TFOS: Freddy On The Loose, Story 24
The Tomb of Khum-Waht-Meh!
Note: This story uses background and concepts from the Teenagers From Outer Space role-playing game, Copyright and Trademarked 2001 R. Talsorian Games, Inc. The characters and story are Copyright 2015 Rodford Edmiston Smith.
The Big G and the Observer sat at a giant table on giant chairs in the giant room, playing a giant game which was related to chess in approximately the same way that Tic-Tac-Toe has nothing to do with brane theory.
"It begins," said the Big G, ponderously, as he contemplated the playing field.
"It has always begun," said the Observer, ominously. "It always will begin. It has always been beginning."
"Okay," said Yehudi, rolling his eyes at the pretension which filled the giant room. He pulled out the remote and pushed a button; the exhaust fans whirred quietly. "Enoughwiththeverbaltenseforms."
Having little interest in hyperspatial logic games he was playing Pong on his home entertainment center. Against himself. He was already irritated, because he kept losing and was a smug winner.
"Yehudi has a part to play, though he knows it not yet," said the Big G.
"Eh?" said Yehudi, startled.
Yehudi took advantage of his distraction and scored the winning goal, then jumped up and did the Snoopy dance.
The two visitors nodded in unison, as if half of Mount Rushmore had reached a dread consensus.
"He has yet to fully embrace his role in the Omniverse," said the Big G.
"Until he does he remains little more than a nuisance to those of us who have."
"Once he does, he will be far less annoying and far more useful," said the Observer.
"Perhaps this current crisis will bring about his fulfillment," said the Big G.
"Eh?" said Yehudi, monosyllabically in stereo.
"Yes. With those young high school friends of his being endangered he may finally have sufficient motivation."
"The intergalactic plot they have been victims of is about to reach fruition," said the Big G, careful to look only at the other giant.
Yehudi, unanimous on this, vanished. Twice.
"I thought he'd never leave," said the Observer. "Did you bring it?"
The Big G reached under the table and pulled out a twelve-pack which would have swamped a small oil tanker.
"Fantastic! The big game starts in less than twenty minutes and his entertainment center has one of the largest screens and best surround-sound systems in the omniverse!"
* * *
Once again, the school paper's student staff was having a pool party at Hub's home, the huge alien teen glad to play host. Once again, one particular member was objecting to both the garment she had to wear and the fact that she was currently a she.
"Why do I have to be a girl?!" Freddy demanded, sourly, as she exited the changing booth.
"Because changing into a guy accidentally when you're in a girl's suit isn't nearly as bad as you changing into a girl in a guy's suit," was Karen's practical answer.
"I tell ya', I got it licked! I don't change unless I want to no more!"
"Unless you get sniped," said Karen, ticking things off on her fingers, "or too aroused, or..."
"Besides," said Jim, "there aren't enough girls on the staff now to meet the regulations. With you female while working on the paper, we can fudge things."
Freddy fussed, tugging at the comparatively modest two-piece swimsuit she wore. Well, modest compared to the tanning suit of Karen's she'd worn at their last pool party. Her actions were still threatening to cause nosebleeds for the males present.
"If you're that worried, why not wear a suit like mine?" queried Ramet.
He had on the same bizarrely colored suit he'd worn their first time at Hub's place. It covered his whole torso and parts of his arms and legs, and was stretchy enough to change with his shapeshifting, if he didn't go too far. To demonstrate, he changed briefly into f-Freddy, then enlarged the breasts to cartoonish proportions before shifting back, smirking.
"Couldn't find one that fit," Freddy muttered, ignoring Ramet's slanderous caricature. She continued silently, Not to mention one in an acceptable color. Eeewww...
"Yeah," sighed Karen, tired just remembering that debacle. "We tried over a dozen different suits in three stores. If they fit her torso, they were too small around the chest, and vice-versa. Which is weird; you'd think a garment designed for shapeshifters..."
"Hubba-hubba!" cried Bl'fff.
They assumed the spidery was leering at Freddy, though with his face you couldn't really tell. Not only whether he was leering, but who he was looking at while doing it. Or not doing it.
"Listen, spider-boy, I'm getting really tired of your stupid jokes," snapped Freddy.
"Who's joking?" asked the arachnoid, baffled. He was suddenly sympathetic. "Oh; is it that time of the month?"
