Egyptian Tahtib: Freeze Frame
"A-a-all righty, then!" Jared drawled, immensely pleased with himself now. He turned to Rose, twirling the sonic around his fingers and then dropping it back into his pocket with a flourish. "Twoja piramida, panienka!"
Swinging back before he could catch her blinking bemusement, he walked right up to the black stone and ran his hand over the surface admiringly. Rose joined him, for once wanting to touch it too, to believe. "What is it made of?" she asked.
"It's black marble," came the reply. "And seemingly cut from a single, solid block! I can't see any seams or cracks anywhere."
"Now that's impressive." The edifice was about three stories tall, and the side they stood on was about forty feet long at the base. "So how do we get in?"
He took a step back and looked to either side. "Let's try the north side. That's the side most Egyptian pyramids have their entrances on."
"OK," she agreed. "Come on, Tock!" Looking around after she'd called to the dog, she realized he wasn't there at her heels as usual. "Tock?"
Jared swiveled around to look, too, and spotted Tock a moment later. He had backed away at the pyramid's appearance, and was crouched warily a dozen long strides off. At both their urging, he raised up a bit, but instead of bounding forward, he reacted with a low, unhappy whine, instead.
His two humans glanced at each other. Should they be worried? Just then, Tock's head swung around as if he'd heard something they didn't. He stared back at towards the distant oasis, head cocked, then looked back and forth between it and them two or three times, making up his mind. Finally, he leapt up and began loping back towards the spring, tail wagging as he emitted a happy-sounding bark.
"Tock!" Rose yelled after him, then turned again to share a mystified stare with Jared.
"Well, it's not trouble, or we'd be able to tell it from his bark. He'll be OK. Come on." Taking her hand, he lead her around to the far side.
And of course, there was a doorway there. A handful of steps had been carved into the marble, leading to a small recessed opening, apparently doorless, a few feet above the sand. It gaped blankly at them; the utter blackness of the pyramid and the apparent lack of light from within contrasting with the brilliant desert sands to keep their sight from penetrating. Nevertheless, Jared climbed up the steps without hesitation, with Rose only a step behind.
Ducking under the low lintel – the doorway was only a hair above five feet tall – they straightened up in an inky black room. The floor seemed to be made from the same black marble, which steadfastly refused to reflect onward any of the light coming from the entrance. Willing his eyes to adjust, Jared looked around and spied what looked like oil lamps carved right into the wall on either side of the door at shoulder height, pulled out his sonic again and buzzed it against the one on his side. It caught with a flare, then settled down into a steady flame – and then the other one lit, too, without any source. And so did six more, evenly spaced around the room.
The two explorers paused, then Rose merely quipped, "Handy." She stepped into the middle of the room and began peering around. The floor was scattered with bits of marble chips and other trash, layered over with dust.
"This must be where the statue of the Bad Wolf was found," Jared commented, and she nodded, then they lifted their eyes to inspect further.
The chamber was a perfect cube, about twelve feet in every direction. The walls were the same smooth, polished black marble, and still no signs of seams could be seen. Instead, every wall was carved, divided into three panels each, with a half-panel over the two doorways – the one they'd just entered by, and a twin on the opposite wall. And each panel was filled with hieroglyphics.
"Can you read it?" Rose asked, holding her breath. She'd no idea whether the ancient writing system had been retained in his memory; resupplied by the TARDIS as apparently many languages had been (judging by the odd foreign words he'd been unconsciously sprinkling into conversation); or still missing, erased in the metacrisis.
Staring closely at one panel, his eyes slowly traveled upwards. She waited. Finally, his head began shaking no. But his next words weren't what she was expecting as a result.
"It's not in Egyptian. It almost is, but..."
"What do you mean?"
"Some of these symbols are authentic Egyptian hieroglyphs." He pointed to a couple but didn't name them. "But only about half. The others are... something else. It's like... either this is a different language, a different writing system, that's related to the Egyptian or borrowed some of their symbols – or vice versa, or... it's just nonsense decoration, like somebody carved symbols they thought looked right, without having any meaning behind them. But it's gibberish." He swung around on one heel, checking the verdict against the other panels. "It's all gibberish."
