Authors: Evan Currie
Copyright 2012 Evan C Currie
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This one was an interesting challenge to write, and a bit of a culture clash for me as well. Moving from nukes and lasers to swords and spears was somewhat shocking, I found, particularly given how much more brutal war sounds when it’s described so close up. Swords may only kill one man at a time compared to hundreds in a nuked spaceship, but even in text you can feel the personal touch of cold steel.
Up front I am going to say, I am not a historian, I am a writer. This is an alternate take on how things may have gone had certain technologies been developed slightly more, or suppressed slightly less. There is nothing in this novel that is impossible, it all could have happened given the Roman penchant for drama and excess. That said, while there are real names of real historical people here, they are just that. Names. Each character is my own interpretation of what people might have been like, and really that’s all anyone can do. Even the most well-known of the people in this story are known today by hearsay and records written by their enemies as much as anything remotely factual.
Even the uprising I set the novel in is largely known only by the histories of Josephus, written a generation after the events in question. While this makes for writing accurately about events very difficult (or impossible, rather), it also allows me a lot of leeway to write what the story needs to be. I think I’ve succeeded in that here, and I hope you agree with me.
One final note before we move on, given the nature of the era in which this story is set, religion plays a huge role in the motivations of the characters. I personally have a very neutral opinion toward faith, but my characters do not. Don’t take their positions personally, there’s really no point as they are not real, but rather they hold opinions based on how I believe they would believe.
Enough of this, though, on to Steam Legion…
Table of Contents
The steam engine was not invented in the eighteenth century, but in the first. In the year 50 AD, Heron of Alexandria offered a wondrous new invention to his Emperor, with a startling and visionary description of how very much could be done with this new technology. The conversation only exists now as an anecdotal story, but as it has been told, the most powerful man of the most powerful Empire on the planet took this most brilliant mind aside and gently shook his head.
Heron, my friend, were I you, I would forget this thing.”
But why?” Heron cried out, confused and shocked.
The Emperor smiled at his friend’s naiveté and replied, “Because if we did all that, my friend, what would we do with the slaves?”
On such whims history turns, and yet in some worlds, the tide shifts and history turns another direction entirely: In another world, in another time, a giant sleeps in the city of Alexandria… One should never wake a sleeping giant, for once awake, who can hope to control him?
Section One–The Original Book Burning
Alexandria was burning.
The normally soft flickers of the oil lamps and wood fires that lit the ancient city by night had been replaced by the harsh and angry red flashes of fires burning out of control. The city Garrison had fallen quickly, not being ready for the fierce invasion of the rebelling Zealot forces. The rebels against the Empire had moved swiftly, taking towns and villages along the way, and managed to outrun the Roman messengers, who should have brought warning.
The Legions of Rome were nowhere to be found.
With rebellions across the Empire to be put down, the normally quiet coast of Egypt was of lower concern. The famed Legions had been arrayed to the east, where the rebels were thicker, or to the north along the borders in Gaul and beyond. On the strategic board, it was a sensible move. However, the enemies of the Empire played those games too.
The streets were alternately deserted in places and filled with fighting in others, bands of roaming thugs in military dress roving through the defeated city, pillaging, looting, and burning to their dark hearts’ content. Near the famed University of Alexandria and its adjoined Library, one such band paused only briefly to slaughter the handful of guards the institution maintained before pushing through the gates and into the Campus beyond.
They had not travelled far before they came upon a young woman walking briskly across the Campus, obviously intent on her destination. She didn’t see them until they fell on her, dragging her to the ground in their bloodthirsty glee.
Had they been less drunk on the blood and carnage they were visiting on the city, they may have noticed that, while surprised, she did not yell out even as they tore the tunic from her back. They didn’t even note that the tunic had obviously been imported from Memphis, and was clearly of a finer weave of cloth than any of them had ever seen, let alone worn.
Had they noted those two things, they wouldn’t have cared, other than to be pleased at the chance to enjoy themselves with the daughter of some Roman noble. Perhaps with a little more sense in their blood-addled minds, one or two of them would have noted that the gleam in her eyes was not fear, but repressed rage as they groped at her now bared breasts and fought to divest her of her leggings.
