrow of Rome?” he asked, thankfully in English. No one not a Ship Person spoke English. Well, almost no one.

“What do you need, HG?” Sam asked.

“A better wine than they have here. And a good coppersmith.”

“And where are we going to get a coppersmith?”

“Buy one!”

“Do you have someone in mind?”

“Talk to your buddy, Quintus Publilius Philo.”

“He’s not our friend,” Dani said. “He’s more willing to put up with us than Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor, but that’s not saying much.”

Rome was farther inland than most of the cities with radio teams. It was over twenty miles inland and out of range of the steam cannon on the Queen. That meant that the demonstration that the Queen put on for places like Carthage and Athens wasn’t possible for Rome.

Rome was not quite as convinced as Carthage that leaving the Ship People alone was a great idea. But access to the trade network was a powerful persuader, at least for Philo, who had friends and associates who were in business.

Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor, on the other hand, was a stuck up snob who considered merchants little better than craftsmen, and craftsmen little better than slaves. The majority of the Senate of Rome agreed with Cursor. Cursor was a tall, rawboned man who ran and exercised regularly. He had the Roman bump in his nose, black hair and black eyes. And what seemed to Dani to be a perpetual sneer.

“Let’s go inside.”

At least Rome had provided them with a decent townhouse on the Palatine Hill, which was still a residential area for the richest Romans. It wouldn’t be until the time of the emperors that it became an imperial palace. Right now, it was occupied by three and four story mud brick buildings, one of which had been given to the Ship People to be their home as well as the transmission and receiver station for their connection to the radio network.

That gift hadn’t actually come from Rome. It had come from Gaius Maenius Antiaticus, a former consul and wealthy landowner. He had two houses on the Palatine Hill and had loaned the Ship People delegation the smaller and slightly more decrepit of them in exchange for first access to the radio network.

Once inside, they discussed what HG needed a coppersmith for. Brushes and wires mostly. It was during that discussion that Marcus Foslius Flaccinator was shown into the sitting room. The four story townhouse they lived in was a square building with a hollow in the middle to let some light in, and the sitting room was, for now, on the ground floor, inside, facing the courtyard.

“Plotting the overthrow of the republic?” Marcus asked.

“What else would we be doing?” Sam asked.

Marcus was a moderately good looking young man in the Italian style, dark wavy hair, black eyes, and clear olive skin. He was dressed in a tunic, not a toga, and had a friendly look on his face. “Gaius would like to know the grain prices in Sicily as soon as you get them.”

Gaius wasn’t a patrician, but a plebeian, and had come up the hard way. While he was a wealthy landowner, many of his associates and backers were merchants. And the price of grain was of vital interest to many of those men.

Sam pulled up the prices in Sicily, Egypt, and Carthage, and told Marcus.

“Do you think that Gaius can get us a good coppersmith?” HG asked.

And that led to another discussion of craftsmen and technology. Dani knew from extensive reading of Wikipedia articles that in the other history Gaius would be appointed dictator and Marcus appointed Magister equitum this year. That hadn’t happened this time and probably wouldn’t. The arrival of the Queen of the Sea had changed everything.


Gaius Maenius looked up as Marcus came in. “What do our guests want now?”

“A coppersmith,” Marcus said. “Here are the prices.”

Gaius took the sheet and skimmed it, then passed it to his secretary, who was an Etruscan slave. He was literate in Greek, Latin, and Etruscan, and had been an officer in the army of a city state that had lost to Rome, and Gaius was starting to consider giving the man his freedom and hiring him. Considering. But he was afraid that Lucilus would run back to his home if he were freed, and he was a valuable asset.

“Take these to the club and share them with our friends.” The Ship People were worth the cost of supporting them. Just access to the radio traffic ahead of time was worth the cost.

Then there was the knowledge from the future . . . the value of that was incalculable.

If terrifying.

Rome was going to die. Fall to empire.

The Roman Empire would be a place ruled by generals, kings by the new name of emperor, not by the people.

Big and powerful, but anathema to everything Gaius believed in.

Gaius needed to find a way to avoid that. As much as the corruption among the public officials and senators of Rome galled him, he still believed in Rome, and still wanted to save it. “All right. Buy a coppersmith and loan him to the Ship People. Make sure he’s literate. We’ll see what our craftsman can learn of the working of the electric that the Ship People use to such effect.”


Location: Forum, Rome
Date: September 18, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Lucilius looked up as the tall dark-skinned man came over to his cart. He’d seen Nubians before, but not often. And he’d never seen anyone dressed in the barbaric manner of this person. Barbaric, but finely and expensively crafted. A very short white tunic was tucked into white pants that went all the way down the leg to just above the feet which were covered in what appeared to be white cloth and leather shoes. Maybe leather, maybe something else. The tunic had sleeves that went half way down the upper arm. And the pants were held up by a black leather belt with a shined brass buckle. It was wealth. Understated, but wealth. These were no homespun garments, but made in a professional tight weave.

It was about then that the man spoke in perhaps the worst accent that Lucilius had ever heard. And Lucilius realized that he’d been gawking at the man like some sort of yokel. “Sorry, Mister. What?”

The man pulled an item from a pouch that was sewn into his tunic. The device was also attached to a chain around the man’s neck. It was some sort of slate and the man touched it and it spoke. “What do you have?” the man pointed at Lucilius’ cart.

“Bread, eggs, and cheese,” Lucilus managed as he realized that this was one of the Ship People. Then another voice in good Latin said, “And I’ll have the same.”

Finally Lucilius looked past the ship person to notice the armed man beside him.


The bread was emmer, Jaheim Higgins noted, either a kind of wheat or closely related to wheat, depending on who you asked. It was also unleavened, without yeast or any other sort of rising agent. That gave a dense flat bread, sort of like a really thick pita bread. The bread, an egg and a small chunk of cheese were the meal, served on a carved wooden board with a small clay bowl of garum. You were expected to eat standing by the food cart and return the platter and bowl of garum, which Jaheim did as he watched goings on in the Roman Forum. It was located in the valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. It was a busy place, surrounded by temples and shops, and ongoing political debate, mostly about the Samnite war and partly about the Ship People and what ought to be done about them.

That debate was going on right in front of him between the food vendor and Felix, his guard and watcher.

Felix worked for Gaius Maenius, because even if the government had been okay with Ship People status—i.e. diplomatic immunity—that didn’t mean every street tough in Rome would respect it. And the government of Rome wasn’t okay with Ship People status, at least not entirely. And Gaius didn’t want his prize Ship People mugged because they were going around on their own.

And, at least for now, that was just fine with Jaheim. He was getting the lay of the land and having a bodyguard wasn’t a bad idea while he was doing that. And his phone was on continuous recording and had enough memory for several hours.

