Chapter I

First Drop

My Cyrillic-English identification badge read:

VESNA BORISEVNA GREGORIEVA

TEMPORAL FIELD AGENT, NR. 3

RUSSIAN-AMERICAN ACADEMIES OF SCIENCE

That I was only the third such temporal field agent pleased me greatly, almost as much as I had succeeded my mentor Alexander Andreovich Piankoff.

I, with my American counterpart, was tasked with preserving our current reality. And to make a very long story short, I have been busy. First as Maatkare during several deployments to ancient Egypt, next, as Lieutenant Valerie Gregg in Princeton, New Jersey of all places, and finally, as Veer “the Bloody” in eighth century France. Like I said, I have been busy.

But as anyone will tell you, they never forget their first unassisted ride on a bicycle, or for that matter, their first love. So it was for me, that first drop into the somewhen was, well, quite, quite memorable. After all, we were only sent to assassinate a minor pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. What possibly could go wrong?

*          *          *

“You know Vesna,” I remembered hearing Doc Allen say so many times, “what you are about to undertake is something that very few humans have done. To date, I count only two, who have risked their bodies within such an electro-magnetic field, and they were males, who over time developed a very serious reaction to the temporal field. So that makes you very special, very special indeed. And we really don’t know whether you will react as they did. So Vesna, do you really want it?”

As I have always considered myself special, I so swallowed my fears and pushed on. If my Sasha could do this, so could I! Screw the potential risks involved.

And then there was the minor task of the assassination of the Pharaoh Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare – the very mad, psychopathic, telepathic, and telekinetic spawn of the alien Akhenaten. He and his hybrid genes had to be stopped and prevented from being passed on. Otherwise, humanity’s future was destined to be divided between those who could, and those who could not, freely exercise telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Accomplish that, and then we would get to come home.

In order to better deal with the aforementioned psychopathic Smenkhkare, Doc Allen played a considerable role. In essence, he implanted in both Joey and me deep psychic blocks that would protect and preserve us against the young pharaoh’s genetically augmented mental powers. He then also inserted mental images of our own choosing and design meant to confuse the errant teenager. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the good Doctor then placed a trigger in us that would quickly raise our metabolisms and adrenaline levels. This would allow us, for a brief period, to go into a sort of physiological overdrive. The period had to be brief; otherwise a terrific sugar crash would level us. I was told that my Sasha and Joey had already successfully used such a ploy, when they had assassinated Smenkhkare’s alien father, Akhenaten.

*          *          *

To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t know what to expect the first time I deployed through the American’s temporal field. Given all the technology and power required, I wondered if that transition from one time to the next would be painful. I worried whether I would remember all my hard earned landing lessons, which had been drilled into me during those two intensive weeks at the Fort Bragg parachute school. Would my muscle memory come through? Would I break or sprain something upon landing?

Yes, I freely admit, I was really scared, but since I had come so far, I refused to wash myself out. As I have always considered myself special, I swallowed my fears and pushed on believing in myself.

That first drop was as fantastic as it was exhilarating! There I was, standing above the energized ring as the temporal field coalesced, the braids of my black wig began to fly in all directions, because of the van der Graff effect, while my white, single-shouldered dress stuck to me like paint, because of all the static cling. With my bare feet and toes tingling as if I stood at the edge of a high cliff, I looked at the very center of the ring’s field, took a small jump forward into the air, knees locked and slightly bent as I had been instructed at the jump school, and dropped.

The divine slipperiness of passing through the temporal field and its ion stream, into the somewhen, was, well, nearly orgasmic, and infinitely more pleasurable than a hot baby oil message after a long sweat session in the sauna.

*          *          *

The very next thing that I remembered was gracefully landing on the balls of my feet and performing a classic tuck and roll. Oh, how I bless my parachute instructor!

Then, quite suddenly my senses rudely kicked in: the smell of the intense incense, the light of gently fluttering shadows from the oil lamp tapers, and the life-sized, seated golden presence of Amen Re in the near darkness. Then, I finally got it. I finally understood my Sasha’s first love.

Then my teammate and Egyptologist Joey Richards landed in the sanctuary with a plop like a sack of potatoes, groggy, and quietly incoherent. He and Doc Allen had warned me about his post-drop syndrome, a condition that seemed to affect only the electrolytic balance in males. As I anxiously hovered over him in the near-darkness, his lapse into unconsciousness quickly passed, just as Doc Allen said it would. But his first words at coming to were so not like Joey.

“I am upside down,” he quietly announced.

Then, after another moment or two, blessedly, he blinked, smiled up at me, and came fully to his senses.

“I am in good health my sister. We must go. But first find our leather pouch. It’s around here somewhere. It contains our expense money.”

We left the intimately sublime beauty of the inner-most sanctuary of the Great God Amen Re by carefully squeezing between the narrowest opening of its massive cedar wood door leaves. My Sasha had somehow discovered that an alarm system was attached to the opening of the doors. But he found that if one gently opens them by only just so much, the old and overstretched ropes would not release the hammers of bronze alarm gongs.

