The sun was just greeting the horizon, preparing for its long trip across the sky, when Barbara’s head finally hit the pillow. She closed her eyes but images of the night before chased across her vision.
The body had been ‘identified’ by one of the students as ‘Mohammed’, a local trinket seller. He’d last been seen when the supply party had gone into ‘town’, a small village some forty miles away. He had apparently been bothering some tourists.
Ian had asked what Mohammed had been doing this far away from the usual tourist traps. As he had expected, no one had known the answer.
The camp doctor had been more than a little puzzled. He could find no outward signs of injury, no obvious reason for this death. Silence greeted Barbara’s own suggestion that from the expression on his face, Mohammed might very well have been scared to death.
The doctor’s reply to suggestions that he perform an autopsy was short and to the point: he wasn’t qualified and no instrument he possessed would cut through the skin anyway. Desiccation of a body normally took years, even in the right conditions, he could think of no way that any man could have ended up in this state within just a few days. It had been agreed that the local police and coroner would be sent for first thing in the morning.
The body had been taken into one of the nearby ruins and, a little unwillingly, everyone had returned to their tents, an uneasy muttering settling over the camp.
Barbara had reluctantly left Ian at his tent and carried on to her own, pausing only slightly at the entrance, before going inside.
She only realised she’d actually been asleep when she awoke with a start. Someone was in the tent with her.
Moving the cover as quietly as she could, she reached down beside the makeshift bed. After a few moments of desperation her hands curved around the cool, and more importantly, heavy body of the torch. As she sat up, she raised the light above her head. The sight that greeted her made her bite her lip to stop from giggling with relief.
Sometime during the last few hours, Ian had come in and was now resting in a canvas chair; head to one side, eyes closed. His hands were clasped across his chest, his feet resting in another chair pulled up to make himself as comfortable as he could.
With a sigh she dropped the torch soundlessly onto the sleeping bag, catching it before it rolled onto the floor.
Ian had once told her that she could always rely on him and she’d never had any reason to doubt that. He had always been there when she needed him. Sometimes outside forces had delayed his presence but he had always got there.
With a smile she started to rise. It seemed a shame to wake him, but she really needed to get the day started. She wanted to have a wash, get dressed and to do that she needed privacy. From the things she’d witnessed over the last few weeks, privacy for certain daily activities wasn’t as important in the nineties, but she was an old fashioned girl.
Gently she laid a hand on the man’s chest, shaking him slightly.
The school master started to stir, then came fully awake with a snap. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s morning,” Barbara explained, taking a seat in the chair recently vacated by the man’s feet.
“Oh,” tired hands rubbed over tired eyes, “yes.”
It was as he tried to stretch that the sudden, very painful reality of sleeping in a chair hit him. With a yelp he grabbed at his shoulder.
“Cramp?” the woman asked, rising to her feet.
Ian would have nodded his agreement, but at that moment he was unable to move his neck.
The voice was accompanied by hands kneading his shoulders; the relief was bliss as the muscles stopped screaming.
“Mmmm? Yes much, thank you.”
“That’s good.” Barbara’s head appeared over his shoulder as she bent to place her mouth close to his ear. “Because I’d like to get dressed.”
“What?” The message took a little while to register in the newly relaxed brain. “Oh, sorry.” He climbed to his feet and with one more stretch headed out of the tent.
“Ian,” Barbara watched the puzzled expression cross her friend’s face as he turned back, “thank you.” She was pleased to see the happy smile lighten his features.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, then returned to his own tent and some clean clothes.
Barbara faced her own pile of clothes with a smile. Ian was an old fashioned guy.
She left her tent some fifteen minutes later to discover a small gathering around the ashy remains of the previous night’s fire. She had just finished talking to one of the students when a voice behind her made her spin.
“What’s going on here?”
Ian stood, studying the group as they muttered quietly among themselves.
“Jenny said that Geoff has called a meeting to discuss what happens next.”
“What happens next?” Ian repeated.
“If we want to go on digging presumably.”
At that moment, a loud clapping came from the centre of the crowd as Geoff called the meeting to order. Barbara couldn’t help the small smile that tweaked at the corners of her mouth. It was nice to know there were some things about the teaching profession that had not changed in the future. They might have to deal with larger classes from all accounts, they certainly had more technology, but the basic way to attract attention hadn’t changed.
“Well,” Geoff started, “I wanted us all to be together, because I have a few things that I need to tell you, and then we have some decisions to make.”
He scanned the faces, making sure he had their undivided attention.
“Now, as you will no doubt remember, last night we elected not to send for the local police until this morning. Our plan was to use the short wave radio.” Again the man paused, wiping his face with a handkerchief. “Unfortunately when Nathan went to use it he found we can’t get a signal through, there’s nothing but static, same with a mobile phone.”
The tutor lifted his hands, calming the worried whispers that had started circulating around. “
Now, he’s checked it thoroughly and there’s nothing wrong with the equipment itself, so he reckons there could be a storm on its way.”
The whispering stopped, the diggers deciding that it sounded like a nice, reasonable, natural explanation. Once again all became attentive as the man started to speak.
“Shortly after this, we, that is: myself, Nathan and Gus, decided the best thing to do would be to send Julie and Steven off to town in a jeep. It’s probably going to take them most of today to get there and back, so we have a decision to make.” A pause for good effect, “I want a show of hands please. The question is: Do we go on digging?” Another pause. “Okay, the nays first then.”
