The sun beat down on the yellow desert sands. A few hours ago the heat would have been almost unbearable, forcing all but the most hardy inside. Now, in the early evening, the temperature had dropped, taking the ferocity out of the star's rays.
The air may have been cooler, but the sand itself was still warm enough to be uncomfortable on any unprotected feet foolish enough to venture out.
Winding their way through the landscape was a small procession: six men, each carrying a small part of a simple wooden coffin. Following at a short distance, was an elderly man. The unusual natural white of his hair glinting in the daylight, behind him a small, grey coated feline. As the short procession came to a halt outside a tomb, the animal lowered itself into the warm sands.
The newly completed structure nestled in a small hollow in the surrounding ground, the top slabs still baring the yellow tinge of freshly quarried stones, the sun having not yet had time to bleach them.
The cat watched as the old man, pulling something loose from around his neck, stepped forward. He placed the object on the coffin lid, laying his hand over it and bowing his head briefly, before stepping back.
As the wooden box was taken through the doorway and down the steps into the dark interior, the object slid from the coffin lid. No one noticed but the cat. Its green eyes followed the small, black, carved stone as it tumbled to the ground. It watched as a sandal shod foot trod on the tiny impact crater, removing all trace of the amulet except for a small piece of the leather thong. The cat blinked, studying the people before it, its gaze rose steadily to the blinding light of the late evening sun.
As a slight mewing noise rose in the silent air, the old man turned. He thought for a moment that he could see a small grey feline standing to one side of the tomb, but as he blinked the shape was gone.
It was the work of a few minutes to seal the tomb door. The slaves backed away, then scattered to their own homes. Only the old man stayed, staring sightlessly at the stone slab closing the entrance.
A slight breeze lifted tiny grains of the desert, shifting them towards the structure. As the breeze turned into a wind and the impact of the sand began to sting the man was forced to flee towards the near by oasis, its palm trees already receiving a battering from the rapidly strengthening wind.
It took only a matter of hours before the tomb had all but disappeared below the yellow grit.
A large temple complex stood proud on a rock outcrop, its heavy wooden doors already half buried by the storm. It would be many years before any one attempted to open those portals - even then it would only be to wreck and steal, destroying the doors, leaving the interior to the ravages of the desert.
The tomb would disappear below the mountainous sand.
The tomb would never be found.......
Ian, a very tanned, very warm Ian, glanced across to the woman at his side. She too was very tanned and very excited.
“Ian, look.” He pulled his eyes away from her face and followed her finger down to the monitor screen. “It’s working.”
Gradually a series of black lines were appearing, easily standing out against the lighter greys surrounding it. A large, oblong like shape was being revealed, as lifting sea mist might reveal a ship at anchor.
All this meant, if Ian had learnt anything in these last few weeks, that they had found what they were looking for. He reached for Barbara, embracing her excitedly.
“Doctor!” he called over his shoulder, “Doctor, come and look at this.”
The white haired, elderly looking gentleman replaced the small, carved, black stone jackal he’d been examining, unwrapping its black leather lace from his fingers.
“What, my boy?” With a flourish of his walking stick, he made his way over to the school teachers.
“Look.” Barbara again pointed at the wonder on the screen.
“It’s definitely a mastaba.” The man sitting in front of the monitor spoke for the first time. “Geoffrey!” he shouted over his shoulder. “We’re getting the results, they look good.”
“They look fantastic,” Ian enthused, watching as the grid of lines stopped and a scale started appearing at the bottom of the picture.
A big, burly man appeared in the doorway, blocking out the bright, blinding sunlight. He wiped at the back of his neck with a wet rag. Removing a rather battered black cap, he performed the same ceremony for his forehead.
Ian studied him as he walked into the room, more surged into the room really, Ian corrected, like a tidal wave, sweeping all clear before him.
“Gus, what have we got?” he bellowed, not deliberately being loud, that was just his voice.
“I think we’ve hit pay dirt!” came the reply. Gus finally turned from his study of the screen. “It’s beautiful man!” He enthused.
