Summary: When a trio of anomalies are found beneath an ancient Egyptian temple, Dr. Temperance Brennan is called in to examine the evidence. But what she finds will challenge her dedication to the truth and her understanding of the universe.
Characters: Brennan, Sam, with assorted cameo apperances, including Jack and Booth.
Recipient: rolleson for the prompt 'later in the day'
Spoilers: Bones - up to Season Three, Stargate - up to SGA Season Four. However, it's best if you've seen the Stargate SG-1 episodes Moebius I and Moebius II.
Author's Notes: I didn't end up using the prompt - but then, this was supposed to be a simple four-scene fic. 10,000 words later, it most definitely isn't. It's certainly been an education in writing and character and plot development for a fandom I've never written for before, but now that I have, I have another Stargate/Bones crossover idea. *g* My betas, grav_ity and rodlox, were magnificent and helped out significantly with the archaeological/anthropological side of things. Extreme thanks goes to my sister who gave me her anatomy textbook from which I researched my anatomical anthrobabble, even if she'll never read this.
The Trio Beneath The Temple
Once, several thousand years ago, it had been a temple to the Egyptian sun god, Ra. Doubtless in its day, the outer courtyard had been filled with worshippers and petitioners, thick with the press of human fear and piety, rank with the stench of unwashed, sweaty flesh.
Dr. Temperance Brennan paused in the doorway, at the top of the steps that had been cleared just enough to allow a single-file of people to descend into the still space.
In this day, the hall was still filled, but the press was of withered body against withered body, and the scent was the dry-dust of mummification.
"Ritual sacrifice?" Ventured a student volunteer at the top of the stairs, her voice echoing slightly in the cavernous chamber.
An older man snorted in disdain. "Not unless the rituals required clubbing to the head for some and breaking ribs in others."
Brennan trod carefully among the mummified remains that had been revealed amidst the sand. Markers sprouted along the floor, carefully inserted to show the 'safe' spaces - places that had been checked with sonar and which had no noticeable bone fragments beneath them.
And Temperance Brennan looked at the dead and let their bodies tell her their stories.
"There are histories of uprisings in the area. Which is kind of odd, you know?" This speaker had a youthful intonation to his voice - a linguistic drawl that suggested he was a few sentences away from addressing someone as 'Dude.' "I mean, this was a temple of Ra. It's, like, the least likely place you're gonna find dissenters."
"Ever heard of religious wars, Matt?"
"If it was a religious war, at all," said the older man in repressive tones. "Dr. Brennan. You were called here to give us your professional opinion on these bodies. Please opine."
The lights set up at the top of the stairs cast sharp shadows among the skeletal bodies on the floor. Brennan crouched down beside the nearest body and flicked on her personal flashlight, the better to see up-close. "From the variety of injuries in these skeletons, it's likely that they died in a war of some kind." She indicated the pelvic area of the remains in front of her. "This man has marks on the iliac fossa - or pelvis - which suggests he was stabbed in the gut..." She peered at the remnants of skin, stretched taut and torn. "At least three times, possibly more. The man beyond him has a large indent across his frontal bone, leading back into the parietal - most likely from a bladed weapon."
There were far too many different types of injuries for this to have been anything ritualistic. Mad chaos in the course of battle was the most likely explanation for the dead in this place.
"We believe there was a war in this region - a religious war. There are scraps of history telling of uprisings and rebellions in this area. Peasants revolting, overthrowing the warrior class."
She looked over the bodies with the trained eye of one accustomed to the chaos of mass graves, seeking patterns amidst the disorder.
Absently, she listened to the conversations behind her, the speculative buzz of the archaeology unit that had discovered this site. The student volunteers were playing guessing games as to the number of people buried in this space, regaling each other with the possibilities of hidden passages, great treasure, and deathly curses.
"Curses are mere superstition," she interrupted, frowning as she peered closer at a ribcage. Were those burn marks on the bone? "A reason for people to believe that bad luck isn't caused by random chance. There's no rationality behind it. It's just an outdated superstition hearkening back to a time when we didn't have the degree of scientific knowledge that we do today."
There was a moment of silence behind her, and she smiled to herself. At this moment, she deeply missed her partner, FBI Agent Seeley Booth, who would usually have interjected some comment about how not everything could be rationally explained.
