The hieroglyphs were dull in the halogen of the lamplight. Bill hardly dared breathe as he followed the expected progression of birds, beasts and baskets to a single glyph.
A figure with no clear separation of head and neck, featureless save for a single black bar where eyes would be. The thin wash of black gave it a gunmetal grey coloration, but the figure was limned with gold to show it was an important figure. He hit the shutter button once, twice. The flash lit up and down the halls of Djefere’s tomb. Everything about it—the ornamentation, the grandeur of the architecture—bespoke ‘king.’ Yet there had been no record of him as a ruler.
The grey figure progressed along the wall like a flip-book character. Here he addressed the king, wearing the red crown of lower egypt. Here he offered a stone with rays emanating from it. Here he oversaw workers at a forge. Here he submerged a pot into water.
Hailey ran, stooped, down the hall. “Sir! Come look.”
The lock on the tomb itself was almost laughable, a simple mechanism of rope and wood. What gave them pause, however, were the pictographic warnings on the doors themselves. It showed brown, old-kingdom men opening a box and then recoiling from the gold rays emanating from within.
The others hovered around the sarcophagus. The lid had been prized up and set to the side, the outer coffin shone gold in the lamplight.
Hailey signaled him closer. With a knife, she dug a chunk from the dull metal.
“Gold-plated lead,” she murmured, “and there’s more.”
Bill drew closer to the coffin. Djefere’s imago smiled benignly up at the ceiling. He clutched a tube and a disc, not the usual symbols of kingship.
As Bill watched, they passed a handheld geiger counter over the coffin. It clicked like an amorous cicada.
Many millennia ago, on the same spot, the silver man walked up the hill.
He had appeared to the people forty days ago, speaking haltingly, mispronouncing many words. It was he who had told them of the sun-god’s rock, ingratiating himself with the king. He had spoke sweet words, painting a glorious kingdom they would build when the sun was in their hands. It was he who had lead them against the nomadic tribes many day’s journey to the west, who taught them to dig for the dull grey metal that they could not touch barehanded. It was he who taught them more sophisticated smelting techniques, how to alloy metals that could hold their dangerous new treasure. It was he who had watched as a jar capped with clay submerged into a pool of water, heating it and sending it up channels to spin a crude turbine.
Now he took off his helmet, the action akin to the removal of a cooking pot lid.
“Phew!” He said. His crew-cut was wet as if he had been showering. The air in his suit practically steamed.
There was a machine he had stored in a hidden place, a thing where he now hung his helmet. He touched a pad that lit up with blue LED.
“Come in, Newton?” he said jocularly.
“Copernicus, can you hear me?”
“Clear and plain as day, Mister Ansel. Wow, I didn’t think a radio to the past would actually work.”
“Oh, it’s all very technical Adams, quantum superpositioning and the like–but tell me, what is your success rate?”
“Oh, beauteous. Once they wrapped their heads around the concept, the rest came in leaps and bounds. Notice any change on your end?”
“Change?” There was sound in the background, something other than static interference. “No change. Ansel-Kittering are a legacy company, and have existed for hundreds of years. We are the foremost authority on nuclear applications and have the monopoly on all uranium deposits.”
“Right, right.” Adams laughed. “I suppose that makes sense. I guess I’ve done it right, then. I’m just glad I didn’t somehow make it so my great-great grandfather was never born.”
“Adams, causality being what it is, you would always have existed. Even if you had a different grandfather due to some little change, you still would have been around to send you back.”
“Right, yeah, it hurts to think about.” Adams wiped his brow. “I got my degree in engineering, remember, not physics.”
“Ah, well, just remember that your existence means you’ve succeeded. You’ve made a visible difference, Adams, not many people can say that.”
“And how did you find a solution to the ontological paradox, sir?”
Empty air. There was a pop and laughter. A get-together of some sort.
“What?” Ansel said pleasantly, the fizz of champagne so close Adams could almost taste it.
“Well, if time travel worked, why don’t I remember historical evidence of time travel, sir?”
There was a long pause. Adams imagined sipping something cool. Egypt was about a hundred degrees in the shade, and the suit’s fluid channels could only do so much.
“It’s all quite technical, Adams, and nothing you need to worry about,” Ansel said finally. “If you feel you’ve established a strong enough tradition, all you need to worry about now is the journey home.”
“Yes, sir. It must be strong. I mean, you’re talking to me, aren’t you?”
“Then you know what to do.”
Adams readied the dummy plugs, swapping them out for the machined aluminum pieces that had been screwed in place. He climbed into his seat and strapped himself in, smiling proudly. Five minutes later, a neutron-chain burst inwards, generating a wave explosion that spread over the hilltop. Adams was blown into smithereens, leaving no big pieces to puzzle future archaeologists.
“Now, they tell me you’ve made a monumental discovery in lower Egypt.” Charlie Hawthorne, host of the hit talk show Thorne In Your Side mopped his face with a blue handkerchief.
Hailey sat sidesaddle in one of the set’s chairs, glistening beneath the studio lights. She sat next to a celebrity chef and a religious leader who had just published his 38th consecutive book. Hailey had been chosen because they deemed her the most photogenic of the archaeological team. She was flop-sweating through her dress shields.
“That’s right,” she said, voice thinned with nervousness. She cleared her throat. Someone passed her a bottle of water.
“That’s right,” Charlie repeated, leaning emphatically on the words, “and you’ve come today to let us all know what you’ve found.” He turned to the audience.
Hailey straightened a little. “We found evidence of early nuclear technology in the old kingdom.”
There was a little uproar. Charlie gestured and a handheld microphone was brought to Hailey. She held it too close to her suit mic and there was a feedback whine.
“That’s it, child,” Charlie encouraged, “and tell us all just what you found about this early nuclear power.”
Hailey cleared her throat. The mic picked it up.
“It was given to them,” she said, “by an external force.”
The audience took a composite gasp. Charlie nodded encouragingly.
“Tell us who you believe it to be,” he orated.
Haley llicked her lips and held the microphone close.
“We believe it was given them by God,” she purred.
The crowd went wild. The author stood up and gave her a hug. Charlie waved the crowd higher, fanning the flames of adoration.
“This leads into the prayer I have written for today,” he said, adjusting his wide, circular collar. “If you all would be so kind…”
Guests and audience alike sat silent. Some mouthed the words. Some, like Hailey, closed their eyes.
“Our father who art in heaven,” Charlie intoned, “who holds the gold disc of the sun in his hands, who journeys through the dark underworld of the night, Ra be thy name…”