They dove on the ground and belly-crawled, as only young boys can, into a drainage ditch, where they huddled beneath a ledge as the Overseers roared past above. The boys clapped their hands over their mouths to stifle the giggles and waited for the men to pass.
After a moment, all was quiet again. Ankhu peeked his head over the ditch, then turned to his companion.
“Looks like all clear,” he said. Should we go?
“Wait a moment,” Khama replied. “I want to tell you something.”
“You sound serious,” Ankhu said.
Khama nodded. “What would you say if I told you that the Taskmasters weren’t people?”
“Not people? What could they possibly be, then?”
Khama shrugged. “I don’t know. But they’re horrible looking. They’re monsters, maybe sent by the gods.”
Ankhu gave his brother a punch on the arm. “Careful you don’t let Father hear you say that. We’re supposed to follow the One.”
“Ow!” Khama said in response, and rubbed his arm. “I know, I know, the God of Abraham. But you know, not everyone does. Some people still call out to El and Asherah. Some people don’t like this new one god business. But that’s beside the point, Ankhu. I saw them. They’re not human, and they’re up to something. They’ve got a door that they go in and out. A secret door. And I know where it is. We could go see. We could be heroes.”
“Not on your own,” said a new voice, and a shadow fell over the boys as they spun in fear. There, above them, stood a lithe, cloaked figure, her eyes gleaming down from the shadows. “It’s all right,” she said. “Do you know who I am?”
Ankhu shook his head in mute wonder, but Khama went prostrate. “I do!” he said. “you’re the Goddess! Asherah!”
She laughed, and the sound was beautiful and terrible. “That’s right, little man,” she said. “Why don’t you come with me? I’ll show you what you want to know, and if you pledge your service to me, I’ll give you power and immortality.”
“Don’t do it!” Ankhu whispered.
Khama looked at his brother, then without another word, took the hand of the goddess and left with her. It was only moments later that the Overseers returned, and their intent was far darker than a mere whipping. Khama was never seen again.
* * *
The TARDIS lands safe and sound, piloted by Davan, in Ancient Egypt, in the necropolis of Saqqara. For once the vehicle has taken on an appropriate form, appearing as a funerary house. They determine that while inconvenient for access (it's a crime to move in and out of Necropoli in ancient Egypt), it's a great place to hide the TARDIS, so they resolve to simply be stealthy entering and exiting the burial ground, which shouldn't be hard as it's removed from the city itself.
Stepping out of the vehicle they look around to see the Great Pyramid nearing completion, placing their time period in the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu. They are astounded at the appearance of the monuments, which are brightly painted and decorated in reds, golds, blues, greens rather than the sand-colored stone they are used to from the present day. The Sphinx itself is a sight to behold, being complete and detailed, and painted in the decor and colors of royalty.
A quick scan of the area notes that in a couple hours' walk in one direction is the city of Memphis, the capitol of Egypt in the Old Kingdom. A couple hours' walk in the other direction, towards the pyramid, will place them in a small village probably erected for the construction of the monument. Eager to see for themselves just how the Egyptians managed to construct the pyramids, they head for the village after dressing themselves as Greek merchants when Emilie refuses to go native, which would require her to go bare-breasted.
As they walk, the Artist and Susan explain to the Cast that they need to tread carefully, as it is not very long since the powerful Osirians, the beings that spawned myths of the Egyptian gods, died trapping the most vile and powerful of their kind, Sutekh, in eternal stasis beneath the sands of Egypt. They explain that Sutekh is the origin of the myth of Seth, the Egyptian god of death, but that if the Cast doesn't do anything foolish to wake him up, there shouldn't be that much danger.
At the village, Emilie gets a bad feeling about the entire situation, like something is very wrong. Upon opening herself a bit more to the sensation, she gets an image in the recent past of the new Master Builder beating slaves severely in the mortar pits, demanding that the mortar be mixed quickly and properly, and having his Overseers pour some sort of metallic powder into the mix. The Artist determines to go look at the mortar pits.
The Cast are confronted by an Overseer who informs them that merchants are not allowed in this village; they are disrupting a sacred ritual just by their very presence (the construction of pyramids was a religious event). The Artist uses his psychic paper to convince the Overseer that they are there with permission from the Pharaoh, and the Overseer apologizes and says he will inform the Master Builder, though it is clear he's skeptical about the Cast having traveled on foot from Memphis without camels, horses, or a caravan.