Only one or two hands went up, the owner’s looking nervous. Ian wasn’t sure if that was because of the vote or last night’s activities.
Geoff already knew the result but to be fair he finished the vote. “And the yea’s.”
A vast majority of the hands went up, including those of Ian and Barbara.
“Well,” Geoff concluded. “The yea’s have it.” There was a general murmur of agreement. “So,” he reached into his back pocket and removed the print out that Gus had given him yesterday, “all we have to decide now is where to dig and how many trenches.”
The group gathered closer, as another more positive murmur broke the quite morning air.
The morning had gradually melted into midday and even the most enthusiastic digger had to admit defeat in the face of soaring temperatures. After ensuring that the barriers they had erected in the trenches to stop the sand trickling back in were firm the archaeologist themselves started trickling away. Ordinarily they would have tried to battle on, taking shifts to dig at the sand, but anxiety and lack of sleep had taken their toll, forcing the diggers to retire to their tents and rest through the worst of the day’s heat.
Barbara had removed the sleeping bag from her cot bed and was just lying on the canvas below, but still the back of her cotton blouse clung uncomfortably to her skin. She was now trying to cool herself using a damp flannel, but since the water she’d used was warm, it was proving to have limited effect.
“Knock, knock,” came a familiar voice from outside the tent flap, “everyone decent in there?”
“Yes,” Barbara called, sitting up.
“Pity. I’m coming in anyway.” Ian appeared through the gap, a preoccupied expression clouding his features.
“Have you seen the Doctor recently?” he asked.
It suddenly dawned on her that she hadn’t. “Not since we discussed the geophysics results with Gus and Geoff.”
“That’s what I thought. I haven’t seen him either, but with everything that’s happened, it didn’t really register.”
“What do you think’s happened to him?” Barbara rose to her feet. If anything had happened to the Doctor then they had no chance of ever getting back to their own time.
“I think we should go and find out,” Ian stated, leading the way out of the tent. “We’ll start with the ship.”
As Ian had said, the most obvious and logical place to look for the Doctor was in the TARDIS - inside the temple.
Entering the dimness of the half ruined building, they were immediately struck by how cool it was inside; a pleasant contrast to the searing heat outside. Barbara paused on the threshold, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the low light level.
“Doctor?” Ian called stepping carefully in the general direction of the distant corner, the last place he had seen the TARDIS.
“Ian, wait for your eyes to get use to the light,” the woman warned.
“It’s an empty temple,” he rationalised. “What am I going to trip over?”
Barbara frowned. There were times when Ian could be very irritating she told herself. “What’s that noise?” She asked.
Chesterton closed his mouth, stopping the call for the Time Lord before it had started.
“What noise?” he asked, his voice echoing around the limestone walls.
“It’s a sort of rattling noise.” Barbara too stepped further into the building, her eyes now able to pick out the form of her friend, a few feet away. “It sounds like a rattlesnake.”
Ian choked off his amusement, another annoying habit he had when he doubted what someone was saying.
“This is Africa, Barbara,” he explained turning to face her. “They don’t have rattlesnakes in Africa.”
With that he took one step back towards the TARDIS, then fell to the ground, a scream of pain splitting the cool, quite interior of the temple.
“Ian!” Barbara yelled panicked, she rushed forward; her eyes searching the ground for the reptile she knew had struck.
“There,” the man stuttered from the floor, pointing to a slithering body, disappearing under a stone propped against the far wall. “Looked like some kind of viper,” he explained through gritted teeth.
“Let me see.”
The woman pushed away the hands covering his lower leg. The skin around the double puncture marks was already red and swollen, the colour seeming to move up the leg before her eyes.
“Ian, I need to get some help.”
When she received no reply she looked up into the man’s face. His skin was pallid, sweat formed rivulets chasing across his cheeks and forehead, his eyelids were sliding shut.
“Ian,” she shook the man’s head violently, “Ian wake up.”
The eyes slid open, fighting to focus on the woman’s face. “Barbara?” He asked, his voice quiet, unsure.
“Ian, you must stay awake. Stay with me.”
“I’m trying,” came the shaky answer.
“I need to get help.” Barbara repeated, staring into his eyes, willing him to stay awake. “I’m going to the ship, alright?”
Ian nodded, a supreme effort of will. It was only shock he told himself, there hadn’t been time for the toxin to start affecting his brain yet. ‘What would you know,’ the more cynical side of his mind stated, ‘you’ve never been bitten by a snake before.’
He heard Barbara hammering on the TARDIS door, heard her yelling for the Doctor to open up, and then another noise intruded into his crowded consciousness; a hiss.
At first he feared the snake was returning, but turning his head he found the source of the noise to be a solid ball of light, like the sun descended to Earth, rolling towards him, approaching through the half blocked door way. He thought he could make out forms within the light, figures moving.
He thought he heard Barbara scream out his name, her voice full of fear. He should get up he told himself, she might be in danger, she might need help. ‘I have to help’ he told himself. It was the last thought he had, as his eyes slid shut and his mind went black.
Barbara thought she heard her name called and turned away from her attempts to gain access to the ship. She saw Ian, facing away from her, slump sideways down the wall, unconscious. She bit down on her lip and blinked away the tears in her eyes. She had to make the Doctor hear.