Because Jaheim Higgins was a spy. Jaheim was born in Black River in Jamaica. He had a high school diploma, but hadn’t had the money for anything else. But he also had a fully loaded Kindle. Granted, most of what was on that Kindle was free stuff, but Jaheim had read just about all of it. His job on the Queen had been breakfast chef. Which was a fancy title for getting up at four in the morning and spending the next six hours prepping and cooking eggs to the taste of the passengers, then four hours cleaning and supporting the lunch staff. That was the reason for the white uniform. He was in passenger country for about half his work day, so had to be presentable, which meant he had to buy a spiffy white uniform.

Which had left him in not quite dire straits when the event happened. Floden and Wiley had agreed between them that bottom level crew was like bottom level passengers in terms of their buyout. Jaheim had never met either Floden or Wiley, but his shift boss knew about his Kindle. And knew that he was a “know-it-all” who actually did know quite a bit. It was true Jaheim was smart, always had been. He was also hard working with good reports, so shortly after the Event he’d been approached by his boss’ boss, Jane Carruthers, and offered an “opportunity.”

He put his phone away as he listened to and tried to understand the primitive Latin that surrounded him. It was practice. The phone would be getting it all and it would be compressed and sent to the Queen for analysis.

What Jaheim was noticing was that Rome was a pretty hard scrabble place. Everyone, well, almost everyone, was dressed in hand-me-downs. And the hand-me-downs often hadn’t been that great when they were new. Homespun, most of it. The men wore thigh-length tunics that were either sleeveless or had really short sleeves. The dyes were dim and dingy by Jaheim’s standards. Most people were wearing sandals. The women mostly wore calf-length tunics that, aside from the length, were not that different from the men’s tunics. Also homespun hand-me-downs, often patched together from worn cloth.

Everyone was up against it. Even, in a way, the rich. Everywhere he looked, he saw stuff that needed to be done by machines. According to an analysis that Jane Carruthers’ staff had put together, spinning wheels and carding machines would cut the price of cloth by upwards of eighty percent.

Lucilius’ food cart had a small fire pot in its base to keep the bread and eggs warm. But just looking at it, Jaheim could see ways that it could be improved. He could also see how much profit there could be in those machines. Jaheim had been a poor kid his whole life, but a poor kid in a rich world. Now, at least in relative terms, he was rich. His Kindle was worth more than a literate Greek slave. And the stuff in his Kindle was worth more than his Kindle was worth.

He smiled. He’d gotten an especially good price for copying that info into the ship’s computers. Jane Carruthers had seen to it.

Lunch finished, Jaheim and Felix made their way back up the Palatine Hill to Ship People House and got to work.


Chapter 2: Building the Tools

Location: House of Gaius Maenius, Rome
Date: October 14, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Gaius Maenius Antiaticus moved his finger over the text as he read the Wiki article on the first Punic war. It was, for the most part, a naval war. And Gaius was reading the Greek translation of the English article. He also had the English article because Gaius was trying to learn English. It was slow going, because English was such a weird distortion of what languages should be. Carthage had ships and Rome mostly didn’t.

He worked on it for several hours by lamp light.

Location: Ship People House, Rome

Date: October 15, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Dani came into the breakfast room yawning. There was the smell of eggs and sausage and fresh baked bread in the air, but no coffee.

“We’re getting the pumps, but from New America, not the Queen,” Sam reported.

“Good,” Dani said, then yawned. She hadn’t had a cup of coffee in eight months, and by now almost didn’t miss it. But she didn’t wake up as fast as she had when she could kick start her day with coffee. She sat at the table and Candace brought a plate of eggs, sausage and nut potatoes. By now there were plantings of potatoes in Rome and the surrounding farms, but none were ready for harvest yet. So all the potatoes Dani and anyone else in Rome ate were shipped in from New America. Meaning that the nut potatoes cost more than the rest of the breakfast combined. That would change next year, but that was next year. And even then the harvest was going to be small in comparison to the market.

Sam shook his head in wonder as Dani took a bite. Her insistence on hash browns had caught the interest of Cursor shortly after they arrived and the patrician consul had assumed they must be a delicacy. Now it was the fashion to have potatoes. They were an exotic foreign food, expensive and highly sought after.

He would give Dani another half an hour before he brought up anything of real importance. Watered wine would never replace coffee as a wake up drink.


Breakfast finished, Dani was ready for the morning dispatches. “Jaheim says he has met with several craftsmen who can make the pipes.”

“Out of what?”

“Roman concrete.”

Dani snorted. One of the irritating things that they had discovered was that the famous Roman concrete that filled the history books didn’t exist yet, except as a private little trick held by a couple of families. And even there it was only about half formed.

But by combining what they knew with what the great and powerful Wiki knew, Jaheim had managed to introduce a formula for Roman concrete that worked to produce a waterproof shaped stone, and by making pipes out of Roman concrete and keeping the pressure relatively low, they had a workable piping system even without steel reinforcement.

“And Philo thinks it’s time,” Sam added.

Dani looked up. “Really?”

Roman citizenship was complicated even for born Romans. If you weren’t born Roman, you had to be granted citizenship by the people of Rome. And the patrician’s votes counted more than the plebeians. The Ship People were magic and, to an extent, that had caught the imagination of the hoi polloi of Rome. And there was a faction that wanted the Ship People, at least the resident Ship People, made citizens of Rome on the basis of “if they weren’t invited in, they might leave and take their radio with them.” And the people of Rome were increasingly interested in the goings on reported by the radio. There was no broadcast radio yet. They were still working on the station, but they did have a mimeograph-style printing press and a typewriter-printer made on the Queen of the Sea that could print out text, formatted and checked in their computers. So they’d been selling broadsheet newspapers since mid-September, twice a week.

Of course, the literacy rate was rather lower than they’d expected. Just like everything else. But it was plenty high enough to make them the best source in Rome of news of the rest of the world, and because of Dani’s experience as a reporter, a pretty darn good source of news of goings on right here in Rome as well.

Finally, Dani shook her head. “It’s too soon. Which voting group?”

“One of the lower ranked groups,” Sam admitted. “But I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I suspect our votes will carry more weight there than anywhere else.”

“You may have a point. But HG is going to have a hissy fit.”

“That’s another point in its favor,” Sam said. HG was quite capable, but not as capable as he thought he was. God Almighty wasn’t as capable as HG thought he was. And since everything had to be someone’s fault and it couldn’t possibly be HG’s, whoever happened to be handy got the blame. And Sam, Dani, and Jaheim were the handy Ship People.

“What else is on the agenda for this morning?”

