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EXCERPT FROM Chapter 5 / 6 of Touchstone...

Nordhausen began to panic. Something had happened, and he had no idea of the consequences at this point. He began to search, desperately: HEIROGLYPHICS… TRANSLATION… INTERPRETATION… DYNASTIC EGYPT… BOOK OF THE DEAD… he typed in the names of Pharaohs, archeological sites, museums with noted collections…But it was all a fruitless effort.
Nowhere was there any indication that there was any translation of Hieroglyphics. Except… In his head! He thought hard for a moment, conjuring up the image of the cartouche he had seen on the statue of Horus. He could clearly see the carved figures in his mind, and he remembered how the little girl had traced her finger on the stone…”Ra-me-ses.” He knew how to read them! They all made perfect sense in his head. He had taken a class in graduate school thirty years before, and had been able to transliterate without reference help of any kind. While a student, he had actually kept a journal using hieroglyphics instead of Roman letters! It had been a fun project, and helped him to learn, but that was thirty years ago.

He heard the door behind him open, and he hurried to close the screen he was watching, his guilt reflex overcoming his better judgment. He spun around to see Paul Dorland regarding him with a curious look on his face.

“Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you! Did you get the alert call?” Paul gave him a frustrated look.

“What? Why yes, of course. It was my shift. I was just down looking over the Arch to see if it was all in order...   got here as soon as I could… been right here…working,” Nordhausen lied, feeling terrible about it at once.

“Well, I was just here ten minutes ago,” said Paul. “The consoles were humming at full tilt and Kelly’s Golems were running wild. But you were nowhere to be found.”

“I went down to check on the Arch, I tell you… and to the bathroom, if you don’t mind. If you had waited for me here, you would have seen that I came right back.”

“Mmmmhmmmm,” Dorland replied. He made no effort to hide his skepticism. “Anyway, here’s what I’ve managed to find out. The alert call went out at three past four, and we’ve got a preliminary spatial locus somewhere in the Middle East. Nothing hard yet. The Golems are doing a data comparison with the RAM bank now, but, as you can see, there hasn’t been much to report,” he flipped through some pages on a clip board he held. “It’s a bit early, but we should be getting something soon. I’m surprised you didn’t have this ready. It was your shift.” He looked up, suddenly perplexed by his friend’s demeanor.

“Robert, what is it?” He had caught a look of misery on Nordhausen’s face, so at odds with the man’s normal easy going nature, that he was struck by it.

“Oh, Paul,” Nordhausen moaned.
“What?” Dorland was now alarmed.
“Oh, Paul, something has happened…”
“Robert, what? Are you all right?”
“I don’t know… something is very wrong…”

“What are you talking about? What happened? You mean to say you did get a report before I arrived?” He rushed to Nordhausen’s side, eyes scanning the desk top as though he expected to see a variance report.

Nordhausen sat with his face in his hands. He couldn’t look at Dorland. “It was my fault, Paul. I… used the Arch…” he muttered, in a low voice, almost inaudibly.

“You what?”

“I used the Arch!” He lifted his head from his hands, and the look of despair was deep and clear. “I used the Arch and something changed.”

Paul stiffened. He held his clipboard to his chest, and said, slowly: “Robert, what did you do?”

“Nothing! I didn’t do anything! At least not anything I can clue on. But I must have done something, because things are clearly wrong.” Nordhausen gave him a pleading look. Suddenly the whole story came spilling out in a gush of disjointed narrative, clothed in rationalizations and justifications, causing Dorland to slowly sink into the other office chair while Nordhausen went on.

“So, you see, I didn’t do anything! I was just there, and—”

“Didn’t do anything?” Paul gave him an incredulous look. “You say you went out to the opera?”

“But I just watched the show… then went across the street to a club after and...”

“And what?”

Nordhausen hesitated, for the bit about his encounter with Wilde and Gilbert was a source of great anxiety to him. He started to tell his story and saw how Paul just put his hands over his ears with a flabbergasted look on his face.
“You didn’t do anything?” Paul just stared at him. “Robert, you shouldn’t have been there in the first place!”
“Yes, I know, I know…” Nordhausen covered his face in his palms again, wanting to hide from his own foolishness. “But I just don’t see the connection,” he muttered.

“What connection?”

“Between Wilde and the stone. How could an innocent session in a bar cause damage to the Rosetta Stone? I can’t see it.”

“What are you talking about?”

‘That’s the problem, Paul. It’s the stone. It’s broken, but I can’t figure how. I went there to look at the carvings, and  I saw it… but it was wrong! The Rosetta Stone. Our whole understanding of the hieroglyphics was based upon that one object—but now it’s changed. What does it mean? How could it have happened?”