So now beyond that towering portal, we were greeted by the near darkness of the main temple, near darkness due to the scattered oil lamps that passed for evening lighting. Passing by a black granite statue of the fierce lion-goddess Sekhmet, we passed through the thick walls of the temple proper by a cleverly obscured side passage that was hidden in the statue’s shadow. Then, Joey surprised me by simply saying, “Look up.”

The star field that I beheld was so overwhelming in its complexity and brightness that I staggered back as I unconsciously wished to take it all in. In this ancient atmosphere, so totally devoid of any pollution, the many flowing streams of Milky Way were self-evident as breath-taking tendrils of light. The density of the stars themselves assaulted my straining eyes to the point that I had to actually look away.

Joey then whispered conspiratorially, “Is it any wonder that Kemet included in their religion such stars? Why they adorned the ceilings of their pyramids and tombs with them as well? But we must go now to my father’s house. Hopefully, it will be still vacant.”

As we walked in the dark, always careful and mindful to be as silent as possible, I found myself amidst a maze of low slab-sided mud brick structures that seemed to glow white in the moon and star light. And after many twists and turns, we approached a solitary building, modest in size, with a portico of columns that marked its entrance.

Joey approached first to confirm whether its new tenant had yet to move in. Finding that he had not, we entered and made ourselves comfortable within its walls. I was led to a side room with two bed frames. All at once the excitement and tension of the drop began to bleed off. Practically collapsing onto his bed, Joey let out a quiet moan of nervous exhaustion and nearly fell to sleep.

As for myself, I was still quite awake, and besides, I had to answer a nagging personal question, so I quietly joined him on his frame, naked, wrapping myself around him in a most possessive way, and communicated my hunger. To my happy surprise, Joey did indeed respond to my affections, took his good time about it, was attentive and gentle, and as a result I enjoyed myself greatly, several times, and found myself crying tears of pure joy in his cradling arms. I had simply no idea how erotically sensitive a shaved head was. But Joey showed me. As we finished, both now physically exhausted, slippery in each other’s sweat, we fell asleep entwined. To me, in my mind, our team had been sanctified.

The next morning, I must admit, was a bit awkward for me, but Joey just smiled and said, “Time to get up and get moving. I’ll check out the pantry to see if there is anything to eat.”

We took care of our personal needs, and Joey announced that the house had indeed been cleaned up and stocked with beer and wine, but since it was not yet occupied, the household still lacked any fresh cheeses, dried fish, breads, or fruit. So, with Joey jiggling his leather pouch, we decided to visit the market place for breakfast, and thereafter, to arrange for our passage north to Akhetaten, and our target, the mad Pharaoh Smenkhkare.

On the way to the marketplace, I went over in my mind why I had initiated last evening’s passion. I guess that I wanted to know, first hand, whether the American was really a real man. Well, now I knew. Besides, I rather shamelessly admitted to myself, I was more than just a little bit curious. I just hadn’t expected Joey to so promptly return the favor, so well, and for so long.

As for the marketplace, I found it to be a riot of color and smells, many of which teased my stomach into voicing its need. Hearing this, Joey just smiled and steered me over to a bread vendor.

“Venerable one,” he said kindly to the elderly woman, “two of your most delicious sweet breads with honey. My sister’s stomach must be silenced.”

Smiling back, the vendor carefully selected not two, but three of the sweets, and carefully placed them on a date palm leaf fashioned for the purpose.

“Three sweets venerable one?” Joey queried.

“I heard your loud stomach as well, priest of the gods. Now eat, as my old ears can barely stand all the commotion from you two.”

Turning to share his breads with me, Joey then plucked a tiny gold ring from the leather pouch around his neck. Deftly, he reached across and placed the tiny treasure in her hand and closed her fingers around it. Surprised by the quickness of the act, the woman gasped at opening her hand and showed a look of wonderment in her eyes.

“Venerable one,” Joey said, “you have just fed two hungry servants of the Great God of the White Wall. Do you not think that He thanks you as well?”

As we turned and walked away towards the docks now in search of a boat, I distinctly heard the woman loudly whisper to her nearby vendors.

“Look there, it is he, the kindly priest of the House of Horemheb. I remember him! I would recognize those brave scars anywhere. And just look what he gave me for just three sweet breads!”

While this was my very first interaction with the ancient Egyptians, it was a memorable one in many ways. The sem-priest of Ptah, Mayneken, my Joey, had just shown me a side of him that I would never have imagined, as I ate the delicious sweet pyramid laden with honey. Indeed, I had a lot to learn about my partner in this most ancient land.

*          *          *

While there were several river craft available for our transit north to Akhetaten, the then capital of Egypt, I was fascinated at how Joey negotiated with the boatmen, querying as to their provisions for the journey, their speed, and also whether their boats carried lice or fleas, much to their surprised and indignant protestations. What a practical education I was getting!