“Rotating plow blades, Fresno scrapers, and a new ad for the bath house on the Esquiline Hill.”

Location: House of Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor, Rome
Date: October 15, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Cursor could look out his window and see the Ship People House, not that far away. He was also having a breakfast of New American nut potato. His was baked and covered in garum, with crumbled up pancetta and sweet peppers, also from New America. It was quite tasty. He opened the paper that the Ship People put out and read their interpretation of the debate over the Samite war. Rome had been humiliated at Caudine Forks, and it didn’t matter what that coward Titus Venturis Calvinus agreed to after he got himself treed. Rome couldn’t let that humiliation stand for five years. Not for five hours.

But Quintus Publilius Philo was blocking any action they might take, insisting that an agreement made by the consuls of Rome was binding. According to that Ship People’s Wiki, they’d already defeated the Samnites. Well, the Wiki said that Livy said that they’d defeated the Samnites in 320 and 319 BCE, followed by a two, not a four, year truce following the humiliation at the Caudine Forks. Some Ship People historians insisted that that was propaganda.

And Cursor knew that that was the truth, but it was politically galling. So he publicly held with Livy’s account and insisted that the Ship People’s arrival had changed history and not to Rome’s benefit.

320 and 319. He snorted to himself. As though the date should be determined by some heathen priest who wouldn’t even be born for three hundred and twenty years, and probably wouldn’t be born at all since the ship had changed the whole future of the world.

He also didn’t like that the Ship People had added two letters to the Latin alphabet, K and Y, and insisted on spelling Livi with a Y not an I at the end. Not to mention adding spaces between words, commas, periods, and apostrophes. They had so changed the alphabet and the form of the letters that they had a guide to their changes on the back of every paper.

And their changes were catching on. Even the lower case letters. It was galling to have Ship People telling Romans what the Latin alphabet was going to be in twenty-three hundred years.

In fact, everything about the ship offended him. Most of all, the fact that they were changing the history of the Macedonian Empire. Preventing its natural death and so killing Rome’s future. Killing the greatness of Rome before it could ever be. He wanted to kill all the Ship People. All of them, from Captain Floden to the lowest servant who changed sheets. And destroy the ships and the town of Berry that had arrived with them.

But Cursor wasn’t a man who confused what he wanted with what he could have. He couldn’t destroy the ship. He couldn’t prevent the rescue of the Macedonian Empire. All he could do on that front was wish Cassander and the other rebel diadochi well. And he couldn’t even afford to do that publicly. Because, if he was reading this right, Eumenes was going to kick their sorry asses all the way back to Macedonia.

Finally, after months of quiet resentment, Cursor made a decision. He would befriend the Ship People here in Rome. Even support the despised plebeians, if that was what it took to save Rome from the damned Greeks.

He took another bite of the nut potato. It was really quite good. “Marius,” he called. “Send my scribe in here. And you come too. We will need to hold a dinner party.”

Location: House of Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor, Rome

Date: October 18, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Philo looked at the house as he came in. He was more than a little shocked to be here. And a lot shocked to be here at the same dinner party that included the Ship People and Publius Cornelius Calussa.

Calussa was about as patrician as patrician got. He was— Philo turned to Sam Bottenfild and asked in struggling English, “Who would be . . .” He gave it up as a bad job, and continued in Latin. “Who would be your Ship People, no, your American, from your time, version of the patricians?”

Sam used his phone to translate because Sam’s Latin was much worse than Philo’s English. “Hard to say. We had our elites, and even the children of generations of wealth. People like the Vanderbilts. But even they weren’t like the nobility, and even the nobility in places like Britain weren’t quite the same as your patrician gens.”

“Well, Publius Cornelius Calussa is a patrician’s patrician. That’s why he’s the Pontifex Maximus. Because they wanted the most noble blood in that role.”


“No, not at all. He’s quite a bright man, if not a scholar.” Philo tried to explain but couldn’t, and he wasn’t sure if it was because of the language or if it was because the Ship People didn’t have the concepts.

He put it aside, though it worried at the back of his mind for the rest of the afternoon. Roman dinner parties were held in the afternoon. The light was better. Candles and chimneyless lamps provided light, but not good light. Ship people Coleman lamps provided good light, but they were rare yet, and tradition said dinners were held in the afternoon.

They were escorted into the main dining room by a servant and shown to their couches. It was an interesting dinner. Cursor was everything that was congenial and friendly, even to Philo, and he and Philo had been political enemies for two decades.

That wasn’t uncommon. The people of Rome seemed to like to have consuls who hated each other. But it only looked that way. What was actually happening was the creation of armed compromises between the factions. “You get your guy, if we get ours.”

The food started arriving and it was an expensive meal, with fancy dishes from Rome, Carthage, Tyre, and New America. Philo hid his smile. Cursor didn’t have the experience with Ship People that Philo did. They came from a world—or at least a class within that world—that rarely went hungry. They were impressed by a fancy meal like this, but not nearly as impressed as a plebeian, or even a patrician, would be. It was how they ate every day on the ship, with tremendous variety and plenty of everything.

Still, the peacock wings in honey sauce were excellent. The skin browned just right, the meat tender and just a bit gamey.

“How is the radio coming?” Cursor asked.

“It’s still going to be some time. It needs a larger generator and a large, powerful, consistent power source to spin the rotors on the generators. We’re going to need kilowatts for a broadcast station, and the only power sources like that are in New America and on the ship.”

“Well, if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know,” Cursor offered.

Philo almost swallowed a peacock wing bone. It went on like that through the fish and the beef, the iced fruits and the cheeses. Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor was, and remained, the soul of courteous and respectful friendliness. Philo wondered if he’d had a stroke.

What was—if possible—even more strange, Publius Cornelius Calussa was just as friendly and willing to discuss the Ship People’s strange beliefs with every appearance of respect.

They talked about water pumps and fractional reserve banking, electricity and antibiotics, the Samnite war and the possibility of a peaceful resolution. And through it all, Philo found himself restraining Cursor from committing Rome to too much.

And by the end of the afternoon, there was a plan in place to see the Ship People made full voting Roman citizens, and of one of the highest plebeian rank, while Cursor made noises about possibly adopting them into a patrician gens.


Location: House of Gaius Maenius, Rome
Date: October 22, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Jaheim was waved to a dining couch and a rather fetching young woman brought him a tray with wine and cheese. The rest of the Ship People hadn’t been asked to this dinner. And Jaheim was more than a bit curious about what Gaius Maenius wanted with him.

After a few minutes of discussing the weather and some of the ongoing projects, Gaius got to the point. “I have been reading about the first war between us and the Carthaginians. What you Ship People call the first Punic war. And there is something strange. It was a naval war.”

Jaheim nodded, not knowing where this was going.