The recital had left Nordhausen drained, and he sat slumped in his desk chair, waiting now for Dorland to say something.
“I don’t know what to make of this, Robert. I have never even heard of this thing—what did you call it? The Rosetta Stone? And what’s all this about understanding the hieroglyphics? No one has ever translated ancient Egyptian writing. Yes, there are pyramid freaks, and conspiracy theorists and other cranks who claim to be able to read them, but they’ve remained a mystery for thousands of years.”

“No, no, no,” Nordhausen protested, waving his hand. “That’s just what I mean! Someone did translate the hieroglyphics. I was looking up the references only a moment ago. Champollion, a French scholar, identified the phonetic connection in the glyphs centuries ago, but none of that work is published now. Oh, God, what have I done?”

Paul put his clip board down and folded his arms. “This is too much for me to swallow at this point,” he said. “I’m still not sure what you’re driving at. You just told me that this guy’s work was never published. Do you realized how crazy that sounds? How could you know about something that was never— “ Paul caught himself, and a squall of concern swept over his features.

Nordhausen’s empty emotions were suddenly filled with a backlash of anger. “Well I am not insane, if that’s what you’re thinking. I planned this very carefully.  I told you I was going to check on the writing. It was a legitimate mission, though I know I should have cleared it with the rest of the team. In any case, what’s done is done. Yes, I had my toast with Wilde and Gilbert in the bar, and I went to the museum the very next day. It was well thought out. How long have you known me, Paul? Since high school! Maybe I shouldn’t have gone back, but that’s not the issue here. Something bigger is going on now. We’ve got to find out what happened to the Rosetta Stone!”

“Rosetta Stone!” Dorland shot back. “There you go again. What are you talking about? Look, I’m trying to be sympathetic here, but you’re not making any sense. What’s this stone you keep rambling on about?”

Nordhausen sighed heavily. “It was discovered in 1799, during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. They were trying to improve an old fort near the town of Rosetta and uncovered a huge slab of black basalt with inscriptions in three languages.”

“Wait a second,” Paul interrupted. “I’ve read that history many times. Sure, Napoleon invaded Egypt, and was stranded by the British Fleet. He fought a few battles, tried to march off to Palestine, then got tired of the whole campaign and escaped to leave all his men to fend for themselves. That’s all in the history, but I’ve never heard of this Rosetta thing.”

“Well he brought teams of savants with him. Do you remember that? They carried back all their records and artifacts and published volumes about them.”

“Yes, but there was nothing with a clue to translating hieroglyphics.”

“Don’t you see?” Nordhausen was getting frustrated now. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you! There was an artifact. It was called the Rosetta Stone—perhaps the most significant find of the whole expedition! There were three languages: Demotic, Greek and the Hieroglyphics, and they all said the same thing. That was how Champollion made the connection between them. It was a touchstone, a key reference point that opened everything up.” He gave Paul a wild look, then changed his tack, hitting on some new thought.

“Paul, I can read them,” Nordhausen insisted.

“Read what?”

“The hieroglyphics! I know what they mean—I’ve known about them for over thirty years. Hell, I’ve got old notebooks in my study—We’ve got to get over there!”

“Notebooks? Hold on now, Robert.” Nordhausen was up off his seat and looking about him, as though searching for something.

“Yes, notebooks. Good lord, what if they’re gone too?”

“Sit down, Robert. You’re getting weird on me now.”

“Sit down? Is that all you have to say about this? I thought you were the time theoretician here. Think man! I just came through the Arch, only minutes ago in fact. No, I wasn’t in the bathroom. I lied about that, but you’ve got to believe me on this point. I was back in Old London, just like I said, and I’ve done something to change the Meridian. But I remember the world I came from, Paul, and it had the Rosetta Stone, the hieroglyphics and all. I remember how to read the glyphs, and I can prove it to you. Hell, that’s why I went on the mission in the first place—to read samples of the hieroglyphics that might have been lost to our time. I figured they might still be intact in an earlier time, and what better place to look than the British Museum? So I went back, damnit. Yes, I screwed up again, and I’m the first to admit that. But I know I’m right about the stone, the glyphs, and all the rest.”

Paul gave him a long, searching look. He scratched the back of his head and started to say something, then caught himself, the change in his thinking obvious on his face. Robert’s jibe about the time theory had pricked his attention. If it was true, and the alert had been called because of his friend’s use of the Arch, then Robert would have been in a Nexus Point, a protected bubble in the stream of time. He would know things, aspects and elements of his original Meridian, while everyone outside the Nexus would remain oblivious. “Alright,” he began. “Let’s slow down here and take this one step at a time. You say you used the Arch.”

“Yes.”

“And you went to London and had a drink with Oscar Wilde and company—just like you, Robert. What were you thinking? You don’t get involved with Primes! How many times do we have to tell you these things?”