“Doctor!” She shouted as loud as she could. “Doctor, you’ve got to help!” She accompanied each word with a thump on the blue painted door. “Please open the door!”
The door opened so suddenly that she nearly fell inside, barely managing to stop her next blow from hitting the white haired man as he came out.
The Time Lord took in the highly agitated state of his companion, the quivering in her voice and the tears on her cheeks. So unlike Miss Wright.
“My dear what’s wrong?”
“It’s Ian,” she started, all but pulling the old man behind her, “he’s been bitten by a snake.”
“What!?” The Time Lord sped up, covering the distance between the ship and his downed companion at a pace that the woman would not have thought him capable of.
“Yes, see.” Barbara indicated the rapidly swelling bite marks. “He’s unconscious.”
“Where is the snake now?” the Doctor asked, leaning heavily on his stick to inspect the school master’s condition.
“It disappeared behind a rock.” She pointed to the slab of stone propped against the opposite wall.
“And you weren’t bitten?” The Time Lord looked into her face.
“What? No, of course not.” Why did he always waste time? He didn’t seem to understand that Ian was dying! “Oh Doctor, what about Ian?”
“You stay with him my dear,” he stated, pushing himself into an upright position. “I’ll go and get some help.” With that he disappeared into the bright sunlight outside.
Barbara turned her attention back to her fallen friend.
“Ian,” she called, not expecting an answer. She dabbed at his damp, glistening face with her handkerchief, “Ian you must hang on.” There was still no reaction and she pushed her hand gently through the man’s hair. “Just hang on; the Doctor’s gone for help.” Fear overwhelmed her. “Ian!”
The man’s eyes snapped open. The last thing he remembered was Barbara calling to him, the fear in her voice still echoed in his ears.
“We thought you might never wake.” A voice sounded from the floor beside him.
He sat up so quickly that his head span. Must be the effects of the venom, although he could no longer feel the pain from the bite - that must be numb by now, he rationalised.
“We would know this man’s name.” Another voice came from just above him.
“Barbara?” The smile of relief froze on his face as he looked up.
He saw, not his friend, but a stranger, not the woman he had come to care about but a harsh, cold, face that stared challengingly back at him.
She stood approximately the same height as Barbara Wright, but where as the school teacher wore her hair in a sensible short bob, this woman had braided hair that hung just below the shoulder. It was surmounted by an ornate head dress, topped by a single orb of gold.
Her skin glowed with deep golden tones, but it was her eyes where the biggest difference showed. There was no friendly sparkle that Ian had grown used to seeing, indeed there was no recognition at all, nothing but a cold, calculating stare.
“What is your name?” Came the gentle voice at his side.
The long white hair was the same, but the pale skin was gone, the face and hands tanned a deep honey colour. A cloak covered most of the body, and another head dress complete with golden orb adorned the head of a stranger with a friend’s face. The Doctor’s own expression was always alive with quick intelligence, a face full of emotion - the one before Ian now, was calculating and, although not as cold as the woman’s, it was as unacknowledging.
Ian shook his head. “It must be the effects of that snake bite.”
He rubbed his hands over his face and was surprised to find them come away dry. He distinctly remembered sweating before passing out.
“You were bitten?” the woman demanded.
“Yes,” the school teacher frowned, “you know I was.”
She merely raised her eyebrows.
“Where?” Came the male voice.
The puzzled frowned turned on the Doctor. “In the leg, look.” The young man rolled up the leg of his jeans; the flesh was unbroken, no swelling deformed the skin, no redness coloured it.
“Be careful.” Barbara called to the men as they rolled Ian’s unconscious body on to the stretcher.
“Right ma’am.” Geoff wrapped a meaty arm around her shoulders. “Don’t you worry none, we’ll put him in the doc’s tent.”
The two familiar strangers stood apart from Ian and, but for the occasional look in his general direction before going back to their muttering, they seemed to have chosen to ignore him. Fine, the school teacher decided, because what he needed just at the moment was a chance to get his thoughts organised. For the third time he listed the facts he had at his disposal, this time in a different order to see if that would help.
Fact: he was on an archaeological dig in Egypt, the year 1999.
Fact: they had almost certainly located a lost mastaba - rumoured to be in the area but never before located.
Fact: when he and Barbara had gone looking for the Doctor in the ruined temple, he had been bitten by a snake and had past out.
Fact: he had come round in a large building, faced with Barbara who wasn’t Barbara and the Doctor who clearly wasn’t the Doctor.
Fact: the snake bite had disappeared.
He thought it through for a few moments, no, it didn’t make any more sense in that order either.
With a mental shrug he gave up trying to think, it was giving him a headache anyway. He would have to settle for observation instead.
The building he was in was certainly grand; stone pillars supported a decorated ceiling that was at least sixteen feet high, painted a midnight blue and covered with highly stylised gold stars. The tops of the pillars were carved with what Barbara had called Lotus leaves. At one end of the large open room was a step, leading up to a yellow stone altar, magnificent paintings covered the wall behind. Ian had seen hieroglyphs before; many a school trip to the British museum should have prepared him for how impressive they could be, he thought, but the sheer scale of the work, the vibrant colours of it all was breath taking.