It took four of them to hold Freddy back. Her mood was not helped by the fact that at least two of them seemed to deliberately put their hands in places they shouldn't have been. One of the two being her girlfriend.
"Anyway," panted Karen, once they had Freddy subdued, as she resumed checking her notes, "we have some news for our paper. We've got a new student starting, an Earth girl named Brenda, uhhhhh... Kuggle... Koogler..."
"Brenda Kuglewicze," muttered Freddy in a surly tone, from where she was tied to a lounge with towels.
"What Freddy said," Karen continued. "She's gonna be in Freddy's home room, so I want you to be sure she has a warm welcome."
Freddy muttered something unintelligible but most likely profane. Something about plenty of warmth for all of them.
"Good. Next, we're having a field trip later this week. To Egypt."
"Oh, goody," said Freddy. "'Bloody, sandy, hot Egypt,' as my Uncle Leonard calls it."
"I want all of us on the paper's staff to be sure to remember to check out a press recorder, and each of us to write a short article on the trip," said Karen. "Besides documenting the field trip I want everyone to note any damage which might have been caused by the meteorite impacts."
"Some protectors of humanity your guys are," said Talli, with a laugh. She smiled proudly. "Team Alien did far better in that shower than Team Monster did!"
"Go Team Alien!" shouted Bl'fff, Ramet and Hub, in unison.
"Yeah, yeah..." said Karen. "Okay, that's business taken care of. Time to party!"
* * *
"This is *Hic!* embarrassing," said Freddy, flipping gender yet again. "Not to mention *Hic!* exhausting."
Once again male, Freddy sighed as he sat on the exam table.
"Lie flat, please," said Nurse, absently, as she watched the display.
Freddy sighed again and obeyed. S/he lay there for several minutes, flipping gender with each hiccup, while Nurse viewed the medical scan.
"All right," she said, finally. "You can stop, now."
"I wish I *Hic!* could," said f-Freddy, tiredly. "This is really wearing me out. Normally I can only change a few times a day. Howcum this just keeps *Hic!* happening? And howcum nothing I try works to stop these *Hic!* hiccups?!"
Nurse - humming absently to herself, head feathers whipping as she moved briskly around her little domain - assembled a rather bizarre appearing device of semi-threatening appearance. The core of it resembled a blocky submachinegun, only it had broadly curved wires and small-diameter tubes sprouting from various places and connecting back to it at others. There was also an eerie glow from its innards, and as she approached the student Freddy could hear an Ommmmminous Hummmmm...
"Here we go," she said, all too cheerfully. "Hold still. You may experience a slight stinging sensation."
"KREEEEEGAAAAAAHHH!" said Freddy, screaming like the girl she currently was.
"Excellent. That should take care of the little buggies."
"Wh... whu... what?"
"You probably caught this at that pool party you mentioned attending a few days ago. Hub's species are a known carrier."
"Wait... Hiccups are contagious?!"
"I'm astounded that Earth science still doesn't know what causes hiccups. Or that you haven't covered this in health class. Anyway, you're cured, now, but don't change back until this time tomorrow at the earliest. Not even with a Boy/Girl Gun."
"Again," said Freddy, with a sigh, pushing her long, full, blond hair away from her lovely, heart-shaped face. "Argh. It's a conspiracy, I tell ya'!"
"I beg your pardon?" said Nurse, obviously startled.
"I was joking," said Freddy, puzzled at her reaction. "I know it's just a combination of people pulling pranks and preposterous probability."
She felt rather proud of that promiscuous alliteration.
"Well, I'll write a note for you, excusing you for being the wrong gender."
"Thanks. They're getting picky about that for some reason."
She heaved a great, much put-upon sigh.
"Now I have to get my emergency girl clothes and change."
* * *
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, but some folks were far from appreciative. After homeroom a large assembly of the students filed outside to wait for their transportation to arrive. The teachers chaperoning the trip were all huddled in the small smoking area, getting one last, desperate hit before the trip. Fortunately, they were down wind.
"Of all the days to be stuck as a girl..." muttered Freddy, as she and Karen stood in line outside. She gave vent to a heartfelt sigh, making her bosom heave and attracting unwanted attention. Which Freddy - still largely a novice at being a busty female - was oblivious to.
She was wearing an attractive and comfortable unisex outfit Karen had helped her pick out a few weeks previously, for just such situations. Fortunately it was meant for hot weather.
"At least you usually have a choice," Karen wryly pointed out.