Dr. Godwin, the archaeologist in charge of this dig, took up the explanation to his students. "Dr. Brennan is something of a...sceptic...when it comes to the soft sciences."
"Superstition isn't a science," she began, skimming her flashlight over bodies, and frowning when something gleamed dully back at her. "It's an irrational substitute for hard facts by people who don't know any better."
She shifted the flashlight a little and saw the gleam again, faintly silver. A moment later, she was taking a careful step between bodies that had been laid out on reed mats - all the burial shroud these dead had been given.
It was more than some she'd seen.
"I think I've found something unusual here."
"There are three anomalies," she told Zack over the video link. "Two men and a woman. All three were tall compared with the other bodies in the tomb, both men were over six feet, the woman was five feet ten inches tall."
She'd pitched her tent a little way away from the rest of the camp so she could have the peace and space she needed. The prospect of being in the midst of the noise and chatter of this expedition wasn't one that appealed to her.
The youthful face of her former intern creased in thought. "Anthropological studies show that it was very unusual for people to be more than five and a half feet back then. But not impossible."
"Right. The taller of the two men is six-four, looks to be of African descent although some of the expected visual markers aren't present, and was buried with some kind of...gold coin on his forehead."
"Some kind of?"
"I'm sending you a data stream of the video we took this afternoon," Brennan clicked send on her USB mouse and hoped that Dr. Godwin hadn't lied about the speed of the satellite connection they'd set up for this camp - one that owed nothing to the Egyptian ISPs. "I've formed my own conclusions, but I want to hear your reactions."
Zack glanced to one corner of the screen. "The Ancient Greeks would bury their dead with a penny in their mouth or on their eyes," he said. "The obolus was to pay Charon the ferryman so he would take them across the Styx to Hades. But that was silver. Not gold." He frowned a little. "You're sure it's gold?"
"Dr. Godwin took a tiny scraping of it - it's definitely gold."
"No culture buried their dead with a gold coin on the forehead," Zack said, a slight wrinkle on his head. "And this man was..." He trailed off. "Dr. Brennan?"
She was watching the video, too, and knew exactly what had caught his eye. It had caught hers, too – and the videocamera paused.
This time, when he spoke, there was a distinct puzzlement in his voice. "The line of the zygomatic process, the indications of the nasal arch, the occipital measurement, combined with the colour of the skin... Dr. Brennan, these remains aren't appropriate to the ethnic groups living in the delta region five thousand years ago."
There was a hitch in his voice, confusion, bewilderment. She understood his reaction – the same disbelief had shot through her at the incongruity of the situation.
"The remains show no sign of having being planted; Dr. Godwin has videos and photos of the original discovery of this chamber and these remains were there."
Zack had tilted his head as he stared at the screen, trying to get a fix on the bone structure. "Male, in his forties, maybe early fifties...looks healthy."
"Very healthy. There are some signs of injuries - broken bones, fractures, but they're faint - I can barely make them out beneath the dermal layer." She watched as the video focus shifted, drawing in closer on the second and third sets of remains. "Tell me about the other two."
"Looks like a male, in his fifties. At some stage he cracked his parietal down towards the temporal fossa - I can't tell from here, but it looks like it healed."
"He's got a full set of teeth..."
"But lacks the third molar in both the maxilla and the mandible," Brennan finished.
There was a moment of silence. "Dr. Brennan, removal of the wisdom teeth is a very modern phenomenon."
"So are fillings, which I found evidence of in the first left molar of the maxilla, the second left bicuspid of the mandible, and the third right molar of the mandible." She'd gotten close enough to look, but the camera hadn't. Zack wouldn't be able to see it. "The third subject had signs of similar work done on her teeth, but only the third molars on her mandible were removed."
"That makes no sense, Dr. Brennan. Dentistry as we know it is entirely a modern invention."
"I know, Zack." She expelled a long breath, relieved to have someone to talk to who understood the irrationality of the facts. Dr. Godwin spoke about the find of the century and international interest, but Temperance Brennan was not interested in sensationalism.
She was interested in fact.
Fact: at least one of the three subjects beneath this temple did not come from the same genetic stock as the others.
Fact: modern dental practises did not exist in Egypt five thousand years ago.
