ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: King Tut and the Plagues of Egypt

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King Tut and the Plagues of Egypt by Douglas Derrer is a Finalist in the Science Fiction/Fantasy Category of Published Books for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

The mysterious death of King Tut eluded archeologists for centuries until the Plancks, a time-traveling family from the 25th Century, flew four millennia into the past to 18th Dynasty Egypt to investigate.

Encountering a vast volcanic eruption upon their arrival plunged them into the Ten Plagues of Egypt and the Exodus as two co-regent Pharaohs, Tut’s father and grandfather, battled over the fates of their Hebrew slaves.

Will they make it back to their century alive, and without bringing some deadly disease that has been eradicated for centuries?

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Award-Winning First Chapter

Buffeted by severe, erratic winds, the great golden sphere of the Time Machine [TM] slowly descended toward the desert of ancient Egypt. Powerful pulses like a boxer’s punch slammed against the ship, vibrating through its hull and sending shivers up Max Planck’s spine. He stood in front of the holographic video screen of the control console, but could see little as the maelstrom outside was so fierce. Occasionally, the vid screen image cleared. Then, he saw rock fragments as small as dust particles and some the size of a man’s fist, pelt his ship.

The ship’s chronometer indicated midday in Eighteenth Dynasty Thebes, but the view through the TM’s portholes, black as a starless midnight, made the clock a liar.

Douglas Derrer
Douglas Derrer

Anti-gravity [AG] thrusters and gyro-fields stabilized the TM, but Max could still feel the assault. This is one hell of a lousy welcome. I hope this storm’s not damaging my ship.

Max stared at the fluctuating images on the viewscreen. “Damn. That’s a godawful sandstorm out there. I’ve heard they can be horrendous in Egypt.”

“Shall I continue with your landing instructions, sir?” Jeeves, the computer, asked.

“Yeah, Jeeves. I want to get to the bottom of this.” Max smiled at his poor pun. “Bring the AG thrusters and the gyro-field up as much as you need.”

With thrusters and the field nearly full on to stabilize against the horrendous storm, the Time Machine finally settled into the blowing, drifting desert sand.

“Nice landing, Jeeves especially in this muck. Can you tell me what’s going on out there? Is this one of their famous Egyptian siroccos or what?” A pattern of lights and graphs flickered across the viewscreen. “Can’t tell much by that, old boy.”

“Frightfully sorry, sir. I am unable to ascertain the nature of this meteorological disturbance at present. However, inasmuch as it has the potential of doing considerable damage to the hull, I have taken the liberty of bringing up the deflector shields.”

“Wow. That bad, huh?” Max paused. “Yeah, I noticed you’d turned on the shields. Good. So, would you sample this stuff and determine what we’re sitting in the midst of?”

“Quite so, sir. I am analyzing now.”

Max walked across the cabin, spoke to the food dispenser. “Coffee, black, extra shot.” The machine burped and complied. Max returned to his vigil carrying a steaming cup.

A complex array of lights and patterns flickered across the viewscreen. Max studied them with much interest. You’ve gotta be kidding me. “I don’t believe this display, Jeeves. We couldn’t have landed in a worse situation, could we?”

“I’d say it’s rather dicey. However, sir, you did intend to land in this particular place, these specific spacetime coordinates, yes?”

Max paced up and down in front of the control console, sipping his hot coffee. “Well, sure, yeah… But hey. I didn’t expect this shit. You did bring us to the exact spacetime coordinates I gave you, right?”

“By all means, sir. But this is no ordinary sandstorm or sirocco. My analysis shows we are being pummeled by severe winds, acid rain, toxic gases, and tephra. Not to mention periodic subsonic eruption pulses.”

“Toxic gases? Acid rain? Eruption pulses? Jayzuz. What the hell is tephra?”

“A volcanic mixture of ash, dust, gases and small rocks,” Jeeves reported. “It is the ejecta of a typical volcano, part of its Plinian column, and seems to be mixed with storm clouds as well, sir, producing highly corrosive acid rain. Additionally, we are being hit with subsonic pulses each time the volcano erupts, which seems to be fairly frequently, sir.”

Flabbergasted, Max had nothing to say for one of the few times in his life.

Jeeves continued, “Frightful stuff, sir. One would not like to be about in it.”

“Jesus F-ing Christ. You’re telling me we came down in the middle of a bloody volcanic eruption?” Bloody? I’m starting to talk like Jeeves.