Barbara, Ian and the Doctor stepped back as the large man barrelled forward to peer over Gus’s shoulder.
“Oh, yes!” His fist pounded the air. “Can we get a print out of that?” he asked, slapping the seated man heartily on the back.
“Not if you break my shoulder, no.”
Geoff laughed, a laugh that would have rocked the roof timbers, if the room had had any. He turned and lifted Barbara from her feet, spinning around, causing a squeak of surprise from her, and a very loud laugh from Ian: this was soon replaced by an ‘oooffff!’ of out rushing air as he found himself the subject of a bear hug, the strength of which, he was quite sure, a grizzly would have been hard pressed to match.
Geoff span to face the Doctor. The old man side stepped the repeated attempt at a hug, a benign smile on his lips.
“Your hand, sir.” He proffered his right hand, left one gripping his lapel.
Another laugh ripped out of the giant and with great enthusiasm, and both hands, he shook the elderly man’s hand. The Doctor was quite sure that he felt his feet lift off the ground on the upwards stroke.
Celebrations temporarily dispensed with, Geoff turned back to the seated man.
“Hey, any sign of...?” The questioned petered out as a single sheet of paper was thrust into his hands. “Oh baby, you know what I like!” The large face wrinkled in concentration as he pondered the results. “How far down would say, Gus?”
“Not more than 3 meters,” Gus replied, as he pulled another copy of the picture from the printer.
“How about the G.P.S.?”
“Katie and Jim should be setting up now. We’ll have the site plotted in a couple of hours.”
“Mmmm,” the big man muttered, peering at his watch, “not worth starting anything now, wouldn’t be able to shift more than a sneeze full of sand. Ah, well, tomorrow it is.” He waved the sheet of paper at Gus. “Can I keep this, show the others?”
With a hoot so loud Barbara actually felt it through the soles of her shoes, the giant of a man disappeared back out into the harsh desert sunlight where he could be heard bellowing to the other members of the expedition.
With a shake of the head, Gus started to pick up his equipment. It didn’t do to keep computer terminals out too long in this environment, one piece of sand in the wrong place and he’d never play Tomb Raider III again.
The evening sun, while being reflected by the expedition’s off road vehicles, was being eaten by the limestone and sandstone ruins surrounding the camp, tingeing the air itself red.
Ian emerged from the tent that he and the Doctor had been assigned. Stretching, he stood for a few minutes surveying the landscape trying to spot the Time Lord. However since he was no where to be seen, the science teacher assumed that he was off tinkering in the TARDIS. The ship was quietly secreted in a nearby half ruined temple, itself barely visible beneath the wind blown desert sands.
Most of the archaeologists stood around the nearby catering truck, sounds of excited chatter reaching the watching man’s ears. News of the discovery had spread quickly through the camp, each new voice depleting the previous peace of the dig.
Continuing his scan of the horizon, Ian spotted a lone figure standing in the nearby oasis. Sheltering in the growing shade of a palm tree, she stared up at a surprisingly well preserved statue, which stood at least twelve feet high. It depicted some god or king that the teacher had received a full lecture on from his former colleague, but had immediately forgotten all details of. With a smile he started off in the woman’s direction.
Barbara jumped slightly as she turned to find Ian peering over her shoulder.
“Penny for them?” he asked, a smile splitting his features.
“More like a pound,” she corrected, raising her eyebrows. “Prices must have gone up by now.”
The man tugged at his forelock. ”Oh, yes, m’lady,” he replied, affecting his best ‘gardener’s’ voice. “I stand corrected.”
“I should think so,” the woman finished, with a giggle. “Where’s the Doctor?”
“Haven’t seen him since Gus packed up. I think his hiding in the ship.”
“Oh, Ian." Barbara turned to face him, fully, “you don’t think he’s going to drag us away, do you? Not now we’re within a few feet of the tomb.”
“That would really upset you, wouldn’t it?”