We left Thebes that morning on a swift river craft and a day and a half later arrived at the capital. I freely admit that I marveled at all the sights, sounds, and smells. Clearly, and by just their attire, the busy dock at Akhetaten was populated with a broad mix of cultures. And Joey, ever attentive, was kind enough to explain everything that I was witnessing.

“See that one over there with the beard; he’s most likely from one of the cities along the Levantine coast. And that one well-muscled one with the long, snake-like hair, he’s definitely from Crete. As for that one, my guess, by the pottery that he is hawking, he’s from mainland Greece, maybe even from the city of Mycenae.”

Lost in the moment, I grabbed Joey’s strong forearm like an excited child. Then, when he looked down at me, I blushed, and let go. I could not believe it, but I was beginning to trust that stubborn American, was beginning to feel totally at ease in his company, with his broad knowledge and experience, not to mention his presence, even his smell.

Now on the dock with our growling stomachs primed by the delicious smells of roasted something, I wanted to eat, but Joey firmly made the point that we needed grooming first, and so he led the way. Little did I know that this would be my first challenge, not only to negotiate the service on my own, but also to experience the touch of a total stranger washing and shaving my body! It took all the control that I could muster, but after a while, much as with a hair shampoo at my favorite salon, I began to settle down to the ritual. By the time I had been massaged with oil, I did feel and smell delicious. So I made a warning note to myself that such experiences can become extremely dangerous, if not habit forming.

Now for something to eat! Joey, again showing the way, made some suggestions, even let me sample some of his favorites, and I then and there concluded that Americans do have the oddest of palettes when it comes to food. So while he indulged himself with a portion of roasted garlic hen, I became adventurous and began to meander among of the many stands of freshly cooked foods, fruits, and many others just unidentifiable, and decided to act upon sheer curiosity and impulse. To be honest, the assault on the senses was considerable: roasted garlic, onions, breads of all sorts, meats, and fish – both cooked and dried. They all made up a kaleidoscope of possibilities. But through it all, and before I sampled anything, Joey found me, and again with that subtle American respect – no, it was deference, would politely ask the vendor.

“Which of these fine fish would you offer to your own sister?”

Or, “Of these fine sweet breads, which would you select for your own mother?”

These diplomatically pitched words from a priest truly impacted the commoners’ ears as they spoke volumes, again. As with the old woman in Thebes that had sold us the sweet breads, this elderly one, nearly as toothless, offered the American a ready smile as she passed over her offerings, in this particular case, a whole dried fish. But when Joey attempted to pay her, his hand was gently brushed aside.

“Dear priest,” she quietly said, “Pray for my ka’s survival, for I know you will. Your eyes are clear and guileless, unlike the others.”

Thanking the woman with a respectful nod, Joey performed his trick again as he took the woman’s hand, kissed it, and simultaneously slipped a small gold ring unto one of her heavily callused fingers. Gasping in disbelief and wonder, she clutched her finger tightly with the other hand as if the finger had been seriously injured.

Looking up, Joey only smiled. “Venerable mother, let it be known that He of the Great White Wall will care for you in the West, as you have cared for one of his lowly priests among the living.”

With heartfelt tears streaming down her weathered visage, Joey turned to leave, and then I heard as he did so, yet another all too familiar gasp of recognition.

“By the Aten! It is he! He’s the one that I saw entering our dear Queen’s own household! Those magnificent scars only prove it!”

Twice now, Joey’s approach with those of the marketplace told me of an inner strength and generosity of spirit that I had not before imagined. It warmed my heart and made me smile. Such a simple thing. Imagine, I thought, a Christian abroad within a pre-Christian world. What a revolution that would make!

But before we left the marketplace, Joey led me over to a public well, which he deemed very drinkable, if not delicious. And, once again, he was right; for I didn’t realize just how thirsty I had become after that salted fish. While others waited their turn at the well, we drank until our bellies were distended.

*          *          *

Knowing where the royal palace was did not present us a problem, for all knew where the edifice was located. Frankly, one could not miss it. The palace’s sheer mass and its centralized location made it the natural nexus of the town. And on top of that, it was located next door to the truly massive Aten Temple, actually connected to it by a bridge across the main north-south thoroughfare of the city. But such centrality also meant getting past a veritable gauntlet of courtly bureaucrats, in order to attend the daily royal audience, where we hoped to find our target, the totally mad, psychopathic, and dangerously telekinetic teenaged Pharaoh Smenkhkare. Getting that access, I could now see, would present us with a challenge.

However, as I had learned at the Directorate, one’s sense of presence and attitude can go quite far when confronted with such challenges, and besides, the sem-priest of Ptah, Mayneken, and I his lovely sister, Maatkare, possessed these qualities in abundance. Joey’s ambassadorial ring from the royal household also provided its own unique privileges. But when the situation calls for sheer, brazen moxie, that too has its place, and that’s where I came in.