The whole room was lined with huge statues, reaching floor to ceiling. Some seemed to represent a god; a well muscled human male body topped by the head of a hawk. Ian thought hard. He knew Barbara had told him who this was, and slowly the answer filtered into his mind - Aman Ra - the sun deity. Interspersed with these stood a normal human male. Ian couldn’t decide if this represented the god in purely human form or the present pharaoh. From what he knew of Egyptian history either was likely. Since the ancient Egyptians thought of their leaders as divine, he didn’t suppose it mattered much.
His eyes were drawn to the equally large statue at the end of the room. It stood to one side of the altar, facing the main door. He felt a chill as he recognised the figure of Anubis. A guarding and protecting deity he may have been, but it still brought back memories of his gruesome discovery in the desert.
He turned his head to study the wall beside him. His eyes took in a detail showing the figure of a man, with a jackal’s head, sitting in a chair. Another figure with a stylised, elongated, crocodile head and a lion’s paws sat at its feet. A baboon holding a reed pen, balanced on top of a pair of scales - one side of which held a feather, the other a jar, and standing before the three of them, a human form.
He remembered pointing this out to Barbara as one of the few battered, but still recognisable pieces of art work in the temple when they had first left the TARDIS. She had explained to him that it represented the judgement hall of Osiris, where the dead came to have their hearts weighed before continuing on their journey to the after life.
The seated figure represented Osiris - judge of the dead, the crocodile figure was Ammit - eater of the dead - the fate of the soul if the ceremony did not go in their favour. Thoth was the baboon, god of wisdom, recording the verdict.
The heart of the dead would be placed on one side of the scales, a feather - the truth on the other. If the soul’s journey was to continue on to the Duat the scales must balance, if not the soul belonged to Ammit.
It took him a while to realise what had just gone through his mind: ‘pointing this out to Barbara when they had first left the TARDIS.’ He looked around the room more closely. The high ceiling, in the nineties most of the paint had gone but blue flecks clung to the plaster. The tall pillars - only one of which still existed. Ian would have gulped if he had had any saliva left to do so. He hadn’t moved an inch since the snake had bitten him; he was still in the same temple.
“You think he is sent here?” the woman asked her companion.
The elderly gentleman glanced across to the stranger, still sitting on the floor. “He was certainly not here when we left,” he reasoned, tapping a finger on his bottom lip. “There is no sign that he forced his way in and I searched his clothes when he was asleep, he has no key.” He peered into the woman’s face. “He can not have come in any other way.”
“So,” the woman circled the white haired man, “he was sent.” She stopped walking, peering directly at their visitor. “To aid us, you think?”
“Or sent by chaos to stop us?”
“Excuse me,” interrupted the stranger.
Both Egyptians turned to stare at him. They could see by his expression that it made him uncomfortable, but he continued.
“Could you tell me where I am?”
The woman came closer, each step filled with grace and poise. A person who had obviously received training to make an impression, the school master thought. He watched as her long musty orange dress stretched to it fullest width with each step, the heavy bead over dress rustling with each movement. She had had a really good trainer, Ian concluded.
“What are you called?” she asked, stopping about two feet away.
The woman raised an eyebrow then turned away, starting back across the floor.
“Where am I?” Ian repeated the question. There was no reply, the woman kept walking. “Damn!”
He ran across the short distance between them and stopped directly in front of her. Her eyes flared, she was clearly not used to such treatment.
“Look, at least tell me who you are.”
The woman continued to stare, she obviously expected him to back down. Well, she was in for disappointment.
“My name is Sham,” came the gentle voice from behind him.
Reluctantly, the science teacher broke eye contact, to turn to the aged man.
“Sham,” Ian repeated, bowing his head in acknowledgement.
His eyes followed the now named man as he moved gracefully across the floor to join his colleague.
“She is named Sennu.”
“Sennu.” Again the same ritual.
“She is priestess of the temple you now stand in. I,” Sham bowed lowly over a hand placed on his chest, “am scribe to Sennu.”
This meant, if Ian had remembered Barbara’s lectures correctly, they were of about equal power - despite Sham’s obvious fawning towards her.
“I am a teacher.” Ian wasn’t quite sure what kind of standing this gave him, and from their reactions, or lack there of, he would never know.
Sham merely cocked his head to one side. “As you wish,” was the cryptic reply.
“Sham,” the woman snapped. Her voice, like her face, was more severe than Barbara Wright’s, slightly deeper in tone and with an air of superiority.
With another slight bow towards the teacher, the scribe led the way to the main temple doors. Ian stood, waiting to see what would happen next. After a brief jangle of keys, Ian was blinded by the sunlight pouring through the now open door. Then the entrance slammed shut, leaving him alone in the dim torch light. He ran forward, wiping at damp sore eyes still smarting from the punishing effects of the desert sun. He tried the door, locked. Frustrated he slammed his fist into the large wooden barricade, succeeding only in hurting his hand.
Pain! All other thoughts were washed away by the roaring tsunami of pain. Despite his efforts, a groan escaped through clenched teeth as he felt the muscles in his body knot. His limbs shook with tremors, his head felt as if some one had lit a fire behind his eyes.
He fought to bring the misty figure before him into focus. A woman, her back to him, clad in a white cotton shirt and blue jeans. A figure he recognised, trusted, needed to know was really there.
His throat tighten on another, louder, groan.
The woman turned. Seeing the open eyes peering in her direction, she squeezed out the cloth in her hand and raced to his side.
Her lips moved soundlessly, her face anxious, afraid.
