Chapter 1: Part One
The World's Mightiest Mortal
# 1: With One Magic Word...
Written by Cynthia Finnegan, with a huge "thank you" to Bill Parker for writing the BEST origin story ever, and to Mike Acord for helping me tweak it for modern readers.
Special thanks go to Mike Acord, John Berry, Brian Chapel, Don Bearden, Seth Gottleib, Fritz Peerenboom, and all my friends for their support.
Captain Marvel, Billy Batson, Shazam & Ebenezer Batson originally created by William Parker & C.C. Beck. Merrill & Jocelyn Batson originally created by E. Nelson Bridwell & Don Newton. Mary Batson originally created by Otto Binder & Marc Swayze.
James Carlisle created by Cynthia Finnegan.
Shazam, Captain Marvel & related characters © 2018. Used without permission and not for profit, so please don't sue me.
The Home of Ebenezer Batson, New York, NY, Late May
An attractive woman with dark red hair watched the seconds tick by as she timed the thermometer in her young son's mouth. An outbreak of chicken pox had hit the city hard, and the boy sitting in the bed next to her had contracted a bad case of them a just few days earlier. The black-haired youngster fidgeted impatiently, waiting for his mother to remove the thing stuck under his tongue. He wanted to go on this trip with his parents very much, but that wouldn't happen if he still had a fever.
Even in her early forties, Jocelyn Batson still looked like a woman fresh out of college and moved with all the grace of a dancer. Her hair fell around her jaw line in soft, natural ringlet curls, and her frank, blue-green eyes regarded the world around her with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of a lifetime of experience. Of course, being an Associate Professor of Ancient Cultures at New York University, both of those qualities often served her well.
Jocelyn, or Jo for short, attired herself in a comfortable ensemble of navy blue slacks of cotton jersey, a blouse that was little more than a lace-embellished t-shirt and a pair of Keds. She had figured that if she were going to spend a whole sixteen hours in a bouncing airplane, she might as well be dressed comfortably.
As the thermometer finally beeped, she pulled it out of her young son's mouth and checked the results. She looked at the readout carefully, but the news was not good.
"Well?" The boy asked anxiously, literally bouncing where he sat.
"One hundred and one point two," she said as she showed her son the device's display screen. "Sorry, sweetheart, but you still have a fever."
"Mom, please tell me you're kidding," the black-haired boy replied humorously, trying his darnedest not to scratch the tiny red bumps that still itched under the layer of Calamine lotion and blue cotton pajamas he wore.
If there was one thing young Billy was not, it was a whiner. To him, things like whining or throwing temper tantrums over things he could not control were stupid and unproductive wastes of time and energy. Besides, he had seen too many of his peers get hock-deep into trouble with their parents for resorting to such tactics, and he realized early in his young life that it really was not worth the grief.
Though named for his late paternal grandfather, Billy Batson was nearly the spitting image of his father at nine. He was a bit small for his age, and his short, blue-black hair was a tousled shock of loose curls, some of which tumbled over his deep widows' peaked brow in three forelocks. Billy's lightning-blue eyes did not need glasses yet, but with any luck, he'd never need them. The only feature on his sweet face that looked distinctly his mother's was Billy's almost turned-up nose.
On the stand next to Billy's bed was a stack of books, ones he would read or began reading since he became ill. Already reading well above his grade level, he was starting to lean more towards the "sword and sorcery" and urban fantasy genres than some of his friends were. Billy's favorite book so far had been Tolkien's The Hobbit and another he had just finished, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Hawkmistress, was not bad either. Next on his list was a copy of Jim Butcher's latest, though his parents thought the hero's language was a little "mature" for him.
"I only wish I were, Billy, but you know what a fever means ..."
"I know. It means I'm stuck here with Uncle Ben while you and Dad are having fun in Egypt."
"Darn, and here I was hoping you'd be feeling better by now, short-round," a jovial male voice interrupted. "Your mother and I will be awfully lonesome without you."
Merrill Batson entered the room, kissed his wife on the cheek and flashed his young son a warm smile. A handsome man whose looks belied his real age, Merrill was in his mid fifties, stood at about six foot four and was a broad-shouldered, athletic-looking man with a ruggedly handsome face, all of which served to hide the bookish academic he truly was. His only concessions to his real age were some strands of silver in his blue-black hair and some permanent laugh lines around his bespectacled, lightning-blue eyes.
Merrill was the head curator of the Egyptian Studies wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had one of the largest exhibits in the United States, and the head of the Archaeology Department at New York University. The collar of the white shirt he wore was open, and the tan trousers he had paired them with were loose and comfortable.
Although technically her boss at the University, Merrill considered Jocelyn his equal partner in every way. They had been on many digs before this, and he considered her his partner in more than just the marital sense. Sure, there was something of an age difference; Merrill was already fifteen when Jocelyn was born, but they complemented each other.
In truth, he was only "Doctor Batson" to his associates at the Museum, his students and his fellows out in the "field." However, at home, he was "Dad" to his young son, and Merrill, a big, good-natured kid at heart to his beloved wife, his brothers, and the members of the Malcolm Foundation, the ones financing this dig.
Ebenezer Batson, or Ben for short, entered the room behind Merrill. Ben was the polar opposite of his baby brother in both looks and demeanor, and it showed. His hair was little more than a stringy, almost shoulder-length gray fringe clinging around the sides and back of his head; it almost seemed to match his slate gray eyes and dark gray suit. He was not quite as tall as Merrill was, as thin as a rail, and his long, mulish face held a constant sour expression, like he had a rotten pickle stuck in his craw.
For the eldest Batson brothers to say that he did not care for his youngest sibling, his sister-in-law or their child would have been a gross understatement. He loathed children, especially his brother's only son, and never bothered to hide the fact. He had never married or fathered a child of his own, and never seemed to have time for much of a social life.