Joey, freshly groomed, bare-chested, and striding forth powerfully in his white linen kilt, totally surprised me as he walked proudly along through the crowded streets. It wasn’t that he was acting like a strutting popinjay, it was just what they call in the military “command presence.” So, when he walked directly up to the two tall, blue-black Nubian Medjay guards at the palace’s side entrance, I wasn’t really all that shocked. That Joey’s direct approach had been effective was clearly evidenced by the way the guards hands had unconsciously slipped to the pummels of their vicious-looking chariot scythes, their khopeshu, which hung heavily from leather straps supported by their magnificently muscled shoulders.

Stopping before them with a smile, Joey, quietly addressed them, all the while he focused upon the bigger of these formidable twins.

“Worthy guardians of the royal palace. I, Mayneken, sem-priest of Ptah and ambassador of Queen Nefertiti, and my sister, Maatkare, seek entrance to the royal palace.”

Now standing to Joey’s right, I noted with pleasure that the guards had acknowledged their granted “worthiness,” as their backs fractionally straightened and chests swelled with pride. I could almost read their minds: “Finally, someone appreciates who we truly are.” But then, in an instant, the taller of the two recovered, and asked.

“So what is your business, priest of Ptah and ambassador to the Queen?”

To my utter amazement, Joey continued to smile up at the towering man and quipped.

“That, my powerful friend, is the concern of the Great One within. May we now pass?”

Recognizing the gamesmanship of Joey’s reply and no doubt taking into account this priest’s impressive warrior physique as well, we were allowed to pass within.

Once within the first shadows of the palace and out of earshot, Joey sighed heavily and said.

“That was close, now for the next barrier to pass. For a moment there, I wasn’t totally sure whether that brute was going to let us in.”

I could only smile and said, “Not so, my dear Mayneken. Both of those men were totally entranced by my presence.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, my dear sem-priest of Ptah and ambassador to the Queen, their kilts betrayed them.”

*          *          *

The side entrance of the palace opened to a blessedly cool, long, and narrow passage, which eventually emptied into a rectangular receiving chamber. Along the base of its two long walls were low masonry benches, called mastabas, and every square inch of them was occupied with seated petitioners.

I was wondering what we would do, when stopping in the center of the room, Joey slowly surveyed the scene. He later told me that what he saw were a good many petitioners from all of Egypt: traders, businessmen, and even some foreign merchants as well. But clearly none of them represented anyone of any significant domestic or foreign stature. Then, finally, Joey found just who he was looking for – the peacock that guarded the doorway opposite.

Turning back to me, he rather wickedly smiled and said, “This beautifully colored water fowl is all yours my sister.”

Smiling back with the most mischievous grin that I could muster, I said, “Watch me pluck him bare and then steal his eggs!”

Standing boldly in the center of the room as we were, our presence had been noticed, as the gentle purring of conversation had dwindled into silence. So had we recognized that this chamber was only the second vetting, the second barrier to overcome in order to gain access to the king’s presence. With this fact firmly understood, I smoothly glided towards the peacock; much like a stalking cobra would a preoccupied, feeding rat.

As for the peacock in question, a palace bureaucrat officiously titled The Royal Fan Bearer, he was a soft middle aged male, whose fingers held far too many rings. Whose fat layered neck was far too burdened with the heavy pectoral necklace of lapis lazuli, carnelian, faience, and gold. He wore lotus hemp sandals decorated with gold leaf and a short white linen kilt that sported a leopard skin girdle; this last supported his extended stomach like a sling. This palace official, who flicked his ivory pummeled horsetail fly swatter this way and that, more out of officious emphasis than anything else, watched with considerable interest my sultry approach, as did the rest of the petitioners in the chamber. The anticipated confrontation all knew would be epic. You could have heard a pin drop.

As far as I was concerned, the fan bearer was toast. Here I was, finely formed and beautiful, wrapped in a white, single-shouldered, and nearly diaphanous linen dress with my taut left breast fully exposed. In the coolness of the chamber, my nipple became hard, distended.

And that was only the prelude. As I reached the proper distance of address for such an official, I stopped, bowed low towards the man’s kilt, and noted with satisfaction his ever growing bulge.

Ah, I thought, I do indeed have his full attention.

Rising from my bow I stood erect and proudly before this worm of an official, my left nipple now fully ripe.

“Most noble one,” I purred. “I am Maatkare, sister of Mayneken, sem-priest of Ptah and the personal ambassador of Queen Nefertiti.”

I paused for the information to sink in as his eyes were still locked on my perfect left breast.

“We wish audience, this very day, with the Great One, the very Son of the Aten,” I breathed.