"Oh, uh, I mean, at least you know how to deal with this sort of thing."
"Putting up with a male-dominated society? Yeah, that's pretty much my whole life."
"Huh?" said Freddy, not getting it. "I thought you'd lived in the US your whole life."
"Yes, dear," said Karen, rolling her eyes and leaving Freddy confused. "Okay, lets try this. You're going to be in a small group, all of whom know you're normally male, rather than having to mingle with the general student population all day, many of whom don't know that or don't care."
"Some of these guys don't care," said Freddy, scowling, as she looked around. "You're right, though. Just hope I remember to use the right restrooms, with all the distractions."
"I'll be with you the whole time," said Karen, with mock reassurance. "Let's see, what else do we need to be concerned about? You should be a week after your period, so that won't be a concern. You can eat anything whether you're male or female. You can still physically rebuff the people you don't have the feminine social skills to rebuff that way or the awareness to avoid..."
There was a rising whine and they saw a bus pull out of the garage. The shape was close to that of terrestrial school busses in general, though there were obvious differences. It was the right color - yellow with black trim - though from the poor paint job it appeared to have been hastily repurposed from a previous purpose. The craft rolled casually to a stop in front of the assembled students and teachers and the door opened.
"Welcome, one and all!" shouted the guest guide, from where he stood at the entrance to the school bus. "I'm adventuring archeologist Kentucky Smith!"
Yeah, real original, thought Freddy, scowling again.
"Today we have a special treat for you! Through a one-time-only arrangement we have permission to show your special group the recently discovered tomb of the long-lost Pharaoh Khum-Waht-Meh!"
"For this we're missing Bikini Calculus?!" said Ramet, under his breath, as "Smith" continued.
"As well as Pet Bonsai," said someone in the back of the group.
"I love field trips," sighed Karen. "Especially to romantic, historic places like Egypt."
"It's nothing special," said Freddy, shrugging, as "Smith" continued his spiel like a carnival barker. Or a car salesman in a commercial. "It's a lot cleaner than it used to be and there aren't as many peddlers and beggars, but..."
"You've been there?" demanded Karen.
"Well, yeah. You know my dad's business involves antiques, right? He and his agents travel all over the world. He's taken us to Cairo and some of the other big Near Eastern and Middle Eastern cities several times, and even to China."
"I did not know that," said Karen. "Wow..."
"Why can't we just look it up online," said Brenda Kuglewicze in her incredibly annoying, incredibly nasal whine, somehow managing to make the lenses of her huge glasses reflect sunlight into the eyes of those around her even though she wasn't actually speaking to anyone in particular.
Less than three days at the school and she had pretty much already alienated everyone, including the teachers. Her perpetual whine and sour expression were bad enough, but her attitude made those seem like positive characteristics.
"She's like the mutant love child of Ben Stein and Edna Mode," muttered Freddy.
"That's very... unkind," said Karen, unable to bring herself to mount a stronger defense on the irritating girl's behalf.
Freddy had tried to make her part of the school's social scene, s/he really had. So had others. Brenda wasn't just not interested, she didn't seem to even notice the attempts.
"All right!" their guide said. "Everybody on the bus!"
"Does he ever use any punctuation besides exclamation points?" said Talli. She frowned. "There's something familiar about him."
At least this was an alien built school bus, rather than some dilapidated, old human bus. (Of course, one of those couldn't have made this trip.) The air inside was cool and pleasantly scented, the lighting even and subdued, the view out the windows...
"Uh, that's not..." said Freddy.
"They're displays, not windows," said Ramet, smugly. "Though you'd think they'd be showing what's outside right now, rather than the default setting."
The view in all the "windows" was of a totally alien landscape, with molten skies and cloud-filled seas.
"I think I'm getting nauseous," said Bl'fff, bobbing his head as he watched the beach roll gently onto the sea and roll gently back.
"Change the image!" several people shouted at once.
The bus driver - a not very near human with faceted eyes and string-like hair - started, and began frantically pounding the control panel. The alien landscape/seascape flickered and changed to a commercial for an alien herm hygiene product.
"That's worse!" everyone chorused.
More pounding. The displays went blank.
"Thank you!" came the chorus from the students.
"Let's get under way," said "Smith."
"We can't see out!" someone near the back yelled.
