The janitor was far from surprised to see light streaming from beneath the door bearing the placard Cameron Baxter, Curator Antiquities, despite the late hour. With a smile and a shake of his head, he continued down the hall, planning to return at the end of his shift — as usual.
Inside, Cameron tucked an errant lock of curly, walnut brown hair back behind her ear and sighed. Though she'd expected the result, the email confirming her suspicions about the small collection of late period Egyptian artifacts donated to the museum was still depressing. Every piece was in exquisite condition, and a perfect complement to the pieces already on display.
Unfortunately, every single item traced back to a known black market dealer.
The paperwork would arrive tomorrow, or the next day, which would force the director to acknowledge the necessity of repatriation. Cameron sent a note of thanks to her great uncle for the information, and for the condolences the email expressed with the bad news. She then emailed her contact in the Egyptian Council of Antiquities, knowing that he would receive her news with far more enthusiasm than she felt at the moment.
Not for the first time, she questioned her decision to give up field work for the stability of her position.
A childhood immersed in the past and her drive to learn had earned her the much coveted position at only thirty years old. Raised in a family of archaeologists, curators, and researchers, people often remarked that she knew more about life thousands of years ago than she did about what occurred just outside her door. Most of the time, that suited Cameron just fine.
The phone rang, and Cameron answered it without surprise, despite the late hour. Almost immediately, her eyes narrowed as she recognized the voice on the other end — a sharp reminder of her disconnect with the here and now.
"Don't hang up."
"Give me one good reason not to, Trent," Cameron replied. She clenched her teeth and tried not to remember the disastrous two year relationship with her former fiancé, one which had soured her on ever pursuing another.
"Check your email."
Cameron let out an exasperated sigh and grabbed her mouse. "If whatever you're sending isn't in my inbox already, then this conversation is over."
"It's there," Trent answered, wisely saying nothing more.
Cameron clicked through to the email, titled just look. She opened it with a thousand possibilities floating through her head — most of them bad.
She was wholly unprepared for the picture inside.
"Resealed in antiquity?" Cameron asked, staring at what could be nothing except a tomb door with the seal of the Necropolis priests intact.
Cameron sat back, her eyes still locked on the image. "Okay, you have my attention."
"We had a team excavating a workman's village in the Valley of the Queens, and one of our diggers stumbled across the first step by accident. As soon as the watchdog from Antiquities saw the seal, he brought in armed guards and replaced all our diggers with hand-picked ones."
Cameron knew that he had paused to let the weight of that statement settle on her shoulders. For the Council to react so quickly and decisively, the local expert had reason to believe that the tomb was both intact, and possibly filled with riches.
"Have you opened it?" Cameron asked.
Another email appeared in her inbox before she even finished speaking, titled wonderful things.
Cameron couldn't suppress her gasp upon opening the email and seeing the pictures inside. The tomb had some of the finest, most intact painting she'd ever seen. Hieroglyphs, likely a treasure trove of knowledge simply awaiting translation, lined the walls. Everywhere, the glint of gold and jewels.
"I suppose you called to gloat," Cameron absently murmured as she squinted at the image, attempting to read the script she could see in the images.
"No, I'm calling to beg for help."
That took Cameron aback — but also made her angry. "If you think I'm going to..."
"Cameron, I'm in trouble here. I'm coming to you, because you're the only one I can come to. Antiquities shot down every suggestion I made until I said your name in desperation."
Cameron rolled her eyes. "Thanks so much for that."
"Every senior member of the team has come down sick or injured. I need someone here — and fast — with gravitas. Antiquities is going to take over the whole site, otherwise."
Trent sighed and continued, "Brass tacks. Exclusive foreign display privileges of the find for both museums. This is the find of the century, and only two places in the world outside Cairo will have access to anything more than pictures. There's more, but Antiquities won't let me tell even you about it unless you agree to take control of the site."
"I'm not going to be your figurehead, Trent."
"You'll be in charge. Antiquities isn't going to accept anything less."
A smile broke out on Cameron's face, brought on by the resignation in his voice. "I'll need to talk to the director."
"So you'll come?" He asked with guarded hope.
"I'll be on a plane by tomorrow evening."
"Keep me up to date so I can have someone meet you at the airport."
Cameron imagined that she would spend most of the flight in exhausted sleep, because she doubted that her excitement would let her rest for a moment before the plane took off.
The hot, dry air invigorated Cameron as she followed the member of the team that Trent had sent to meet her at the airport. She thought that he looked barely old enough to have graduated college, and if he represented what was left of the team, it was no wonder that Antiquities was threatening to take over the site.
He also had a habit of staring at her breasts and legs, which made Cameron think that Trent had probably hand-picked the team.
With the sun sinking toward the horizon, Cameron knew that the temperature would drop dramatically — and soon. Though still technically part of the Egyptian summer, October marked the transition to what passed for winter in the arid land of history, and only a few days remained in the month.
Cameron's excitement increased as she approached the camp. She could see the diggers moving about, clearing away debris from the workman's village excavation that had led to the discovery of the tomb. Beyond a pair of tents, she could see the steps leading down into the earth, blocked by a stout, metal gate.
Even the sight of Trent walking out to wave, a local at his side, couldn't dull the euphoria she felt.
"Welcome to the Valley of the Queens, Cameron. Your reputation precedes you," the local said as she approached. "I am Abasi Hawass of the Supreme Council of Antiquities." After a quick bow of his head, he added, "No relation," indicating that he shared only a surname with the Secretary General of the Council.
Cameron bowed her head and responded, "I'm pleased to be here, and honored that the Council would consider me to lead such an important excavation."
"Your staunch support of repatriation, knowledge, and discretion has not gone unnoticed. Please come, and I will brief you."
Cameron nodded and followed Abasi, keenly aware of the numerous heavily armed guards everywhere within eyesight.
Ecstatic that every artifact removed from the tomb was still on site, stored in a plain tomb nearby with a fully functional lab, Cameron followed Abasi to the tomb itself. One of the guards unlocked the gate, and two of them immediately took up positions on either side, looking fully prepared to shoot anyone else who approached.
Beyond the gate awaited a second door, this one designed to keep out the elements as much as possible. Once through that portal, Cameron immediately saw the necessity of secrecy and security that Abasi had warned her about.
As the pictures from Trent had illustrated, the painting was immaculate, often accentuated by reliefs adding detail to the images. Most of the tombs in the Valley of the Queens were virtually undecorated, and this alone marked this tomb as remarkable.
What made the tomb unique was the unashamed theme of lesbianism in the paintings, and the intimate details of the women involved.
"I should imagine that you can see why there is great interest in keeping news of this discovery from leaking to the press, even beyond the monetary," Abasi said as he admired the paintings with Cameron.
"Certainly. The historical significance of these paintings is tremendous. Has anyone translated the script?"
"We have concentrated most of the work on removing the artifacts, in deference to the possibility of looting. We know that this tomb belongs to Emuishere, a servant and concubine to a powerful priestess of Bastet, Djeserit."
Cameron felt her cheeks warm when she realized that in examining a series of hieroglyphs as Abasi spoke, she appeared to be staring at the quite detailed painting of Emuishere's sex next to the script.
"We have, however, extensive photographic documentation of everything."
Cameron nodded in approval. "Good, that way I can work on the translations elsewhere until conservators can protect the paintings."
"That very work will begin tomorrow. Come, there are many more wonders to see."
Cameron followed Abasi down the long passageway, also remarkable in the valley, where most tombs were shallow, unlike those in the more famous Valley of the Kings. Even in the dim light, the colors of the paintings stood out vividly all the way.
.... There is more of this story ...