Time and the Trickster
Chapter Eighteen: Land of the Pyramids: City of a Thousand Minarets
Disclaimer: I do not own Doctor Who or any of the spinoff material and I gain no income off of this story, just the satisfaction of playing with the characters.
Rose hadn't been sure what she expected from Cairo. When she'd first been told she was going to Egypt she'd naturally thought of the pyramids and sand rather than a city itself. She'd been prepared for a city half way between its ancient history, local culture and modern engineering like La Paz had been with cars and donkeys side by side away from the major streets. Yet her first real look at Cairo was a packed six lane street full of cars all speeding along and turning off on various streets. Modern building, small green parks and lots of pedestrians lined the busy street on both sides. Their UNIT driver manoeuvred through the traffic smoothly and expertly while Rose found the tightly packed cars more intimidating than any driving conditions she'd ever been in. Mosques caught her eye on and then as they drove for the museum, their minarets reaching above many of the new modern buildings in the area creating a sense of reverence even from the architecture.
"What do you think of my country thus far?" Amina asked from next to Rose.
"It isn't what I expected," Rose admitted.
"It rarely is what Westerners expect," Amina chuckled with an amused smile. "They mean no offence by it, but I think they forget that modern life must continue even around our ancient treasures."
"Well it looks like that easier here than in Rome," Rose observed as she turned to Amina, "There they can hardly build a thing without discover some new ruin that has to be protected."
Amina smiled and nodded her agreement at the statement and turned to Colonel Mostapha who was sitting across from them, studying Rose carefully. The Colonel nodded to Amina and cleared his throat to get Rose's attention.
"There are a few more details you should know," Colonel Mostapha informed her. "UNIT's presence in Egypt is very limited because of the politics in the region. UNIT because of its connection to the UN is seen as a very Western entity and is only tolerated in the area because our division is staffed with locals as much as possible."
"I see," Rose said with a nod, wishing now that she knew a bit more about Egyptian government. "Is that likely to be a problem with me being here?"
"Hopefully not," Colonel Mostapha answered though he sounded a little worried. "It was necessary to bring you here for your experience in dealing with Apep. If nothing else he hates you and may stop hiding when he discovers you here."
"Ah so I'm both here to advise and as bait," Rose observed with a raised eyebrow.
"I mean no offence," Colonel Mostapha replied firmly. "But UNIT activities in Egypt are much more independent of our local government than England's are." The Colonel shifted a little uncomfortably, "President Mubarak is not a good man and if he knew about the technology that UNIT comes into contact with he would no doubt try and use it."
"Which is why it is so critical of our role in Egypt that we quickly clean up any alien messes and get the technology moved out of the area," Amina said. "We cannot have these deaths become interesting to Mubarak's government."
"You think he'd abuse it?" Rose questioned.
"The man's government already uses routine torture, illegal detention and military courts to ensure it gets its way," Amina told her with a dark look. "The UN doesn't want to risk leaving alien activity in Egypt to the local government, but it also doesn't want to risk delivering something dangerous into the current leadership's hands."
"I understand," Rose confirmed with a nod. "I'll do what I can to get this over with as soon as possible."
"Good," Amina said looking down at her watch, "We'll be at the museum a bit before closing. I suggest you go in as a tourist and start learning the layout and the displays. Once they close at seven we'll get something to eat while the staff clears out and I'll take you inside to look at the artefacts in question."
"Your bag will be taken to a nearby hotel," Colonel Mostapha informed her before reaching into his pocket. He pulled out an envelope and handed it to Rose. "This is the local currency, staff at the museum speak English to Westerns so you shouldn't need your translator."
"I keep it on at all times just in case, but that's good news," Rose answered. "I'll attract less attention that way." She slipped the money into her shoulder bag in a back pocket with her passport to keep it safe. Pulling out her mobile Rose asked, "Can I get numbers to contact the two of you in case something changes?"
They finished entering mobile numbers and verifying a meeting place just as the SUV pulled out in a side street. Amina informed Rose that they were two blocks from the museum. Rose looked down at her watch, it was just past 17.00 or 5 as the Egyptians seemed to use American time. She quickly jumped out of the SUV, leaving her bag behind as per the Colonel's instructions and started moving towards the museum.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was a large red brick building with a plaza area in front of it. Around it was a mix of older building and new modern buildings, many with shops for tourists in the lower levels. As she entered the area, Rose saw many tourists with their cameras, maps and guidebooks out working their way through the area, but not many were heading into the museum at this time. Sweeping past them, Rose climbed the white stairs to the large open double doors and stepped inside. After paying her admission and purchasing an audio guide Rose walked into the grand gallery. It reminded for of the Egyptian hall in the British museum with large stone statues of the pharaohs and gods lining the walls. She pulled out her map and started building a mental version as she walked through the gallery. Between the statues were sarcophagi, many slightly propped open. Rose's eyes swept the crowd, looking to see if anyone was watching her or seemed to recognise her.