There followed several minutes of combined fiddling by "Smith" and the driver, accompanied by occasional flickers from the displays. Finally, they called up the images from the external sensors. Only the displays were each showing the same scene - a view of the school grounds from the nearby highway - upside down and backwards. There was muffled G-Rated cursing from the two and several more flickers. Finally! The displays acted as windows, each showing the view appropriate to its position in the bus.
"Now can we go?" asked "Smith" in a petulant tone.
"Yes!" the students chorused.
"I'm hungry," said Brenda. "When do we eat?"
"There will be snacks provided at the site," said one of the teachers.
"There will?" said "Smith."
"I have a bad feeling about this," said Freddy, in a low voice. "Did you bring any snacks?"
"No, sorry," said Karen, absently.
There was a singing sound, and multiple muffled thumps and bumps, as giant wings unfolded from the top of the bus, and a pair of huge engines unfolded from those. The driver gave a countdown and the rockets ignited, turning the pavement behind the bus to flaming asphalt lava. The vehicle rolled forward, picking up speed rapidly. Just before the curb the nose lifted and they soared into the air.
"You'd think they could at least arrange for a modern, inertialess drive vehicle," muttered Hub, who had an entire three-person bench seat to himself, behind Freddy, Karen and Talli. "I'm assuming the school can only afford refurbished old tech."
"Are you kidding?" said Freddy. "This is so cool!"
"Boys," said Karen, rolling her eyes.
The still female Freddy stuck out her tongue at her.
* * *
In a surprisingly short time they were dropping back into the atmosphere, engines on idle, nose high and wings glowing orange to scrub off speed.
"There's the Nile!" said Freddy, excitedly, as the plasma faded.
"I thought you were the one who thought Egypt was ho-hum," said Talli, with a smirk.
"I've never seen it from space before. Wow..."
"Are we supposed to be going this fast?" said Karen, a bit worried.
"You want to get there before lunch, don't you?" said Hub.
"Why do you keep checking your watch?" said Talli.
"Counting down the minutes until I can change back." She sighed. "There's still a lot of 'em to go."
"That's why you wore unisex clothing and skipped the bra," said Karen, nodding. She giggled. "Which is also why you're bouncing so much inside that snug top."
"Don't remind me," muttered Freddy.
"Oooh, remind me!" said Bl'fff, from six seats away. Where he also had a three-person bench seat to himself, and only partly due to his size.
"We'll be landing soon, at the foot of the recently discovered Third Valley," said "Smith." "We've long known that there were two neighboring valleys used to bury important people who were supposed to be venerated after death. Offerings were made there for thousands of years and even in ancient times tourists came to visit. There were permanent staffs who maintained the dikes and channels which managed the floods caused by the rare desert rains - and they also kept tomb robbers out - until well after the conquest by the Romans. However, this third valley seemed to be intended for those who had to be buried in a respectful manner but whom they didn't want anyone to remember. The Egyptologists are still trying to figure that one out. It was never mentioned directly in any records and only indirectly in a few. For decades folks thought it was a myth. Yet there it is! A team found ruins here a year and a half ago and got permission for a more thorough search. They found funerary temples, workers' huts and so forth at the beginning of the current dig season. Just a couple of weeks ago they finally located an actual tomb entrance and have been excavating that ever since. So far, they've only found one formal name in any of the records they uncovered here: The Lost Pharaoh Khum-Waht-Meh. Mention of whom is only known from three other documents, all of them papyri documenting his unpaid bills."
"So, like most politicians, he ran up debts during his term in office and left the cleanup to his successors," said Talli, smirking.
"Politics is eternal," said "Smith." He frowned. "Are eternal?"
The bus circled their destination once as it descended, then stuck the landing, dropping almost vertically and stopping with a jolt as its tires hit the soft sand.
"Everybody out!" shouted the driver, opening the door.
* * *
"I have to admit," said Freddy, "this is interesting."
The students and teachers were guided first through the work area, where dirt and sand were sifted and objects large and small examined, photographed and cataloged.
"They haven't found any mummies, yet," said "Smith." "Not even a sarcophagus. There was so much debris in the entry corridor that just clearing it has taken most of the time and effort. Mostly due to having to sift all that for artifacts. However, early yesterday they broke through into large chamber, almost free of debris. Dr. Quirk - cultural archeologist for the dig - has generously offered to show us this area. There's no-one working in there today due to a combination of factors. Nothing has been removed but the room has been photographed and laser scanned. Just remember that none of us are allowed to touch anything."