In fact, the closest Ben ever came to actually having fun was the annual shareholder's meeting for Amalgamated Broadcasting board of directors, which both he and Merrill were members of. But then again, money and power were Ben's only real loves.
It was discomfiting to Ben that Billy looked so much like his father, so he was verbally abusive towards the youngster when Merrill and Jocelyn were around, and physically abusive to him when they weren't. He was known to give Billy a cuff on the boy's dimpled chin or a slap across the face without the slightest provocation, then claim the boy was "sassing him" later on.
Since Ben claimed he had arthritis in his hands and wrists, he could strike the lad with enough force to hurt him, but never hard enough to leave a hand print as evidence. The claim had other advantages, too, in that people who didn't know him often felt sorry for him.
Merrill and Jocelyn never once believed Ben's assertions that Billy was behaving as badly as he claimed the boy did, but it was impossible for them to prove Ben was hitting Billy. If they could, they would be out of that house fast enough to leave Ben spinning like a top in the halls.
After a moment, Ben motioned Merrill towards the hallway and said, "Merrill, would you join me in the hall for a moment? I need to talk to you about the finances ..."
"Not now, Ben, please. I want to talk with my son for a bit before we have to go to the airport."
"Now, Merrill, or I'll call you on your cell phone every hour on the hour while you're in Saqqara and we'll discuss it then. What do you think Malcolm will say about all the overage and roaming charges, eh?"
Merrill sighed resignedly, then followed his eldest brother out of the room and into the hallway. He hated arguing, especially about money, but Ebenezer had a bone in his teeth and he wouldn't let go of it until he thought it was settled. It frustrated him to no end that Ben, unlike himself and his elder brother, Dudley, was so enamored with wealth and material goods.
Although they hadn't talked about it with their son yet, Merrill and Jocelyn also had another child; a daughter they named Mary after Merrill's mother. Mary was a pretty baby born just an hour after Billy was and looked more like her mother than her father. The little girl had been blessed with her mother's dark red curls and almost turned up nose, but she also had her father's pale blue eyes and dimpled cheeks.
The twins shared almost everything from the time they were brought home from the hospital, even the elephant doll Billy now held in his arms. It was believed the baby girl had been stolen after the Batsons were involved in a car accident called a "swoop and squat," an collision usually engineered to bilk victims out of their insurance money. This time, however, the crooks' objective seemed to be child stealing and not fraud.
The police called in the FBI to help them find the missing baby, but no one could locate her. The press had a field day with the story, calling the "Baby Girl Batson" case one of the worst kidnapping cases since the Lindbergh baby. Even Sterling Morris, owner of Amalgamated Broadcasting, got involved by offering a ten thousand dollar reward for any information on the case. But without any leads or even a ransom demand, the authorities called off the search after only a few weeks and told the Batsons to presume that their daughter was dead.
For the past nine and a half years, the couple spent every day wondering what could have happened to her, where she was now, what she looked like and how much she had grown. The elephant doll, her birth certificate and some photos and baby clothes that had been lovingly stored in a trunk were all they had left of their long-lost daughter.
Billy looked at his mother and saw the sad, wistful expression on her face and wondered once again why his mom and dad looked so sad sometimes, and why they wouldn't tell him what caused it until he was older. It was frustrating not knowing, but he figured they'd tell him what it was all about when the time was right.
"Mom, I want you to take Ganesha with you," Billy said emphatically as he gave the toy elephant, named for a Hindu god, to his mother.
"Why, Billy?" she replied gently, handing the stuffed animal back."You're still sick, so you need him more than your father and I do."
"I can't explain it without sounding completely loopy, but I feel like ... like I'll never see you again."
"Honey, you'll be joining us in Cairo as soon as Dr. Wilson tells your uncle that you're well enough to travel."
The boy wrapped his arms tightly around his mother's neck, gave her a fierce hug and said "I know, but it doesn't make this bad feeling go… what the heck...?"
The sounds of shouting interrupted Billy's conversation with his mother. His father and least-favorite uncle were having another shouting match in the hall just outside the bedroom door, probably about one of Ben's three favorite subjects: money, himself or both. The brothers had been arguing every day since Ebenezer "invited" them to stay in the home that he and his younger brothers, Dudley and Merrill, had been raised in.
"Sounds like your father and uncle are having another fight," Jocelyn chimed in sourly. "You stay put, and I'll go find out what they're yelling about this time."
She angrily walked over to where her husband and brother-in-law were arguing. She was tired of hearing Ebenezer's constant bickering with Merrill over how the family's finances were being spent. It was bad enough that most of Ben's business interests could only be labeled as "quasi-legal" at best, but there was something about this man he insisted they take along with them that didn't set right with her.
There was something unsettling about this Carlisle character, especially in the way he stared at her and her son when they first met him. The man gave Billy a severe case of the heebie-jeebies.
Why on Earth did we ever move in with Ebenezer? she asked herself as she stepped into the hallway. Because Merrill and I made some bad investments, thanks to Ben's "advice", and rather than go completely broke, we sold our home to cover them. I thought he'd changed when he offered to let us stay here 'til we got back on our feet, but he hasn't. Money's still all he cares about, and Ben's still not the sharing type.
It wasn't fair to Merrill or to Dudley. They grew up in this drafty old house, too, and they should've had some say in what happened to it when their mom died and their dad dropped off the face of the Earth.
"Dammit, Merrill," Ebenezer shouted bitterly. "I've sunk enough money into all of your "wild goose" field trips to choke a horse, and I've never asked for nor demanded anything in return …!"
