(Chapter 1 is here)
Chapter 05 – The House of the Fella
3700 BCE – Khonsu Shipping Office
Naram risked a glance out the window of the small business office. It had been over three hours since the screaming had started outside, and things hadn’t gotten any better. The Badi invaders had broken down the door of the next building, dragging the bodies of the occupants out into the street. He and Siin were fortunate that they had already deactivated the suntubes and shuttered the windows, preparing to leave for the evening. As long as they stayed still and quiet, they might stay alive. He carefully drew back from the window and shook his head at the other clerk.
“We can’t just sit here and hide forever, Naram. Eventually those barbarians will start searching the buildings, for food, if nothing else. The longer we wait, the more likely it is that we’ll get caught. I don’t want to die in this Sokar-forsaken little mailroom…I say we get out of here and head West!”
“If we try to leave right now, “travel to the West” is exactly what we WILL do. Look for yourself.”
The younger man put his eye to the gap in the shutter. In the distance, triumphant shouts rang out as another group of defenders was overrun and massacred, the shrill whine of their heat weapons falling silent. He jerked back with a gasp as the door shook from a heavy blow. Shouting, then another blow.
“Siin, you idiot!” Both men cast about desperately for a weapon, a place to hide, something, anything…
Naram’s hand landed on a Ba Block. Not much, but it was something. He hefted the brick-shaped device, ready to strike.
The door collapsed…
AP braced himself against the back of the narrow shaft, carefully picking his way down the rickety ladder. The smell of dry clay made him want to sneeze, but he suppressed it. The shaft was suddenly lit from below.
“You stuck up there, AP?”
“I could be down REALLY FAST if it makes you feel better, Gene, but you’d probably have to haul me back up on a stretcher.” He resumed his cautious descent, the ladder creaking ominously. Reaching the bottom, he crawled over to join Jo and her father, avoiding the grid of strings dividing the space into sections.
Jo was crouching next to a partially unearthed assortment of bones. Far from being a frightening sight, it was almost pathetic. A brick-shaped object lay among the ancient remains. A man was next to her, methodically brushing stale dust from the bones. Jo had put on a pair of light cotton gloves and was selecting a pick to work with.
AP shifted, trying to see around the archaeologists. “Was this a grave with two people in it? It doesn’t look right somehow. Can you tell if they were men or women?”
“Bassem here says this isn’t a grave, but he’s not sure what it is.” Jo removed a small clump of dirt, freeing the end of a tibia. “They can’t determine the gender until the bones are measured…pelvis width, skull shape, that sort of thing.” Bassem carefully removed the brick from the jumble and laid it in Jo’s gloved hand.
A metallic glint caught her eye, and she picked up a brush to remove the caked dirt. She was surprised when the dirt flaked off easily, revealing a glazed surface painted with hieroglyphs. A pair of Eyes of Horus adorned one side, close to the end. “It looks like a small coffin of the pre-mummiform style. For an ushabti, maybe?” She handed the object to her father, who held it close to the lantern for a better look.
“Idha ila la’ito!” Bassem had found something else underneath the bones and after more than an hour of careful work, he and Jo were at last able to free it from the debris. With the dried mud removed and brought into the light, it appeared to be a piece of a small stela, a small plaque with designs carved on the stone surface. Above the broken edge, the head of a falcon and some hieroglyphs were visible.
“A falcon…that’s the god Horus, right?” AP pointed at the bird.
Jo borrowed a magnifying glass from Bassem. “Horus is a solar deity. If you look closer, you can see this figure is wearing the crescent and full moon headdress. It looks like an early form of Khonsu, The Wanderer.”
Late that night, Jo gave up trying to fall asleep. She sat at the desk in her room and continued cleaning the brick-shaped object from the excavation. As she worked, she got the impression of something within slumbering, beginning to stir. This wasn’t unusual with artifacts; sometimes one came up from a dig that the ancient priests had prepared as a vessel for a spirit, and once in a while, the spirit was still using it. Jo’s training at the temple in Dendera had attuned her senses to vessels prepared in this way and taught her how to handle them. She brushed a strand of dark hair from her face and concentrated on the eyes painted on the object. “Is anyone in there? Hnw siiz?”
She got the distinct impression that someone looked out at her for a moment, then went back to sleep. Maybe she should get some sleep herself. They would have a long trip out to AP’s temple tomorrow.
Hammer swore under his breath, as his ladder almost caught a wire. It was almost impossible to see in the darkness, and the borrowed kafiyya kept slipping over his eyes. How did the natives keep the damn things wrapped? After tipping the ladder to the side, he managed to quietly lean it against the house, just below a dark second-story window.
A quick glance up and down the street – still empty! – he began his ascent. The galabaya kept tangling his feet, threatening a quick trip to the street below. He savagely suppressed the impulse to sneeze. Didn’t his servant ever wash the god-awful thing? These people had no sense of hygiene.
When he reached the window he discovered that a fretwork screen was set into the windowsill, barring his way. After working his fingers into the holes, he carefully tried to lift it, but it wouldn’t move. How did these things work again? Oh, right…slide straight in. He gave a gentle push, but it still didn’t budge. Frustrated, he heaved at the barrier, and for one sickening moment, the man hung between the swaying ladder and the screen, whimpering as the fretwork bit into his fingers.
Gritting his teeth against the pain, he gently brought the ladder back against the wall. The screen was now almost beyond the frame. Several light taps and it released. He was in.
A man was sleeping peacefully in the bed. As Hammer tried to extricate his fingers from the screen, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. There was something else in the room. In an instant that seemed like a thousand years, he turned to face an enormous cobra statue, its eyes glowing as it slithered closer, rearing to strike. It shouldn’t be moving, his terrified brain cried, it’s made of stone, for God’s sake. The cobra spat, and the intruder instinctively held up the screen as a shield. He wrenched his fingers free and fled before the snake could strike again. Just as he reached the window, the man in the bed sat up, but Hammer was out and stumbling down the ladder before an alarm could be raised. He swore as he ran, his right arm burning where a drop of the cobra’s venom had fallen.
In the room vacated by the would-be thief, AP gazed at the cobra statue. In his groggy state, he was vaguely aware of it as a security device. Not knowing what more he could do about it, he fell asleep again. In his dreams, a golden mongoose crawled through the open window, crouching to meet the cobra’s attack. A voice said “He went swimming in the river…”
AP suddenly bolted out of bed, now fully awake. The screen lay on the floor where the intruder had left it…that hadn’t been a dream. The mongoose! If someone knows about a security device, they can counter it! He threw on his robe and ran from the room to alert the household.