It wasn't until the summer after her adventures at Hamunaptra-- after the triumphant return to Cairo, the long voyage to England, the scandal of her marriage to an American adventurer, and her acceptance of a new job at the British Museum in London-- that Evy O'Connell nee Carnahan had occasion to wonder whether or not the spells kept in the Book of the Dead really required the book itself to cast them.
It was rather embarrassing, when she thought about it later. Barely married a few months, and she was already abandoning her newly established home for the dubious atmosphere of the museum after closing hours for days at a time whenever a particularly interesting new item was made available for study. Fortunately, her husband was the independent sort himself, and inclined rather to join her from time to time and make entirely unexpected and pleasurable use of the rarely frequented nooks and crannies of the place than to nag her to return home at a set time each day.
Besides, it wasn't entirely unreasonable of her to give her husband and brother plenty of time to get to know one another outside her presence, was it? As soon as an opportunity was available, she fully intended to drag her men back to Egypt for another expedition, both for the sheer joy of it and to keep them both out of trouble. In their different ways, neither Rick nor Jonathan were especially suited for life in the damp, crowded city her father's ancestors had called home, and she was not the least bit inclined to disagree with them on the subject.
Still, actually falling asleep in one of the conservation rooms, dozing off atop a desk covered in transcriptions of strange symbols uncovered on a sarcophagus from Abydos, indicated perhaps a little too much devotion to her work, she reflected once the excitement was over. The Bembridge Scholars would hardly have revoked her application simply because it took her an extra few days to decipher the meaning of an obscure inscription! Until that night, it had been months since she'd had nightmares about her imprisonment by the resurrected priest Imhotep, but whether it was the cavernous, echoing size of the room or the subconscious awareness of a mummified corpse only twenty feet away, she woke herself screaming not two hours after she should have gone home.
The shadows in the room were dark and deep, and it took her a moment to remember where she was, between the uncomfortable lines pressed into her skin by her clothes and the crick in her neck where she'd rested it against the desk. By the time she realized that she must have dozed off at the museum, a sudden, chill wind had sprung up around her; she almost fancied she could hear the sound of shrieking in it, and shivered at the unnerving echo of the last moments of her dream. She'd been back at Hamunaptra, heavy black book open in her lap, eagerly reading the first words her eyes fell upon to prove to O'Connell that there were no such things as curses--
The shrieks altered in tone, becoming more of a groaning sound, and all the hairs on the back of Evy's neck stood straight up. The spell, the one from the Book of the Dead; she probably couldn't have recalled the words consciously if she'd tried, but she could still feel the way they resonated in her throat, remembered speaking them in the disjointed memories that had infected her sleep. If she'd inadvertently spoken them aloud, calling out the words which held power to raise a mummified body from the dead, there was no telling what she may have awakened. The nearest sarcophagus was the strange one she'd been having so much difficulty identifying, and she had gained a healthy respect for the potential reasons a thing might be unique for its historical setting.
"This is no time to panic," she told herself, as her breath sped up and her pulse began to race. She swallowed nervously, then reached for the nearest drawer and scrabbled about in it for the handgun her husband had insisted she learn to use and carry for emergencies during which he might not be present. She already knew from experience that bullets would not permanently kill an undead creature, but they would impart significant kinetic force to any body they struck, and might give her a few extra moments to escape its onslaught and find a proper weapon with which to destroy it.
The groans ceased, followed by muttered, distorted words in a familiar language; she could not be certain, but it sounded a great deal like the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of "Oh, no, not again," which struck her as a rather bizarre thing for a newly awakened mummy to say. Had Imhotep not been the only cursed being under the protection of the Medjai-- and had they lost control of it prior to the events at Hamunaptra? Despite herself, Evy could feel her native curiosity begin to counteract the hysteria that gnawed at the back of her mind; she wrapped her hand firmly around the grip of the gun, then took a deep breath and edged around the desk toward the sarcophagus.
She jumped, a shriek of her own escaping as the cover of the thing was suddenly shoved to the side, moved by pressure from within. A grunt escaped from the darkness inside, followed by another long scraping sound, and the cover toppled over the far edge of the sarcophagus onto the floor. She waited for the mummy to emerge, bracing one shaking hand atop the other in order to steady her gun; but there was no further sign of movement.
After several silent seconds she forced herself to relax, lowering the weapon toward the floor at her side, and shuffled ever so slightly closer. London, though old, was not nearly so ancient a city as Hamunaptra, and Ancient Egyptian had never been the language of its streets; it was possible that the spell carried less power there, and that the anonymous mummy had already perished again.
"Only one way to find out," Evy murmured to herself, and inched still closer.
She was still too far from the box to get a good look at its depths in the dim lighting of the room when the rasping voice came again, this time louder than before. "Okay, this is new," it said to itself, in a different language-- one even more familiar than the Ancient Egyptian.
"Impossible," she gasped, raising the gun again as she covered the last few feet. All thought of escape had fled at the sound of those words; the puzzle they presented to her was tantalizing in the extreme. How could a man who had been dead for nearly five millennia speak a language that had been developed thousands of years-- and miles-- from the place of his burial?