Dr. Quirk was a small, mousey man of late middle age and quiet manner. However, as he spoke during the walk up the steep, dusty slope to the tomb entrance he became more animated and enthusiastic. By the time they entered the large chamber he was able to present it as the grand discovery it was.
The newcomers to this scene stood and stared, craning their necks, shining the lights they had been handed around the chamber. The floor was dusty and there was a scattering of debris, but for the most part was clear of objects. A section from the entrance to the center of the room had been cleared, leaving an area large enough for the entire group. There was a sealed doorway across from the entrance. However, what grabbed their attention was the murals on the walls and ceiling.
Slowly, they shuffled into the center of the room to have a good look all around.
"Wow," said Karen, joining several others to stare at one of the images. "That looks just like Brenda. Well, her in ancient Egyptian garb."
"I didn't know they even had glasses in ancient Egypt," said Freddy, stunned.
"Could be time travel," said Ramet, in a musing tone, rubbing his chin.
"That doesn't look a thing like me," said Brenda.
"Just a coincidence," said Dr. Quirk, confidently. "What look like glasses is actually a type of ceremonial makeup."
Suddenly there was an ominous creak.
"I hope I'm not too heavy for this floor," said Hub, uneasily.
"Don't worry," said Dr. Quirk, stamping his foot. "This is plain, solid rock. A herd of elephants couldn't damage this! Go ahead! Try it!"
"Is he related to 'Smith'?" said Freddy, as a grinning Karen, Talli and Ramet joined the others in stamping their feet.
Freddy, also grinning, joined in. All four impulsively hopped up and came down together. There was a loud Crack!
"What was that?" said Brenda, in the stillness afterwards.
"That sounded like it was right under our feet," said Karen, in a quiet, squeaky voice.
The pavement under the five students split down the middle and hinged open, dropping the teens screaming into darkness.
* * *
Their screams cut off abruptly as they crashed into a huge pile of something soft but very dusty. Sneezing and coughing, the five crawled out of the pile. After several stunned moments, the students stirred and gathered their lights.
"Eeewww!!!" said Karen, as she turned her beam towards where they had landed. "Are those mummy wrappings?!"
"Looks like," said Freddy. She turned her light upwards. "I can't see where we fell from. It's a blank ceiling."
"I got a glimpse of something closing behind us as we fell," said Talli, with a sigh.
"Owwwwwww..." said Brenda.
"You can teleport," said Karen, to Ramet. "Go up and tell them where we are!"
Ramet nodded, and concentrated for a moment. Then frowned, and concentrated harder. Then scowled and concentrated _really_ hard. Freddy thought about making a joke that he looked constipated, then decided the situation was too dusty and dark for humor.
"Uh, I can't," Ramet said, finally. "There's something blocking me. Feels like mundanium, which blocks all powers."
"That's some pretty sophisticated materials tech for an ancient Egyptian tomb," said Talli, doubtfully. "Well, even if that actually is the cause of the problem, it only blocks powers. It won't stop them from working in here; only working through the walls."
Karen pulled out her phone and tried it.
"No signal. Figures."
"None of us can fly," said Freddy, frowning as she thought things through. "Talli has super strength, so she could force doors if we need to."
"I only see one way out," said Karen, shining her light around. She pointed. "Open doorway over there."
Carefully - even timidly - they crept to the opening and shone their lights through. A corridor led into darkness.
Perhaps because she was reluctant to leave the relative safety of the known if repulsive room where they had landed, Freddy turned around and used her light to get a good look at it.
"If I didn't know better," she said, frowning, "I'd say this was the bottom of a laundry chute. One serving multiple chutes, actually."
"What we fell through has all the hallmarks of a trap for tomb robbers," said Talli, firmly.
"So maybe they double-purposed the room," said Karen, with a shrug. "Anyway, I don't see any way out except for those chutes and we can't reach them. So, it's wait here for them to break through from above, or find our own way out."
The sensible, adult thing would have been to wait. So, naturally, the five teenagers chose the hallway.
"Why did they let children into a place so dangerous?" said Brenda, even more sourly than usual.
The others ignored her and continued to creep forward. Oddly, the floor was swept clear down the middle. The floor was also oddly swept clear down the middle. It was even swept oddly clear down the middle. It was clearly an odd situation. It was even an oddly... Okay, okay, I'll quit.