As I had calculated, and as I had trained and practiced in the modern era, the heady mixture of perfume, visual stimuli, sheer lust, pheromones, and the words “sem-priest of Ptah and personal ambassador of Queen Nefertiti,” all this stimuli had caused this insufferable and imperious slug of a man to stop his blatantly affected and incessant flicking. After a few seconds of stunned silence, while he continued to feast his eyes on me, he finally blurted out a bit too gruffly and loudly.

“So, where is this so-called personal ambassador to the exiled queen?” All in the chamber had clearly heard his imperious and intemperate words.

It was then, almost theatrically, that Joey appeared behind my left shoulder. His upper body was hard, chiseled, and in full flex, which he could effortlessly maintain. This sudden vision of pure masculinity, which stood beyond my gracefully feminine shoulder, openly shocked the bureaucrat with now widening eyes.

“Here noble one,” Joey smoothly answered. “I am Mayneken, sem-priest of the god of the Great White Wall, and here is my signet ring of ambassadorial authority.”

As Joey slowly extended his powerfully sculpted arm forward, with a fist to better display the symbol of the Queen’s granted authority, a low murmur broke out among the other petitioners, as they not only saw the muscular display, but also the ragged scarring across the whole of Joey’s back.

“Such a priest!” one whispered.

“No, such a warrior priest,” his neighbor pointedly corrected. “Cannot your eyes see those brave scars?”

Then Joey continued in a steady low voice and a slight sneer. “But regarding the current station of the ‘true’ Lady of the Two Lands, I seriously doubt that she considers herself in exile. In fact, such news would amuse her. Would you like me to share with her your ill-advised indiscretion?”

Now wide-eyed and in full spiritual retreat, the official stuttered out that that was not ever his intention, that he was ignorant of the queen’s true situation, and even more, that she had at her disposal such a personal ambassador-at-large. Amid many hidden snickers, the now totally cowed Royal Fan Bearer allowed us to pass on.

As we made our way through the narrow passage, I breathed a sigh of relief. But with two barriers passed, now came the let down. The royal audience hall was actually a quite small, even intimate, chamber that was only about two-thirds the size of the previous one. Certainly hardly anything that one would consider pharaonic – so much for Hollywood and the grandiose visions of Cecil B. de Mille.

Rectangular in form, it was paved with the smoothest of limestone. Its high ceiling of fragrant cedar timbers was supported by six brightly painted papyrus-form stone columns. Only one piece of furniture adorned it – a temporary, wooden, camp stool-like throne atop a low, three-stepped, stone platform at the far end.

Crammed into this confined space were no less than six Medjay guards, who stood framed within the columns, and sixteen clearly important personages of various high stations, nationalities, and cultures. Some were engaged in hushed conversation; others merely waited in stony silence. All, excepting the Medjay, who kept watch on the gathering from either side, faced toward the raised throne in anticipation of the Great One’s arrival. None of these select petitioners, consequently, noted our arrival. None except the Medjay.

We glanced briefly at one another, smiled, and realized that we were now within striking distance. All the mat training, all the psychic implants from Doc Allen, were now about to be put to the test. Was I nervous? Yes, what fool would not be. But we were prepared in ways that no ancient, and most assuredly, no alien hybrid had ever seen.

So we casually looked around, took stock of our surroundings and noted the armament of the Medjay. Each had a dagger scabbard, in addition to heavy and vicious chariot sickles slung over their massive shoulders. Next, we took in the others within this royal audience chamber. Were any of them a potential threat? The answer was clearly no, and so we split up, each to their own side of the chamber.

After waiting for some twenty minutes or so, the sounds of scraping sandal bottoms could be heard from a small doorway located to the left of the raised throne. Through it shuffled an ancient looking man, who I assumed had to be The Royal Herald. After a few moments, he finally reached the first step of the throne. There, he turned to us and barked out.

“Abase yourselves before the brilliant and magnificent presence of the Son of the Aten! King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Master of Kush, the Master of Libya, and Master of all the Great Green.”

As commanded, all of us, excepting the Medjay of course, fell to the floor face down, with the back of our necks ritualistically exposed in the classic pose of total submission. As seen from the perspective of the throne, the white limestone floor of the royal audience chamber had been transformed into a sea of colors, textures, and human heads all directed forward.

Several minutes passed before we again heard the sounds of scraping sandal bottoms. But during that period, I inwardly had chuckled at the sheer and audacious vanity of the herald’s announcement. “Master of all the Great Green!” Hardly did any pharaoh, much less this monster, command the entire Mediterranean! This rebellious train of thought was finally broken by the sound of a solitary pair of feet that entered the chamber. They briefly stopped to survey us, the groveling multitude, and when apparently satisfied, only then did they crisply ascend the divine throne of Isis.

What we heard next was the voice of a young man, clearly bored, who dully stated with a tone of complete and total disinterest, “Arise. We wish to see your faces.”