Fact: at least two bodies that were lying amidst other bodies dated as being five thousand years old showed signs of extremely modern medical processes.
Fact: Dr. Godwin and his team had been the first group in here by all accounts - the temple itself had only been dug out in the last twenty years and they'd broken the seal on the door. The three anomalies could not be any more recent than the other remains that lay in the temple crypt, but the evidence showed otherwise.
It made no logical sense.
Zack was still watching the screen to one side as the video tracked down the body of the second subject. "At some stage he had ribs broken and set. Dr. Brennan, there are markings on the ribs..."
"Indicating that at some stage, the subject was stabbed in the chest. There are also signs that his right femur was broken and set at some point in his life."
"And set very accurately," Zack muttered. "I can see the line where the bone has knitted together, but it's in perfect alignment."
Ancient bone-setting had been hit-and-miss at best. There had been nothing to match the precision available through modern medical technology - except that this showed considerably more precise work than any Brennan had seen in her years of forensic anthropology.
The camera was moving onto the third subject, a smaller skeleton - although still bigger than most of the others in the tomb.
"Third subject was female, possibly forty years of age," she said.
"Her teeth were well-kept." Zack paused as the light gleamed off something dark gold. "She was blonde?"
"Genetically, the first mutation that produced blonde hair was traced back to Europe eleven thousand years ago, but it's uncommon in the ethnic population of Northern Africa."
"I know, Zack." Brennan exhaled. "Beyond that, she broke her arm when she was a child, it was set and healed without further apparent problems." Again, the precision of the setting was beyond anything that had been available in Egypt at the time.
Zack's head was tilted to one side, his brow creased in a frown. "Dr. Brennan, is it just the camera or do the bones of these remains have a slight sheen to them?"
"They have a slight sheen." She'd been wondering at that herself. Most bones developed a bleached quality after thousands of years, but these ones had gleamed with the faintest of sheens when she'd changed position. Brennan studied it as best she could, only to have to conclude that identification wouldn't be found in mere viewing. "There was also another set of remains with her. Infant."
"She died in childbirth?"
"We can't rule out the possibility. If the child had died separately, it would have been buried separately." Brennan glanced at the notes she'd been making until this call. "Dr. Godwin said that while it looks like her body's been here for more or less the same length of time, there are differences in the manner of burial that suggest she died at a different time to the others and was re-interred here."
"I'm guessing we won't be allowed to run any tests on these bodies."
The find was too unique to permit the kind of testing that might prove or disprove the validity of the inclusion of these bones in the dig. Authentication was a simple thing if the remains could be taken apart and tested. The problem was that finds of this kind - so complete, so detailed - weren't common enough to warrant such testing - as Dr. Goodman had once noted in the case of the Bronze Age warrior. It was amazing that this one had lasted at all beneath the structure of the pulled-down temple.
"Is there anything I can do from over here?"
"I'd appreciate it if you'd take another look at the video I took of the find. I've included other corpses for study, too." But the bulk of the tape was taken up by the three anomalies, and those drew her attention above and beyond the others.
She finished off the call with a few instructions for other jobs on which they were working back at the Jeffersonian, then studied her notes until late, puzzling over the anomalies until the jetlag caught up with her.
As she turned out the light and lay back in her tent, she reflected on the discoveries of the day. Bodies that seemed more modern than ancient in an ancient dig? With apparently no sign that they'd been planted?
It made no logical sense.
There was a new group of people at the dig the next morning, waiting outside the temple. Three men and a woman leaned against the shadewards side of their jeep only to lever themselves up as the expedition approached.
As the four moved away from the car, arrowing in towards Dr. Godwin, Brennan studied them. The woman led the party, tall and blonde with a confident stride.
"Dr. Alan Godwin? I'm Dr. Samantha Carter, a colleague of Dr. Daniel Jackson. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Godwin seemed momentarily dismayed. "Dr. Jackson's colleague? I... The pleasure's all mine, I'm sure." But he didn't sound entirely sure. "I take it that Dr. Jackson's not available right now?"
"Daniel's working on another project right now and couldn't break away," said Dr. Carter easily. "He sent me to make some inquiries regarding the site. I understand you've already opened it?"
"Yes, well, we understood that Dr. Jackson would be delayed by several days. He certainly seems to be a busy man these days. Trying to get hold of him..."
