IN ANCIENT EGYPT LAND
By Rotwang (Zardreth@Cyberking.be)
Marcus watched the man vaunt the features of his performance. Peroxas, a Sicilian, showed a large box decorated as an Egyptian sarcophagus. "I discovered this when I travelled to far away Egypt. It belonged to the first Pharaoh of Egypt, who had it made in honour of his beloved wife !" He said bombastically. "Only I know the secret of its magic !" He said. "It took me an entire year to read the magical formula and perform the miracle of Pharaoh Menes and his queen. Peroxas produced a sheet of papyrus and began to read from it in something that vaguely resembled Egyptian. Marcus glanced expectedly at Sekhmet, who pursed his lips in ignorance. As soon as he had spoken the stately words, there was a bright flash and all present gasped as the box fell open, revealing a golden statue of an Egyptian woman dressed in royal attire. Everybody held their breath expectantly, but nothing happened. Marcus shifted on his couch and cupped his chin. Then Peroxas produced an ankh and placed it in an indentation on its chest. And recited from the papyrus again. Then Marcus noticed a faint movement from the statue and it raised its hands. Everyone gasped in surprise. The music began to play and the statue began to dance. The rhythmic drumming and the alluring dance of the statue impressed everyone. Marcus looked at Sekhmet, who was enjoying the performance. Then the music slowed and the statue walked up the steps toward Marcus and kneeled before him. He watched its beautiful golden face, inlaid with precious gemstones. It reached out and gently took his hands, drawing him towards it and kissed him. Then it stood up and resumed the position it had held before it had begun to move. Peroxas removed the Ankh and read from the parchment again. The statue was immobile as before.
Most guests began to clap their hands in appreciation and threw coins at Peroxas, who urged two assistants to pick up the coins. And greeted all attendants, but just as he ordered the slaves and assistants to put the statue back in its box, Marcus intervened. "Let it stand. My guests may want to admire it." "My lord, I would like, but the statue is so ancient and the magic so difficult to cast, I would prefer to keep it in its box, safe from malicious spirits." "This house is under the protection of the gods, Peroxas. There are no evil spirits here." Marcus answered. Peroxas nodded and sent his people away. Then after a short hesitation, he walked up to Marcus. "I will require more money, my lord. This was not agreed upon." "I will double your salary." Marcus waved him away, and resumed watching the statue. "What do you think Sekhmet ?" "It looks vaguely Egyptian, but how does he work his magic ? I couldnt understand a word he said." "That wasnt Egyptian, just some mumbo-jumbo to impress the crowd. I wonder what really makes it work." "Marcus, my friend !" Claudius interluded. "Im sorry, but we have a long journey ahead of us and my wife and I wish to rest. I hope I wont mar this marvellous feast ?" "Not at all... I have some work to do. Ill leave you to bed. Goodnight !" "Goodnight !"
As Claudius and his wife Aemilia left, slaves began to clean up. Marcus got up from his couch and watched the Sicilian discussing with his men. He stepped into the middle of the room and examined the statue. He tapped on its shoulder with the tip of his fingers and looked around it. "How did you get across this statue ?" He asked Peroxas who looked more apprehensive by the minute. "I heard from an Egyptian friend of mine that there was an ancient site, where the court of Menes was held. When we visited it, I saw her head sticking out of the sand. Then I took it with me." "Something bothers me. Is it real gold ?" "Certainly, its massive gold my lord !" "Then why isnt the bottom of the box or this mosaic floor damaged by its huge weight ?" "What do you mean my lord?" Peroxas paled. "Ive seen a golden statue shatter a thick marble stand with its own weight and the wood of the box is barely as thick as my little finger. Furthermore, it would take more than four men, even as strong as they, to carry it." Marcus pointed at the less than muscular assistants. "Perhaps, it is hollow, then ?" Peroxas answered nervously. Marcus tapped it. "It doesnt look like gold to me." "I am no learned man like you, my lord, but I can assure you it is the statue of Menes wife !" "Where did you find it, you say ?" Marcus said while circumventing the statue. "In Egypt !" The Sicilian said promptly. "Yes, but where in Egypt ?" "Near the tomb of Menes my lord." "And where is this tomb ?" Marcus asked, smiling faintly. "Im not very good with place names, you know my lord. Somewhere south of Thebes..." "I didnt know he was buried south of Thebes ?" Marcus exaggerated his surprise. "Look, my lord, I would not wish to further intrude upon you. I will take my money and leave." Peroxas bowed and tried to leave. "I will quadruple your salary if you leave it here for one night." Utter horror could be read in Peroxas eyes. He scratched his beard and looked back at his assistants and at the statue which he was facing. "Youre too good, but I really cannot allow it. Who knows what might happen during the night ? Ive never let it out of its box for so long my lord." "It was in the desert for long enough." Marcus pointed out. "Yes, indeed my lord... But ..." Peroxas began to run out of excuses. "I want to know its secret." Marcus put bluntly. "The secret lies here, in the secret formula !" Peroxas unrolled the papyrus and quickly showed it. "May I take a look ?" Peroxas flushed white. "Yes ... Certainly my Lord!" and unrolled it before Marcus. "Take a look at this, Sekhmet !" "The one who wrote this never even saw real writing." The Egyptian said from a distance. Marcus laughed. "Look, Peroxas, Ill pay ten times your salary if I may examine your statue. Im intrigued to see how the Egyptians managed to make a statue move with some made-up language. I promise I will tell no-one of whatever secret I might discover." Peroxas nodded nervously. His assistants quietly urging him to agree.