"Is someone there?"
Finally, something stirred within the sarcophagus, lifting to a seated position: the familiar desiccated flesh of a mummy, covering a skeleton incongruously large for a person of such antiquity.
Evy flinched at the sight, shifting her aim to cover its torso, but it made no further move beyond turning its shriveled head and empty eye sockets in her direction.
"Hello," it said.
"H-hello," she stammered in reply.
"I'd give you the peaceful explorers speech, but somehow I don't think it really applies to this situation," it continued, its tone as dry as its rasping throat. "Do you think you could tell me what the hell's going on?"
"D-do you think you could tell me how on Earth you know this language?" she managed to respond, her voice steadying a little as her nerves began to settle. "The last time this happened, the mummy I met spoke only Ancient Egyptian and a little Hebrew."
"Your-- oh my god. You're speaking English," the mummy swore, puzzling her further. Ancient Egypt had not been a monotheistic culture, save for the worship of Aten, which had not sprung up until the 18th Dynasty and never really caught on. This man had been buried long before that time, and even if she'd somehow warped the spell in her sleep-heavy tongue in such a way that it could have given him knowledge of a modern language-- a laughably unlikely prospect, but one which could not positively be ruled out-- such a thing would not have affected his use of slang phrasing.
"Yes, I am," Evy told it. "But you really shouldn't be. It's been nearly five thousand years since you were mummified."
"Nearly--?" it said, then tightened its hand on the edge of the sarcophagus. "What year is it?" A few grotesque snapping and cracking sounds issued from the dried tendons at the motion, and she grimaced, suddenly glad for the fact that Imhotep had still been a little juicy when they'd dug him up.
"What year?" she repeated hesitantly, wondering how on earth to explain the current calendar system to someone whose lifetime would have been measured by the reigns of dynasties. Although, considering how much else was impossible about him.... "1927, by the Gregorian calendar," she said. "Does that mean anything to you?"
"Nineteen twenty seven?" it echoed her. "But that's...." It trailed off, glancing around the room as if to examine all the artefacts scattered about. "One year," it groaned, turning back to her again. "One more year, and I would have been able to ask whether everything was back as it should be. Damn."
Evy gaped at it. It had understood the reference, which was even more impossible than all the rest of it. Unless-- "What's going to happen in 1928?" she asked, apprehensively.
It made a hideous, repetitive noise that must have been an attempt at a chuckle. "Nothing. Everything. The key to the future of the human race, sealed for all time beneath the sands of Egypt."
"And how do you know that?" she prompted it. "Were you-- a priest of some sort? Did you have visions? Have you seen the future?" Nothing would surprise her after the powers she'd seen Imhotep display.
It chuckled again. "I've been a scholar and a warrior, but I sought to destroy the gods; I never worshiped them," it said dismissively. "Look-- did you wake me up on purpose?"
"No, of course not," she said, shaking her head vehemently. "It was an accident."
"Good," it replied. "So can I just say for the record, this whole business of no organs, no heartbeat, not even any eyes to explain how I'm seeing things? It's really disgusting, and I'm pretty sure the only reason I'm not freaking out and trying to kill you is because I probably don't have any physical brains, either, and because this isn't the first time I've been dead. Still, this is by far the most disturbing thing that's ever happened to me, and that's saying something. Don't do it again; the next person it 'accidentally' happens to might not be able to cope."
Evy flushed, both with embarrassment and with irritation at being lectured by a dead heretic, of all people. "I really didn't mean to," she said.
"That's what they all say, just before they almost manage to destroy the world-- and trust me, I've seen it enough to know." It shook its head, sending a shower of dust cascading from shriveled neck muscles. "I'm going to go now-- if I can manage it-- but before I do, will you do something for me?"
Go? She glanced instinctively toward the doorway, then toward the single, dim lamp on the desk, and edged out of the direct lines between either one and the sarcophagus. "And what's that?"
"When you do the identification, don't use my name," it said. "Just call me the husband of Sha'uri."
That emotion, she understood. "And what is your name?" she asked, gently.
"Daniel. Sorry; I didn't realize I hadn't given it, it's usually how I start off the peaceful explorers speech. What's yours?"
"Well, thank you, Evelyn," it told her. "And-- if you could try to schedule my sarcophagus for display no earlier than 2005, I would sincerely appreciate it."
She shook her head. Seventy-eight years? What was he? "Just your sarcophagus?"
It twitched its muscles in a smile. "I wish I could explain," it said. "Good luck; and if you ever meet a Dr. Langford, tell him-- his daughter's going to change the world."
Then it did the most unbelievable thing yet: it began dissolving into a cloud of tiny motes of light, which coalesced into a pearlescent form and then drifted toward the ceiling. For just a moment, the entire conservation room was lit up as though with daylight streaming in through the windows; then its light passed through the ceiling, and the shadows returned.
"I must still be dreaming," she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
The sarcophagus remained empty, however; so when she returned the next morning, Evy conscientiously added the name Sha'uri to her notes. It had been little enough for him to ask.
But she would be careful never to fall asleep in a museum, ever again.