"Daniel's always busy." Dr. Carter adjusted her cap so her eyes were better shaded. "It gets ugly when he's bored." By now the other three had caught up with them, ranging themselves silently around Dr. Carter. "These are my colleagues - and Dr. Jackson's colleagues. Majel Nyan, Malcolm Barrett, and Steven Bates."
"Ah. Welcome to the dig, uh...gentlemen. This is Dr. Temperance Brennan, from the Jeffersonian."
"The Jeffersonian's involved in this dig?" Mr. Barrett was the one who spoke first, his tenor easy and light.
"I'm an independent consult called in by Dr. Godwin," said Brennan. Something in his tone of voice was setting her hackles on edge. "There are some very unusual aspects to this finding."
"That's what they all say," said Mr. Barrett mildly. "But we'll be happy to come along and take a look at what you've found."
There was less of a request in the statement and more of an implied command. Brennan frowned and began to reply only to be cut off by Dr. Carter.
"Dr. Godwin, your notes suggested that this used to be an old temple of Ra, around the start of the Early Dynastic period?"
"Circa 3000 BC, Dr. Carter - that's right. Around the time that the Egyptians first became a politically unified entity under the Pharaohs. You would know about the politics of the time?"
"A fair amount." Dr. Carter flashed the brief smile of someone who knew his or her topic but wasn't necessarily comfortable with talking about it.
However, apparently enthused by this understanding, Dr. Godwin began to talk about the dig as he walked down towards the ruins of the temple. Dr. Carter's colleagues followed behind and the other students and doctors of the dig trailed along after.
"Well," said Dr. Grayson Baxter, falling in alongside Brennan. "They certainly were friendly."
Brennan glanced at him, surprised by the note in his voice. "You don't like them?"
"Dr. Brennan, when you've been working at digs for the last twenty years - as I've been - you learn some things about human nature. The first is that people like Godwin are notoriously susceptible to flattery and someone who's going to listen to his theories for hours on end. The second is that when independent representatives turn up at digs like this, it's usually because their corporation or organisation has its own interests in mind, one way or the other."
"You think that Dr. Carter belongs to an organisation that wants to take over this dig?"
"Not think, my dear Dr. Brennan. I know. While Godwin certainly didn't look too much further beyond his assignment to find an Egyptologist with a high profile, I did. And Dr. Daniel Jackson has been working with the US military for the last dozen years."
Brennan frowned a little at the glint of blonde down by the entrance to the dig as Dr. Carter took off her cap. "She didn't introduce herself as military."
"Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter, United States Air Force," said Dr. Baxter. "Presidential medal, all kinds of awards and citations, teaches at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, works in Space Radio Telemetry in Cheyenne Mountain. Of course, in the last photo we have of her, she wore her hair short. She and Dr. Jackson have been good friends for over ten years now."
"Then she lied--?"
"She's also got a doctorate in astrophysics. So, technically, not a lie. However, she's spent the last ten years on a top-secret military project that has ties with more than a few archaeological projects throughout the world. Whatever we think we've found in this temple, it's pretty clear that someone in the US military thinks it's big enough to warrant interference."
Usually, Brennan found Hodgins' conspiracy theories ludicrous. Not everything could be a grand conspiracy - a great many things were simply due to human error and ignorance.
Right now, she was thinking it was a pity Angela and Hodgins were away on their honeymoon right now. Hodgins would be spinning theories all over the place, telling her what to watch out for, and seeing shadows behind every door.
Brennan could have done with that right now.
She could have done with Booth around, too.
"You think they'd try to cover up the truth?"
"Dr. Brennan, let's be clear about this. If they wanted this covered, they'd cover it. And there's not a thing we'd be able to do about it."
More than anything else, the idea that someone would try to repress the truth offended her. She'd spent her life in a line of work that allowed her to discover the facts, to find out the truth of death and destruction, to give the unknown dead faces and names and history and dignity. The idea that someone might deliberately fight that - might try to stifle the knowledge of the truth?
Whatever accusations Dr. Baxter had levelled against Dr. Carter, the woman knew about digs. She stayed carefully out of the way of the expedition as they worked at further uncovering the remains in the room. As each set were collected, they were carefully catalogued and set aside - all but the three on which Brennan were working.