“Of course it would,” Barbara snapped, immediately regretting her tone. “Archaeology, it’s like living history, Ian. Being able to hold something in your hand and knowing your the first person to touch it since it was dropped hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago.” Ian watched as his companion’s face lit up, her eyes dancing with excitement.
“It’s the closest most people get to time travel.”
Barbara took hold of Ian's hand, clasping it tightly, trying to transmit her enthusiasm into him.
“Something like this, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a child. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to come to Egypt though. I thought the best I could hope for would be some where in the north of Scotland.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the north of Scotland,” came the offended reply.
“I never said.....” Looking into his, eyes she saw the boyish mischief glinting there. With a broad smile she slapped him lightly across the arm. “Ian!”
He snaked an arm about her shoulders. “I admit, it does have a certain romantic appeal, all this digging around in the sand for lost tombs. A person could get quiet carried away.”
They both turned as they heard their names called, and saw Geoff waving them over to the gathering group.
The moment was broken and with a sigh, Ian slipped his hands into his trouser pockets.
“Come on,” he stated, “we’d better find out what he wants before he comes to get us.”
The teachers had collected their evening meals from Khufu, whose mother, judging by the name, had obviously wanted more from her son than a ‘roach coach’ as Gus had so charmingly phrased it.
Ian now sat trying to listen to Geoff as he strode around the centre of a circle of people. Occasionally the big man gestured elaborately with a smouldering stick, as he outlined the plans for tomorrow’s excavation. However, the strong sucking noise that rose from Ian’s plate each time he lifted his fork from the loving embrace of the chunky brown liquid, was making concentrating on the man’s words very hard and he found himself longing for Coal Hill school dinners.
In honour of the discovery of the mastaba, Khufu had, apparently, whipped up this little treat from an ancient recipe discovered in a tomb inscription. As a lump of something wobbly fell from his fork to land with not even a ripple back on his plate, Ian couldn’t help wondering if perhaps the Rosette stone had contained a spelling mistake. Once more he forced his mind to concentrate on the words being spoken.
“Well.... any questions?” A pause “No? Right, well, I’ll see you all bright and early then.”
With a sigh, Ian dropped the fork onto the plate and sat, elbow on knee, chin in hand. He just hoped that Barbara had been taking notes.
An hour and a half later, and the gathering had broken up. Individuals were gradually breaking away and making their way back to their accommodations.
“It’s just amazing to think that in the thirty something years since our time, archaeology has developed so much that they don’t even have to dig to know almost everything about what they’ve found,” Barbara was enthusing.
Nothing surprised her more than the march of technology. Alien cultures could never really take you by surprise, she had discovered. It was difficult to be surprised when you had no idea what to expect, nothing to relate the experience to, but returning to Earth was always a shock.
Journeying back into the past could be a humbling experience when you realised that some long held opinion or belief had been completely wrong. It could also be very painful when you knew the fate of some new found friend but could do nothing to stop it happening. She always told herself that this time would be different, this time she wouldn’t get involved, she would remain aloof, detached, much like the Doctor and each time she would fail.
Barbara glanced quickly at the man she was walking with. When they had started their journeys together, she had thought that Ian had shared the old man’s gift of being able to shake situations off, but as time had passed and Ian had learnt to trust her more, he had started to let the protective, unaffected front slip. Instead of just being a sounding board for her worries and fears, he now felt secure enough to share his own concerns. There had only been one exception to this recently, which was when they had returned to their own time and place but in somewhat reduced circumstances. Due to a TARDIS malfunction, they found themselves in a garden soaked in insecticide, eye to eye with ants and in danger of being eaten by the local cat. When curiosity had nearly killed her instead of the cat, the whole experience seemed to have affected him more than it had her; he still refused to discuss it.
A small snort of laughter interrupted her thoughts. “What?” She asked with a small frown.
“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking that nothing surprises me more than coming back to Earth.”
Barbara smiled. “Yes, I know.”
The two people drew to a halt in front of a tent.
