Fire in the Shadows
Meredith Prometheus stood behind her small desk staring at the photo. It was in an exquisite mahogany frame. Pol and Cass had given it to her for her birthday a few weeks before. They had found the picture of her with them just after they had turned two. They were smiling at the camera making goofy faces. And David was there, too.
She picked it up and ran her fingers over his face and blinked back tears.
After fourteen years, it was still raw. The anger and the pain had stayed with her, always there, just below the surface. Only by keeping busy was she able to keep it at bay. Pol and Cass were wonderful at keeping her distracted, but there were still nights she’d cry herself to sleep. She hated David for not being there, but she missed him more.
They hadn’t found a body after the accident, but she knew him. Only death could keep him away from her and the boys, so he had to be dead. Still, a part of her could almost believe that he was alive somewhere out there. But, she realized a long time ago that this made it hurt all the more.
"Not now," she whispered and turned away.
A few moments of staring at her desk, and she found something else to focus on.
She cleared her throat and carefully placed the frame face-down on her desk.
She didn’t have time for this.
There was work to be done.
She sat down in her chair and began arranging papers on her desk.
Forty-five minutes, twenty-three file folders, and forty-two electronic files later, she realized that it was way past time to go home.
The digital clock, another gift from her sons, read 9:30 P.M.
Standing up and sliding her chair under her desk, she walked around the desk and out of her office.
Although, calling it an office was being much too kind. It was really more of a closet, but it was all that the museum would give her. And, she’d had to fight them for that.
David’s disappearance had been the catalyst for a series of attacks on both of their published works, and their professional reputations. She wasn’t paranoid, but, at the time, she could have sworn someone really was out to get her and smear both her and David’s reputations.
And, it had worked.
She locked the door and walked downstairs into the the main hall of the museum.
She remembered bringing the boys here just after they had arrived in Egypt.
Her, David, and the boys had been so happy when they first got here. Watching the boys’ excitement as they took in everything made her see it all again through their eyes, and she smiled.
She looked around the main hall of the museum, lost in memory, but a nagging feeling brought her back to the present.
Something was wrong.
She ran through the inventory of the various pieces that were part of the display in a flash.
A jade pendant was missing from the “Jewels of the Seventeenth Dynasty” display.
She hurried toward the front door.
Without a sound, two shadows broke away from the darkness and moved behind her.
When she reached the front door, she saw that the alarm was disabled.
She reached into her purse and grabbed her cell phone.
The lights in the museum blinked off.
She turned and gasped as a six-foot, two-inch frame blocked her path, and another, eerily similar slid in behind her.
"Hey, Mom," Cass said as he picked her up from behind and hugged her.
After he put her down, she punched both of them on their arms.
“You apes scared me,” Mer said.
"We almost got you this time," Pol said as he picked her up and hugged her, too.
"You just about missed the pendant, but we saw you notice that it was gone,” Cass said.
Meredith smiled at her sons.
Pol and Cass were obviously tall, but each boy was also strong, with the build of a gymnast. They seemed to have a grace that came from an economy of motion that was evident in every movement. It was almost like they could glide across the ground. She looked up into their faces and realized that they could pass for almost any ethnicity with their light brown skin. The only thing that betrayed their heritage was their eyes.
She looked up into their steel-gray eyes and tousled their salt and pepper hair.
She still hadn’t quite adjusted to that or the change in their eye color, though. Kids weren’t supposed to have gray hair, but both her boys had started going gray just after the accident.
It really stood out against their normal jet-black hair, too.
She still missed their blue eyes, but the change had happened quickly after the accident. The blue had matched David’s. She missed that blue. She sometimes saw it in a cloudless sky, and it always took her breath away. The thought of it made her sad.
"You big goofs. How'd you manage to disable the system this time?"
Cass smiled as he said, "Well, let's just say that manufacturers should protect their networks better."
"No kidding," Pol added.
"It was almost too easy," Cass said.
Most things were easy to her boys.
They had been playing games like this for almost a decade. The boys had suggested it as a way to sharpen their observation skills for when they became archaeologists, but she knew the real reason. Neither had any memory of that day over fourteen years ago when their father had vanished without a trace.
She played with them anyway, though, because it seemed to make them happy, and it did make her happy.
What she didn't realize was how good they'd get at it, and the other skills they'd acquire along the way.
She had come into work one morning, and the entire main hall had been rearranged into a mirror image of itself. She hadn't realized what had happened until she heard giggling coming from just outside the main hall. Not only had they disabled the alarm systems for their trick, they had re-enabled it so nothing looked wrong when she had come in. In fact, none of the other museum staff had even noticed. Not that it would have mattered, since they had swapped it back the following night.
Her favorite trick, though, must have involved quite a bit of setup.
Somehow, the boys had replaced an entire wall that was a reproduction of Egyptian hieroglyphics with a wall that they had created.
The hieroglyphics on their replacement wall had all been done in the style of the Simpsons.
Not a single person noticed that day, so they left it up.
It was up for three weeks before someone finally noticed.
It wasn’t the museum staff that caught it, though. It was a grade-school kid that got it. He noticed Bart Simpson dressed as an Egyptian farmer holding out grain to Homer dressed as a Pharoah and pointed it out to his teacher. Several characters from the show appeared. They even stuck the three-eyed fish on it.
Once it was brought to their attention, the museum staff were amazed at the amount of work that went into it. The aging and the attention to the smallest details with the hieroglyphics really impressed them. The curator raved about the workmanship and hoped to one day meet the artist.
Mer, of course, knew who was responsible and let the boys know that the Simpson-glyphics had been discovered.
The next day, the wall was back to normal, and the curator had a new wall decoration in her office. It still hangs there today, and she never misses a chance to show it off to visitors.