Rose moved through the rooms at a reasonable pace, trying to look like a late arrival trying to see everything, but also trying to take note of anything she recognised or that reminded her of Apep. A few artefacts had the now familiar image of a cat, the goddess Baset cutting the head off of a snake, Apep. It was an image that Rose had become familiar with early in her research, but so far she had no idea where the myth came from. Apep had been trapped on Earth by the other Osirans, possibly even before Sutekh had since Set's mythology later absorbed Apep's position as the God of Evil. A brief thought of which one was more powerful went through Rose's mind, but she had to conclude that Sutekh had been since he'd managed to take over the Doctor's mind for a time. Apep's mental powers seemed very limited in comparison. She shook off the thought, reminding herself to be grateful for that and moved on to the next room.
Rose had just enough time to see the Tutankhamun rooms before the museum closed and she went back to work. She smiled as she followed the crowd down the stairs and into the grand gallery. Guards were waiting impatiently as tourists tried to glimpse a few more items, but Rose stepped outside and noted with relief that the temperature had dropped a great deal after sunset. She had just taken a few steps when she had the sense that she was being watched. For a moment Rose debated turning around and altering her possible watcher, but decided to risk it. She turned and looked back up at the museum building in time to see an Egyptian face vanish from a window. It had been male, but the distance and the darkness of the night meant she could see nothing else. Frowning to herself, Rose turned and began the walk back to her drop off point.
Amina was waiting for Rose where they had dropped her off and smiled pleasantly as Rose walked over to her. "Anything interesting?" Amina asked.
"Well I got to see the Tutankhamun mask and someone was watching me as I left," Rose answered calmly. "It may have been Apep or it might have been random. I'm not sure." Rose shifted uncomfortably. "While I was in the museum I was thinking about how Apep compares to the stories I heard about another one of his people."
"How so?" Amina questioned with a frown. "We know very little about these Osirans, only what you have told UNIT."
"Well I've only ever seen Apep use his telepathic powers once and that was on the worker robots. Colonel Adams wasn't under mind control, he helped Apep willingly although…"
"Although?" Amina pressed in a low voice stepping closer to Rose, "You look worried."
"Apep's mind was somehow separated from his body until Adams restored him to his body. It just occurred to me that maybe that damaged his mental powers for a time. Adams even said back then at Apep was weak."
"It could explain why he could only recently use the service robots and previously used humans" Amina proposed.
"Maybe, at first I assumed that it was because he didn't have any service robots." Rose murmured, but she shook her head. "Well I'll just be careful in case he is regaining more of his mental abilities."
Amina now looked a bit more worried which made Rose feel bad, but once the idea had popped into her head she couldn't shake it. And surely it was better to be overly cautious than risk letting Apep achieve whatever his purpose was. Rose's left hand went to her sword bracelet and rubbed the metal absentmindedly as Amina led her over to a nearby restaurant.
Rose wasn't feeling very hungry as her mind kept going over her new concerns about Apep and her curiosity about the man at the window. She forced herself to eat some of the kushari, a dish of rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni topped with tomato sauce that Amina had suggested. It was good, if different, but Rose found it difficult to enjoy properly.
"Be patient," Amina urged beside her as she ate her own dinner. "The museum will clear out enough soon for us to go in and really examine everything." Amina glanced around to make sure they weren't being watched. "I was able to verify that the mask we thought might have triggered everything has been in the museum's possession for almost forty years and was on display for ten years."
"So it isn't the mask," Rose confirmed thoughtfully. "That's not surprising, but it is very likely an Osirian object."
"I've made arrangements to look at it as soon as we are inside the museum," Amina told her.
They waited another fifteen minutes before leaving the restaurant and walking back to the museum. The large building was aglow with lights with gave it an aura of power and mystery. Rose glanced at the front door as Amina led her around the large structure to a small back door. To Rose's surprise, Colonel Mostapha and two male soldiers were standing there waiting for them. The Colonel nodded to Rose and turned towards the door. Amina stepped in front of the Colonel and gently tapped on the door, seeming far more relaxed than Rose felt or the Colonel looked. The metal door beeped as a security lock was disengaged and opened to reveal a small middle-aged Egyptian man.
"Ah Professor Chalthoum, welcome back," the man called gesturing for her to enter. The man looked very tired, with dark shadows under his eyes and he looked as if he hadn't eaten or slept properly for several days. His dark eyes landed on Rose, a glint of curiosity shining in them.
"This is Marion Thorn from England," Amina offered quickly. "She was recommended to help with our little problem."
The man nodded, almost to himself and looked over at Amina. "I won't ask." He turned back to Rose and added, "Just do whatever you can to end this nightmare." The man then turned to the Colonel and handed him a card key before he left out the back door.
"Curator?" Rose guessed once he had gone.
"One of them," Amina answered with a nod. "Poor man knows something terrible is happening, but can't do anything about it." Amina shook her head and gestured for Rose to follow her. "This way if you please, they've been storing the items in question downstairs."