“I mean,” Ian continued, “equipment and techniques that our military were barely dreaming about thirty years ago, are today being used by college pupils to locate and map a five thousand year old tomb.”
“It’s going to be hard when we get back, trying to act surprised when all these innovations come along.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Ian shrugged. “Maybe I’ll invent a few.”
“I’m quite sure the Doctor wouldn’t approve of that,” Barbara stated with her best schoolteacher face on.
“Don’t worry, I’ll cut him in.”
Barbara laughed. “Well, thank you for seeing me home, kind sir.”
Ian bowed slightly. “Always a pleasure. Sleep well,” he called as she disappeared inside. He rubbed gently at his stomach. “I wonder if I can scare up some food.” With that he wandered off to the catering truck.
One packet of dry biscuits and a lump of cheese that had quite clearly seen better days was all that the school master had managed to liberate. He was just about to start a search of a very interesting looking box he’d just spotted under the driver’s seat, when his attention was diverted by the sudden guttering of the camp fire flames. The air had been stirred, not by any gentle night breeze, but the passing of someone or something. Glancing about he saw no one; all but two of the tents’ lights were out. Whatever had just passed had done so very fast.
A shadow moving between the shelters started Chesterton running. He didn’t know what was wrong, why he should be suspicious, but over the course of his adventures he had developed an instinct for trouble.
Barbara was just preparing for bed. She knew she would regret staying up so late when it came time to rise in the morning, but she had been so excited by the prospect of actually getting into the mastaba that she wouldn’t have slept anyway.
Forcing a brush through her hair, she looked critically at herself in the mirror. She would have to find some time to check the ship to see if there was anything to restore some life into the sun damaged mop.
With a sigh, she replaced the brush on the small wash table and turned to pull down the top of the sleeping bag. The movement halted as her eyes fell on a solid black shadow being cast over the side of the tent.
It stood about six foot, toe to shoulder, and then there was the head, no ordinary head; long upright ears, a long snout, viscous teeth outlined in the elongated open mouth. The scream that was wretched from her lungs was soon obliterated by the soulless howling of the jackal.
The interrupted scream injected new speed into Chesterton’s legs.
“Barbara!” he called as his feet pounded across the sand.
The sound had started his heart thumping in his chest. He sped past the open flap of his own tent causing it to slip closed. Checking the small gap between the two canvas shelters, he found it was clear. At the last moment, he managed to register something lying in his path, blocking the tent’s entrance, forcing him to leap over it and inside.
“Barbara?” he called to her as she stood frozen against the back of the tent, staring fixedly over his shoulder. “Barbara,” he called again, grasping her upper arms in his hands, “it’s gone, whatever it was, is gone.”
“Anubis,” Barbara stuttered, at last looking at him. “It looked like an Anubis.”
Ian tried not to let his doubt show. “Well, it’s gone now.” He studied her closely, making sure she was okay. “What interests me,” he started, turning back to the tent flap, “is what I almost fell over.”
He opened up the canvas flap, the lantern light falling on a blacked body lying in the sand. Ian bent down to check for a pulse, the skin feeling thick and leathery under his fingers. He stood up at the sound of the gasp behind him, automatically trying to protect Barbara from the sight filling his vision. He felt the pressure of her head on his shoulder, felt her hands resting on his arms.
“Is he dead?” her shocked voice asked.
“He’s very nearly desiccated,” he replied, turning his back on the body.
The fear in the woman’s eyes touched his heart. Barbara had had more than her fair share of shocks on their travels, it wasn’t very often that she showed how much she was affected by things, something was very wrong.
“What is it?” he asked gently.
“Anubis is the funerary god.” She could see this meant nothing. “The god of mummification.”
A look of realisation swept across his face as he glanced back at the body.
It was now, as the voices of the others could be heard approaching, that Barbara’s body betrayed her and she felt an uncontrollable shaking taking over.
She reached out for Ian. Feeling her touch, he turned his attention back to her. Taking in the woman’s distress, he wrapped his arms about her, holding her close until the shaking stopped.