She did not scream, nor cry, nor struggle as they tore at the coarser cloth of her pants, fighting each other to be the first to bare her ass to their sight. Stoically, she bore it without visible emotion, until one of them finally turned just enough as he grabbed at her breast and groped her crotch roughly. Her slim hand wrapped itself around his pommel, the one attached to his sword and not the one he was currently thinking with, and then she made her first sound since the surprised gasp at being tackled.
Her scream of rage startled them; they’d become accustomed to her cooperation, and the blade slid free of the man’s belt in a vicious arc that bisected one of his friend’s belly in an instant. The wounded man screamed, wailing in surprise and pain as he tried to hold in his intestines, and fell back on his ass in shock. Around him, his friends made what would be the last mistake of their lives.
They froze and fell back in shock.
In an instant, she was on her feet, blade ringing in the air as she spun it about and brought it down through the shoulder of a second man. His arm was disconnected from his body, save for a ragged length of flesh hardly able to hold the weight of the now-dead arm.
Some intelligence won over in that moment, and the men instantly put more distance between them and her, keeping out of reach of her captured sword as they drew their own weapons again and glared on at her as her near-nude body gleamed in the reflected light of the burning buildings of Alexandria.
“You shouldn’t have done that, girl,” one said, taking the leadership of his group, staring furiously at the woman who had slaughtered two of his friends. “We may have let you live when we were done.”
She glared back at them, eyes barely acknowledging their existence as human beings.
“I am Dyna of Sparta, daughter of the Agiad line, descendant of Leonidas and Anaxandridas and Heracles himself. So I tell you here and now that there are only three conditions upon which you will ever touch my body with your rotted members,” she snarled, a now-clear fury showing in her face. “First, if I permit you, which not even your bastard God has the power to demand of me with any surety of success…”
“Woman, blaspheme against the one true God at peril of your immortal soul…!” He took a step forward, halting as the sword swung in his direction.
“Two,” she continued, as if he hadn’t spoken. “If you should win my hand in marriage…a feat I assure you that none of your filthy band has neither the intestinal nor
fortitude to even attempt.”
The men spread out, their weapons warily waving ahead of them as they moved to surround her. The leader sneered at her, trying to distract her attention from their motions. “And the third way?”
She looked at him as if he were the lowest form of mobility on the face of the world. “Third, is if you defile my cooling…rotting…
Dyna spoke the last three words deliberately, with dripping derision for her audience, but as the last word snapped from her lips, she lifted her captured short blade and charged. The leader of the brigand stumbled back in shock as she drove straight into him, the bare and tanned flesh of her body almost hiding the lethal intent of her motion from his mind.
He brought his blade up to block, but she turned low and spun on her heel, the gladius blade reaching just far enough to sever his foot above the ankle and slash deeply through flesh, sinew, and bone along the other side. He screamed, toppling like a felled tree, and hit the ground hard on his left side just as she pivoted in place and swung the blade up and over in a powerful chop that cleaved his skull from brow to cheek.
She rolled over his body, tucking tightly to bring her feet back under her, and spun to a fighting position on the other side, keeping space, and his corpse, between her and the men who had been trying to surround her.
At her home in Sparta, Dyna had been raised with four brothers and three sisters. She first wrapped her hands around the pommel of a sword during her fifth summer and had spent the next ten years training alongside her brothers in the ancient arts her family held to tightly as the world around them changed. She wasn’t fully trained as a warrior, of course, that was her brothers’ lot. Dyna spent more of her time learning to manage the estate, maintain the family fortune, and properly administrate their slaves and employees.
She was, however, still a Spartan.
She eyed the remaining four as they stared at her in shock and horror, idly flicking the blood from the blade she’d taken and spattering it across the ground and body before her. She had no shield—though, honestly, she’d never fully mastered shield use due to the extreme weight of the bronze-and-leather monster true Spartan warriors carried at all times—and no armor either, so this would be a primal conflict and a challenge.
Nudity was no taboo for her, however, so she ignored it. Skin was as effective an armor as Egyptian cotton, so her tunic or her bare flesh mattered little. Most of her sparring with her brothers and sisters had been done in the nude. Flesh healed, pain strengthened, but armor was expensive to repair.
There was an interminable moment where she wished for a pylum to skewer at least one of the bastards before her. They were well within her range, but she didn’t have one of those either. Her father would chastise her for being caught so unprepared.