The name sounded so loud in his mind that he had to turn his head away, as all the noise that had been withheld from him crashed into existence. Even the almost silent whispering of water dripping from the cloth to impact on the tiny particles of warm sand below, sounded like a tropical storm on a hollow tin roof. Then came the shock of ice cold liquid touching his forehead, a cool hand turning his head.
“Ian, can you hear me?” The woman’s voice had returned to a more comfortable level.
“Barbara?” He questioned, a frown causing rivers of perspiration to run into his eyes.
“Yes, it’s me.” She continued to dab at his face.
“Barbara?” He stammered again, hand reaching up towards her face.
The woman caught the hand, grasping it firmly as another set of tremors past through his body.
“The Doctor’s gone to find some anti-venom in the ship,” she explained, as Ian became quiet again. “Do you understand?”
He thought he detected a catch in her voice, thought he saw fear in her eyes. It was so hard to tell, sound was fading again, the light dimming, her face fading from view.
He pushed himself up from the waist. “Barbara!” He called, hands reaching blindly.
By the time the woman had clasped the shaking hands, her friend was already unconscious.
“You are sure of these plans?”
The air was cooler; it was the first thing he noticed after hearing the voice. He opened his eyes again.
The flicking torch light still cast an eerie orange glow over the people in the temple. They seemed to be unaware of him, or perhaps they had decided that he didn’t matter anymore.
He heard a trill at his feet and looked down to see a grey cat, staring hard at him. The skin of the animal seemed baggy on its long feline body, just like it had stretched in the wash, Ian thought with the one part of his brain that still had a sense of humour. Piercing yellow eyes seemed to bore into his soul. With another trill it rose slowly to its feet and swaggered over to the two people talking in the torch light. It rubbed itself around Sham’s legs, then mewed at Sennu.
“What is it?” the woman asked, staring down at the cat.
The animal sat at her feet, wrapping its tail around its body. With another mew it turned its head to stare directly at Ian, as he stood sheltered in the shadow of a near by statue.
“You are still with us then?” Sham addressed the darkness.
Ian stepped out into view, eyeing the cat disbelievingly. “Not by choice,” he replied.
“Then why?” The priestess asked, lowering the paper that the two Egyptians had been studying.
The school master wiped a hand across his face. “I wish I knew,” he answered with a shrug, “I’m not even sure how.”
“You claim to have been bitten by a serpent,” she continued moving towards the teacher.
“But no trace of sickness colours your face, no bite can be found.” The man made no reply. “Can you explain this?”
“No,” Ian replied on a tight sigh.
“We left you here.”
The woman drew level and began to circle him slowly, studying every inch of him as he struggled not to squirm under her gaze. Now he knew exactly what a specimen felt like under a microscope.
“We left a guard at the door. You did not leave but were not here when we returned.” She stopped behind him, “Where did you go?”
“That’s hard to explain.”
“Try,” she whispered, leaning close to his ear.
With a sigh he glanced over his shoulder. “I returned to where I came from.” He hoped that would suffice. It didn’t.
“I don’t know! I just woke up back in my own time.”
Ian bit down on his bottom lip, closing his eyes briefly as he realised that his slip had been picked up on.
“Sennu,” Sham stepped into the conversation, “clearly the stranger is unstable. He does not know what he says.”
“I think he does.” Sennu was again standing before the teacher. “And what were you doing in your ‘own time’?”
“I want to know!” The priestess snapped, turning on the old man, who staggered back, obviously unaccustomed to receiving the sharp end of her temper. With the scribe subdued she returned her attention to the teacher. “Well?”
Ian remained silent as his mind tried to work out what was the best course of action. If he told the truth could he really interfere with future history as the Doctor was always saying? Could telling an ancient Egyptian priestess about an archaeologically dig in 1999 really prevent his own birth, Barbara’s birth?
Sennu was moving away from him, the beads of her dress catching the light from the torches, causing the glass to flare with colour briefly, and then die as her movements took them out of the range of the flames’ influence.
“As a priestess,” she started, turning back to face her stubborn prey, “I can dictate all manner of punishments for an uncooperative or runaway slave.” She left the threat hanging a moment. “What were you doing before you came here?”
Ian decided to give up, since all of this was probably a venom induced delusion anyway, it hardly seemed to matter what he did or said. As his old granny used to say ‘it’ll all be the same in a hundred years time’ or in this case several thousand years.
“We were digging in the desert.” No reaction. “I was searching for a lost tomb.” He saw a nervous look pass between the two Egyptians. “Then I was bitten by a snake and woke up here.”
“Woke up?” the old man repeated.
“A dream.” The priestess looked pale. “A dream of digging in the desert.”
The flames flared as she strode over to Ian, staring intensely into his eyes.
“What else?” She shook her head impatiently at his puzzled expression. “Your eyes tell me of a vision.”
“A golden orb,” Ian stuttered. It was as if the answer had been pulled from his mind; he didn’t even remember thinking about it before voicing his reply.
With a gasp the priestess staggered back, Ian catching her arm to prevent her falling.
“Sennu.” The old man rushed to her side.
The woman stared down at Ian’s hand resting on her arm, a look of wonder filling her face.
“Are you alright?” Ian asked.
The priestess gave the faintest of nods, before stepping away from him: one pace, two paces, then staring at him.
“Sennu.” Sham stood beside the woman, stretching up on his toes to speak covertly. “This means nothing, proves nothing.”