Upon pharaoh’s command, we all did so, albeit some levering themselves up with considerable difficulty, others rising quickly, but Joey and I purposefully rose very slowly so as to remain partially hidden behind the others assembled. Separated as we were to the opposite sides of the audience chamber, we had done so that we would not be perceived too quickly by this pharaoh, the hideous psychopath and telepath called Smenkhkare. For someone whose names translate as “Living are the Forms of Re,” “Vigorous is the Soul of Re,” and “Holy of Forms,” this monster did no justice to any of them.

As we had expected, the young king did indeed perform a cursory scan of his gathered flock and in the process he actually managed to miss us, as we had totally blacked out our personality signatures. Bless Doc Allen for that trick! Where we stood, each of us was, practically speaking, an incorporeal entity, excepting of course, our two physical forms that remained behind. Again we had succeeded. For within such a packed gathering, and since we both were partially, if not wholly hidden by those who so dearly wished to be recognized and noticed, our initial concealment from the young pharaoh’s sixth sense, his divine sia, had been total. Still and all, I had felt the pharaoh’s less than gentle scan, and it had caused goose pimples to rise on my forearms and neck. Such an intrusive monster!

Now seated on his throne, sitting stiffly erect with his hands pressed flat against the tops of his thighs, we noted that the pharaoh had chosen this day to wear the blue military crown, the khepresh, no doubt because it was lighter and less awkward to wear than the far more formal red and white crown, the sekhemti, of Upper and Lower Egypt. Quite literally, at his feet and sitting cross-legged next to the first step, was the chief scribe, who would dutifully read the petitions and then record their judgment. He had apparently entered the chamber after the king, unnoticed, and on “little cat’s feet,” to paraphrase Carl Sandburg. To his right stood proudly, and with appropriate gravitas, the aged royal herald, now leaning heavily upon his stout wooden w3s-staff of authority.

Looking straight forward and fixing his eyes on a point above everyone’s head, the king then intoned, “Read to Us the first petition.”

So the royal audience began, with the chief scribe reading a legalistic statement from three foreign dignitaries from the Levantine area. At the start of the reading, they had stepped forward to be recognized and receive the king’s judgment. Their plea involved a request for Egyptian troops and financial aid, as their cities were threatened by a military power, called the Mitanni. To this plea, the king listened, considered for a moment, and then sent the trio on their way with a talent of gold, but no troops.

“Read to Us the next petition,” the king commanded.

This time four petitioners from the audience stepped forward as the scribe began to read. At issue here were the boundaries of four administrative districts that required the king’s wisdom as to how to resurvey lands altered by the recent Nile inundation. The lands in question were prime agricultural plots that had been lost by one district and now claimed by the other three. It seemed to me that a channel of the Nile had changed its course. To this petition, the king again listened, dramatically thought for a moment, and then rather cleverly declared that, what the river god Hapi had deemed worthy of moving, should remain in the hands of those so fortunate to receive them. Clearly, reasoned the pharaoh, the lands must have been mismanaged by their former owner.

“Read Us the next petition.”

Two merchants stepped forward upon hearing their issue read aloud. At this point, Joey and I were, for the first time, out in the open and without cover. A shared glance signaled that the time had arrived. I, Maatkare, was the “designated batter” in this diabolical assassination plot. So after the two merchants had moved forward, I too moved forward five full steps to take their place, which placed me next to the nearest Medjay guard on the king’s left. At this distance, less than twenty paces from the king, he was already a dead man. But to the Nubian guard, I was not seen as a threat, but rather as a sweetly smelling morsel of ripe fruit ready for the picking. In actual fact, the guard was so totally distracted by my presence that he was getting a bit flustered by it as well.

While the king had not seen me stepping forward, he nonetheless had felt its affect upon his nearby guard. Easily distracted from such boring proceedings and also a bit curious, he looked up in my direction, and flinched, as this was the first time that he had beheld me in all my loveliness.

I knew he was asking himself where I had come from. When he looked again, but this time with his sia, or telepathic sixth sense, he flinched a second time as there was nothing there! I knew he believed it was as if this beautiful woman standing before him was nothing but a black void, yes a living body, but one without a ka!

While I distracted the king, Joey chose to move as well towards him. Taking some six paces, Joey stopped and then turned his head as if he was either hard of hearing or particularly interested in the reading of the current petition’s substance. While the nearest guard on the king’s right duly noted Joey’s movement, he ignored it, as he too had become totally captivated by my beautiful form.

Nonetheless, and despite his perception of a living void before him, Smenkhkare had indeed both seen and felt Mayneken’s approach. I knew the moment Smenkhkare scanned Joey with his sia, imagining his blood chilling again as this one too was a black void, a living body without a ka!

How can this be? The now panicking young pharaoh’s mind would be screaming.

Just then, as the first scribe finished his reading of the trade dispute, the two petitioners moved forward so as to receive the king’s judgment. After one heart beat, so did Joey and I, two full steps each. Now both of us were within sure kill range, for all six guards were behind us. Only two petitioners, a sitting scribe with his head down, and one very old royal herald, albeit with a heavy staff, were between us and our target.