“Well it wasn’t my fault. I was just sitting there, trying to mind my own business and they latched on to me. The next thing I know I was judging a poetry contest. I had no intention—”

“Yes you did, my friend. You went to the opera, right? No fault in that. We were going to watch Shakespeare when this whole thing started. But, just like Maeve warned, you can’t resist the urge to start poking around in the history. I’ll bet you loved every minute of that little encounter in the nightclub. What did you say you were drinking?”

“Oh, come now. I was in complete control of my faculties at all times. Yes, I conversed with them, Wilde and Gilbert both. But it was just happenstance. I never had any intention of tampering with a Prime Mover, and I tried to extricate myself from the situation as soon as I could.”

“Happenstance? That’s the point Robert—that’s exactly what a Pushpoint is—something completely innocuous in the immediate milieu that has enormous power to catalyze the future.”

“Do you think that’s where the damage occurred?”

“Damage?”

“Yes, man. I’ve been trying to tell you that the Rosetta Stone was damaged! All the Hieroglyphics were gone. That’s why no one ever made the connection between the languages, don’t you see? I’ve done something to change things—God only knows what—just like we changed things after the Palma Event. We never did figure out what happened that time, Paul. Neither one of us got anywhere near Lawrence’s explosives, but yet we did something to alter the event. We stumbled on one of your pushpins and everything was different.”

“Pushpoints,” Paul corrected, very annoyed.

“Whatever!”

Nordhausen was getting quite exasperated now. “The point is that we did something to the Meridian without even knowing it. We changed things, yet we all remember what was supposed to happen that night because we were in the Nexus…” His eyes widened with sudden realization. “That’s it, Paul! That’s it! I was in a Nexus Point! That’s why I remember it all—why I can still read the hieroglyphics, because I’m retaining memories from the time line I came from.” He gave Paul a searching look, almost pleading. “You’ve got to believe me,” he breathed, slumping back into his office chair. “Kelly’s Golems will bear me out. There’s no way they could miss something like this.”

Paul took a deep breath, his mind resting in his own time theory now. The professor was quite distressed, but was certainly convinced that he had done something to change the continuum.

“Very well,” he said, granting Nordhausen a measure of respect. “I agree. If you used the Arch, then you were certainly in a Nexus. Let’s assume that all this is true. All we have to go on now is your word that things are different—that we’re supposed to understand these hieroglyphics, and we don’t.”

“The notebooks, Paul.” Nordhausen held up a finger. “Let’s get over to my study and see if they’ve changed. Would they change?”  He looked to Paul for the answer. “Champollion’s work vanished. God, what if my notebooks are altered as well? What does the time theory say about a situation like this? Would my personal effects be altered even if I was in a Nexus? Come on, man—You dreamt all this up!”

Dorland relented, giving the professor the benefit of the doubt. “You’re saying you wrote the hieroglyphics in a notebook?”
“Yes, I kept a journal using hieroglyphics instead of Roman letters—A little code I was playing with. Will it still be there? Will it vanish, or change, just like Lawrence’s Seven Pillars?”

“No…” Paul was suddenly deep in thought, pulled into the crux of the problem by Nordhausen’s obvious enthusiasm and distress. “No, if you were in a Nexus Point when the change occurred then that would make you a Free Variable, like we all were Free Variables during that first mission. In that case…” He paused, his hand playing over his chin as he thought. “Well, the integrity of your own personal Time Meridian should remain quite stable. It’s very likely that your notebooks would be unaltered. The knowledge you claim to have in your head about this stone relies upon them. They would have to exist.”

“Then we’ve got to get over to the study! It will prove everything I’ve been saying!”

“But—” Paul held up a warning finger. “You have apparently created a Gordian knot. Without the original work of the scholars who deciphered the hieroglyphics, then how could you have ever learned to decipher them, or even written your notebooks? That means you may be exposed to—”

Nordhausen was up off his chair before Paul could finish his thought, reaching out to take his friend by the arm and pull him along.

“It’s clear that we won’t resolve this by speculation. Let’s go look! My study is just a few minutes away.”

“Hold on,” said Paul. “We can prove it right here.” He sat down at a terminal and began typing.

“What are you doing?” Nordhausen was at his side, still very agitated, his impatience getting the better of him now.

“You say there was something called the Rosetta Stone. The Golems are out searching the Internet right now, but let me do a direct query to the on-line RAM bank—the reference bank we’ve kept running since the incident in Wadi Rumm.” It was not long before he had a report in hand that confirmed everything his friend was saying.

“See what I mean?” Nordhausen was delighted. “It’s all there: the discovery date, the significance of the find, Champollion’s work and even good photos. Look here,” he pointed at an image. “This whole section was gone when I saw the stone in the British Museum and, without that, no one could make the connection with the other languages. Come on—let’s go get my notebooks and see if they’ve survived!”

 

TOUCHSTONE

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