“But Rome has no ships. Well, not many, and the fishing boats of our allies at Ostia and the other coastal cities under our influence are small and not suited for warfare. How did we come to have a navy of quinqueremes?”

“You copied them from the Carthaginians. I can’t remember where I first read this, and I’ve read about it several times. Sometime in the first Punic war, or maybe even in the lead up to it, you got hold of some Carthaginian ships, took them apart, and copied them. I don’t recall the details, but the story is used to demonstrate Rome’s ability to adapt the technology of its enemies to its own use. Not that Carthage is your enemy now, and, besides, now you have access to steam engines. Quinqueremes would be a really silly way to go now.”

“Tell me why?”

“Because people are heavy for the amount of power they provide. How many crew are there on a quinquereme?”

“Three hundred. Two hundred and eighty oarsmen and twenty officers. That doesn’t include the marines. At least according to the Wiki article I have been reading.”

“Well, just take the two hundred and eighty men. Average weight, two hundred pounds times the number of rowers.” Jaheim pulled his phone out of the pocket and plugged in the numbers while Gaius Maenius watched. “That’s fifty-six thousand pounds or twenty-eight tons for your engines, and that doesn’t include the, what, twenty pounds of oar each oarsman is handling.”

“The oarsmen don’t lift the whole oar. They have oarlocks to take most of the weight.”

“That doesn’t matter. The oars still add to the weight of the ship. For that matter, so do the oarlocks. The point is, you can have a steam engine pushing your ship through the water for five tons easy, and steam engines don’t get tired.”

It was a good meal with interesting conversation. And, three weeks later, very quietly, a project to design and build a steam ship was put in place in Ostia.


Location: House of Quintus Publilius Philo, Rome
Date: October 28, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Cursor was proving as good or better than his word. And he was pushing the patrician gens to join him. It rather bothered Philo because Cursor wasn’t the sort of man who did anything that didn’t profit Cursor. And Philo couldn’t figure out what was in it for Cursor.

“Gaius Maenius to see you, Consul,” Philo’s personal assistant, Claudius, said.

“Send him in.” Gaius wasn’t a client, but an ally. In the other timeline, he’d been appointed dictator this year to investigate corruption among politicians, at least according to the Wiki. But that hadn’t happened this year in this timeline because of the concern about the Ship People and their effect on the world.

“What is Cursor up to?” Gaius demanded as soon as he was in the room. He was a smallish man, balding, with bushy black eyebrows. His hair, what was left of it, was salt and pepper gray and his toga had the purple stripe of senate membership. It was also artfully disheveled. He also had a penetrating nasal voice that made you feel guilty just to hear it.

“I don’t know.” Philo waved him to a chair. “What has he done that has you so upset?”

“Not upset exactly,” Gaius corrected. “Confused, maybe. Concerned, perhaps. Possibly even a little vexed, but not upset.”

“Well, you sounded upset. What’s he doing?”

“I always sound upset.” Gaius grinned. “And he is bringing a bill forward to introduce fractional reserve banking.”

Rome, like every state in Europe at this time, had silver- and gold-based currency with some small denominations in copper. It was handled by a group of low-ranked elected officials in the Aerarium. The questors of the Aerarium also kept copies of all the laws passed by either the senate or the people over the last two hundred plus years. Two months ago, Philo had put forward a law to have all those laws put into the Ship People’s computers and a printout of books of laws published. And the patricians had howled like gelded cattle. Cursor had stopped howling about the time of the dinner party ten days ago. Which almost certainly meant that the law would pass, since it had the support of the tribunes. Well, most of them. But fractional reserve banking?

“What are the restrictions?” Philo asked.

“That’s the thing. He’s pushing for plebeian membership. Any Roman citizen being able to apply to the ‘bank’ for a loan or set up an account in the bank.”

Half the power of the patricians, and the wealthy plebeians as well, was the fact that they were the effective bankers for their clients. Combine the fact that the clients had debts, and their patrons could call in those debts, with the fact that voting was carried out in full view of everyone, and the clients voted the way their patrons wanted them to vote almost all the time.

If a client could go to the bank, get a loan and pay off their debt to their patron . . . ? That would change everything.

“Who decides who gets a loan?”

“The quaestors of the Aerarium,” Gaius said. “And a new tribune of the Aerarium to oversee them and make sure they are acting fairly.”

“That’s going to put a lot of power in the hands of a couple of relatively low-ranked officials.”

“Which is what concerns me,” Gaius agreed.

Up to now, the quaestors of the Aerarium were mostly clerks who operated under the authority of the senate. They took in taxes assessed by the senate under law and paid out money for things that the senate approved, like the construction of roads, walls, wells, and public toilets. But they had no authority to decide much of anything.

If the fractional reserve banking became part of the Aerarium’s function while the Aerarium was under the thumb of the senate, then it would just increase the power of the senate, which was why the tribunes were opposed to the idea. But if it was under the authority of the quaestors with a tribune? The tribunes would support it. At least, enough of them would. And the senate was, in terms of law, mostly an advisory body, even its power to veto laws was greatly curtailed from what it used to be.


Location: House of Jaheim Higgins
Date: November 3, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Jaheim didn’t actually live here. He lived in the big house on the Palatine Hill that Gaius Maenius had loaned the Ship People, but he owned this house on the Aventinus Minor. It was a large house, if not very grand, and held about twenty former slaves, all of them clients of Jaheim Higgins. And, for the most part, pleased and proud to be so.

There were three wood workers, and a black smith, and a coppersmith, all with their families.

And they were making carding machines and simple pedal-powered scutcher machines that were a step in turning a flax plant into linen thread.

As they worked they talked, mostly about the proposal to take the Ship People into Roman citizenship.

One of the wood workers was carving a crochet hook out of oak as he talked. They were a steady seller and his wife held crochet parties where she taught women to crochet and sold crochet hooks in various sizes. It was making the family a fair amount of money. And the carver had one foot up on the bench showing off his crocheted socks. “They won’t go for it,” he pronounced. As a libertini, former slave, he couldn’t run for office, but did have the right to vote. However, the way the tribes voted, he probably wouldn’t get to.

“I wouldn’t count on that. Did you see Cursor’s article in the Romani Videte?”

In the weeks since Cursor had “embraced” the Ship People, he’d gained access to their printer, and was using it to put out a newspaper designed for the patricians and their clients. Anyone with a bit of money could do the mimeograph stencils, but having a scribe hand copy the text into the stencils was expensive and time consuming. And most scribes still had a hard time with the Ship People Latin alphabet and diacritical markings, which did make the Ship People printed newspapers easier to read.

“I don’t think even Cursor will be able to bring enough of the patrician gens to override the senate.”