Peroxas had reluctantly left. Marcus examined the statue from every angle. He kneeled besides it and grabbed its hand, tugged at it and felt it was not rigid at all. Then he stood up again and stared closely at the face, took a step back and then jumped forward, yelling hard while opening his arms wide. "WAAAAAH !" The statue cringed, took a step back, slipped and crashed to the floor. It then hesitated between getting up and remaining immobile. Marcus offered it his hand. The golden woman reached for his hand and he helped it on its feet. "Who are you ?" There was no answer. Marcus searched her head and found two latches holding the head together. He opened the mask and watched a cascade of black braided hair erupt from the mask. The woman brought up her hands to shield her face. Marcus gently pulled down her hands and watched at the frightened Nubian girl. "Dont be afraid." He said gently. "Please, do not tell my master." She said. Her skin was not as dark as that of most Nubians and her face was really beautiful, more so than the mask. And her eyes were green. "What may happen if I do ?" "He will punish me my lord." "How ?" "Hell whip me." She said coldly, still averting her eyes from him. "How did this thing come about ?" The girl wouldnt answer. Marcus glanced inside the mask and realised it was made of a very thin metal he didnt know. The entire costume was a work of art in itself, as even the joints of the fingers were so delicate, they showed nothing of the person underneath. He picked up the mask and noticed that the Egyptian face had been sculpted on it in clay and covered in gold leaf. Marcus called for Peroxas.
"It is only a dressing-up of the act, my lord. You must understand that if I would tell the people that this statue is a slave-girl in a costume ..." "How much for everything ?" Marcus asked. "What do you mean ? My lord." "How much would you ask for the girl and the costume ?" "But I will never sell it, I cannot ..." "Ill give you this." Marcus had a slave drop a huge bag of gold in front of the Sicilian. "But ..." He stammered. "If you do not take this offer, which is more than generous, and more than you deserve, I will inform the authorities and tell them you are a fraud." "Yes, certainly my lord !" Peroxas bowed and picked up the bag, frantically curtseying all the way to the exit.
"Ive never seen anything like it." Marcus said while the woman undressed herself. "Who made it ?" He asked while holding her arm to steady her as she removed the boots. "I dont know." She answered. "It has always been with me, since I was found." "Where do you come from ?" "They found me near Sicily, washed up on the beach. They found the costume as well." "And they kept you together ?" "My first master kept it as entertainment in his house. When he sold me, Peroxas thought it would be nice as a trick. So he bought me and the costume. He changed it to look Egyptian and made me wear it." "Did you notice the metal of this mask is incredibly light and thin ? Whoever made this was a remarkable blacksmith." Marcus said examining it. "The blacksmith in the city told my former master he didnt know the metal." "Its not bronze, gold, iron or even lead. Have you noticed the inside is covered with these strange circular golden marks ?" Marcus looked with fascination at the markings inside the mask and body.. "When did it happen ?" "Four years ago." "Your ship sank in a storm ?" "There was no storm that day, or the days before." "Where were you going ?" "I dont know. I dont remember anything from before I washed up on the shore wearing the costume." "Nothing at all ?" "No, they found me and didnt know what to make of me." "What do you mean ?" "They found me wearing strange clothes made from a shiny fabric, like silk. And I wore a broken manacle on my wrist, so the proprietor of the largest villa near the coast thought I was a slave." "Were you ?" "I dont know, I dont think so. Something else though..." "What ?" "I spoke an unknown language, even the Nubian slaves didnt understand me." "Perhaps your spoke an obscure dialect from deep in Africa." "No, it didnt even sound remotely like it, listen I remember some words." Marcus listened to the words. "Sounds almost like Germanic to me." "Germanic ?" Said the woman in surprise. "Thats impossible, yet you have green eyes, Ive never heard of Nubians with green eyes." "Yes, many told me that." "Do you have anything else besides this costume ?" "No, they took everything away from me." Marcus looked at the girl and down at the golden costume she was wearing. Then he exclaimed : "Sekhmet ! Were leaving for Sicily."