"...indicates that the subject died due to some kind of...heat-blast to the upper abdomen. The bone shows signs of charring and remnants of skin show similar charring." She glanced up as Dr. Carter crouched down on the other side of the mummified body and noted the way the other woman swallowed slightly. "He appears to have suffered some kind of cross-shaped incision in his stomach at some stage, which has healed up. The scar tissue is very faint and doesn't correspond with any known rituals of the time."
She stopped the tape.
"Have you been on many of these digs, Dr. Brennan?"
Brennan glanced briefly up at the face in front of her. "Probably more than you have, Dr. Carter."
"Ouch." But Dr. Carter was smiling. "What can you tell me about how they died?"
"What can you tell me about your interest in this dig, Colonel?"
"Double ouch." The smile didn't slip - if anything, it deepened a little. "I understand it's quite unusual to call you in for digs - even unusual digs."
"Dr. Baxter thinks you're here to take this dig away from us."
"It's not our intention," said the other woman with a faint smile. "Daniel has an interest in this kind of thing, he's unavailable to come along, so he sent me and a handful of others to make observations. He's fairly busy right now." She jerked her head at the skeleton. "What's the thing on his head?"
"We don't know the specifics of it. It's pretty worn down, but it looks like a gold coin."
The other woman made a non-committal noise. "Not exactly standard Egyptian burial practise."
"No. But there's not much about this that's standard. These three adults don't match any of the other indicators of the people who were buried here. This man was of African descent, yes, but his bone structure suggests sub-Saharan ancestry, not northern African. He was a warrior who gained injuries, but the injuries are barely noticeable."
She pointed with her flashlight across the room to another skeleton. "That man over there broke his thigh during his adolescence and probably walked with a limp from that time until he died around the age of twenty-two. This man," the flashlight pointed down at the man between them, "had multiple broken bones over the course of his life. But he was perfectly physically healthy at the time of his death."
"Other than the heat-blast to his upper abdomen."
"Other than that." Brennan didn't quite snort, but she was amused all the same. "The man behind you was much the same. Physically healthy at the time of his death - better health than just about anyone else in this tomb. There are no clear signs of death, although it looks like he'd had enough trauma in his life to send anyone insane."
"That's a lot of information to get from just a skeleton, Dr. Brennan."
"It's all there, written on his body like a history. See here? Those tiny ridges in the bone? That's osteological compression - these days, it happens most noticeably in athletes and active military personnel. Back then, it was probably most common in warriors, fighters. He broke his right femur, his left tibia and fibula, four ribs were cracked in various places, his left clavicle shattered, his skull cracked. There are signs that he broke his right arm as a child - a compound fracture of the humerus that's most commonly seen when someone falls out of a tree these days."
"Perhaps he fell off a camel instead?"
Brennan almost heard something in the other woman's tone of voice, but she was too busy puzzling over the anomalies. "Whatever it was, it was perfectly set. And he survived it - survived all the injuries to grow old - he was an old man by their standards - in his fifties."
"And died in battle," said Colonel Carter softly. "Just how he'd have liked it."
"Actually," said a new voice with blunt cheerfulness, "if the woman beyond him was his wife, then I don't think he would have liked his life very much. War might have come as a blessing to him."
Dr. Godwin was standing over on the 'path' marked through the space as another couple of volunteers lifted dry remains onto a cloth stretcher and took it up to the next hall which they'd shored up to give them somewhere to work with a bit more space.
Colonel Carter turned in her crouch, swivelling around until she saw the third body. Brennan couldn't see her face, but she saw the pause before the other woman asked. "What makes you think they were...?"
"Well, it's just a theory to explain the hand-holding. There's no precedent for this kind of posing in Egyptian graves--"
"There's no precedent for finds like these," murmured one of the students as they trudged past.
"But the man, the woman, and the child makes a nice triptych, don't you think? Probably done after death - certainly after hers since it's unlikely that she died giving birth in the middle of the war, and most likely after his."
"What about rigor mortis?"
"If it was done seventy-two hours after death, then the rigor mortis would have abated," Brennan offered.
"Of course, the body would probably smell pretty bad in the heat, too, but..." Dr. Godwin shrugged, apparently cheerful.
Colonel Carter grimaced a little. "Lovely. What can you tell us about the woman?"