Conversations much like that were happening all over Rome. So far it was mostly small things like knitting needles and crochet hooks, but it was obvious that the Ship People were going to have an effect. And, as much as some of the patricians were demanding that the clock be turned back and the Ship People be ignored, most Romans knew it wasn’t going to happen. Even if they were thrown out of Rome, they would still be with the Samnites and the Gauls and the Macedonians and Carthaginians. Cursor’s article in the Romani Videte didn’t just call for the Ship People to be made Roman citizens, but for the military service requirement to be waived so that they could run for public office.


Location: House of Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor, Rome
Date: November 3, 320 BCE, 433 AF

“Of course the military service requirement won’t be waived,” Cursor told Lucius Papirius Crassus. “But, yes, I do want them to be Roman citizens.”

“Why? They are a disruption to public order and that newspaper of theirs should be banned.”

“Because that newspaper of theirs can’t be banned.”

“Of course it can. If we push, we have the votes to get them thrown out of Rome.”

“I wouldn’t count on that, my friend. But even assuming you’re right, we can’t ban them from the Samnites. And do you really want the Samnites to have gunpowder while we don’t? What about the Carthaginians?”

“We’re at peace with Carthage,” Crassus said.

“For now. And for now we’re at peace with the Macedonians too. But after they settle their internal matters, what’s to keep them from turning west? Macedonia isn’t that far and it’s even closer if you have steam ships. You know they are working on them.”

“They want to abolish slavery. They want a plebeian, even an Italian, vote to count the same as yours or mine. They’re nothing but merchants and craftsmen. Not a soldier or landed gentleman in the bunch of them. Look at that New America of theirs. The gutless fools bought the land from the savages. There is no iron in their souls! I don’t care about their tools. We can learn to build their tools if we need to. You know the history the Ship People brought. In a hundred years, when we need to, we’ll learn to build ships and use those ships to take Carthage and sow it with salt. Tools don’t matter. The Ship People are worse than the Carthaginians will ever be and we destroyed Carthage!”

That brought Cursor up short for a number of reasons. First, Crassus was taking credit for things that happened in that other history as though he’d done them himself. Rome in this day and age didn’t have a navy. Those goods that were sold at any distance down the coast were carried in Carthaginian, Etruscan, or Greek hulls. And the Carthaginians were very much still there. In the here and now Carthage was much more powerful than Rome.

But there was something else. It was the reason that Crassus hated the Ship People. The thing that made them “worse than Carthage.”

No iron in their souls.

That was in spite of what Floden did to the Macedonians in Egypt or the Rhodians. In spite of what they did to the American savages after the attack on Fort Plymouth.

No iron in their souls.

And Cursor knew why Crassus said that. Because they paid for the land that New America was on.

They bought the land.

They didn’t conquer.

They bought.

They were weak and evil because they didn’t steal.

And the thing that tore at Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor’s soul was the realization that he’d spent his whole life believing just exactly that. Never put that way, of course. But he’d believed that he deserved his wealth because he was willing to do what was necessary to get it in a world where what was necessary to get wealth was to be willing to drive a xiphos into a man’s gut and take what had been his.

Well, a xiphos was a gladius now, or would be soon. The Ship People’s histories showed the gladius and the Ship People knew how to make them. But the weapon of choice wouldn’t be the gladius either. Because the metal used in a gladius could be used in a ball and cap revolver like the ones that each of the Ship People wore, even the woman. And the Samnites would have those too.

But the truth in Crassus’ words was still there. Xiphos, gladius, ball and cap. The reason Crassus hated the Ship People, and the reason Cursor did as well, was because they didn’t kill to take.

Because they didn’t have to.

How dare they not be murderers and thieves?

How dare they?

Cursor hated the Ship People. If anything, more than Lucius Papirius Crassus did. But he needed them. He needed the knowledge they had.

“Crassus, my friend, to copy the Ship People’s boats, we need their boats. We need to co-opt Ship People to our cause to convince them to help us build the ships to move our armies to their land and sow it with salt. We need their industrial base if we have any hope of surviving, much less making Rome into a nation that rules the world. A nation that will be led and managed by the Optimates. The best men.”

Crassus nodded. “Very well. I will support you this far. I will not object to making them civitas romanas. But that’s as far as I will go.”

Chapter 3: Civitas Romanas

Location: Queen of the Sea
Date: November 3, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Lars Floden looked over at Jane Carruthers. As head of the hotel section of the Queen of the Sea, Jane was in charge of the passengers and the wait staff, cooks, cleaners, and all the various experts who saw to the welfare of the passengers. And that had put her into a position to know more about what was going on with the passengers and the staff. Gradually, over the last year, she’d branched out to become the effective chief of internal intelligence.

And chief of network intelligence. That is, the intelligence provided by the network of radio stations that had been placed in many of the nations surrounding the Medeterrainian Sea. It was very unofficial, but she was the M of the Queen‘s secret service.

“The radio crew in Rome are going to be made civitas romanas, Jaheim reports.”

“So?” Lars lifted a hand. “I’m not dismissing it, Jane. I’m just not sure what it means.”

Jane grimaced. “I’m not sure what it means, either. At least, not entirely. But what I am afraid that it may mean is that the radio crew in Rome no longer works for us, but instead works for Rome. At least most of them. I think Jaheim is still loyal, but I’m not so sure of Dani and Sam Bottenfild and I don’t think that HG Horten ever felt any loyalty to the Queen.”

“In practical terms, what does that mean? Are they going to stop reporting on weather conditions in Rome? Stop providing radio services?”

“No. Both of those are important to Rome. Rome gets weather reports that are a lot more accurate than anything that they would have without the radios, and the radio communications benefits them as much as anyone they are dealing with. What it means is that we can’t necessarily trust what they tell us about the internal politics of Rome. Or any military adventure that Rome might try.”

“Are you worried about the Samnite War heating up again?” Lars asked.

“Not really. I honestly don’t think it matters if Rome kicks the Samnite’s asses now or three years from now. Besides, the Samnites have their own station and I’m confident of that team.”

Ownership of the radios was complicated. They were made in the factories of the Queen of the Sea, at least the tubes were. Other components were made by New America. They were owned by the Ship People Radio Corporation, which paid the radio crews a monthly wage in Ship People money. The radio crews were also allowed to start or help start any other businesses that they chose to. Most radio crews made more money helping locals start new businesses than they made from their pay.

From soap makers to steam engine factories, the Queen put no restrictions on what they could provide to their hosts. Not even guns. The formula for black powder was already common knowledge all over the Mediterranian. And if you had that, the rest couldn’t be kept secret, so there were gun makers from Alexandria to Gaul. Not that those gunmakers were turning out much. It was still very much at the “tools to build the tools” stage.

