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Monday, June 12, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Two


Ironically, it was the Kessler twins who paid our way. For their fourth year project, they had decided to do a travelogue on Alexander the Great (they were a little shaky on the concept of “original research”). They were spending their winter break skiing in Colorado, so when Georgia volunteered to take pictures for them in Egypt, if they’d help with the expenses, they were delighted. Which was how we managed to rent a top-of-the-line (according to Nate) SUV and stay in a decent hotel near the harbour.

The first day we spent figuring out where things were. Landmarks can change a lot in two thousand plus years. We located the old harbour, and chose an isolated spot to try the experiment. We planned to travel back long enough to confirm we were there, and determine our position in relation to the lighthouse of Pharos. Then we could check over our maps and information before returning to break into the Library.

The streets were deserted, which was good, because I felt ridiculous wearing flowing Greek drapery. Not to mention chilly. Once the sun had gone down, so had the temperature. Oh, I know what you’re thinking? Why dress like a Greek in an Egyptian city? But the Ptolemies were Greeks, and it would be far easier to pass for Greek than Egyptian, a language none of us spoke.

Nate handed Georgia the receiver, made to look like a griffin-headed walking staff, and the three of us gripped it firmly. “There's a small camera built into the head,” he said. “Aim it at anything interesting. Ready?”

Gulp. We nodded. He pushed a few buttons on his console. The eyes of the griffin gleamed an eerie yellow. I focused on them and waited. A sudden lurching, and the earth dropped out beneath me. Blackness. Only the solid feel of the staff in my hands kept me grounded.

The tumbling sensation slowed, and I became aware once more of the yellow eyes of the griffin, and Georgia and Brent to either side of me. Taking a deep breath, I looked around. We were in a narrow alley lined with the blank white walls of houses. The road ran up a slight slope, a larger building at the top with a row of statues along the roof line. Georgia pulled a drawing pencil from her pocket and marked a large “X” on the wall beside her so we could find the spot again.

I turned downhill. Atop a multi-tiered tower, a huge ball of orange light shimmered and flickered. Smaller specks of yellow and orange reflected in the water far below. The famed Lighthouse of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Legend said it could be seen for kilometres. I believed it now. And without electricity, let alone modern bio-energetics.

Long minutes passed before we stopped staring and focussed on the task at hand. Yes, this was Alexandria, but when? The lighthouse had been used for centuries; if we were going to pilfer from the Library, we needed to be in 48 BC., before the fire. We hurried down the street towards the harbour.

We came out near the docks. Farther along to our right I saw several large buildings, well-lit by torches, and bustling with activity. Guards armed with spears stood at the foot of each dock. Others were marching up and down in front of the buildings. Hard to believe this would all be under water in 2042.

“Those buildings are probably the palace,” I said. “The Library should be on the palace grounds. There’s supposed to be a garden and a zoo nearby, so we’ll have to look for an area with trees and plants.”

“How are we going to get past the guards?” asked Georgia.

I shook my head. “No idea, but we’d better think of something before tomorrow.”

Across the harbour the lighthouse towered above everything else. Several ships rode at anchor, backlit by the glow. I pulled out a pair of night glasses for a closer look. Definitely not Roman galleys, and definitely war ships. This must be Ptolemy XIV’s fleet. “Our timing’s good,” I said. “The fleet is here to keep Caesar and Cleopatra under siege in the palace.”

“Did you say Cleopatra?” Brent’s voice squeaked. “The Cleopatra?”

I’d forgotten he was a mediaeval specialist and not up on the Greeks and Romans. “The Cleopatra,” I said, skin prickling. “She and her brother Ptolemy were rivals for the throne.” I gazed at the palace. Somewhere in that complex of buildings were the first Roman emperor, in fact, if not in name, and the legendary queen of Egypt.

“Our two hours are nearly up. We’d better get back,” said Georgia. We retraced our steps and gathered around the staff, depressing the small knob at the base of the griffin's head. The eyes flashed green for several seconds, before switching to a steady yellow glow. The falling sensation hit the bottom of my stomach like a glass of sour milk.

We filled Nate in on what we’d seen on the drive back to the hotel, and Brent handed over the staff.

“If there’s enough detail on that thing,” Nate said, “I can put you inside the palace grounds.”

Detail? The three of us looked at each other. No one had thought to point it at anything. Good thing we hadn’t had to actually turn it on.

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