"I know exactly where the money for the expedition is coming from, Ben!" Merrill yelled back, jabbing his thumb into his chest. "Why do you act like I don't? And most of my "wild geese" paid off very handsomely for the Museum and Malcolm ...!"
"For Malcolm and the Museum, yes! But not for …!"
"Will you two stop bickering?" Jocelyn said in a sharp whisper. "You're frightening my son!"
Merrill and Ben both looked over to where Billy was. Though it had no effect on his uncle, the look on Billy's young face, a mixture of confusion and fear, touched his father deeply. He knew that he couldn't continue to put his family through any more trauma, and that it was finally time to drop the bomb and let his older brother know what they'd been doing.
"Ben, since our living here has become such an inconvenience for you, I'm letting you know right now that we've had a house built in Avalon Hills," Merrill finally announced. "It's in a very nice neighborhood with good schools nearby. They'll finish building it while we're in Egypt, so all we'll have to do is pack up our things and move into it as soon as we get back."
"Really, Merrill?" Ben asked, his thin face awash with avid curiosity. "Think about what this will do to Billy, especially this late in the school year ..."
That did it. Jocelyn turned on her brother-in-law lightning-quick, folding her arms across her chest and began to speak in defense of her family, not bothering to hide the strong Texas twang in her voice.
"Don't you dare use our son as an excuse for another one of your guilt trips," she answered, angry. "Get this through that thick skull of yours, Ben: we're leaving, and there's nothing left for us to "think about." You've made your feelings about us living with you in "your house" crystal clear from day one, and I am not putting up with it anymore."
"Now wait a minute, you two," he yelped as they turned back towards Billy's bedroom. "There's no need to make a hasty decision about this …!"
"It's hardly a "hasty decision," brother," Merrill added, putting his arm around his wife in a show of support. "You've been pushing us to get out practically since we moved in last year. This last battle just cemented the when of it.
"Oh, and while we're at the dig, I'm going to ask Dr. Malcolm to have someone start looking into a bunch of irregularities I've been finding in the dig's find manifests. Some of the more valuable items are missing or have been replaced with copies made of brass. They could've been caused by some cataloguing errors, but I don't want to take the chance that they might've been stolen, either."
As he digested this news, the smug expression on Ben's face faded into one of panicked anxiety. If anybody at the Foundation or at the Museum found out what he'd been up to, losing his precious money would be the least of his worries. He'd count himself lucky if he got probation instead of a long prison sentence.
So, they've almost figured out what's been going on, eh? he thought as he watched his brother and sister-in-law return to their son's room. This changes everything. You two go ahead on your wild goose chase, little brother, and as soon as I can load your precious brat on a Cairo-bound 747, I'll figure out a way to get rid of all three of you ... permanently.
The couple returned to their son's bedroom arm in arm. Billy was anxious; he'd heard snippets of the exchange between his parents and uncle, especially the part where his mom let Uncle Ben have it with both barrels, but he hadn't heard the whole thing. Thanks to his parents, Billy had been blessed, or rather cursed, with a double dose of curiosity and by the time his parents returned, it was eating him alive.
"Mom? Dad? What happened?" he asked.
"Listen, Billy," Merrill said to his son, putting his arm around him, "since your uncle won't stop arguing with me over a lot of nothing, we'll be moving into the Avalon Hills house as soon as we get back."
"Really?!" Billy replied excitedly.
"Yes, son, really. It means you'll have to transfer to another school this fall..."
"Dad, it's okay. If I remember what you and Mom told me about the school I'll be going to, the only thing I have to get used to is wearing a jacket and tie every day!"
"And being picked up," Jocelyn added. "I'm gonna ... I'm going to ... hand in a request to the University so I can cut back on my hours and be home when school lets out."
"Honey, when did you decide this?" Merrill asked as his wife fluffed the pillows behind their son's head. Both he and Billy were surprised by that announcement.
"Out in the hallway, about two minutes ago," Jocelyn replied, giving her husband an enigmatic look. "Why?"
"No reason. Just took me by surprise, is all."
Billy looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. Noticing how late it was getting, he yelped, "Holy Moley! Mom, Dad, please stop fussing over me! You're gonna wind up missing your flight!"
"He's right," Ebenezer added vacantly. "You really should be going, before your plane leaves without you. Besides, Carlisle isn't exactly the most patient man on Earth."
"Are you sure, Ben?" Merrill asked skeptically. His eldest brother's sudden change in tune struck him as out of character. Why was he in such a rush to get rid of them?
"I'm sure. Billy and I will get along just fine, you'll see. Now get going, and I'll send Billy out to you in a couple of weeks."
Jocelyn and Merrill hugged their son, bidding him a fond farewell. Jocelyn told Billy to be good, and he promised her he would. As the left the room, a taxicab parked outside the gate and the driver blew it's horn in two short blasts, just to let them know he was there waiting. A few moments later, the cabbie came up to the door and helped the Batsons load their luggage into the trunk.
Inside, Billy clambered out of bed, ran up to his window and opened it. Just before they got in the taxi, Jocelyn looked up and blew a kiss up to him. The boy returned the gesture and waved goodbye to both of his parents.
He stayed by the window until the cab drove out of sight, then trudged back to his bed, hopped into it and turned the TV on to Cartoon Network to watch the new episode of his favorite cartoon. A moment later, Ben's lanky form loomed just inside the door frame and glared at Billy, his expression more sour than before.
"Don't get too comfortable in that bed, boy," the eldest Batson brother growled at his young nephew. "The moment you're well enough to travel, you'll be out of my house and on the first flight I can book to Egypt."
