The Cult of Osiris


Copyright © 2009 Andy McDermott

For my family and friends


Giza, Egypt

The time-weathered face of the Great Sphinx regarded Macy Sharif impassively as she paced before its huge stone paws. She didn’t give the ancient monument so much as a glance in return; in the two weeks she had been here, the Sphinx and the pyramids beyond had gone from awe-inspiring wonders to mere backdrops for a job that had fallen far short of her hopes. In the first week she had taken hundreds of digital photos and video clips, but now her camera was just a weight in one thigh pocket, untouched for days.

How had Egypt, of all places, turned into such a crushing disappointment? From an early age, she’d been entranced by her grandfather’s stories of the land of his birth; tales of kings and queens and good and evil in a land of wonders, better than any fairy tale because they also happened to be true. It was an exotic, romantic world, as different from Miami’s wealthy Key Biscayne as Macy could imagine, and even as a child she’d been determined that one day she would experience it for herself.

But the reality had not lived up to the dream.

She stopped pacing, checking the shelters beside the Sphinx’s right paw. Still no sign of Berkeley.

A glance at her watch: approaching eight fifteen p.m. The expedition leader’s daily videoconference with the International Heritage Agency in New York was due to start then, which gave her less time to catch him than she’d hoped. At eight thirty, the nightly sound and light show would begin, a gaudy display of coloured spotlights and lasers cast upon the pyramids and the Sphinx. Berkeley and the senior members of the archaeological team always departed soon after the opening chords boomed from the loudspeakers, leaving the juniors and the local hired hands with the scut work of securing and tidying the excavation.

Macy wasn’t even sure if Berkeley considered her a junior team member, or a mere labourer. Okay, so she had another two years of study before she completed her degree, and maybe her grades didn’t exactly put her at the top of the class, but she was still an archaeologist, kind of. Surely that granted her the right to do something more than make coffee and carry rubble?

She resumed her pacing, reflected light from the Sphinx’s spotlit face casting an orange wash over her pale olive skin. Her surname might have been Egyptian, but her looks revealed her mother’s Cuban heritage. She paused to straighten her ponytail, then at the sound of muffled voices hurriedly rounded the giant paw to see the team boss emerge from the dig. On their first meeting, she had initially thought Dr Logan Berkeley to be attractive, in an academic sort of way. Mid-thirties, a swoop of chestnut-brown hair across his forehead, refined features . . . then he’d opened his mouth and revealed himself as an arrogant jerk.

It was a description she could apply equally to the two men with him. TV producer Paul Metz was squat, barrel-shaped and bearded, with a lecherous gaze that to her distaste Macy often found aimed in her direction. She liked male attention, sure . . . but not from all males.

The other man was Egyptian. Dr Iabi Hamdi was a senior official with the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the government agency overseeing all Egypt’s archaeological activities. The paunchy, thin-haired Hamdi was technically in charge of the dig, but seemed happy to let Berkeley do whatever he wanted, being more interested himself in getting his face in front of the TV cameras. Macy wouldn’t be surprised if, at the moment the long-thought-mythical Hall of Records was finally revealed to the world, Hamdi popped up in front of the lens to boast of the crucial part he’d played in its discovery.

That broadcast was the current topic of discussion. ‘So you’re abso, pos-i-tively, one hundred per cent sure that you’ll crack open the door right on time?’ Metz asked, in a tone suggesting he thought otherwise.

‘For the last time, we’ll open the vault entrance exactly when I said,’ Berkeley told him, his nasal, superior New England voice filled with frustration. ‘I know what I’m doing. This isn’t my first dig, you know.’

‘It’s the first one you’ll have done live in front of fifty million people, though. And the network won’t be happy if their prime time special is two hours of you chipping at bricks. They wanna see something spectacular, and so does everyone else. People love this Egyptian crap.’

Torn between defending his heritage and keeping on good terms with the producer, Hamdi decided on the latter. ‘Dr Berkeley, can you assure me that we will keep to the schedule?’

‘Eight days from now,’ Berkeley said through clenched teeth, ‘we’ll be showing the world something even more incredible than Atlantis, don’t you worry.’ He turned towards a nearby portable cabin with a satellite dish on its roof: the team’s headquarters. ‘And speaking of schedules, it’s time I checked in.’

Maybe he wasn’t in the most receptive mood, but Macy had to take the chance. ‘Dr Berkeley, have you got a minute?’

‘Only as long as it takes me to walk to the cabin,’ he snapped, giving her a dismissive look. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s about me,’ said Macy as she kept pace. ‘I was hoping I could get more involved with the actual archaeological work? I think I’ve proved that I’m up to the job.’

Berkeley stopped and turned to face the young woman. ‘The job?’ he said, letting out a sarcastic sigh. ‘That says it all, doesn’t it? Macy, archaeology is not a job. It’s a calling, an obsession, something that drives your every waking thought. If all you want is a job, McDonald’s and 7-Eleven are always hiring.’

‘That’s not what I meant—’ Macy began, taken aback by his hostility.

‘The reason you haven’t been involved with the main dig,’ Berkeley interrupted, ‘is precisely that: you haven’t been involved. What, exactly, have you done to earn a place here? The other juniors all have multiple digs on their resumes, and they all graduated with the highest honours. You?’ His mouth twisted with contempt. ‘Charity fundraising connections. And good causes or not, I don’t appreciate having unqualified undergraduates foisted on me because Renee Montavo at the UN owed your mom a favour. You ought to be damn grateful to be here at all. Now, go and finish the clean-up. I’m late for my videoconference with Professor Rothschild.’ He strode into the cabin, slamming the door.

Macy stared after him in shock, then turned to find Hamdi and Metz watching her. Hamdi adjusted his little silk bow tie uncomfortably before going back into the shelter covering the main excavation, leaving her alone with Metz. ‘Wanna career change?’ he said, leering. ‘I got the numbers of some modelling agencies.’

‘Get bent!’ She scowled and stormed off round the Sphinx. Ahead, one of the uniformed security contractors was heading up the ramp out of the excavated pit in which the Sphinx sat. Wanting to be alone, she turned and went into the ruined temple in front of the statue, dropping into the shadows within the broken walls.

She sat on a stone block, trying to hold her emotions in check. She was angry, but also upset. Egypt definitely hadn’t matched up to her dreams - not so much wonder and romance as drudgery, smog, stomach bugs and hissing, pinching, cat-calling creeps accosting her on the streets. And now she’d just been completely insulted by her boss. Asshole!

The lighting changed, dropping the Temple of the Sphinx even deeper into darkness. The sound and light show was about to start; after two weeks, Macy practically knew the almost comically portentous narration by heart. Normally she would be packing away the team’s gear during the display, but tonight . . .

‘Screw that,’ she muttered, lying back on the stone. Berkeley could pick up his own stupid tools.

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