Channeling Cleopatra..

25 Mar

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.

Channeling Cleopatra by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

“Get the past life of your dreams!”

Leda Hubbard, a forensic pathologist, gets the job of her dreams when an old school friend hires her to collect and authenticate the DNA of the famous Cleopatra. It’s all great fun for Leda until, during a massive disaster, her colorful dad, the dig’s security specialist, is killed by a group trying to hijack the precious material for a “blend,” a process in which the queen’s DNA is used to import her memories, personality, and character traits to a new host. They screw up, however, and get Leda’s dad’s DNA instead. To keep the queen from going to the murderers, Leda blends with Cleopatra herself, learning a lot more about Egypt than she ever wanted to know.

“A bright, sometimes humorous, often dark, but always innovative speculative fiction. . . Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is always a treat to read but with this novel, she takes readers where nobody has gone before.” BookBrowser



Cleopatra looked at the snake. The snake, its tongue flicking, stared back at her. She apologized to the creature, the emblem of her queenship and the end of it. “My lord, if only Octavius were as trustworthy as you are, there would be no need to disturb you with our concerns. But alas, my protectors are all dead, my beauty faded, and even my hairdresser and handmaiden have offered their flesh to your fangs for my sake, so I have no choice. If I live and flee, Octavius will avenge himself upon my children. If I live and submit, he will degrade and humiliate my person and position in his accursed Roman triumph, dragging me in chains through the city where I should by rights have ruled as empress. Then he will kill me and destroy my body and my hope for the afterlife. Oh yes, my lord,” she said in her tender, singsong voice, the voice of a natural-born snake charmer. The snake swayed, half uncoiled to strike, its hood majestically fanned around its face.

The coils of its body lay still upon the folds of the yellow, red, and white linens of the Isis robes covering Charmion’s corpse. Iras lay beside the altar containing the body. Charmion also wore the Isis crown and what was left of the crown jewels. Iras had dressed her fellow handmaiden’s head in the black Isis curls Cleopatra customarily wore when assuming the guise of the goddess. The queen herself had employed her considerable skill with cosmetics to change faces with her look-alike maid. Now, dressed as Charmion, she explained herself to the cobra. The cobra did not mind her humble robes. It knew who she was. She was Egypt, its home, its mother, and finally, its prey.

She spoke to it to clarify her own mind before her death and to delay that same death, for she had long loved life and was loath to leave it, even under the circumstances.

“Yes, it’s true. I have it on the best authority. Isis in her compassion has sent me a dream so I may save my body and thus my immortal soul. Whatever lies he tells my people, Octavius intends to burn me after my death—before it, if he is given the opportunity, I’m sure. So I have chosen my own time. My eldest son has fled the country, and as for my younger children, I am unable to protect them, and moreover, I provide cause for Octavius to do them harm. Perhaps without me to spite with their suffering, he will spare them. And so you must give me my last kiss, my lord. My priests, who know our little secret, will do the rest. In exchange, I grant you your freedom from your duties as guardian of this tomb and temple.”

She took a deep breath, broke eye contact, and quickly, so as to startle the fascinated snake, thrust her arm at it. Having had its part so considerately explained to it, the cobra performed its last state service and struck her with a force that staggered her back, away from the altar.

Unhooded and blending with the dust, the snake then slithered out through an open window.

The pain subsided, quickly replaced with numbness. Soon she knew paralysis and death would follow. By that time, Octavius would have received her message begging him to bury her with Antony. She knew he would not, but the message would serve to seal in his mind that the body in her robes was her own. He would expect to see her there, and dead, and that is what he would see.

The stage was set to perfection, except the cobra, in striking, had pulled Charmion’s wig askew. Slowly, with a sense of detachment and amusement, as if she had had too much wine, Cleopatra rose and stretched out her other hand to adjust it.

Which was how Octavius and his soldiers saw her when they burst into the room.

She felt Octavius staring hard at her, and she thought for a moment the ruse had failed. Then he said, puzzled, more to himself than to her, “Is this well done?”

The bastard was trying to figure out if her death was to his advantage or not.

She felt herself ready to fly to the afterlife, but she had never been able to resist a good exit line. “It is well done,” she said, her voice unrecognizably husky with the dying, “and fitting for a princess descended of so many royal kings.”

And so it was that the body of Charmion, dressed in the robes of Cleopatra, was displayed to the people as proof of her death. Later, as Cleopatra’s dream had warned, Octavius publicly said she would be interred with Mark Antony but privately, to his lieutenant, he said, “Burn the bitch. The brats may watch.”