Author's Notes: According to the October, 2002 issue of National Geographic and several websites on early Dynastic Egypt (which I used as part of my research for this story), there really was a King Djer. He was the eldest son and heir to the real King Menes (also called Aha), who actually lived until his late sixties and only died after being attacked by a pack of wild dogs and a crocodile (talk about bad luck). Djer allegedly died at a relatively young age from unknown causes. Both the father's and son's tombs were recently unearthed in Saqqara, Egypt.
Aseth, Ousir and Anpu were the original, pre-Alexandrian names for Isis, Osiris and Anubis.
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic: this story is an out-of-continuity parody based on my own ideas of how I think the Fawcett and Quality heroes should be handled. It is neither steeped in nor is it connected with the current continuity of DC Comics. DC's current continuity lacks imagination, humor and guts.
I claim no rights to Captain Marvel or the characters associated with him. Those rights belong to DC Comics (damn it all). The only character I own in this work of fiction is James Carlisle (© Cynthia Finnegan, 2010). I offer my thanks to C.C. Beck, Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Mac Raboy and Marc Swayze for creating such "marvelous" characters for me to terrorize.
Story © Cynthia Finnegan, 2018
Chapter 2: Egypt
The Malcolm Expedition, Saqqara, Egypt, Mid-June
Outside one of the ancient tomb sites, Doctor Merrill Batson waited for his wife, Professor Jocelyn Batson, and their less-than-willing "assistant," James Carlisle, to join him. He wanted to enter and explore a series of hidden passageways he'd discovered earlier that morning, mostly to see if any archaeological treasures could be found.
Their liaison between the Malcolm Foundation and the Antiquities Bureau waited back at the base camp with one of the others for the Batsons to return with their findings. They needed to quickly explore, catalogue and record video of the contents of this new find. The main team was waiting on them to finish this side trip so the search for the tombs of Kings Aha and Djer could continue.
Merrill opened his water bottle and took a deep drink, vainly trying to replenish some of the fluids he'd lost, then poured some of it on his head in an attempt to cool himself off. Thanks to the hot desert air, his short-sleeved white shirt had glued itself to his shoulders and back by perspiration and every inch of exposed skin was baked brown by the sun. It was already a sweltering 110o in the shade and it wasn't even noon yet.
Holy Moley, Merrill thought wryly, wiping his sweaty brow with the back of his hand, it's been getting hotter here every day since we got here, and it's starting to take its toll. By the time Jo and I have finished for the day, we're usually too wiped out to do more than pick at our food, shower, crawl into bed and sleep. We've even been too tired to use the hotel's swimming pool, and we both love swimming!
As he put his hard hat back on, Merrill swore to himself that the next expedition he and Jo went on would be the Mayan dig Malcolm himself was heading up in the Yucatan in a few months' time. He'd always wanted to take the family to Cancun, which was about an hour's drive by Jeep from the site, and since Ben wasn't a sponsor, they wouldn't be forced to take Carlisle along. That man gave Merrill a bad case of the creeps.
I can't wait for our part of this dig to be over. Compared to this, this summer’s expedition to the Yucatan will be a cake walk, especially without Carlisle acting as a proverbial millstone around our necks. Jo will love it because the Mayans are her real area of expertise, and Billy will love exploring Chitchen Itza and combing the beaches for sea shells ... who knows, maybe I'll finally be able to teach him how to scuba dive ...
"Hey, baby. Quarter for your thoughts?" Jocelyn drawled with an affectionate smile. Like her husband, she wore a lightweight, short-sleeved white shirt and khaki slacks, and her skin was also sun-browned. She had the latest model in high resolution digital video cameras hanging on a strap around her slender wrist.
Because of all the nearby excavation, everyone had been kitted out with steel-toed work boots, hard hats with high-powered lamps mounted on them and GPS trackers in case something went wrong.
"A quarter? They're not worth that much, since I'm only thinking about the heat and the latest "disaster" to hit this dig," Merrill replied with a humorless chuckle, referring to the close call Jo's Summer intern, a forensic anthropology grad student, had earlier that day.
Merrill wasn't the only one having bad feelings about this dig. Jo had been, too, from the moment their plane landed in Cairo. Unlike her husband, the unease she felt was actually manifesting itself into vivid nightmares that would wake her, shaking and sweating, from a sound sleep.
"I'm having another really bad feeling about all of this," Jocelyn said cautiously as she rubbed her arms. In spite of the desert heat, goose bumps started popping up on her arms. "With all the "accidents" we've been having lately, I'd almost swear this dig is cursed... oops, speak of the devil..."
The third member of their team, James Carlisle, strode up the dune towards the couple. Carlisle was a brilliant man with a frighteningly shady past. The eldest son of one of the Foundation's sponsors, he was a tall man, red haired, well-muscled and his ruddy face had the kind of harsh, wolfish appearance that even a smile couldn't soften. If anything, a grin would have made Carlisle look even more predatory than he already did.
Back home, many had whispered that Carlisle was a small-time thug who wasn't averse to hurting or killing people to get what he wanted.
The gray chinos and safari shirt he wore seemed to match his foreboding demeanor, but the bright yellow backpack Carlisle carried looked out of place on him. It looked more like something their son Billy or one of his classmates might carry to school with them, and not a grown man. When asked what it held, Carlisle always barked that what was in it was no one's business but his.
For the past two and a half weeks, the Malcolm Expedition had been plagued by a series of thefts and near-miss accidents. Items like ushtebas and small pieces of jewelry that were already catalogued suddenly went missing. One of the other teams, which included Jo's intern, Aiesha Taylor, were nearly buried alive under a landslide, and they could have sworn they heard a muffled explosion before the ground started to shift.
It seemed as if the whole expedition were under a curse, and it was all due to James Carlisle's well-orchestrated bouts of "carelessness."