Rose stepped towards the interior door. "Even that?" she motioned towards the line of writing carved over the lintel, in just the place you'd expect a warning of the mummy's curse to be.
Jared stepped up beside her and looked at it. He nodded. "Yup." Grimacing apologetically sideways at her, he added, "Sorry."
She shrugged, letting him off the non-existent hook, then peered through the doorway. As before, no light penetrated, and they could see nothing at all. "Shall we?"
"We've come this far," he replied encouragingly.
Grinning, she beat him to the punch, ducking down and walking carefully forward, both hands out in front of her to prevent running into anything. Watching from behind, Jared saw her get simply swallowed up in blackness; he couldn't even see her light-colored clothing. And just as suddenly, there was absolute silence – not even her breathing.
"Rose?... Rose!" Not hesitating another moment, Jared charged swiftly after her.
All sight was gone in an instant. His hands out before him, reaching for Rose, he stumbled forward several steps without touching a thing before he brought himself to a stop.
"Rose!" No answer.
No sight, no sound. It was as if the very air had solidified around him, though he could touch nothing. He swung his head around, trying to see back the way he'd come. Not even a single particle of light shone through the doorway he knew was there.
His single heart was racing, his coming in gasps. "OK, Jared. OK. Just stop. Calm down." He talked himself down from an incipient panic. "Think!"
Pulling out the sonic again, he thumbed it to a setting he almost never had to use, one which approximated visible light frequencies. It hurt his eyes to use it like a torch, which is why he avoided it. Holding it out at arm's length, he narrowed his eyes, trying to peer through the gloom.
There was a shadow just to his right, roughly hunched-over human-shaped. Rose? Transferring the sonic to his left hand, he reached out – and his hand passed right through it. He did it again, slower, and … almost … felt something cross his palm like mist. "OK," he murmured hesitantly.
Holding the sonic up higher, he slowly shuffled around, finding half a dozen more vaguely human-shaped shadows, each just as insubstantial. No matter how close he got, putting his face right up next to one, he couldn't make out anything but a slightly darker patch of black. No telling which was Rose.
Suddenly he realized he was presuming they were human. "Well, why not? Seems a reasonable assumption to go on with," he told himself. Just then, something caught the corner of his eye, and he swiveled rapidly that way. Was it a flash of light? He waited, and it came again, a single pixel of slightly-less-than-black space, roughly waist high, a few feet away. He stopped a moment to reorient himself. He could no longer be certain, since he'd been turning around and about, but he thought it was ninety degrees away from the doorway where he'd entered – not that he could see that feature, either.
Walking slowly towards where the flash had come from, he abruptly stopped as a curtain seemed to vaguely materialize before him. Putting out his hand again, he ran it though the area, feeling the same mist on his skin.
His eyes could take no more of the sonic's "light". He flicked it off, screwing his eyes shut and rubbing them. Taking a deep breath, he let it out in a puff – and froze, when it came back and hit him in the face! Purposely blowing harder, he felt it again. Something was right in front of him. Keeping his eyes shut, he reached out again at face level, feeling the mist. He blew again, and again felt it come back.
What could possibly deflect air, but not his flesh?
Opening his eyes again, he flicked through several settings on the sonic, testing, and finally found one that resonated in his ears at the same time that the pulses seemed to "light up" the object. It was a flat expanse – a wall. The wall of the chamber.
"What?" Brain working furiously, the answer finally began coming clear. "No... Yes, it is... Oh, my... this is... brilliant!" He reached for the wall again, concentrating with all his might on the signals from his skin's nerves. "You froze time. Even to the very atoms." That's what he was feeling – without the electrons buzzing about the nuclei, the atoms that made up the wall just felt to him like mist. "But why isn't it affecting me?" he asked. "Well, because I'm a Time Lord, obviously." He blinked, then plowed ahead, filing that revelation away to deal with later. His face shone with appreciation for the designers of this trap.
"Completely, utterly brilliant! I hate turn it off..." Then he shrugged, nonchalantly accepting the inevitable. "Oh, well."