"She was relatively old, too - in her late thirties, early forties. Died in childbirth--"
"Childbirth...?" Colonel Carter trailed off as Brennan shone her flashlight on the smallest corpse. "Oh." There was a pause. "How do we know it was hers?"
"Her pelvis shows signs of having been through birth processes. Study of her bones suggests she had a very energetic life--"
"Again unusual in the time period."
Brennan frowned up at Dr. Godwin. "A healthy, able body is still a healthy, able body, Dr. Godwin, whether male or female. And she was healthy. The fact that she was carrying a child in her late thirties..."
"Thirty or forty isn't so unusual for a woman these days," said someone else behind Brennan. She glanced back at Mr. Barrett, whose eyes skimmed along the bones with a cataloguing gaze that seemed somehow familiar. He didn't seem to notice her scrutiny, his eyes coming to rest on Colonel Carter, who was still staring at the infant skeleton.
"Ah, but the key words are 'these days', Mr. Barrett," Godwin declared. "Five thousand years ago, to reach thirty or forty years of age was very unusual..."
"Everything about these remains is unusual," said Brennan, standing up. "From the way they were all buried, to the anthropological anomalies of these three individuals. None of it fits with what we know of this time period."
"Dr. Brennan is known for her insistence that things be logical," said Dr. Godwin, rather more apologetically than Brennan thought was necessary.
"It a basic tenet of science that what works yesterday worked today," said Colonel Carter standing and dusting off her hands. "The rules that governed the universe yesterday should rule it again today, or else we're all at the mercy of chaos and random chance." Her smile was wry as she looked at Brennan and stepped carefully over the man with the gold coin on his forehead. "I agree, Dr. Brennan. Things should make sense, and these remains don't. Daniel will definitely be sorry he missed the opportunity to come here, Dr. Godwin. He loves a puzzle."
She began to move away, drawing Dr. Godwin's interest across the room.
"You're here specifically to look at these remains, Dr. Brennan?" Mr. Barrett indicated the puzzling trio and the skeletal baby in the curve of its mother's arm.
"Yes. Dr. Godwin called me in when it became clear that these bodies didn't match the others in the tomb."
"He doesn't have the experience that you do?"
"No. His experience is more culturally specific."
And he wasn't used to looking at bodies with an eye towards identifying them so completely. Bodies that had been mummified over thousands of years didn't usually need very precise reasons for death or any identifying marks. As Booth or Angela might have said, they were dead and they weren't going to get any less dead.
"And you're good at what you do?"
"People say so."
He had an easy smile, not exactly charming but open, honest. And it was in that moment that Brennan realised he reminded her of Booth. Which was strange, because he didn't resemble her partner in any way that she could identify at all.
Brennan spent the afternoon studying the withered features of the three anomalies, taking another video that she intended to send back to the Jeffersonian for Angela to work on. The facial features of anthropological finds weren't usually considered that important, but these three were special.
As she took her film, she noted that each of the newcomers paused by the trio of bodies. Majel Nyan knelt down beside her and discussed some of the work with her. He was somewhat younger than the other three, and seemed more open. In the course of their discussion, he told her that he had worked with Dr. Jackson for some seven years out in the field.
"So you work with the military?"
"That is a large part of it." His accent wasn't one she could easily identify. English didn't seem to be his first language, but he showed no particular accent that she could quite determine. However, he didn't commonly use contractions, and some of his vowels came out shaped oddly.
In contrast to Nyan's friendliness, Mr. Bates surveyed the bodies with a gaze that skimmed the room almost measuringly and didn't really speak with anyone.
"Military," muttered Baxter when the man was gone and under the cover of four student volunteers arguing over who got right of way along the narrow corridor. "See the walk? No mess, no fuss, brisk efficiency? He's used to packing. I'd be surprised if he doesn't have a twenty-two in a boot holster, at least."
Brennan had decided that Baxter's paranoia was amusing in its own way. "You already said that Dr. Jackson's been working with the military for the last decade."
"Yeah, but this? Isn't right. It's our find and they're going to take it away from us!"
It wasn't a rational response. None of the quartet so far had made any noises about taking anything away from the site, and Brennan was pretty sure Dr. Godwin would have protested if they'd tried. They were curious about the anthropological differences of the trio, but there was no evidence that they wanted to take the bodies away.