Mer watched Pol walk over to the display and carefully replace the pendant.
She had never ceased to be amazed at her sons. They had grown into fine young men, but she worried about them.
Their father’s disappearance had deeply affected them even if they couldn’t remember exactly what had happened that day, and no amount of discussion of the accident helped. Whenever the subject came up, both boys would become distant and simply refuse to talk about it.
Even if they wouldn’t talk to her, they coped in other ways, it seemed.
They had pushed each other to excel in everything. It was almost as if they were trying to make up for their powerlessness back then, preparing themselves for a fight that had already been lost years ago.
She thought about how proud David would be of them now.
She knew that there was nothing that they could have done then, though.
Now, however, it seemed to her that there wasn’t anything that they couldn’t do.
Mer was amazed at the skills and knowledge that her boys had acquired since then. It seemed like they soaked up knowledge from anything and everything around them. And, more importantly, they stored it for easy retrieval later. She had occasionally quizzed them by grabbing a book from the floor of their bedroom and picking some random page and asking them about it. They would typically read her back the entire page from memory, but sometimes they would show off for her and recite multiple pages.
They knew more about the culture and history of Egypt than most full professors of archeology, and they understood its influence on the development of the entire region better than all but a handful of people on the planet.
They absorbed languages, and at only sixteen, could speak seven languages fluently and write in five.
They had an affinity for computer systems that simply astounded her and never ceased to delight them as they quickly learned how to hack their way into almost any system in the world.
She remembered pulling them out of school when they were six.
They had gotten into trouble for sneaking out of class.
It had taken the teachers nearly five hours to find them, and might have taken even longer until one of the teachers chanced to notice somebody in the library.
This incident had only been the first, though.
Every day for two weeks, they left class and went to the library. After the third day, their teacher simply sent them there.
Mer had asked them why they were getting in trouble after that first incident.
“Everyone else is just so slow,” Pol had said.
“We need to go faster,” Cass had added.
“Yeah, we’ve already read every book in our class.”
“And now we’re about finished with the library.”
A few quick questions had confirmed what she already new, her sons learned faster…much faster…than normal.
After speaking with their teachers, Meridith had pulled them out of school.
This had been the beginning of them teaching themselves.
She had been able to keep up with their voracious appetite for knowledge until they were about ten, but it hadn’t been easy. They had gone through all the books at the museum and complained loudly about how slow the Internet was at the apartment. Multiple calls to their Internet provider didn’t yield any results, though. Sick of waiting, they dug in and started hacking on the modem/router. Within a day, upload and download speeds tripled. Within a week, those speeds quadrupled. Still, it wasn’t fast enough.
At this point, both Pol and Cass had come to her one day and asked if they could start going to the city library by themselves. She said no at first, but then something happened that took her completely by surprise.
Pol had said, “We thought you might feel that way, so Cass and I prepared this informational packet.”
The packet contained a map indicating the shortest, safest route to the library on foot, the time it would take to make the journey on foot, the library’s daily schedule, the typical patrol patterns of the local police, the names and phone numbers of the library staff, and the phone numbers of the cell phones that they had somehow purchased for themselves. The twenty-five-minute walk to the library through Cairo would also take them right past the museum where she worked.
“So, barring an unforeseen meteor strike, which is extremely unlikely, we should be relatively safe.”
So, she had relented and let them go.
Mer reset the alarm and looked at her boys outside in the dim light of the Egyptian night laughing with each other and remembered how much smaller they were that day she let them go to the library for the first time.
She remembered following them that first day just to make sure they got there safe and sound. She had been very careful to stay out of sight so they’d think that they’d made it all by themselves.
She remembered watching as both boys looked carefully one way, then the other, and quickly crossed the busy street to the library.
Just when she had been congratulating herself for her superior parenting skills, both boys had turned around, looked directly at her, and shouted across the street, “It’s OK, Mom, we made it! See.”
Embarrassed, she remembered waving back to them, and then carefully crossing the street herself.
After hugging them and kissing them both on the forehead, she had walked back to the museum, and the boys had disappeared into the library.
She remembers that she hadn’t even bothered trying to hide as she returned late that afternoon to walk home with them.
They had visited the library every day since and spent almost twelve hours a day there for over six years.
The librarians knew them by name and had even granted them honorary librarian titles after they helped with several reorganization projects.
But, these were far from the only things strange about her sons.
Her boys had never been much for naps, not even before the accident.
There had been a terrific battle of wills one night between the two of them and her and David when they were just thirteen-months-old, a battle that had lasted for three, agonizingly long hours of screaming and crying. They had taken turns crying and screaming, allowing the other to rest his throat. By the time it was over, she and David had lost spectacularly and quite definitively, resulting in the immediate abolition of the hated nap time.
Since the incident in the tunnel, though, her sons rarely seemed to sleep.
She had questioned them about sleep and had spent many sleepless nights just watching them.
They slept, of course, but they didn’t seem to need nearly as much sleep as she did. One, maybe two hours a night seemed to be all that they required, and missing that for a couple of days didn’t seem to bother them much at all.
Mer had read dozens of medical texts and had them examined by more than a few doctors just to make sure that there was nothing wrong. And, when all of the tests came back negative, and their health was officially affirmed by several doctors, she simply shrugged, kissed them both on the forehead, and took a nap.
And here were her big, strong men walking home with her. She almost felt like she was being escorted by body guards. The boys were almost a foot taller than her, and they moved with a confidence and grace that belied their age.
She hooked her arms around theirs and walked toward their apartment.
In the warm, cloudless night under a blanket of stars, she chatted with them about the role of artisans and their status in early Egyptian society.
She beamed, as they only corrected her once before they made it home to their apartment.