"D'you think there's someone in here?" said Freddy, in a whisper.
"Who'd want to live here?" said Brenda, at normal volume and nasalness.
"Maybe they don't want to," said Ramet, a bit tentatively. "Or maybe they don't actually live here... 'cause they aren't actually alive."
"Oh, c'mon," said Karen, angrily. "You don't actually believe there's anything supernatural going on here, do you?"
"Yeah," said Talli, though she didn't sound as certain as she wanted. "It's just old counterbalanced stones and... Air currents?"
They all froze as one as they heard movement ahead. A tiny figure came hurrying down the corridor. It looked like a human, an ancient Egyptian worker, only it was barely a sixth the height of one. It suddenly froze as well. Then edged forward, the expression on its mysteriously mobile carved stone face showing wonder.
"Your Highness? Is that you?"
"Huh?!" said the five teens.
The others turned as one to stare at a baffled Brenda.
"Uhhhh..." she said, in her distinctive, whiney voice.
"It is you! Why didn't you let me know you were coming? Please,
you and your friends follow me. There are refreshments and seats in the den."
"I think that's some sort of ushabti," said Karen, quietly, as they followed the chattering figure.
"Uhhhh..." said Brenda. "Am I supposed to be some sort of princess? I don't know how to be a princess."
"Sssuuurrreee you don't..." muttered Talli.
"Hey," said Freddy, smugly, "don't worry, I know how to act like a princess! I can give you pointers."
"Oh, right," said Karen, nodding. "That simulation."
"Uhhhhh..." said Brenda, uncertainly.
The small creature led them into a medium-sized chamber. Like the hallway it had pathways swept through the dust, dirt and debris on the floor.
"What is it you do here?" said Ramet, the epitome of calm, cool and in control.
"Day after day, it's the same old thing, over and over," moaned the little figure. "Feed the cobras, chink the walls, check the mummy for fungus. He was a Pharaoh! You'd think he could've afforded some athlete's foot medication while he was alive!"
"Well, with all those unpaid bills we know he was spending money on something," said Karen.
"Oh! Where are my manners? Would you youngsters like some refreshments?
"We're fine, thanks," said Karen, quickly. "They gave us lunch before we entered the, uh, here."
"No, they didn't," said Freddy, confused. "We were supposed to get a snack after visiting the tomb, remember?"
Karen and Talli glared at her.
"You and your appetite," muttered Karen.
"Hey, I'm hungry, too," said Ramet, wondering why the girls were being so hard on Freddy.
"I've been hungry since before we left the school," said Brenda.
"No trouble at all," said the ushabti.
The odd little creature dove into a pile of apparently miscellaneous debris and began rapidly digging, hurling bandage fragments, bits of broken pottery and things less identifiable behind it, while stirring up a huge cloud of dust. The teens recoiled.
"Here we go," it said, finally, dragging out a large, sealed pot. It heaved a bit, and with an odd pop the top came off. "Drink up!"
"It smells like soda," said Freddy, frowning as she sniffed the contents. "Even has some fizz."
She dipped a finger into the brew.
"Freddy!" said Karen, outraged. "Don't you dare taste that!"
"Bleah," said Freddy. "That tastes like Tsoob!"
"Uh, oh," said Ramet, backing into a corner.
Freddy hiccoughed... and suddenly there were a lot of Freddys. Not nearly as many as that time with the Big G and the Silver Scorcher, but well over a dozen.
"Awww, nooooo..." groaned the multiple Freddys.
"Haven't seen that before," said the ushabti, not appearing the least bit surprised.
"Getting crowded in here," said Talli, dryly.
"It's not my fault!" the Freddys chorused. She sighed, the multiple gusts of breath stirring the dust which had just begun to settle. "Ack! Gonna sneeze!"
"DON'T YOU DARE!" the others yelled. Too late.
Fortunately, the old tomb was built very sturdy. Mainly because it was dug into good quality rock. Ears popped and eyes watered as the sneeze stirred even more dust. The Freddys sneezed again... and this time something gave.
* * *
Once the tumult finally ceased - mainly because everything which could shed dust had, and the dust been blown away - the survivors groggily rose and took stock.
"Freddy..." said Karen, wearily.
"Not my fault," said the multitude. "Oog, I don't feel so good..."
"Why don't you try that technique Nurse told you about?" said Ramet.