Of the other members of their part of the expedition, only Tal Chotali, an associate professor with NYU and Malcolm's most trusted aide, wasn't going into the chamber with them. He was back at their base camp, carefully cleaning and cataloguing the artifacts each of the teams were finding and somehow managing to keep the computer equipment from frying in the heat. Malcolm and their translator were back in New York, waiting eagerly for Jocelyn to upload their findings so they could be translated accurately.
"So, we ready to go in, or what?" Carlisle asked impatiently.
"No, we're not," Jocelyn said emphatically. "We should head back to base and have Tal Chotali get in contact with Dr. Hawass and his friends at the Antiquities Bureau. We're going to wind up in ten tons of trouble if they're left out of this."
"Jo's right, Carlisle," Merrill added sternly, agreeing with his wife. "Malcolm's not going to like explaining to the government what we're doing poking around in an unexplored chamber without one of their people down there with us."
"Look, do you wanna see if this theory of yours pans out or not?" Carlisle replied, obviously annoyed with the pair. "Your big brother and his "partners" sank some major moolah into this fiasco, and they'll expect to see some kind of return for it."
"Much as it galls me to say it, Jo, he does have a point. Ebenezer's money helped make this trip possible, but only as little as the old cheapskate was willing to chip in," Merrill stated sourly as he stood up, recalling that his eldest brother was also a member of the Malcolm Foundation, and all were major contributors to the Museum.
As the trio entered the cavernous underground tunnel, Jo said, sotto voce, "Darling, we both know exactly how and where Ebenezer got a big chunk of the money he has now, and he didn't inherit it from your mom. The Egyptians won't allow Carlisle to blithely smuggle anything we discover out of the country for him, and he knows it, too. He'd have to be a fool to even try."
So old man Batson was right, for once, Carlisle mused, realizing they were unaware that he had just overheard every word Jocelyn said her husband. They have pretty much figured out what I'm up to here. Well, that's just too bad ... for them, that is...
The intrepid duo and their companion followed the map made from that morning's satellite scans into the underground corridor. Merrill and Jocelyn were both rankled by the man Ben insisted they take with them as an assistant. The man would watch them both for hours on end, like a man obsessed, and that made her nervous. She tried to push her fears to the back of her mind as she adjusted the hard hat she wore over her curly dark red hair and followed her husband into the tunnel.
"Honey, if what I got from the satellite scans this morning are right, and we do find anything, I swear we'll go right back to base and tell Tal Chotali all about it. Then he can radio the Bureau and they can take over," Merrill reassured his wife.
"We'd better, buster," she answered as a concerned look crossed her face.
"You're worrying about Billy again, aren't you?"
"Yes. If he hadn't been sick ... if it weren't for the chicken pox ..."
"He'd be here, playing Hide and Seek in the ruins with some of the local kids. I know, darling. I'm worried about him, too. I don't trust Ben as far as I can throw him, but the doctor said Billy's well enough to travel, so Ben should be sending him to us any day now."
"But Billy should have been here for almost two weeks now. What if something else is wrong with him?"
"Will you two fools shut up about your brat and pay attention to where you're going?" Carlisle snapped irritably. "This whole dump could be booby-trapped, and you're standing around yammering on and on about your stupid kid instead of watching where you're going!"
"Do you have any children, Carlisle?" Merrill asked irritably.
"No, thank God."
"Then put a sock in it about our concern for ours. According to the satellite scans, we should be reaching the main chamber any time now."
As they continued, their footsteps echoed eerily off the stone walls and the hieroglyphs seemed to flow from one shape into another in the uncertain light. Within moments, they reached the chamber they sought, but there seemed to be nothing beyond it.
"Big "if" on finding anything down in this rabbit hole, Doc," Carlisle sneered. "Looks like you're plumb outta luck to me!"
Indeed, it did seem as if the party had reached a dead end, but Merrill knew that looks could be deceiving. Reopening his bottle of water, he poured a small amount into the palm of his hand, then made a fist and reopened it. He held his dampened hand up in front of the seam where two of the slabs met and smirked. Now he just needed to show them...
Recalling that their "assistant" was a smoker, Merrill asked, "Carlisle, do you have your cigarettes on you?"
"Yeah," he replied gruffly. "Why, you suddenly take up smoking?"
"Light one up, bring it here and let me hold it in front of this wall. You'll see what happens."
Carlisle fished out a half-pack of cigarettes and a silver-plated cigarette lighter from his pants pocket. He slipped one of the slender sticks between his thin lips, lit it, and then handed it to Doctor Batson. Merrill adjusted the miners' lamp on his hardhat, took the cigarette and held it up to the sandstone barrier in front of them. Jocelyn and Carlisle both watched, fascinated, as he held the smoldering cigarette next to the seam between the slabs. A moment later, the smoke from it sucked between the seams of the wall.
"Son of a gun," Carlisle exclaimed in shock. "Willya look at that!"
"Yep, the scans didn't lie. I'll bet my tenure that my passage is right behind this wall!" Merrill retorted, his smirk broadening to a grin. Merrill braced himself against the block of stone and started to push it as hard as he could. Both he and Jocelyn shoved against the slab with all their might, but nothing happened. It didn't shift even a millimeter out of place, and all Carlisle did was stand by and watch.
"C'mon, you stupid, stubborn piece of rock! MOVE!!" he exclaimed with a loud groan. He stopped a few moments later, every muscle in his body screaming in protest. "It … it's no use! It won't budge!"
"Now what?" Jo asked, feeling every bit as defeated as Merrill did.
"I don't know, honey. Maybe there's a lever or a switch in here somewhere ..." As Merrill spoke, he leaned heavily against the same wall as Carlisle, then jumped forward in alarm when an elbow struck against a carved pictogram and they heard a loud click. One of them had accidentally activated a hidden switch, causing the slab to slide back. Carlisle figured that he did, but as long as the passage was now opening, Merrill didn't care whose elbow it was.