I saw as Smenkhkare’s sense of self-preservation took hold, as he realized that two ka-less ones now stood to his right and left! He would quickly calculate that all of his escape routes were blocked. On top of that, his two nearest guards, who were totally smitten by me, were totally out of position to act on his behalf.

It was at this truly delicious moment that I was near enough to literally smell the young pharaoh’s fear. And in response…

WHO ARE YOU!

The young man pulsed out with a devastating mental power that even slightly staggered Joey and me. Then, suddenly, he saw who we were, for in my mind stood my beloved brother Mayneken, with his powerful arms crossed across his chest, who glared back, daring any passage past him whatsoever. With clear shock on his face, he then quickly turned to Joey, and the mental image there was of me holding golden royal cobras entwined on each arm, and out of my mouth a forked tongue extended, lasciviously licking, beckoning, in his direction. And with these distractions now planted, Joey snapped his fingers and triggered our primed and ready metabolisms into an adrenaline overdrive.

And we moved.

Instantly recognizing our first step as an encircling movement, a telepathic shriek of “NO!” was projected from the teenage king. Seeing that his command had had absolutely no effect, the panicked pharaoh next pulsed out a generalized and devastating shotgun-like death wish that affected all those assembled in the chamber. While we were only slowed by the authoritative command projected by the young man’s highly developed sia, the death shriek had rendered the rest of the chamber lobotomized cretins as blood began flowing freely out of their ears, noses, eyes and mouths. Their collective eyes rolled back and glazed over due to the overwhelming onslaught of the pharaoh’s telekinetic power. Moments later, they began to dumbly drop to the floor as lost cerebral function and gravity took its course.

Thudding to the ground right and left like so many sacks of potatoes, I, as rehearsed, reached Smenkhkare first. I delivered the telling death blow as I expertly rammed the palm of my left hand up into the king’s delicate nose sending splinters of bone and cartilage into his fore brain, in effect, physically lobotomizing him. How poetic. I must admit that the act was immensely liberating, as I experienced a further surge of adrenaline when his head sharply snapped back at the impact. I, Vesna Borisevna Gregorieva, had successfully taken vengeance upon the Akhenaten’s own spawn. And this, I knew, my dear Sasha would have truly appreciated.

Now stunned and with his eyes wide open, the king next saw the floor rush up to his face as Joey had swiftly decapitated him with one of his guard’s chariot sickles.

Kicking his head so that he could speak directly into the face of the fallen one, Joey simply said, “Your seed is no more.”

Then all sensation left the dying pharaoh as his skull was crushed with the heavy back edge of the weapon, in effect instantly evacuating the blood supply from the king’s brain, which now formed a messy pool of splatter.

“Why did you do that?” I asked in sudden shock.

“Habit,” Joey simply and grimly replied. “Piankhotep did the same to his wretched father Akhenaten.”

Now, all silent except for our heavy panting due to the exquisite effort, we began to stagger our way towards the exit of the audience chamber, a chamber that had already begun to fill with the heavy aromas and foul putrefying smells of a battlefield. But before we could leave, we both removed our soiled clothes and quickly wiped off the bloody splatter from each other with a bit of handy cloth taken from among the fallen. While Joey stripped a fresh loin cloth off of one of the fallen guards, I was challenged to find an unsoiled garment, and in the end selected a beautiful multi-colored sash of a foreign ambassador to simply wrap around my waist.

While so doing, I whispered to Joey, “Noble Mayneken, you did well this day. Indeed our beloved Piankhotep would have been most proud of you.”

Acknowledging my words, Joey answered.

“And as for you, most beguiling Maatkare, you kill indeed with the speed of a cobra. Piankhotep too would have been most pleased with your kill.” Then he concluded, “It is indeed best that we leave this place.”

*          *          *

Our return to Thebes was blissfully uneventful as there was a strong and steady wind. Joey, in a moment of inventiveness, had even talked our boatman into rigging up an extra sail that only increased our progress. And, as at our arrival at Akhetaten, Joey insisted again on grooming before eating. That man! But to my great surprise, that rather gaudy multi-colored sash that I had been wearing, I actually managed to barter for my entire grooming and even a new dress! Apparently, the groomer had never before seen such finery. Joey had given me a tiny gold ring that I put it on my right hand, third finger, as I was now feeling marvelous and a bit playful as well.

With our stomachs finally attended to, we wandered Thebes, hand in hand, he explaining, me listening. It was an extraordinary experience having an expert of two worlds as my very own tour guide. And if truth be told, I really think that he was learning as much as I was. After all, his first brush with Egyptology was from its ruins. He was seeing first hand those very same ruins, but now as entire structures, complete down to their inhabitants. In fact, I actually caught Joey marveling to himself about the details.