"Oh, yeah! Good idea. Clear me some space, folks; I need to get all of me together in one place for a group hug."
Some shifting in the debris-strewn room was required, the ushabti helping where it could. Finally, all the Freddys were pressing together tightly. She concentrated, and slowly began to merge back into one body. Only something didn't quite go as planned.
"Whoah!" said Karen, looking up, wide-eyed. "It's the attack of the amazing colossal fifty-foot Freddy!"
"Ow," said Freddy, in a deeply-deep voice, rubbing her head. "I feel really strange."
"I'm not surprised," snickered Ramet, trying unsuccessfully to peer up Freddy's shorts.
"No, not just that I'm so big. Really weird. Like... I'm forgetting something."
"*AHEM!*" said Ramet. "Think small?"
There was an odd sound, like air squeaking out of a balloon, over the next couple of minutes as Freddy shrank back to normal size. The others gritted their teeth and covered their ears. Except for Brenda and their host, neither of whom seemed to notice the shrill noise.
"Whew!" said Freddy, finally. "Though I still feel odd..."
"Hey, I don't remember that doorway!" said the ushabti.
Sure enough, what had given way was a wall panel, beyond which was another corridor.
The small group cautiously moved down the dusty hall - this one without a center path cleared by millennia of use by an ushabti on trash detail - into another large room. This one was obviously more ceremonial than functional, and the walls were covered with painted bas-relief carvings similar to those in the big entrance chamber upstairs. There was also something else, something of more than esthetic and historic interest.
"Guys, look," said Talli, in a tone of relief. "Stairs. Up stairs."
"Huh," said the ushabti. "So that's where they hid the exit. After all these years I can finally take a vacation!"
The stairs were literally carved into the stone wall. There was no bannister, so all six figures crowded against the wall as they proceeded single-file upwards. They soon passed through the ceiling of the chamber and were in a rather confined space with only the steps, vanishing into the darkness overhead.
The stairs topped out at a small landing with a counterweighted door on the far side. It was jammed from millennia of disuse but Talli forced it open - carefully - with some effort. The teens and ushabti found themselves on the hill above and to one side of the tomb entrance, blinking at the early afternoon Egyptian Sun. Once their eyes adjusted to the brightness they saw Dr. Quirk below, organizing a rescue team of workers.
"There they are!" shouted Hub, pointing.
The students, teachers, Dr. Quirk and several workers hurried up the slope, meeting the returning teens part way.
"Are you all right?" said Dr. Quirk, excitedly.
"Mostly," said Talli.
"Speak for yourself," said Freddy, who was still not feeling well.
"I'm hungry, I'm dirty, I'm scared, I'm..." said Brenda.
The five were escorted to the first aid tent and given a quick check.
"Well, they're dirty, dehydrated and obviously stressed," said one of the US members of the dig, who was a paramedic in his regular job. "They should be checked more thoroughly by a real doctor but I don't see anything of immediate concern."
Meanwhile, Hub was running a portable scanner over the ushabti.
"It's some sort of construct," said the large inventor, looking back and forth between the ushabti and his readings.
"Utilimat Mark MMMMCMXCIX Subseries 128!" it said, proudly.
"Wow. You're thousands of years old!"
"Hey, my model was made to last!"
"Now," said "Kentucky Smith," "what happened?"
"Well, there was..." began Ramet.
Unfortunately, the other four were also talking at the same time. Dr. Quirk called for silence, got it, then turned to the prodigals.
"What happened to you kids?"
"Here, I recorded everything for the school paper!" said Karen.
She rewound to just before the floor collapse and hit Play. A holographic video with quadrophonic sound began playing. After it was all over everyone was quietly contemplative for a moment. Well, almost everyone.
"What was that horrible noise in that recording, just before the accident?" said Brenda, making a face. "It almost sounded like some real weirdie trying to talk."
"Brenda..." said Freddy, "that was you."
"No, it wasn't!" she snapped. "That didn't sound anything like me!"
"Would you please stop doing that?!" said Freddy.
"Using your glasses to reflect the Sun into my eyes! How are you even doing that inside a tent?!"
"Huh?" said Brenda, startled. She turned towards her, causing the Sun to reflect into Freddy's eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"You don't realize you do that?" said Talli.
Angrily, Brenda whipped her glasses off. Her hair fell free, and turned out to be much longer and fuller than they expected. The muscles of her face relaxed, and her physiognomy went from scrunched up and bitter to round and smooth and a bit pouty.