“You would deny the existence of divine magic?”
The woman had been a priestess for most of her life and before, she had been in the service of the temple. Never had her faith been so greatly rewarded as now.
“A serpent and a golden globe,” she repeated, “a dream of digging in the desert for something lost.” She turned on the scribe. “A dream, Sham, the most powerful heka of them all.”
“I’m sorry.” Ian stepped forward, more than a little confused about his change in circumstances. He stopped in front of the two Egyptians. “Heka? What does that mean?”
“It means, my lord,” Sennu started, tracing Ian’s cheek bone with the back of one finger, “that you were sent. Your dream tells us that our quest will be successful. Your vision tells us that you are a messenger from the one who gives us life.” The woman clutched at Ian’s hand, placing the back of it to her forehead, before kissing it briefly. “Our lord, Ra.”
Ian was too stunned to say anything, his eyes were locked with the almost venerating gaze of the priestess, and so he missed the disgusted, almost loathing look that crossed Sham’s face.
Slowly the scribe edged from the temple, taking the paper plans with him. The stranger could not, would not be allowed to interfere now. He had arrangements to make.
The silence in the temple was broken by a slight mewing, as with a loud purr the cat raised itself from its place of rest and began to rub itself around the teacher’s legs. He glanced down at it, even the feline liked him now, that was when Ian knew he was in trouble.
It was a few minutes before Sham’s absence had been noticed. As soon as it was, the priestess had excused herself. This time the door was not only left unlocked but open.
Peering through the gap, cautiously at first, Ian had stepped out into the fading day light, sheltering his eyes from the setting sun which was disappearing behind a rock outcrop, where in five thousand years time his tent would be pitched.
Stone blocks were scattered to his left, large limestone blocks. Piles of the same material were already in place in a small dip in the landscape, wooden lifting gear was standing by ready to complete the construction.
Ian felt his head swim. This was the tomb that, just a few short hours ago, he had been ready to dig up. Gus had been right, it was exactly where geophysics said it would be. Feeling slightly light headed, he made his way over the sand, pausing at his future camp site.
He span at the sudden sound of Barbara’s voice, it had been Barbara rather than Sennu, unmistakably.
“Barbara?” He spoke to the air about him.
Again his vision filled with a glowing golden orb. He threw his hands up to protect his face, only lowering them when the light level had returned to normal. The world span as he found himself in his own tent, standing behind a seated Barbara. He looked at the body on the canvas bed, it was himself; a flushed, sweating image of the Ian who stood aghast, watching as Barbara clung desperately to the hand of the man on the bed.
“Ian,” she spoke, trying to sound calm, reasonable, “the Doctor is still looking for the anti venom. He said he has some, but you know what the ship is like.” She gave a small, forced laugh. “I think you gave him a scare, he keeps saying that you’re supposed to be the sensible one. Apparently I’m the one that’s supposed to get into trouble.”
Ian felt himself smiling, he could just image how that conversation went.
“I told him that was very old fashioned,” she continued, the school master doubted that it had been put quite that politely.
At that moment the tent flap was pushed aside and the camp’s own doctor appeared in the gap.
“How’s he doing?” he asked, approaching the patient and ‘nurse’.
“He’s not regained consciousness again,” Barbara answered, returning her attention to her friend’s face.
She sat back slightly as the medical man checked the unconscious Ian’s pulse and reflexes. The ethereal teacher taking note of each mutter and tut.
“Well, at least he’s resting quietly,” the man put in.
“That’s what scares me,” the woman stated. She gave a little shrug knowing it probably sounded odd. “Will he be alright Chris?”
The young physician looked at his questioner. “I’m not going to lie to you. The venom has started breaking down your friend’s blood. Its touch and go, but as long as he gets the antidote and soon he should be okay. It’ll take a long time for him to recover fully though. He’ll need a lot of looking after.”
Barbara smiled. “If he’ll let me.” The smile widen slightly at the quizzical look. “He usually insists on doing the looking after.”
The healer smiled too. “Be firm Babs!”
Both tutors winced at that. “Barbara!” they muttered together as the young man left the tent.
The young woman lent close to Ian’s ‘body’ again. “You heard what the doctor said; you’re going to be fine.” The disembodied school master detected a catch in her voice. “Ian, please wake up.” She placed her free hand on the man’s forehead, once more brushing at his hair. “You have to be alright,” she continued firmly, “because you can’t leave me.”
The ethereal Ian crouched on his non-existent legs, looking into the woman’s eyes. He reached up a ghostly hand, could almost feel the flesh of her face beneath his fingers.
“I won’t ever leave you Barbara.”
“My lord?” The question came from behind him, shattering the vision before him.
He span about, expecting to see Sennu standing behind him, but as he turned he realised the words were not being spoken to him. They came from some distance away, near the tomb.
“What news do you bring?” Sham was speaking to a young man clad in a simple loin cloth.
“My lord, the last two digs have been successful. The treasure is placed in your private vaults as you requested.”
Ian, still a little unsteady on his feet from his rapid return to the present or was it the past, staggered over to listen from the shelter of a half built wall.
“You do well. Here is the next target, the plan is as usual.” The scribe handed over the paper that he and Sennu had been pouring over.
“The priestess suspects nothing then?” the boy asked.
Sham laughed. “No, she still believes we dig to save our peoples’ eternal souls.”