They were making much better steel in Carthage and Rome by now, but boring out a smooth rifled barrel wasn’t easy, especially if you were trying to bore that barrel out of good steel, not soft brass.

But the seeds of technology were growing everywhere that the Ship People went. And they didn’t have the option of preventing that.

“It sounds like there isn’t anything we can do about it. Or do you want to replace them?”

Jane shook her head. “I don’t see how we can without producing a stink. We could fire them for being made Roman citizens, but it wouldn’t look good.”

“No. As long as they are doing their jobs—and by that I mean their official jobs, not the unofficial spying that most of our teams do for us—we can’t fire them just because they stop being citizens of New America.” Lars stopped. “Do they stop being citizens of New America?”

Jane shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“You still have one agent in Rome, right?”

“Yes. Jaheim Higgins. He checked with me before accepting Roman citizenship. Jamaican-born waitstaff. A bright lad who had a loaded Kindle.”

“Loaded with what?”

“A mix of fiction and how-to books, plus a few textbooks that didn’t exist anywhere else in our files. Jaheim is an autodidact. The kid studies everything and he grew up having to fix or make just about anything his family had. Which is why all the how-to books. No money for any sort of schooling, which was why he was cooking eggs in the hoi polloi lounge. I had a talk with him and then arranged to have him over-paid for the books in his Kindle. He still has the Kindle, but we have a complete copy of everything in it in our system.”

“Well, now I understand. But I don’t see anything for us to do about it.”

“I know, sir, but I thought you should know.”

They discussed several other matters. Other stations, the situation on Formentera Island, which might be abolishing slavery on the rest of the island in the next year or so, if the family could figure out how to do it without scaring off their other customers.

Location: Ship People House, Rome
Date: December 3, 320 BCE, 433 AF

“Toga! Toga!” Sam Bottenfild chanted in a not bad imitation of John Belushi, as a former slave and dresser draped the white garment over his body. Dani rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help grinning a little.

They had just been made citizens of Rome, and this was the first day that they would be going out and about in the official garb of a Roman citizen on official occasions. Most of the time Romans just wore a tunic, but when doing official stuff or on formal occasions, the toga was worn in much the same way a fancy suit would be worn back in the world.

Another former slave was helping Dani with her toga. According to the Wiki, in another century or so it would be a stola, but right now women as well as men wore togas on formal occasions. So everyone would be in toga as they made their procession to the Forum to the election of the next set of consuls.

Unlike that other timeline, this time Marcus Foslius Flaccinator and Gaius Maenius were running for consul and they had a good chance. The Ship People had changed the balance of power and, in an odd way, softened the Roman attitude toward the Samnites. Romans knew that they’d won in that other history, and so did the Samnites, so the people of Rome were in less of a hurry to undo the humiliation of the Caudine Forks, so they were in less of a hurry to elect a fire eater.

And since it was less likely that there would be a triumph involved, Lucius Papirius Mugillanus Cursor was less interested in the post.

The issues, if you could call them that, were the status of a new class of Roman wealthy called “industrialist.” While it was true that most of that wealth was still illusion, in the sense that the new factories weren’t turning out that much yet, they weren’t entirely illusion.

There were spinning wheels up and operational. There were factories filled with slaves sitting at spinning wheels turning wool and flax into thread at a phenomenal rate. The price of cloth was going down. The price of raw wool and flax was going up, and that wasn’t all. There were soaps and perfumes. There were pipes for leachfields and a company that was installing septic tanks on farms. There were proposals to ship the waste of Rome to large sewage plants to be turned into rich soil and fertilizer. That, along with the proposal for an aqueduct that would use water tight piping to move water part of the way to Rome were the big concerns of the Romans this year.

And the fact that the Ship People were closely associated with Gaius Maenius meant that he was thought to be the best man to put those projects into motion.

They were right too. Gaius Maenius was a damn fine manager and not as corrupt as most senators. And his wife, Lucia Fulvius Curius, was even better and didn’t have as much of the Roman prejudice against business as her husband. She was a quiet investor in the factory on the Caspian Hill that made spinning wheels, as well as helping fund the expedition to find the volcanic sands used to make Roman concrete.

That was one of the many good news, bad news things that Dani had discovered since their arrival here in “not Livi’s” Rome. Women were both more and less free than her histories had told her. They didn’t have the right to vote, but they did have the right to own property, to sign contracts, and generally to do their own thing. And they were certainly not locked up in harems like she’d been half afraid would be the case.

Lucia had been at every dinner they’d had with Gaius Maenius and visited the Ship People on a regular basis. She was a chubby woman and pretty pure Latin in her appearance. And, in her early thirties, considerably younger than her husband, but upper class girls often married early in this time. Almost always for political reasons.

Lucia was no exception. She’d been married to Gaius because her father saw him as a political up-and-comer, and as part of the move to make her family more acceptable as a political family.

She would be in the Forum today with her husband, and Dani was looking forward to talking to her.


Location: Roman Forum

As they walked through the Forum, surrounded by their clients, Dani and Sam spoke to business partners and associates about the Samnite War, the aqueduct, and the leach fields. Well, they talked to their phones and their phones talked to people. There hadn’t been time to learn Latin, and using the translation app emphasized their “magical” status. HG and Jaheim were doing the same thing and all of them were getting questions about how the aqueduct was going to work.

“Dani! Over here.”

Dani looked around to see Lucia in a group of women, waving, and went over.

“You know Marina and Claudia, but I don’t think you’ve met Cornelia.” She waved at a woman with hennaed hair and bushy black eyebrows, wearing a bit more makeup than she really should have been. “Cornelia owns the apartments on the Aventine, near the Tiber.”

Dani thought she knew the ones Lucia was talking about. They were two blocks worth of four story mud brick buildings with narrow windows next to one of the large public toilets. The buildings had shops on the ground floors, then three floors of really cramped apartments, mostly occupied by day laborers. So here was a Roman slumlord. And she was looking at Dani like Dani was a dangerous animal that escaped from the zoo. Dani nodded in the greeting among equals.

After a hesitation, Cornelia returned it. “I read in your newspaper that sanitation can prevent the spread of disease?”

“It can,” Dani agreed. “There are microorganisms that can be gotten rid of with washing. Those organisms cause some, but not all, diseases and are spread by contact.” Dani was quoting from the medical sanitation book that the Queen had put out within weeks of the Event. They’d taken the thing and were using the mimeographed newspaper to publish it a little at a time. Every issue had part of it. And the last one had been about hand washing, especially after defecating.

“Well, I can’t afford to put in one of your leach fields. I can’t even afford to have water pumped into my apartments.”