Colonel Mostapha who had been listening now said, "Mounier will go with you. I will oversee a final sweep of the museum." The Colonel looked at Rose, "We were able to arrange for there to be staff on duty tonight, UNIT personnel only. My men should all be in place of the guards now." The Colonel looked back at Amina, "You have your radio."
"Yes sir," Amina answered. "We'll stay in contact."
Amina gestured for Rose to follow her and one of the soldiers, Rose guessed Mounier, also followed. They went down a flight of stairs and into the basement. Rose swallowed as they stepped into a climate controlled room where a UNIT guard nodded to them. Amina nodded back but said nothing as she led Rose through another door and into a corridor.
"The museum has over 120,000 items," she explained in a soft voice. "Only a small selection of them are on display at any given time." Amina walked over to a door with a heavy security lock on it and pulled out a card key. Rose raised an eyebrow as Amina's card opened the door.
"They put them under extra security?"
"UNIT added the lock two days ago," Amina said, "We didn't want any of the staff getting themselves killed out of curiosity."
The storage room was small and climate controlled with cases lining two of the walls. Quickly scanning the room, Rose noted most of the objects that had been in Amina's report stored in the various cases. Several large heavy wooden boxes were placed in the centre of the room that Rose guessed held the rest.
"Are they all here?" Rose questioned.
"The ones we think killed people," Amina confirmed with a sad nod. "And in some cases the items immediately around those in question since we can't be sure how quickly this affect kills people."
"And so far it has only killed the staff?" Rose verified carefully. "No tourists since the report was made?"
"No, which is why I think someone is switching them on and off," Amina told her with a thoughtful frown. "It would be easy to kill a lot of people or drain their life energy if you're right there while the museum is open."
"True, but that would cause a panic," Rose remarked softly as she walked over to one of the cases and looked closely at the objects. There were two necklaces, a small wand and a bowl all with elegant detail work on them. Leaning over Rose tried to read some of the old and faded hieroglyphics, but even her translator couldn't put the images back together.
She worked silently, moving along the cases and studying the objects the best she could. Her translator gave her a few words here and there: gods, Ra, Horus, Osiris, river, life and house were the most common. Shaking her head when she reached the end, Rose turned back to Amina.
"I've got nothing, I don't really see anything connecting these objects."
"The only thing they really have in common is that they are Egyptian and first dynasty or even earlier," Amina explained. "I have X-rays taken of some of them, but nothing usual appearing in any of the tests. According to our results, the objects are stone and metal."
"They may not have any power without an Osrian," Rose suggested with a shrug. "They used mental power to do what they wanted, almost everything else was just a channel for that power." Rose rubbed her temple and added, "I don't even know if it has to be an actual Osirian artefact for Apep to use it, the very model of an Osirian artefact might be enough."
"Lovely," Amina sighed. "Shall we look at the mask?"
"Very carefully," Rose muttered as she stepped up the box that Amina indicated.
"The mask has been in complete lockdown since this morning," Amina told her as they reached for the box. "The only time anyone was in this room after it was transferred out was to take out the bodies of those poor men."
"Is it wise to open that box?" Mounier question from the door.
"We can't find out what is happening if we don't," Rose replied as she glanced over at Amina. "So far none of these objects have activated more than once correct?"
"That's right," Amina agreed even as she hesitated slightly in lifting the lid. "So far."
The lid of the box was raised and Rose peered in only to find an empty box.
"What the-" Amina gasped, jumping to her feet. She turned sharply to Mounier and hissed. "Tell the Colonel that the mask is no longer in the storage room."
Rose reached for the next box that was labelled as a statue and pushed the lid off. A statue of a cat was nestled amongst packing peanuts. Next to her, she saw Amina check another box and then move to the last box.
"It isn't here," Amina hissed. "How can it be gone? It was here after the bodies were removed. I was watching them be removed!"
"Who else has a card key?" Rose questioned. "That kind of lock should keep a record."
"Only two others have a key," Amina answered, recovering herself a little. "The Colonel and the Head of the Museum."
"Would he have any reason to remove the mask?" Rose asked.
"Abusir?" Amina asked before shaking her head, "No, I can't imagine that he would risk it."
The Colonel arrived a moment later with another soldier that Rose hadn't seen before. The private stepped forward and knelt in front of the lock, plugging a small handheld computer into it.
"Well?" the Colonel asked.
"It will take a moment sir," the private replied calmly. "The door was opened at 5:05 PM today by Professor Abusir's key."
Colonel Mostapha reached for his radio, "All units sweep the museum for Professor Abusir and alert HQ to send a patrol to his home at once. He is believed to have removed one of the dangerous items."
Rose turned to Amina as the Colonel issued orders to individual soldiers with his radio. "Where was the mask on display before it was removed?"
"I'll show you," Amina said to Rose before she looked over at Mounier, "Private Mounier I'd rather you remained with us."
"Yes ma'am," the private agreed with a nod to Amina who swept out of the small storage and headed for the stairs, Rose right behind her.