“And if she should discover the truth?”
“Well,” the old man patted one of the blocks already placed in the construction, “let us say that her tomb would need to be finished very rapidly.” Again, that scornful laugh. “Now go about your work.” He dismissed his underling.
It was as the boy bowed and turned to go that Ian got his first clear look at the face. It was Khufu, the camp caterer.
Ian paced inside the temple. He had paced outside for a good hour, but the temperature had dropped quite dramatically forcing him to retreat to the interior.
Barbara always looked on in amusement when ever he paced, she tried to hide it from him but he had caught her smiling a few times.
He wished he could speak with her now. He had always found her advice sound. On the few occasions that he hadn’t taken it he usually ended up regretting the decision.
The longer he stayed here, the more he felt sure that this was real. The people and things he was experiencing no longer seemed like poison induced imaginings. If the people and situations were real, what should he do with the information he had over heard? Should he keep it to himself? Maintain his
neutrality until he could find a way back to his friends. Should he tell Sennu? Her life, after all, had been threatened. He drew to a halt rubbing a hand over the nape of his neck.
“I don’t know,” he muttered quietly. “I don’t know.”
“What troubles you my lord?”
The woman’s voice took him by surprise and he span about. Sennu stood in the doorway, a small tray in her hands.
“Oh, nothing.” Ian covered his confusion quickly. “What do you have there?” he asked, waving the woman forward.
“Food,” she stated simply. ”I did not know if you would need sustenance, but I have not seen you eat.”
The mere mention of food started Chesterton’s stomach growling, sounding embarrassingly loud in the stone building.
“Sorry,” he shrugged apologetically.
“I see even messengers of the gods get hungry.” The priestess tried to keep a straight face, but the battle was lost when she looked into the man’s reddened face.
“Mmmm.” The school teacher raised his eyebrows and reached for the tray.
From what he could see, meat seemed to be the main constituent of the meal, although there were a few vegetables, some less than appetising looking bread and a thick soup in large cups. Taking a sip he was surprised by the yeasty flavour, it was beer he realised, but not like any served in his local. The taste was very bitter.
“Here,” the woman must have seen his expression, she leant across and gentle dropped a pasty substance into the liquid, “crushed dates,” she explained, “that will sweeten.”
Another sip proved this to be true. Carefully Ian replaced the cup on the tray, then lowered the whole thing to the floor, sitting himself, cross legged, beside it. He indicated the priestess to join him.
“Please, eat with me.”
With a tilt of the head, she too seated herself on the floor, curling her legs to one side.
After a brief moment’s silence as they each made a selection and started eating, the school master decided that he needed all the facts before he could act, or not, on Sham’s words.
“Sennu,” he started.
The woman lowered her food, watching the man attentively. With a sigh, all this adoration was beginning to unnerve him, the school master pressed ahead.
“What is the quest that you and Sham are involved in?”
“The peoples of the local community are falling away from their gods, from our gods,” the priestess started. “We have had much hardship, many disasters, the people think the gods have left them. Sham and I aim to reawaken their belief.”
“We seek the original gift from the sky, the Benben stone.”
Ian searched his memory frantically. In all the lectures he’d received from both the Doctor and Barbara since arriving in Egypt had either of them mentioned this stone? He reluctantly came to the conclusion that they hadn’t, which meant he was none the wiser.
“Benben stone?” he questioned, pretending to study a piece of meat, while watching the woman from below his brows.
“You don’t know what that is my lord?”
The school master heard doubt in her voice, felt her attitude changing to one of distrust.
“I find the ‘transfer’ has left me confused.” Ian heaved a huge mental sigh at this particular piece of quick thinking. “I could wait for the clouds to clear but if I am to help then I want to start as soon as possible.”
The woman relaxed again. “Of course my lord, some confusion is understandable. I will get the official records.” She went to rise, but stopped when the school teacher placed a hand on her arm.
“I don’t want to interrupt your food, Sennu, just tell me yourself.”
“I will tell you the story as my father told me, if it pleases you,” she started searching the man’s face for approval.
Ian nodded, taking another sip of his soupy beer.
‘Night had fallen, removing the people of the desert from the benevolent gaze of their god. He had began his long journey through the netherworld, to rise once again, his people hoped, triumphant over the beasts and demons, to cast warmth and light over the blessed lands.
This night was to be different.
The small child had been watching as his father studied the stars, the souls of his ancestors, keeping pace with each other in the heavens. Bored with this, although he would never tell his father, he turned his back on the preoccupied parent. The boy’s attention was immediately stolen by a brilliant light hanging in the sky, seemingly motionless. It did nothing but grow in brightness and intensity.
“Father!” the child called.
The parent, who was fully occupied with his own observations, chose to ignore the call. The child was probably bored; he usually was by this time.
“Father!” The cry was more persistent. Much more than the feeble whining of a boy wanting release from a tedious task.
Turning on him, the man didn’t need the pointing finger to see the cause of the excitement.
“What is it father?” the son asked. He had seen many streaks of light in the sky but nothing this bright. He squinted up at the sound of his father’s gasp.
“I know not my son.” The words were all but obliterated as twin explosions rocked the air. A wind blew the two observers from their feet, the heat of it warming chilled fingers and toes. The father pushed the child’s face into the cold desert sands as the light passed over head causing hair to singe.
A third explosion rent the air as the light came to rest some miles distance.