Brennan would have been surprised if they had.
As it was, she was surprised when Colonel Carter translated some of the hieroglyphs on the wall.
"You know Egyptian hieroglyphics?" Dr. Baxter nearly squeaked in his surprise.
The smile was wry. "A little. Daniel's interests tend to rub off after a while." As it turned out, the writings were a list of the rituals performed in the temple - mostly sacrifices, although there was apparently a regular 'audience day' during which the people could come and see the glory of the god.
"Primitive superstition," Brennan suggested. "All it would take was a little trickery and some smoke and mirrors to persuade the locals that they were witnessing the miracles of a god."
"I'm guessing you're not one for believing in the mystical or unusual, Dr. Brennan," said Mr. Bates.
"I believe in what I can see and touch, in what can be scientifically proven," Brennan protested.
"So not only logical but practical as well?"
Stung by his drawling amusement, she restrained herself from snapping back. "The two usually go hand in hand."
At the insistence of Dr. Godwin, the quartet stayed for dinner. It was already arranged when Brennan emerged from the temple, stowing her videocamera in her backpack.
"How's the cellphone network around here?" Colonel Carter inquired when they got out of the jeeps back at the camp. "I've got a friend I was supposed to be meeting in DC tonight. I should let him know I'm not coming."
"There are so many digs in this region, they've got pretty good reception," said Dr. Godwin. "Are you sure your friend will mind...?"
"Bit of a long flight back to DC."
"Taking into account the timezones and his working hours, I'd probably arrive just in time to meet him for dinner, anyway," said Colonel Carter easily. "Tomorrow would be better for him anyway. We just thought that since I was only going to be in town for one night..."
She went a little way out of the camp to make the call, and although Dr. Baxter and one of the dig members surreptitiously eavesdropped, they came back looking slightly peeved. Apparently, Colonel Carter's 'friend' was merely told that Daniel would love the site and that she'd be in town tomorrow night, not tonight. Hardly the stuff of which conspiracy theories were made.
Dinner wasn't much, but the four seemed happy enough with the food. They were polite and cheerful and showed no signs of being anything but a group of people who were indulging in their departmentally sanctioned curiosity.
They'd just finished dinner when there was the sound of one of the jeeps being spurred along the dunes at tremendous pace.
"Dr. Godwin! Dr. Godwin!" The girl who ran in was one of the three that had been left to keep an eye on the site overnight.
"Tammy? What is it?"
"It's the trio of bodies and the baby - they're gone!"
Brennan felt her heart twist queerly in her chest as most of the rest of the table rose. She looked over at Colonel Carter, whose expression was wide-eyed astonishment. Of course, it was possible that the woman was acting, but if so, Brennan thought she was pretty good.
"Gone? But how...?"
Baxter turned on Colonel Carter, his face scarlet with outrage and belief. "It was you, wasn't it? You wanted to shut us down and take the remains and now you've done it!"
"We've been here all evening with you," said Mr. Barrett pointedly. "I'd like to know how we managed to take your bodies while sitting right here." Brennan noted how his hand immediately went to the back of his ribs and scratched, and knew he'd been reaching for a holster piece that wasn't there.
"I'm sure the US military have nearly unlimited resources--"
"Rather than all going into a panic, why doesn't someone go down to the site and confirm what Tammy's telling us?" Colonel Carter's voice rang with command.
"She's got no reason to lie, unless you're trying to cover things up!"
"What I'm trying to do, Dr. Baxter, is to start with the facts. I'm sure that the leaders of this dig would like to see the situation for themselves, hear the evidence from the volunteers left behind at the site. Once you're in full possession of the information, then you may make reasoned, rational accusations to your heart's content."
Brennan decided that she rather liked Colonel Carter. The woman had a rational mind, and she appreciated that.
"I'm going," she said as she rose from her chair.
"I'd like to see this, too." Colonel Carter spoke calmly.
"Admiring your handiwork?" Baxter sneered.
"For God's sake, Tony." Dr. Godwin pulled him up short. "Keep your fool mouth shut until we've seen the damage!"
Mr. Bates and Mr. Nyan were left behind at the camp with the watchful eyes of a dozen dig members on them. Mr. Barrett went with Tammy and Dr. Baxter, Colonel Carter came with Dr. Godwin and Brennan.