Several minutes later, a pretty young slave girl approaches the Cast and offers them water. They in turn request wine or beer (being possessed of basic knowledge of why, in fact, beer and wine were so heavily consumed in ancient times). She leaves and returns with the beverages. She and Davan flirt, but Emilie mischievously interferes. The Cast finds nothing unusual about the village. Canaanite slaves are restricted to the mortar pits and not allowed to participate in construction; they are beaten when they step out of line, but while repugnant to modern sensibilities, this is not out of place for ancient Egypt.
They attempt to approach the pyramids themselves, but cannot get very close as even permission from Khufu will not allow foreigners to touch or approach the monument. The Artist scans the monument with his sonic screwdriver and determines that there is indeed some sort of foreign metallic substance in the mortar, but without a sample to analyze in the TARDIS he can't determine any more.
They debate going to question the Master Builder, but decide that getting a sample of the mortar with its strange metallic powder might yield better results. As they debate how to do this, Chuck simply takes the hand of a slave, briefly, getting the stuff on him.
This accomplished, the Cast return to the TARDIS with camels and wineskins given by the Overseers at the work village, to analyze the mortar. the Artist and Susan are shocked to determine that the substance is powdered Dalekanium. Davan hypothesizes that putting this stuff in the mortar for the largest structure on Earth, in the geometric configuration it holds, could turn the Great Pyramid into some kind of transmitter, antenna, or collection grid. But they'd have to see the underlying workings of it to be sure.
Emilie decides to try and get a psychic reading on the substance itself and gets a vision of a mysterious woman walking amongst the Canaanite slaves, promising salvation from their captivity and apparently healing their wounded and sick with what looks to be magic. She is building a cult amongst the slaves. Her vision then shifts to another veiled woman, dressed in the vestments of royalty, whispering in the ear of the Pharaoh, who issues edicts and commands at her behest. Emilie feels that the woman in the Canaanite camp is also the queen of Egypt, playing the two sides against each other. She senses that this began in the recent past, but is ongoing. She then gets a vision of the Drosmians being here in Egypt, insinuating themselves in the near future into the population and taking high positions within the priesthood. Finally, she has a glimpse of two dark futures: The first shows her the Earth as a blasted, burned-out wasteland, devoid of life, the specter of Sutekh laughing over the devastation. The second shows the warlike Egyptian empire, spread not only across the entirety of the world, but throughout the stars, with the Drosmians acting as enforcers, regional governors, and foot soldiers.
After Emilie relays the information, the Cast decides to try and bluff their way into the palace to get a handle on where the Pharaoh plays into all of this...and confirm their suspicions as to just who Meritates, the Queen of Egypt, really is. First, however, they help Don gain access to a mortuary temple as an apprentice so he can see the wonders of mummification firsthand.
With the help of the psychic paper, they pass themselves off as Greek dignitaries and are escorted into an antechamber within the palace. Davan, suspecting a trap, slips out and hides in an empty store room down the hall.
Minutes later, four armed guards arrive and inform the Cast that they are to escort the Cast to the suite of rooms reserved for ambassadors. The Cast accompany the guards, fully aware that they are in the proverbial lion's den and expecting a trap. Davan remains out of sight and just around the corner.
As the Cast near a darkened part of the palace, a teenaged boy leaps from the shadows, crying "Run!" and tears the collar from one of the guards, who is then revealed as a Drosmian. The Drosmian, in turn, strikes the boy down with a khopesh as the other three guards draw their swords.
Susan runs to the boy, who gestures frantically to the alcove from which he came. She begins to drag him there. Chuck gets cut down and falls, not breathing, to the floor. Emilie runs to him and begins to use her bio-energetic psychic power to try and revive him. Near-miraculously, it works. The Artist yells to Susan to send a psychic scream at the Drosmians while he targets them with his sonic screwdriver. The psychic scream combined with the blast of sonic energy disrupts their image inducers, revealing them as Drosmians, and stuns the creatures. Davan yells to the gathering crowd of astonished onlookers to get the palace guard before they attack the Pharoah, and then uses the chaos to grab a discarded sword and join his companions.
Emilie finds a lever in the alcove which opens a hidden passageway descending beneath the palace. The Artist helps the still-weak Chuck into the passage and stands to cover for Davan. Once his companions are in, the Artist follows and closes the door, then uses his sonic screwdriver to destroy the locking and activation mechanisms.
The Cast descend into the escape tunnels beneath the palace, presumably installed for the Pharaoh, and stop. The young boy is convulsing, gurgling, drowning in his own blood. Emilie moves to try and help him, but before she can call upon her powers, there is a bright, streaming wave of blinding light.
The Cast watches, astonished, as the until now very human young man regenerates, and Susan and the Artist now sense that he is a Time Lord.
To be continued....