The man climbed to his feet to study the glow rising from the ground. Aware of his son’s intense study he frowned. His head told him to flee, his heart almost agreeing, but he had spent a life time studying the stars and if one had fallen to Earth he needed to know why and how, and what it looked like.
He took the small hand of his son, surrounding it with the rough skin of his own.
“Come,” was the only word he spoke, pulling the boy lightly in the direction of the sky glow.
It took hours to reach their destination, the father now carrying the child, who slept in his arms.
He pulled up sharply. Revealed before him was a massive hole in the desert sands. It was an eerie sight blackened in the half light generated by the sun, still below the horizon but sending its beams ahead to bring hope to the people.
The man lowered the boy to the sand, waking him in the process.
Just visible by the ever brightening sky, was an object in the centre of the crater. A small, charred blob, a smooth dome shape.
For some reason, he could not name, the man ventured no further, he merely stood and waited for the sun to rise, waited for his god’s illumination.
As the golden orb broke through a gap in two distance mountains, a lone arm of light reached towards man and boy, striking the crater and its contents on the way.
Suddenly the dark hole was bathed in reflected silver light, the sun’s ray broken and refracted.
Again the man gasped, falling to his knees.
Truly this was a star come to Earth, truly a sign from his god.’
“And so, the symbolic stone was removed from the desert and placed in a temple, one constructed for this purpose.” The woman was finishing the story, as Ian finished the last of his very gritty bread. His dentist would hate him.
“Its likeness has since topped all obelisks, indeed it is said that the first obelisk was built as a tribute to the Benben stone.”
Chesterton nodded thoughtfully, assimilating all the new information. The priestess finished her meal in silence, not wanting to disturb him.
There were still moments when she doubted this man’s veracity, doubted her own interpretations of his mysterious arrival, even as she studied him now.
The torch light highlighted his deep, thoughtful expression. His hair was short, very short, even for a male but not unattractively so, and there was no doubting his handsome features, but that was not what drew her to him, there were many beautiful Egyptian males. Her eyes wandered to the man’s clothes. Strange indeed, blue dominated - a light blue cotton shirt - open at the neck, rolled up at the sleeves. A deep blue heavy material made up the leg covering, a curious design. The feet completely encased in what looked like heavy brown boots, she imagined they were very hot. Certainly the clothes were not of Egypt or of any other country she had seen represented at court, either on diplomats or prisoners.
It was not just the outer coverings that made her believe he was not of this reality. His attitude was strange, the way he talked about how he came to be here, the fact that he thought he had recognised Sham and herself, calling them strange names. ‘Barbara’ he had called her when he first awoke. The look that accompanied that name made her wish very much that she was this woman. To hold this man’s affection would be interesting, almost desirable in her lonely position, but no, those feelings he had reserved for someone else.
Her thoughts were disturbed by the feline at her side stretching. Realising that the meal was over, that no more titbits would be coming its way, it decided to hunt pastures new.
It rose to its feet, pausing only once on its slink to the temple doorway, to scratch vigorously behind its right ear. That done it stared at the figure of Sham concealed behind one of the pillars.
He had arrived mid way through the story, and decided to stay concealed. He didn’t trust this stranger or the influence he had over the priestess. The scribe was use to being able to control the woman; he didn’t believe the new arrival would be so easily manipulated.
Spotting the cat looking at him he hissed quietly at it, until, losing interest in the game, it seemed to rise an eyebrow and move on to curl up in a corner by the doors.
“If the stone was placed in its own temple,” Sham turned his attention back to the diners at the sound of the man’s voice, “why are you searching for it?”
“It was removed from the temple at the father’s request and placed in his son’s tomb. The stone was a symbol of renewal; he hoped it would speed his child’s soul to the Duat.”
“And that tomb is lost, I take it”
The priestess nodded, placing the last crumbs of beef back on the tray. “Its location was lost soon after the burial, a deliberate plan by the father we now believe. He did not want his son’s rest disturbed.”
“Understandably,” Ian answered, concealing a small burp with the back of his hand.
“Indeed, but we are in desperate need. Our people need their faith. A people without belief are a people without hope.”
“There must be hundreds of tombs, thousands. How will you know when you have the right one?”
“We know the area of the burial,” the priestess explained. “We know its design and we also know it to be one of the most ornately decorated tombs in existence.” She noticed Ian’s raised eyebrows. “He was the son of the man who watched Ra deliver this gift,” she reasoned, “he demanded such treatment.”
“Forgive me Sennu, but what you are doing would surely be regarded as tomb robbing if people knew of the activity.”
The reaction was immediate, the woman jumped to her feet, her eyes flaring.
“No!” she denied hotly. “We steal nothing, each tomb we have opened we have treated with respect. We investigate quickly then reseal it, leaving it exactly as it was before.”
Ian struggled to his feet. He felt heavy and awkward after his meal. “I mean no insult priestess, but have you been to these sites yourself?”
She shook her head. “Temple business keeps me here, but this is how I order the work to be carried out.” That was enough, or so she thought.
Chesterton’s next question made the scribe flinch, his lips rolling back, baring his teeth.
“But if you’ve never seen, how do you know that it is carried out?” Ian asked quietly.
The priestess seemed to be about to answer, but then turned and stormed from the temple. Unseen by the remaining human occupant, but studied closely by feline eyes, Sham exited behind her.