"Holy Moley," he continued as it moved away. "Talk about pure, dumb luck."
Another second and the block cleared away completely, revealing a short corridor and a series of ramps carved into the ancient sandstone, with enough room for the party to make their descent. Doctor and Mrs. Batson entered first, Jocelyn's video camera at the ready, followed closely by their assistant.
Carlisle didn't look too happy to be following the Batsons into the unknown. This little side trip seemed to be a big waste of time to him, and he hated to waste time. The chances that they'd actually find anything Old Man Batson would want smuggled back to add to his collection were lowering from slim to none.
"Easy does it," Jocelyn said cautiously. "These ramps look pretty well-worn ... they could be slippery, so let's be careful on the way down."
"They look almost slick enough to slide down on," Merrill quipped as he mischievously waggled his eyebrows at her. "What do you say, honey? Want to sit on my lap and see?"
"I found the switch to open the thing," Carlisle growled, shoving the couple aside, "so I should be the first one in!"
"Whoa!" Merrill exclaimed as the angry Carlisle pushed past them, causing Jocelyn to trip. She felt one of her feet slip off the ramp as she began falling forwards. Instinctively, Merrill's hand shot out and grabbed Jocelyn's wrist, preventing her from going over the edge. As he set his wife back on her feet, he noticed that they were both shaking in fear.
"If this turns out to be a big fat nothing, Malcolm's going to be pretty pissed off with the two of you," Carlisle remarked smugly as the couple reached the bottom behind him.
Suddenly, Merrill spun Carlisle around and knocked him to the ground with a sound right cross to the jaw. Merrill's punch stunned Carlisle and sent him crashing into the wall behind them, then he rushed up to Carlisle, grabbed him by the collar, hauled him up and roared, "You filthy son of a …! You nearly killed my wife!"
"You'll get yours, Batson," Carlisle growled as he glared at Merrill. "Mark my words ...!"
"Right. You and what army?"
"Merrill! Look!" Jocelyn called out, retrieving her husband's flashlight from where it fell. "Looks like we've just found our passageway!"
The three peered down the hallway, and what they saw amazed them. At the end was another decorated sandstone wall with an unusual carving on it. It was of a female and a male figure on either side of … a thunderbolt?
"Great! It's another dead end!" Carlisle shouted, groping for his lost hat. "So much for you and your crackpot theories!"
"It's not a "dead end," Carlisle," Merrill remarked. "The wall up ahead may look solid, but according to the scans, there should be another chamber right behind it. Jo, I hope your camera wasn't damaged, because I'd like you to shoot some video of this. We can upload and e-mail it to Dr. Malcolm later."
Jocelyn put her camera to eye level and walked through the long corridor, followed by Merrill and Carlisle. The walls were not only decorated with the usual hieroglyphs, but with other, more intricate illustrations. This place was becoming more mysterious by the moment, and they were getting it all on video.
"Honey, can you recognize any of these illustrations?" Jocelyn asked as she slowly panned the camera around the chamber.
"That couldv be Aseth on the right," Merrill answered, pointing at the two images, "and I think that's Ousir, the god of the underworld, on the left. This central image looks like some kind of a stylized thunderbolt, but what the heck do these symbols mean?"
Merrill peered closely at another series of images, trying to decipher them. He had never seen some of these characters before. The marks looked almost like Sumerian cuneiform, but they also looked older than that. Much older. It was just too bad that the University's expert on Sumerian and Assyrian-Babylonian civilization had become ill before the expedition started.
"What are these?" Jocelyn inquired as she panned around to get a shot of the odd writings.
"I honestly don't know," he replied, studying the carvings up close. "They don't even look Egyptian to me!!"
"Wait a minute," Carlisle mumbled, staring at the intricate carvings. "You mean to tell me that with all of your degrees and all the fancy-schmancy schools you went to, you two geniuses can't read a bunch of chicken scratches?! Cripes …!"
"No, can you?" Jo asked sarcastically, checking the memory card in the video camera to make sure it still had plenty of space.
"Most of these characters are definitely Egyptian hieroglyphs, but these," Merrill said absently, pointing at another section of the wall in front of them, "aren't. Arrgh ... this is so frustrating! I wish Patterson hadn't come down with that cold! He's the expert on pre-Egyptian civilizations ..."
"Ahhh, you two stop your gassing and find a way through this door!" Carlisle said angrily. "If the rest of this theory of yours pans out, Chotali and his buddies from the Antiquities Bureau will want you to catalog anything you find. Then the government'll grab the choicest pieces for themselves."
"If this find's as major as it looks," Jo chimed in, "I doubt the Egyptians will ever let anything we catalog of their sight, even to loan!"
"Feh, to Hell with this!" Carlisle complained as he began to feel the wall with his hands in front of him. "Out of my way!"
"Wait a minute, Carlisle!" Merrill barked at his assistant, who was about to touch the patterns in front of him. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"You two know-it-alls keep trying to translate this ancient graffiti! Me, I'm gonna feel around and get past this wall without you butting in! It worked once ...!"
"Don't be a fool! You've no idea what might happen if you go blindly groping around in here ...!"
As Carlisle's fingers brushed one of the sets of unknown characters, a jolt of electricity surged through the wall and struck both he and Merrill, hurling them both backward into the opposite wall. Carlisle was knocked out cold, but his hands weren't even singed. Merrill was unharmed, but had the wind knocked out of him. Jocelyn ran to her husband's side as they hit the floor.