"Look, Dr. Carter, I'm sorry about Tony. This dig means a lot to him. He's been working on the theories about the Ancient Egyptians for so long..."
"It's all right, Dr. Godwin. I understand. And, in your shoes, I'd suspect me, too. We are the outsiders in this situation and it does look suspicious. All I can say is that I'm sorry for your loss and we had no intention of coming and taking over your dig."
"That's all right, Dr. Carter." Dr. Godwin heaved a great sigh. "I just don't understand, though. I left the three of them on guard..."
The two young men were still there, pale with disbelief, and with the way into the temple brightly lit.
Brennan walked down the tiny passageway, out into the upper temple with the bodies laid out just as she remembered them from earlier. Nothing seemed out of place.
Nothing seemed out of place in the lower chamber either - except for the four missing bodies. The three anomalies and the child's corpse. Vanished.
It was impossible. The three young people made that quite clear.
"Look, we didn't see anyone coming or going, and we've been just outside the entrance since everyone left," insisted one of the guys, skinny and blond, with a face that looked like it needed some serious Clearasil treatment.
"How did you discover this, then?" Colonel Carter dug a toe into the sand beneath her boots. "If you were outside, you wouldn't have known this stuff was gone."
"I heard something here," said the other young man. He seemed local, his colouring swarthy, of a solid build. A faint perspiration shone on his forehead in the warm night. "Like something crashes to the ground inside. Tammy and I come in to look, Jerry stayed. We found it like this." He waved a hand at the room, apparently untouched, but for the three missing bodies.
Brennan combed her fingers lightly through the sand, looking for anything that might show who had been here, how the bodies had been taken.
"You're sure that no-one had the opportunity to come past you at any stage?"
"I swear, Dr. Godwin." The young man seemed almost in tears. "This is my first dig. I would not jeopardise it!"
"Maybe you wouldn't, but there are certainly others who would!" Dr. Baxter turned and got in Colonel Carter's face. "How'd you do it? How'd your people get away with it?"
"Come on, Baxter! They've been at dinner with us all evening."
"It's not the first dig they've taken over and covered up! What about the tomb at Giza last year? What about the 1997 Mayan dig? Does Giza 1927 ring any bells for anyone but me? Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it!"
Colonel Carter's expression by the inside lights was pained. "Dr. Baxter, I'm sorry for your loss, but this had nothing to do with me. We came here at the invitation of Dr. Godwin and the behest of Dr. Jackson who was unavailable to make the trip. It's difficult that we're the only strangers at the dig at this moment, but we haven't taken anything."
"Calm down, Tony," Dr. Godwin said, his hands waving in the air. "It's not them - it couldn't be! Whoever did this - my God, it's practically magic - our best find in years taken from a locked room!"
And that was the problem, Brennan thought as she stood and dusted her hands off. There was no way into the crypt except through the dug-out entrance, and if the three students were telling the truth then there was no way the bodies could have vanished - yet vanish they had, and there wasn't a single thing to indicate that anyone had ever been in the room.
It was nearly an hour later when they returned to the camp. The Egyptian Department of Antiquities had been contacted, and an entire squadron of local law enforcement had been immediately brought out and were crawling all over the dig asking questions of anyone and everyone.
Brennan didn't know what to think.
The fact was that Colonel Carter and her companions were the most likely ones to have taken the bodies. Even if you didn't buy into the conspiracy theory, they were strangers and the fact that the bodies had vanished while they were here was cause for suspicion. However, 'most likely' wasn't proof, and she refused to jump to conclusions simply because they were outsiders. It was a reasonable assumption given social cliquishness, but it wasn't rational.
On the other hand, the thief couldn't have been Colonel Carter and her companions - it couldn't have been anyone - not judging by the look of the scene. The local police had come and hunted around and found nothing - no means of entry, no means of escape. An hour's worth of interrogation hadn't budged the archaeological students' stories one inch, and there was no proof anyone other than the expedition members had been here at all - nothing but the trio of missing bodies - quartet, really.
The facts didn't add up. But then, nothing about this dig had, not from the first moment she'd laid eyes on the three people who didn't belong in the tomb.
The whole situation was giving her a headache.
- Part 2 -