"It that better?!" she snapped, in a throaty, sonorous voice.
"It's the glasses!" said Karen, in sudden revelation. "It's been the glasses, all along, pinching her nose! Holding her hair in and squeezing her face!"
"What are you talking about?!"
They continued arguing as Dr. Quirk escorted them out of the first aid tent and towards the kitchen tent. "Kentucky Smith," the bus driver and the teachers trailed along.
"Now, what is alien technology doing in an ancient Egyptian tomb?" said Dr. Quirk, fretting. He peered at the ushabti. "Where did you come from?"
"The factory," it replied, proudly.
"No, I mean... Why were you tending a pharaoh?"
"Somebody has to! The schmuck can't take care of himself! Not even when he was alive! Inbreeding, if you ask me."
While Dr. Quirk grew increasingly frustrated and agitated trying to get useful information out of the small figure, Miss Furrpect spoke quietly to Talli and Ramet. Even after they were all seated at tables in the tent for a meal those three huddled together.
The meal was quick and actually more of a snack. However, it was enough to satisfy for the moment. Afterwards people began wandering outside. Still the trio of aliens kept to themselves, chatting quietly, for several more long minutes.
"Is there something you'd like to tall us?" said Karen, when they finally broke.
"Well, it's a bit embarrassing," said Miss Furrpect, uneasily. "You see, it's illegal for anyone from galactic culture to visit a pre-spaceflight planet. However, there are always some tourists who are more adventurous than others. I think some of them either left some tech behind or traded it for local artworks."
"I suppose it's useless for law enforcement to investigate at this late date," said Karen, with a sigh.
"Yeah, the statute of limitations is long expired. Though we could make a case about making them return any artifacts they took."
"Huh?!" said Freddy, obviously startled. "You mean they could still be alive?"
"Why wouldn't they be?"
"Well, looks like another puzzle solved," said their tour guide, cheerfully. "It's good to know that you managed to escape without damaging valuable historical artifacts, which will confirm that ancient aliens came to Earth in antiquity to view the monuments and marvel at how primitive humans could have constructed them and speculate that they must have had powers which have since gone latent."
"Who are you to know about that?" said Freddy, confused.
"Kentucky Smith" reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out some sort of wire thing, which he clipped to the bridge of his nose. Immediately, his eyes were covered with two black discs.
"Also,Iusuallytalklikethis!" he chattered.
"You!" said Talli. Not in recognition, but in anger.
She quickly lunged forward and covered his mouth.
"You don't mention that, got it?" she hissed before carefully uncovering his mouth.
"Not a word. Not a syllable."
Again, her hand came away.
"What?!" Talli shrieked, jumping back. "Why didn't you say something?!"
"Well,myworkhereisdone," said Yehudi, with a manic grin. "Seeinthefunnypapers!"
"Uh..." said the bus driver. He shrugged. "I guess the trip's over."
"We didn't see anything!" most of the group chorused.
"Sorry. Everybody back on the bus."
"Seriously," said Freddy to Brenda, as the line filed onto the vehicle, "didn't you ever notice the changes when you put your glasses on?"
"The only changes I ever noticed was the tightness in my face," said Brenda, glasses back on and voice again nasal and whiney. "I can't see well enough without them to notice any more than that."
"I bet," said Karen, thoughtfully, "that they somehow distort your sinuses and ear canals, so you can't tell from inside that your voice sounds like that."
"Sounds like what?!" said Brenda, angrily.
"Like you heard earlier. That was you."
They argued about it most of the way home, the matter only being settled when someone recorded Brenda talking with her glasses on, then taking them off and repeating herself.
"Oh," she said, stunned, peering at the second sequence with her glasses on. "I look... beautiful."
"I think you need contacts," said Karen.
"Can't wear 'em. Tried."
"Then new, lightweight glasses, properly fitted," said Freddy, nodding. "High-index polycarbonate lenses, titanium frames... You'll probably feel more comfortable, too."
Several glasses-wearing students made recommendations for brands, styles, shops and so forth, which Brenda carefully noted.
* * *
Freddy woke to darkness, her head pounding.
There was no answer. Just the smells of dust and ancient decay.
End Story Twenty-Four
This is the last completed Freddy On The Loose story, and it was completed over a decade after the previous one. I made a start on the next installment, but it's on hold for other writing projects.
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