"Wow, that was a nice little warn-off," Merrill said dazedly, shaking his head to clear it. "What in the heck happened?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing!" she cried. "Are you all right? How's …?"
"I'm fine, darlin'," he said reassuringly, running his fingers through her dark red curls, "but it looks to me like Carlisle's out for the proverbial count. Do you smell that?"
Jocelyn sniffed the air and replied, "I sure do. Is that ozone?"
"It certainly is. By rights, that bolt of lightning should've barbecued us, but it didn't! It's as if whoever this place belonged to knew how to harness and control electricity! That's not possible... unless ..."
Merrill levered himself off the ground and stood on the spot where Carlisle had been. Facing the wall, he placed his own hands on a different set of cuneiforms with a determined look on his face. If he was right about this, it might be the way into the next chamber. If not, he'd wind up flat on his back on the floor again.
Either way, what did he have to lose besides time?
"Merrill William Batson, have you gone nuts?" Jocelyn exclaimed in the same tone she usually took with their son. "What on Earth do you think you're doing?"
"Honey, we've been reading these "cuneiforms" all wrong. They aren't words themselves; they're letters spelling out one! It's like a password on a computer. They spell … Shazam?"
With a click and a soft whoosh, the passage unlocked. The massive slab inscribed with the thunderbolt slid into a hidden track in the wall while a second bolt of lightning struck directly in front of the intrepid pair, illuminating the corridor in a brilliant, blue-white glare.
"Good heavens!" they exclaimed in unison.
The couple peered in through dust and smoke, and what they saw took their collective breath away. Inside the chamber were many statues of gold and bronze, the most prominent one molded in the form of an articulated scorpion with polished quartz lenses. There was also what looked like a gold altar off to the left, but the centerpiece of the chamber was a large golden chest, its lid covered by the mosaic of a sacred scarab, inlaid with sapphires and rubies.
"Will you wait a minute?" she called out to her husband, then held her hand over her nose and mouth as they entered the chamber. "Ugh! Good grief! What is that smell?!"
"Dust, decay, ozone, and really old, really rotten kyphi," Merrill joked, then paused for a moment. "Something feels odd about this place. It's not really a tomb, but it's not a temple, either. It feels more like we're breaking into someone's home."
"There's a good reason for that, baby; it was someone's home," Jo handed Merrill an object resembling an old, leather-bound scroll. "Look at this. Remind you of anything?"
When Merrill untied the binding, they found it filled with sheets of what looked to be parchment paper, both blank and written on, with the same strange cuneiforms that appeared at the entrance to the chamber. From what the couple could decipher, there were lists of names, times, appointments and even errands listed on some of the sheets.
"You're right, Jo. We've got to get Tal down here to check this out. He'll never believe you just found the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a day planner." Merrill took his walkie-talkie out of its belt holster, turned it on, and began to call Tal Chotali back at the base camp. All he could get, though, was static.
"Party one to base, come in please," he said, then jiggled the radio as if doing so would make it work better. "Shoot, we must be out of range. I'll head back for the entrance and try again in a few minutes. Meanwhile, hon, why don't you shoot some video of the chest. Wow, look at it ... its absolutely gorgeous. Now let's get a look at what's inside … huh, will you look at this? It's almost like one of those Russian nesting boxes!"
Indeed, inside the first chest was another, smaller one, surrounded by gold ingots and unset jewels. And another. And another, and each was as ornate as the first one. Finally, they got to the last one, which fit neatly in the palm of Merrill's hand.
"It's almost as if whoever left these were packing to move," Merrill continued jokingly, "only instead of using shredded newspaper or Styrofoam peanuts, they used jewelry."
Jocelyn pointed to a cartouche on the final box out to her husband and said, "Merrill, I think this says "Let not those of evil intent touch ... no, not touch, contaminate... the Eye of Horus, for to do so will free Seth-Kerakh from the Realm of the Dead and release Khem-Adim from his banishment to the farthest star." Wonder what the heck that means ...?"
"You're right on that count, honey, and I've no idea what it could mean. What's really weird about all of this is that, while I've heard of Shazam before, these "Seth-Kerakh" and "Khem-Adim" characters have never appeared in any of the texts I've researched, not even as a footnote. You know what this means ...?"
"It means that these chambers belonged to Shazam and are at least five thousand years old, maybe even dating back before the First Dynasty!" Jocelyn cried as she hugged her husband tightly, caught up in Merrill's enthusiasm at their discovery.
"Right!" he exclaimed, returning the embrace. "This chamber might not lead us to Djer's tomb, but it could wind up being more historically important than that! I can't wait 'til we can get back to base camp and upload the video to the folks back at the Foundation! Malcolm will go absolutely nuts over it!!"
"Yaaay! Honey, we did it!!"
Meanwhile, Carlisle woke up in the corridor, holding the back of his head like it hurt. He knew that if it hadn't been for the hard hats they were all wearing, his brains could have been splattered all over the floor. He couldn't remember just what happened, and he didn't care, either. Something seemed to be trying to possess him; an all-consuming greed bordering on madness.
Se … Seth-Kerakh? Wh … where have I heard that name before...? Carlisle thought as he slid in the chamber behind the couple. Seeing the couple cataloging the treasures they'd found was agitating him to an unbelievable degree. Something was goading him to stop them ... at any cost ... from doing their jobs.
"Thieves!" Carlisle shouted, pushing the couple aside as he began removing the items from the chest. "These "ornaments" belong to me! I will not allow you to steal them as that old wretch Shazam did!"
"Merrill!" Jocelyn cried, getting her husband's attention. "We have to stop him! He's gone mad!"
"Put those down now, Carlisle!" Batson exclaimed. "They belong to the Egyptian government …!"
"They are mine, you fool! Away from me, both of you!" he yelled, grinning ferally as he grabbed at the treasures the couple held.