The bodies of the handmaidens were removed afterward by the priests. Cleopatra’s public tomb, stripped of its glories by Octavius, lay empty, as she had somehow always known it would. But it secretly connected, through a long and twisting passage with many stairs and a maze of tunnels, with a private tomb concealed deep beneath her palace. In some ways, the tomb was very bare, her special coffin, sealed within three others, the simple alabaster canopic jars with her cartouche and titles and seals of gold, some clothing and toiletries, a prettily carved inlaid table and chair, a bed, a wealth of lamps. The tomb was for one person only. No place for husbands or children or even trusted servants. Iras’s body had been removed to her family’s crypt. Instead, the side rooms held Cleopatra’s greatest treasure, one that Octavius and other conquerors lacked the wit to covet. But to the queen, for whom the love of erudition was more fundamental than her love of either of her Roman husbands or even her kingdom, her burial hoard was of the most valuable nature possible. It contained the originals to the best, the rarest, the most informed and fascinating of the manuscripts collected by her own great Museon, the Library of Alexandria.

                                                                  CHAPTER 1

For Leda Hubbard, attending the International Conference of Egyptologists was the next best thing to personally participating in a dig. When she found a ticket in her mailbox, she was giddy with joy but curious and also suspicious about who would treat her to such a thing. For the cost of one of those tickets, you could almost buy a plane trip to Egypt.

Most of the attendees who were not presenting papers or teaching seminars had corporate sponsorship. Nonetheless, Leda recalculated her budget six times until she came up with almost enough to go. Then the urgent need for a root canal and a new radiator for her car gobbled up her ticket money.

Cinderella she wasn’t, but nevertheless, some mysterious benefactor, secret admirer, fairy godmother, or possibly a stalker, decided she could go to the ball.

After enjoying a splendid day filled with intellectual delights, Leda was finally ready to turn into a pumpkin. It was not yet sunset, much less midnight, but the showroom had closed, the lectures were over, and her feet felt like they actually were encased in something as agonizing as glass slippers, which could not have been comfy.

The Portland Convention Center was huge, and she had walked the equivalent of a marathon attending seminars, checking out the goodies in the showroom, and searching for favorite authors of scholarly tomes. She hadn’t met any princes, true. But she now had something that was in her opinion much better: a rolling suitcase full of books about pharaohs (and related topics, such as how to identify said pharaohs), now autographed. The only thing better than that would have been to be the autographer instead of the autographee.

Alas, she, who had entertained full-blown H. Rider Haggard/Elizabeth Peters dreams of being an Egyptologist while still an undergrad at Heidelberg, had never fully realized her ambitions.

She had achieved the Ph.D. in forensic anthropology and was a by-Bast doctor-not-of-medicine, though she had probably handled more cadavers than the average M.D. But she had not been able to squeeze in the additional studies necessary to specialize in Egyptology with the time and money allotted her.

The Navy, while debating about paying for her graduate degree while she was on active duty, suggested in their cute little bureaucratic way that Egyptologists were less likely to make it through school without being called into a war zone than, say, their useful colleagues who studied corpses of more recent vintage. In the charming phrasing of the Graduate Studies in Continuing Education financial assistance and career counseling officer, “This is a weird sort of thing you want to study, Chief Hubbard, but the Navy does have a certain limited use for forensic scientists. What we need are people who can put pieces of dead troops back together so the remains can be identified. Most of these troops will not be of ancient Egyptian stock; therefore, if you wish to study any of that elitist crap, you can do so on your own dime. The Navy has no job openings for Egyptologists. Do I make myself clear?”

She had sighed, batted her lashes, and said in the sultry voice that had made her voted by her senior class “most likely to succeed in a career in the telephonic sex industry,” “I just love it when you get all butch and masterful, sir.”

The officer had blushed. He was about twenty-four. She was thirty-six at the time. A career that had until that time been spent aboard aircraft carriers and submarines dealing with matters that required a top security clearance made her feel much much older.

But the kid had been right about one thing. There were, until very recently, few job ops for Egyptologists who were not Egyptian. This was as true of civilian life as it had been in the Navy. These days, she worked in the Oregon state laboratory, mostly helping law enforcement agencies gather evidence to identify anonymous remains.




One Response to “Channeling Cleopatra..”

  1. spamslitterature March 25, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Thanks so much for the feature, Anne and GSP. I really enjoyed writing these books.

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