Back in 2011, my friend Josephine Boone & I wrote a weekly serial on a steampunk website. Set in an alternate late-1800’s Egypt, it featured ancient and future tech in a land where the ancient Gods are still active.
Chapter 02 – Dr. Boone’s Office
The travelers had arrived at the office of Josephine’s father, Dr. Eugene Wesley Boone. The door was opened by a grizzled old Arab servant, who greeted them humbly, then started shouting at the taxi driver, who was apparently his cousin. Jo and AP exchanged looks and left the two arguing in the street. Still shaken, they unsteadily wound their way through the narrow corridors. “Daddy?” Jo called, “Where are you?” An old man in rumpled seersucker appeared from a doorway down the hall, his face lighting up at the sight of his youngest daughter.
“Jo, darlin’, you made it! And is this the Shan fella you told me about?”
“No, Daddy. Shan is a rooster,” she replied, referring to her magically transformed roommate. “This is AP. He’s a human.” Her companion stepped forward to introduce himself.
“Coupe de Fleur, but you can call me AP; everyone does.” He rolled his eyes in resignation. The old man smiled and nodded vaguely, then led them into a small office.
It was dusty, cramped, and full of interesting artifacts. A pair of ushabti sat on a table, carefully piecing together an ancient scroll. Shelves on the wall were haphazardly stacked with artifacts; animal-headed statuettes, bronze mirrors and amulets were jumbled up with bird and cat mummies and faience perfume bottles. A was sceptre leaned precariously against the desk. Jo attempted to clean the dust from her spectacles. She smiled fondly at her friend, who was gazing around, enraptured by all the ancient objects. Replacing her spectacles, she spied a small statue of Min, a prominent fertility god, and turned away, blushing.
Tearing his eyes away from a miniature harp, AP turned back to the archaeologist. “I have always been fascinated by Egyptology, sir, in fact I’ve made a lifelong study of it, but I’ve never had the privilege to see artifacts up close and outside a display case.”
“Here, have a look at this.” Dr. Boone said, casually tossing a jeweled scarab with a wind-up key protruding from its back. Just then the servant appeared with refreshments, welcome after the heat of the taxi and the dusty streets. Jo thanked him and took the tray, serving the cookies and Southern-style iced tea herself.
Father and daughter examined the work of the ushabti, excitedly discussing the hieroglyphs. AP laughed, “Your dad seems to have a lot more talent for controlling ushabtis, Jo!” The young woman explained, telling her father about the little servant figure that had malfunctioned in her own office and kept her awake for several nights after having gotten into the walls of her house.
After a couple of cookies, AP resumed his examination of the scarab. “Can the mechanism stand the stress of winding, after all this time, Dr. Boone?”
“Course it can, it might as well be new! And call me Gene.”
After gingerly winding the little toy, he set it on the desk and watched, fascinated, as the little beast marched along, stopping at intervals to swing its mandibles about. “This is totally amazing! I have never heard of any mechanism this sophisticated being made in ancient Egypt! What period is it from?”
“Now that’s pretty late period; nothing special. You want special? Take a look at this.” Gene moved several boxes around, peering briefly into each one before setting it aside. Eventually he pulled out a linen-wrapped object, and carefully handed it to AP.
Unwrapping it, he found a beautiful cone of deep blue, covered with golden hieroglyphics. Two spiral posts of gold extended from the bottom.
“This came out of the basement of one of the locals. Fella wanted a fortune for it…would’ve got it if he’d been digging around down there for legal purposes.”
AP pushed up his spectacles to look closely at the writing. “It doesn’t seem to be a religious text, but it mentions Ma’at – meaning “stability” or “regulation” in this context? And this series means 700,000… somethings – another puzzle – don’t they just say “million” when they want an impressive number? And Re – the sun god. Is that what you make it out to be?” He handed the object to Jo.
She pointed to the row of lotuses. “See the flame coming from each one? They represent Zep Tepi…the Beginning.” She went on to explain one of the many Egyptian creation stories. “When the first lotus emerged from the Uncreated, it opened to reveal the first light. At that time, the universe was in perfect balance.” As she idly traced the lotuses with her fingertip, a look of concern crossed her face.
“Daddy…where is the fella you got this from?”
The old man paused a moment before answering. “He went swimming in the river,” he replied slowly.
Her companion looked puzzled. “Wouldn’t that be a bit dangerous?”
“What Daddy means,” Jo answered softly, “is that he was killed. His body was thrown to the crocodiles.”
The old archaeologist nodded. “The widow sold us the house cheap. Never saw her again, neither.”