After arriving in Rome, Dani had discovered that the Roman method of getting rid of waste was a compromise. There were public toilets, constant flow toilets, spotted around Rome, but there were also chamber pots in every building from the sort of luxury accommodations that Dani lived in to the slum apartments that this woman owned. Those chamber pots were carried to the public toilets, where they were emptied and washed.

On arrival, the radio team had bought and manumitted a dozen slaves and hired them as servants. This made the manumitted slaves freedmen and gave them rights in the Roman republic. It also made them Ship People clients. And there was turnover as they became involved in this or that business of the Ship People. They started making more money doing other things than being servants and Dani, Sam, HG, or Jaheim would buy another slave and manumit him or her. By now they had a fairly loyal cadre of clients. It helped, of course, to start out with a load of silver.

“I realize that there are costs involved, but having bathrooms in your apartments would increase the value of those apartments and the overall health of Rome. Germs don’t respect rank.”

Cornelia sniffed, then assured Lucia that Marius would have her support. She couldn’t vote, but she had unofficial clients who could.

Location: Farm near Rome, on the Tiber
Date: December 5, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Marcus looked over at Titus, and then back at the plans. They were five miles down the Tiber from Rome and knew better than to drink from the polluted river. The plans were for a water wheel. There were water wheels in Italy, but they were mostly placed where there was more of a head. This was a different design, one that needed less of a head to lift the water, assuming that they could make it.

“They saw you coming, Titus, they surely did.”

“Maybe,” Titus said to his brother. “But we’re going to build the thing anyway, and if it works we’re going to have water for the eastern field.”

Marcus shrugged, but nodded. Then the two brothers, their two slaves, and their wives and children got to work. Marcus and Titus were both full Roman citizens and Roman soldiers, plebes, but citizens of Rome.

It took them three weeks to build the thing, but it did work and it did pump water into a pipe that took it up to the east field. It didn’t move much water, but it moved it constantly, so that after another week there was a small pool near the top of the east field. And the brothers wouldn’t need to hand carry water uphill to provide water for their crops.

By that time Gaius Maenius was the new consul, the first Roman aqueduct was under construction eight years early, and there was a windmill on the Palatine Hill powering a broadcast radio.

Location: Neápolis, a Samnite City
Date: December 17, 320 BCE, 433 AF

Jim Connors was the official ambassador to the Samnites from the Ship People. The actual head of the mission was Terry Warren, who was an Air Force NCO before the Event, and knew a fair amount about electronics, including radios. The radio was her baby and no one else was allowed to mess with it. Jim was mostly okay with that. Terry had set up a limited local area network that included both of their phones, the standard computer with its printer, and the radio station which allowed them to do atmospheric bounces in order to communicate with the other Ship People locations.

He was at a reception with Herennius Pontius when his phone rang. “Excuse me. I am receiving a phone call.” Jim put the phone on speaker. It wasn’t like the Samnites would understand Ship People English.

“Jim, I just got word from Dani Bottenfild. They have the broadcast radio up and running.”

“What’s its range?”

“I tuned it in and we’re picking it up here, but that could be bounce and the fact that we have one heck of a large receiving antenna.”

They did too. The Samnites had built them a radio tower that was seventy-five feet tall on the top of a hill.

“What is the news from Rome?” Herennius asked. Jim shouldn’t have been surprised. Herennius was a sharp operator and knew perfectly well that Dani Bottenfild was stationed in Rome.

Speaking careful Oscan, the Samnite language, Jim said, “They have the . . .” He didn’t have a word for broadcast radio. It hadn’t come up and, in truth, Jim had been convinced that it was nothing more than Dani Bottenfild wasting money on a pet project that was never going to go anywhere, so he’d never even tried to find the word. “I don’t have the word.”

By now that was a stock phrase that Jim used regularly. The Oscan language had gone extinct sometime around the first century of the Common era in that other history, so his team was starting from scratch. It did have a sort of pre-romancy feel to it and Jim, who spoke Spanish and a little French, was doing pretty well.

Herennius nodded and gestured for him to finish his call.

“Can we get one?” Jim asked Terry.

“We might.”

“How would you describe broadcast radio to a local?”

“That’s like describing a laser to a neanderthal, you know,” Terry said. Which was the reason that Jim was the front man for the Samnite radio team. While Terry was a smart and capable woman, she had all the tact of a two-by-four across the forehead.

“Not helpful, Terry,” Jim said.

“It’s a radio that sends the same message to lots and lots of little radios that just receive the message, but can’t talk back.”

“Not bad. Anything else I need to know?”

“They have a shop making crystal sets, but you knew that.”

“Right. Talk to you when I get back.” He hung up on her. There was no reason for her to call him in the middle of a political dinner about this.

He consulted his phone for a translation of broadcast into Oscan and was surprised to find one. Broadcast came from a way of seeding a field. You cast the seed in a broad manner. “Broadcast radio is a different way of using radio. Rather than two stations talking back and forth, one station sends, ah, talks and all the others listen.”

“Like a speech in the forum?” Herennius asked, looking interested. The man was getting up there, late sixties or early seventies. His hair, what there was left of it, was snow white and his face was a pattern of wrinkles. But he was sharp as a tack.

“Very much, except it isn’t just that it’s impolite to heckle the speaker. The receiving units can’t transmit, so they can’t answer back. That also means that they are simpler to make and much less expensive. We call them crystal receivers, because they don’t use tubes but a piece of crystalized metal and a coil of wire.”

“And what is the range of these broad seed radios?”

“Well, Terry tuned ours to pick it up. But we have a much better receiver and a very large antenna.”

“X%#*.” The word that popped out of Herennius’ mouth had nothing to do with sex, but it had the same basic meaning as “Fuck me” or “bugger me.”

“What’s wrong?” Jim asked.

“Can you get one of those broad seed radios for us? For the Samnites?”

“Maybe. But it won’t be cheap.”

“Please call your woman at the radio and have her arrange to have the Romans agree to receive an embassy from the Samnites as soon as possible. Oh, and when can you arrange for me to speak to my idiot son?”

Gaius Pontius was the Samnite commander who had kicked the Roman’s ass at the battle of the Caudine Forks. He was then made the Samnite observer of the Alexandrian Constitutional Convention, which had just finished. Now he was the Samnite ambassador to the Ship People.

“Certainly, sir, but can you tell me what you are so upset about?”

The old man looked at Jim like he was an idiot too and said, “You have just told me that Rome now has a means of speaking directly to everyone for miles. Tens of miles. Even hundreds of miles around. And you wonder why I am upset?”