“Indeed so, sir. If I may be permitted a small liberty, I believe your son Mark would phrase it thusly: ‘we’re in a perfect shit storm.’”

Max laughed. “You’re telling me. I can see by your on-screen analysis we’re being pelted with pumice and tephra. Sand and gas are swirling around the ship, too.”

“Affirmative, sir. Do you wish to remain here? Or should I activate the thrusters and get us above the maelstrom?”

“Yeah, Jeeves, let’s beat a hasty retreat for now. No point in staying here and getting the hell beat out of the Time Machine by a cantankerous volcano. Besides, I just washed and waxed the TM before we left Port Aransas.”

“Very good. I’m acting on your orders instantly, sir… Uh… You washed and waxed the Time Machine before we left? I say. Whatever for, sir?”

“Relax, Jeeves. Just a little joke.”

“Your putative sense of humor continues to baffle me, sir.”

With a mixture of pinging, whining, and humming sounds, the mighty machine lifted into the air again, shooting straight up through the volcanic cloud with bone-crushing acceleration, ameliorated for the passengers by its artificial gravity field. Soon, the viewscreen cleared and Max had a commanding perspective of the entire area.

“Holy shit…” he muttered as he watched a monstrous Plinian cloud spread out below him, blown by storm winds from the northwest. He glanced at the altimeter. “We had to come up a hundred kilometers to get outa that crap? We’re well into the stratosphere.”

“Quite right, sir. This is a horrendous eruption, reaching as it does from this part of Egypt all the way back to Crete and beyond, some 800 kilometers or more. My databanks indicate it may be one of the two or three greatest volcanic eruptions in Holocene times. I’ve determined the volcano must be the island of Thera, due north of Crete in the eastern Mediterranean, sir.”

“Wow. I didn’t expect that kind of welcome.” Max moved around the TM peering out one porthole after another at the black, turbulent volcanic cloud well below them. A spectacular lightning show strobed throughout the cloud. “I just wanted to visit King Tut.”

“I’ve re-computed the era of our arrival, sir, and I think we’re off by several generations.”

“Damn. That bad a miscalculation huh? At least we’re still in the Eighteenth Dynasty.”

“Yes, sir, but the boy king will not be born for a number of years. We appear to have arrived late in the reign of Tut’s grandfather, Amenhotep III, who currently shares the throne with the heir-apparent, his son Amenhotep IV. The Egyptians invented this co-regency business in order that the dying pharaoh could be assured of his successor.”

“Clever. How’s that working for the Amen III and IV?”

“It is widely believed by historians the two pharaohs despise each other, sir. The father has the upper hand; the son rebels against his yoke, counting the days until the old man expires.”

“So father and son don’t get along, eh? Yet they share responsibility for ruling an empire. Sounds like a real dysfunctional family. Maybe one of the first, after Adam and Eve, of course…”

“Your mordant sense of humor, sir?” Jeeves asked. “If not, may I suggest not applying Twenty-fifth Century standards to this dynamic and turbulent period of the Eighteenth Dynasty: two powerful men fighting for their ideals and the future of Egypt. My historical archive indicates when the son takes power, he radically alters the entire social, political, and religious fabric of his era.”

“I see. Lotsa action, then.” A wry smile creased Max’s face. “Okay, thanks for the history lesson. I think our arrival time here is not so bad considering we were shootin’ in the dark from nearly four millennia away. We hit the target pretty damn close. Now we’ve got a virtual pin in the time-map of the Eighteenth Dynasty and can navigate from here with a lot more precision.”

“Congratulations, sir. You’ve achieved a scientific marvel worthy of a Nobel Prize. You are the first man to have traveled through time. It is a privilege and an honor to serve you.”

Max strutted about the cabin with a big smile and bowed several times to the cameras, the computer’s eyes. “Ah, shucks, Jeeves.” False modesty emanated from Max. “T’weren’t nuttin’, really. Any chrono-quantum physicist worth his salt coulda pulled it off…”

“But none did save you, sir.”

“Yeah, true. But we need to keep this little caper under our hats, Jeeves. As you know, time travel is strictly against government regulations. So mum’s the word on our illicit little exploit, pal. Okay? I hope I make myself clear.”

“I quite understand, sir. So I presume that means no Nobel for you.”

“Right. No Nobel. Unless the government changes its obstinate mind.”

“I’m very sorry, sir. But why does the government object? All your other scientific endeavors have been enthusiastically supported, regardless of who is in power.”

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