Flicking the sonic to yet another setting, he stepped back and pointed it at the wall where the flash had come from, assuming (and his assumptions were usually correct) that it marked the power source for whatever was working this technological magic. The pulses tore through the wall, absorbed by whatever was beyond it, but nothing changed. Moving his thumb to the miniscule slider control, Jared slowly varied the pitch, pulling in the harmonics tighter and tighter, higher and higher.
There! Suddenly the frequencies were everywhere, bouncing off invisible walls to whine back through his ears as he found exactly the right harmonic resonance pitch. He turned up the volume slowly, wincing as even his ears began complaining.
All at once the shrieking was ripped upwards through an even higher range, as feedback from the unseen machinery joined it. A moment later it was cut off with a crackling, fizzing explosion, seeming to come from all sides at once, burning his night-blinded corneas with a burst of brilliant white light. His thumb slipped off the sonic's control as he flinched automatically, and somehow felt time itself within the chamber crunch, and then lurch forward again.
He whirled around, straining his eyes again through the sudden flickering torchlight, just in time to catch Rose as she stumbled, yelping, and fell into his arms. "Hello!" he laughed, picking her upright and setting her on her feet again.
She shook her head, clearing it. "Hello!" Obviously confused, but always willing to play their old game, she smiled up at him.
Movement was all around them, and Jared glanced up. The other shadows had indeed resolved themselves into humans – about half a dozen roughly-dressed men, some carrying torches – which explained the torchlight. They each gaped around at the sudden appearance of several other people where none had been a (subjective) instant before.
Jared filled his lungs and yelled something Rose didn't understand, and there was a sudden mad scramble for the exit. Jared laughed and pulled her away, out of their way. When the last one had cleared the doorway, as he leaned over to pick up the flickering torch one of them had dropped, she looked her puzzlement at him. "What did you say?"
He laughed again. "I said the royal guards were coming."
"Royal... guards? What? Who were they?"
"Grave robbers!" he replied sunnily. "Stuck here for god only knows how long. They're going to have quite a surprise when they get out there and try to go home again."
"What... what do you mean?"
He gestured around the chamber with the torch. "This was an incredibly sophisticated anti-theft device. A... a freeze-frame chamber. Anyone who found there way in was frozen in time." He looked at her closely. "How long were you in here, did it feel like?"
"No time at all," she replied. "I walked in, tripped, and then suddenly you were in front of me, catching me. You mean I was frozen?"
"But you weren't? Why?"
He brushed that off, pretending he hadn't heard, as he turned with the torch to inspect the walls. Unlike the outer chamber, these were smooth, without any carvings of any kind, nor any hints of the freeze-frame apparatus other than – now that he peered even more closely – an incredibly, almost invisibly fine wire grid crisscrossing the marble on every surface at approximately two-foot intervals. "What's fascinating me is who could have built this thing? Certainly not the ancient Egyptians. Where did it come from?"
"And when?" she added. "You don't recognize the technology?"
He shook his head. "No more than I recognized the writing out there."
"The question is, then... what was it guarding?"
Together, they turned and looked at the wall opposite the doorway. There, of course, was yet another blankly yawning opening, framing lightless black.
Looking sideways at each other, they both started grinning at the same instant. "Shall we go find out?" Rose asked impishly.
Jared reached down and took her hand again in his, lacing fingers. "Together this time," he said firmly.
Ducking down again, they squeezed side by side through the narrow doorway. And without any warning, any transition at all, in the blink of an eye they were suddenly stumbling down carved marble stairs matching those at the front of the pyramid, into bright, airy sunshine ….
… but not into desert.
All around them was green – open, grassy fields, some cultivated, with copses of trees in the distance tracing a waterway down to a distant stretch of blue water glinting in a vast lake. People could be seen in the middle distance working in the fields, pacing behind wooden plows being pulled by teams of some kind of cattle. To one side was a primitive-looking village of mud huts, their roofs crowned with rough thatch.
Jared whirled around suddenly, catching his breath in relief as the black pyramid still loomed behind them.
"Where..." Rose began. "Or... when?" She turned to stare at Jared, who raised his eyebrows back.
The time jumper on his wrist chirped softly, having "read" the locality in spacetime. He raised his arm and flipped it open, then his jaw dropped down to his chest.
"We've gone back... eight thousand years..."