*          *          *

Under the rubric of “small towns are all eyes and ears,” I must report that Prince Horemheb was informed of our presence from his chief houseman, Ramose, who had chanced to see us in the marketplace. And while we were touring we managed to bump into the man, while he was out inspecting some public work projects, or so he said.

Allow me to say, here and now, that while Horemheb was quite a fine specimen by ancient Egyptian standards, he couldn’t match that of Joey. Nonetheless, he was a most kind, generous, and charming man, who invited us back to his household for a quite memorable dinner.

It was during that soirée that I learned firsthand many things, and in particular, about my Sasha’s and Joey’s social station. While I knew that Joey acted as the assistant of late Piankhotep, my Sasha, and had succeeded him as a sem-priest of Ptah, and thus was considered a learned wizard of sorts, he was also the personal ambassador to Queen Neferiti – and knowing Joey, perhaps much more.

What I did not know was that Joey was also the adopted son of the late Meryptah, the High Priest of Amen Re no less, and, the adopted older brother of Prince Horemheb! Talk about connections!

Needless to say, these facts began to explain to me why Joey was so kind and almost deferential to the locals. He knew that he had clout. They knew that he did as well, but he chose not to misuse it. Furthermore, while I learned of all of these things, it was nonetheless important for me to hear what the locals “felt” about this relationship between my Sasha and Joey, not to mention what those inherited titles implied. And what I found was a deeply reverent respect for my Sasha, and an ever growing appreciation, and yes, even love, for Joey. And once again, I found myself thanking the gods for my good fortune.

*          *          *

After having enjoyed the Theban prince’s hospitality, we took our leave, saying that prayers were owed to the Great God for our safe journey to and from that “other” city. Upon arriving at the temple compound, we reached the house of Joey’s adopted father, which, to our surprise, was still unoccupied. We entered its cool spaces, its kitchen area, and there and then Joey broke open one of the many beer jars that had been stored there. To this very day, I do not prefer beer, but that beer, that day, at that moment, tasted like the very nectar of the gods and we both drank deeply. Our bellies full of food, and now the beer, our eyelids began to droop. And then something totally unexpected, yet something so totally right, happened. Joey took me by the hand and led me to the guest room.

Never before in my life had I so enjoyed another. I would like to say that is was just the release of so much pent up stress and energy. But I know better than that. I couldn’t fool myself. So while our retrieval point was only a scant one hundred meters away, we had time to kill, and we did so celebrating our very survival, our clean escape from that “other” city, and each other.

While Joey will never admit it, we almost missed the hour of our retrieval! We had so exhausted each other that we had almost overslept. Waking with a start, seeing that darkness had fallen, we dressed, removed as best we could all evidence of our passing, and left for the temple proper. To our best knowledge, none was the wiser, excepting of course, that one missing jar of beer.

*          *          *

When I emerged from the temporal field, while grasping tightly onto the retrieval rope, I was greeted by a great electric roar of cheering soldiers. As the wooden crane swung me high up to clear of the ring, I was gently deposited before Colonel Charles “Tuna” Cartwright, who met me holding open a rather large military fatigue shirt. Seeing the surprised look on my face, he quickly explained.

“Ms. Gregorieva. For the men. Please put his on – for them.”

While quickly doing so, I caught the Colonel carefully looking me over, up and down, I realized he was seeing the evidence of my and Joey’s encounter that was clearly displayed as mild abrasions on my neck and across my skin.

When Joey emerged from the temporal field, the soldiers’ roar was repeated, along with a few congratulatory whistles and cheers that signaled good-natured male envy and appreciation.

*          *          *

And that was my first deployment. While we had managed to escape the palace unnoticed, it was only during our trip back up river to Thebes, and our eventual retrieval point, that I had the time to truly begin to put all the pieces together. My first naïve thought was that we had been incredibly lucky to have pulled off the assassination, and then even more so just to get out with our skins intact.

Upon further consideration, my second thought was that we weren’t meant to survive at all. In no respect were the odds in our favor. Clearly, the Americans had given us all the tools to succeed, but then it became quite obvious to me that my Russian handlers had considered me totally expendable, and they just as obviously wanted Joey dead as well – come what may and whatever impact that might have had on our current reality. For the Americans to have total control of the temporal device was one thing; but to have their own seasoned temporal field agent in place was entirely another. And the more that I thought about it, the more that scenario made sense.

Needless to say, chills ran up and down my spine as I considered all the cold and dark ramifications. Consequently, I naturally found myself warming to the Americans, especially the likes of John Milson, Doc Allen, Peter Borov, and of course, Joey. My, what a surprise he turned out to be, and in so many, many ways. So young, and yet, so very wise. That left my cool Russian colleagues on the outside, a group that had to be watched most carefully. Precisely what I could do about my situation remained murky, but I was determined to remain patient, and above all else, vigilant. Clearly, my return to Moscow would be unexpected. Clearly, I was on borrowed time.

BUY

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