"We won't let you get away with …!"
Jocelyn grabbed both the chest and the statue in an attempt to wrestle them out of Carlisle's grasp. When he pushed her away, the lens in the tail of the Scorpion freed itself and dropped into her hand, unnoticed by her assailant. She fell, dropping the gold box on the stones. It popped open and a fiery blue diamond nearly the size of her husband's fist rolled across the floor.
"You will pay for …!" Carlisle screamed, pushing her back. "The Eye of Horus ... give it to me now, wench!!"
"Forget it, creep!" Jocelyn exclaimed, diving after the jewel. She managed to reach the glittering orb before Carlisle did, snatched it up and returned it to its box. Merrill charged Carlisle and pulled him away from her, grabbing the arm that reached for his wife. He shoved Carlisle away from her and sent him sprawling over the largest treasure chest in a heap. The seemingly possessed Carlisle dropped the scorpion statue as he fell over.
"Jo! Take the jewel and the scorpion statue and get out of here! NOW!!" he shouted to his wife. His fist struck Carlisle on the jaw, staggering him, but not knocking him out.
Merrill turned to see if she was leaving when, with a savage leap, Carlisle jumped onto his unguarded back and began beating him brutally. A well-placed blow to the back of his skull sent Merrill to the ground and, as he fell, he struck his temple on the corner of the middle-sized chest with a crack, and blood began to pool under his head where he landed.
"MERRILL!!" she shrieked as she saw her husband fall to the ground. T - That crack..., she thought as panic began to rise within her. N - No ... no, h-he can't be...!
Fighting off the shock that threatened to overwhelm her, Jocelyn clutched the treasures tightly in her nerveless arms. Suddenly, she heard her husband groan softly. Merrill wasn't dead; badly hurt, yes, but not dead. Silently thanking Heaven, Jocelyn began looking for something she could use as a weapon to defend the both of them with. She found an old dagger within easy reach, so she set the box down and grabbed it.
"You should have ran as your man told you to do, wench! Nothing will keep me from retrieving what is rightfully mine ... not Djer, not that doddering old goatherd who calls himself a wizard, and not you two ... dead... fools!! Now give me those Set-damned gems!!"
With his eyes glowing an unearthly red, Carlisle stalked Jocelyn menacingly, grabbed the statue she held and ripped it out of her grasp. Jocelyn fought back, kicking, punching and even slashed the palm of his hand with the dagger, but the possessed Carlisle shoved the woman's head into the wall behind her, knocking her as unconscious as her husband was. A moment later, Carlisle came back to himself, having seemingly shaken off whatever was possessing him.
"What ... happened? Holy ...!" he exclaimed, then looked around and saw the unconscious forms of the Batsons lying prone on the ground. He knew that if they recovered, they'd set the law on him, and he couldn't let himself go back to jail.
What am I gonna do now?? Carlisle thought frantically. When they wake up, they'll report what happened to the local cops and I'll get busted for attempted murder! I can't let that happen ... C'mon, Jimmy-boy, think ... Ah, got it!
Rummaging through his backpack, Carlisle pulled out a block of C4, blasting caps, two lengths of wire, cutters and a digital egg timer. After a few minutes, he'd fashioned the materials into a crude time bomb, then stuck the device near the entrance of the chamber, set the timer and started it.
"Now to get out of here before the whole place blows up, but I'll collect these beauties first. Old Man Batson will have my hide if I leave them behind!"
Collecting the dagger, the chest and the Scorpion statue, Carlisle ran as fast as he could for the exit, but he miscalculated the length of time and the amount of explosives he'd used. Before he got halfway to the ramps, the C4 exploded with a massive blast and chunks of debris started falling all around him. Everything going on around him seemed to be happening in slow motion, but the thug escaped before he could be buried along with the bodies of Merrill and Jocelyn Batson.
Back at the main dig site, Tal Chotali thought he heard a muffled explosion off in the distance, then turned to see huge clouds of dust and smoke billow out of the tunnel the Batsons and their "assistant" went to explore a few hours earlier. The tall Egyptian, who was Dr. Malcolm's assistant and the expedition's liaison with the Antiquities Bureau, had just gotten off of a video conference with Malcolm back in Manhattan when he heard the blast. The conference had been about Chotali's recommendation that the dig be shut down until the latest series of "accidents" could be investigated.
A few moments later, Carlisle emerged out of the smoke, covered in dust and chips of sandstone, smelling strongly of sulfur and cordite, and was still trying to fight the force that had possessed him inside the chamber. Suspecting a problem, Chotali drew his Beretta in response to Carlisle's dirty, disheveled appearance.
"Tal Chotali," Carlisle said as he stalked out of the temple, his voice sounded strange. "Figures you'd come a-running at the first hint of trouble."
"What happened down there?" Chotali demanded. "Where are Doctor and Professor Batson?"
"By now, Anpu has taken their shades to the Underworld for Ma'at's judgment!"
"What's wrong with you?!?"
"Nothing that cannot be remedied … like this!"
The possessed Carlisle struck again, this time burying the blade of the ancient dagger found by Jocelyn into Chotali's shoulder and leaving it there. A minute later, he ran towards the area where the party kept their transportation, and left the Egyptian to die. Hotwiring the Jimmy, Carlisle gunned the motor, then drove off in the general direction of Cairo at a high rate of speed.
As he watched Carlisle drive off, Tal Chotali hit the "panic button," sounding the alarm which signaled that yet another accident had just occurred. It was too late to catch Carlisle, but the authorities needed to be notified and Batsons' bodies needed to be located and recovered. Before he passed out from blood loss, Chotali's last thought of was the couple's young son Billy, who was now an orphan.