Marcus, followed by Sekhmet and Kieora, as the girl had been called, down to the Sicilian beach, themselves followed by several slave porters and a few men from the village. "Is this the place ?" "I think so." "Who found you ?" "I dont remember." "Does anyone of you know who found her ?" One of the villagers stepped forward. "The old madman who lives up on those rocks told us that a burning chariot fell from the skies in the sea." "A burning chariot ?" Marcus looked at Kieora. "Lets find this old man." He said looking at the rocky cliffs.
The stench emerging from the cave was overpowering. Deeper in the cave Marcus could see the flickering of fire. When he walked into the cave, he saw a wide-eyed old man with long white hair and beard covered in filth staring at them. "I am Marcus Lucius Arivennus, do you know this woman ?" Showing Kieora. The man licked his lips and eyed her up. Then recognition flushed his face. "Yes ! Yes ! Shes the girl from the flaming chariot !" He said in a sharp, mad-sounding voice. "Where did you see this chariot ?" "It fell in the sea, about a few hundred feet from the coast. It nearly singed my beard !" He rasped. "Show me." The man darted past them and ran down the cave to the exit. The rags he wore as clothes slipping from his sickly thin shoulders. Marcus followed him, but lost sight of him as he walked into the open air. Squinting under the light of the bright sun, he looked around himself. "There it fell !" Said a sharp voice above him. Marcus looked up and trailed the edge of the mans pointing arm at the sea. Below him, the villagers waited. "Hey, you, down there ! How deep is the water there ?" "Quite deep my lord ! You can walk into the water until youre in up to your waist and then it drops sharply." "Are there men among you who can dive ?" "Yes, me and my brother, my lord, we dive for sponges." Said a young villager. "When we come down from here, Ill show you what to do." Marcus looked up at the old man again. "Heres for your trouble." He said, tossing up a golden coin at the man.
"We found a large object in the water, my lord." Said the young Sicilian, emerging from the water. "How big ?" Marcus asked. "Larger than this boat, my lord." He tapped the side of the sloop they were in. "Sekhmet, prepare to take down a message for the garrison in Syracuse. Well need some engineers."
The roman soldiers had managed to build a wall around the object and had made it watertight. Then the water was pumped out and Marcus could examine the thing. It was long with an oval cross-section and two strange tubes coming out one end. It was covered in algae and sea-life, masking it completely. "How heavy do you think it is ?" Marcus asked the officer besides him. "I dont know, It seems as if it was entirely made from metal." "Can you lift it ?" "We can build a crane." The centurion said. "Good, do it."
The Roman soldiers built a big crane and lifted the huge metal disc from the water and put it down on the beach. Kieora watched in fascination. "I remember something." She said and walked up the side and pressed her hand on a metal plate. "Be careful !" Marcus told her and an opening appeared in the disc. Kieora stepped in. And Marcus ran after her. The stench when he popped his head inside, was quite bad. "What are you doing ?" He said, as Kieora looked down at the skeleton of a man and picked up an object. Marcus noticed it. "What is this ?" Kieora was too busy looking at the strange panels in front of the two seats. "The main drive is spent !" Kieora hit the console with her fist. She took the bracelet shed taken from the man and pushed a button. It beeped and came to life. Marcus wanted to grab her arm to get a better look. "No !" She screamed but the universe just ripped open and both of them fell through the hole.
Marcus woke up on a bed. Kieora was standing besides him. "Im sorry, Marcus, but youre in trouble." "How ?" "You see, you grabbed me when I initiated the time-bubble. And we both ended up in my time." Marcus looked confused. "What ?" "I am a traveller from a distant future. We have the ability to travel back in time. Our transport crashed and I suffered a memory loss. It all came back to me when you had the ship dug up." Marcus watched her still unwilling to believe. "I know you are an intelligent man." She said. "And a practical one." Marcus nodded. "Im quite sure that you will understand what Im going to explain." She said. "First of all Im not entirely human ..." "Large parts of my body are mechanical." She said. "To allow me to survive in harsh environments." Marcus looked at her. "Its incredible !" "I know, there is one problem, though ..." She sighed. "You cant go back." "Why not ?" "If we sent you back, youd die horribly. If you had worn a bracelet like this one, there wouldnt be a problem." She said and held it up. "Thats the slaves manacle you mentioned ?" "Yes, its a space-time anchor. Without it, your body wouldnt survive the temporal shift." "I have trouble understanding you ..." Marcus admitted. "Itll take time to explain." She said. "But I think you will adjust to our time ..."