And suddenly Jim did understand. The fireside chats of FDR. Hell, even his parents hadn’t ever heard a fireside chat, not unless it was one that got recorded and they heard it in school. But given the way things worked in the here and now, whoever controlled that radio controlled central Italy, and the Samnites were scheduled to lose their war with Rome anyway, once the truce of the Caudine Forks expired. And Rome just got the political equivalent of nukes.

“Your son isn’t the only idiot, sir,” Jim assured him. “I’ll match him stupidity for stupidity, and I don’t even have the excuse that the technology is new to me. I know how it was used in the age of radio in our history.

“I will call Terry now if you will excuse me.”

Herennius waved him away and Jim got up from the dining couch and went outside.

“Terry. You . . . you need to call the Queen and tell them that the politics of central Italy just got hit with a category nine hurricane. That radio makes Rome the major power in central Italy. Fireside chats, and the Roman consuls making speeches on the radio that will reach across the boot.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Jim? Why should I bother the Queen just because Dani got her toy up and running? Heck, they made the tubes for it and I’ll bet Dani’s already told them.”

“Maybe, but Rome is a republic. Of a sort, anyway. And a republic has to persuade its people. Heck, the Samnites are almost a republic. They have their equivalent of consuls who get elected just, well, basically like the Roman ones do. That means that the ability to influence the populations has a direct bearing on the actions of the government. If Roman consuls can talk to Etruscan citizens, and the citizens of all the other city states in central Italy, it can change the balance of power in central Italy. Possibly in all of western Europe.”


Over the next few days, radio messages went back and forth between Rome, New America, Neápolis, and the Queen of the Sea. But the Queen of the Sea was dealing with the situation in Macedonia and New America was dealing with neighboring American tribes, new voters, and the proposed alliance with the United Satrapies and States of the Empire. So both basically ignored the silliness of provincial Rome and central Italy in general. The request by the Samnites for a broadcast radio transmitter was added to the list of transmitters to be made, but it would be months until the factories and labs on the Queen got to them. And by then the New American tube industry would probably be up and running, because someone in New America had found the Sprengel pump, a mercury based vacuum pump which would have given up-time OSHA screaming nightmares, but seemed to work.

More important to the Samnite confederation of city states was the assurance that Rome would recognize and accept Herennius Pontius as an ambassador priest from the Samnites. And the—in a way more important—promise by Dani Bottenfild that Herennius would be interviewed and allowed to speak on the radio.

By the time they actually got the broadcast radio up and running, they had a stockpile of crystal sets. Or at least they’d thought they had. Within a week, the crystal sets were sold out. And within two, there were other makers producing crystal sets, and selling them first in Rome, then up and down the western coast of Italy. By the time Herennius got to speak on the radio, he had a large audience.

Location: Home of Equestrian Blandus Buteo
Date: January 3, 319 BCE, 434 AF

Blandus placed the ear phones over his ears and laid back on the dining couch to listen to the radio. He had always liked gadgets and he especially liked this one. It was a crystal radio set and it got two stations. Both of them were put out by the Ship People delegation, and one concentrated on music and radio plays while the other had news and useful information like recipes and how to make things.

Today he was listening to the interview with Herennius Pontius.

Dani came on with her phone voice. That is, the voice of her phone’s translation app came on, introducing her and the show.

“Whose wisdom is so great that it’s remembered over two thousand three hundred years into the future?”

There was a clearly disgusted snort, then, in a strong Oscan accent, Herennius Pontius said, “Say rather my son’s stupidity.”

“Is Livi’s version of that famous communique accurate? Did you first tell your son to let the Romans go and then to kill them all?”

“I have never been as eloquent in my life as Livi wrote me. I pointed out that we only had two real options on dealing with Rome. Friendship or war . . .” He paused, then continued. “See, I can’t find a good translation for the Oscan phrase. It literally means a fight to the death, a duel that isn’t scored by points or by first blood, but which only ends when one of the fighters is dead. But in context, I meant the type of war, where either Rome or the Samnite confederation would be destroyed.”

“Total war, or, perhaps, war to the knife,” Dani offered, or her phone did.

“Perhaps. And my conclusion is, I fear, even more true today. Both the Romans and the Samintes now have hand grenades and rockets. Though we are still working on the fire caps you people use to fire your pistols and rifles. Add those in, and the sort of total war I was afraid of when I answered my son would be even worse for both our people than it was in your history, Missus Bottenfild.”

Blandus noted that the “never as eloquent as Livi wrote me” Samnite knew the proper form of Ship People address for a ship person married woman, something most Romans hadn’t bothered to learn. He may not be as eloquent as Livi wrote him, but he was at least as smart.

“In your history, we were destroyed and Rome was damaged because my son insisted on acting like a schoolyard bully. Yes, your Titus Venturis Calvinus marched his army into a pit trap. That wasn’t the army’s fault, and it wasn’t Rome’s. In all honesty, it probably wasn’t Titus’ fault either. Just one of the mischances that happen in war. They can happen in either direction, and the number of factors that cause those mischances are well beyond the predictions even of the gods.

“It could have gone the other way, and the war—if resumed at the end of the truce—could go either way again. Just because Rome won in that other timeline doesn’t mean it will win in this one. Not because we’re better than you, or stronger than you, but because the circumstances are different now. We’re using different weapons.

“We know. And by we, I mean not just the Samnites but the Romans as well. Both sides know at least some of the history of war that extends into the far future. No one knows how that knowledge will affect the future. Not me, not my son, not Titus, or Gaius Maenius, and not even the gods, not ours or yours. That’s why I am here. I don’t want to risk that. I think that Rome and the Samnites need to become not just friends, but more than friends. Because one thing that we know has changed is that Alexander’s empire isn’t going to collapse this time around.”

“You can’t be sure of that. Eumenes hasn’t even crossed the Bosphorus and the eastern satrapes are mostly staying out of it, even if they did send delegates to the constitutional convention on the Queen of the Sea,” Dani’s phone said.

“But they do have a constitution,” Herennius insisted, “and they have a radio network to tie the empire together in a way that signal fires and semaphores couldn’t. How long will it be before they have finished the war, whichever way it ends, and turn their attention west? Two years? Ten? It doesn’t matter. Once they do, all of Rome and the Samnites, the Etruscans, even the Gauls to the north, will be caught in a pit trap like Titus was, and the damn Greeks won’t just humiliate us. They will make every man, woman, and child in Italy into a slave.”

All in all, it was an interesting interview, and it left Blandus with a lot to think about. More importantly, it turned his attention away from the humiliation that the Samnites had delivered to the much greater threat that the empire of Alexander posed.

1 review for The Sicilian Coil

  1. William Scott (verified owner)

    Huff and Goodlett always deliver a good story; the Alexander Inheritance universe is shaping up nicely.

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