The Enchanted Obelisk Preview

Chapter 1

 

The streets of Ticswyk buzzed with activity, citizens rushing to their various destinations. None took notice of the special calico cat, sleeping soundly in the window of her apartment. Cali lay stretched on her windowsill, her favorite cushion warmed by the late morning sun. Her brass enhancements glittered in the sunlight, her tri-colored fur shining almost as bright. The rattle of a carriage wheel against the cobblestones caused her to stir, her nose and ears twitching in response. She refused to wake up. This nap was far too sweet to abandon.

Settling back to sleep, she had no choice but to picture the street’s activities. Her mechanically enhanced ears could not tune out the sounds of the real world, so they invaded her dreams. Children ran about in play, one boy stopping near her window to announce the early morning’s headlines.

“Ancient Egypt Arrives in Ticswyk!” the boy shouted.

Cali rolled over on her window perch and tucked her head under her paws. When the boy shouted again, she opened her mechanical eye, its purple light illuminating her face. Squinting, she peered through the window at the boy outside. With a powerful hiss, she caught the boy’s attention. He startled and turned to see who was there. At the sight of a giant purple eye, he jumped backward, dropping his newspapers and landing flat on his bottom in the street.

Pushing open the window, Cali bounded to the young boy’s aid. She’d only meant to scare the boy away, not injure him. He appeared unharmed, but guilt came over her. She had acted in haste. Since he appeared unharmed, she felt it only right to help him gather his papers.

With a swipe of her paw, she gathered his newspapers into a neat stack. The boy’s jaw hung open, his eyes refusing to blink. Gathering his wits, he stood and brushed the dust from his pants. With a nod, Cali turned and flicked her tail before hopping back through her window. Cali grinned as she watched the boy walk away. He glanced back several times, but made no effort to return to her window.

Though an amiable cat, Cali did not appreciate being roused from her slumber. Unless, of course, it was time to eat. A rumble in her stomach reminded her that she had not eaten since earlier that morning, and it was definitely time for a snack.

Descending from her perch, she landed with an audible clack. The enhanced claws of her right paw clicked slightly against the wooden floors as she moved through the apartment. When she arrived in the kitchen, she found only an empty dish. Breakfast was long since over. Scanning the room, she searched for any sign that her human friend, Lionel, had left some treats for her while he was busy working. He hadn’t.

For weeks now, Lionel had been busy with a new project. It ate up every free moment of his time, and his commissioned works were being neglected. As a Master Tinker, Lionel’s talents were always in demand. He could repair just about any machine ever crafted, and his many inventions were celebrated throughout the city. There was no cleverer inventor, and the enhancements he’d bestowed upon Cali were the hands-down favorite of the city’s most recent exhibition. She was honored to call him her dearest friend.

Padding away from the kitchen, Cali made her way to Lionel’s workshop. He kept the door closed at all times in an effort to keep his living space separate. Otherwise, his inventions would overwhelm his apartment, though they often found their way inside it anyway. Cali paused before the door and meowed.

No response.

Trying again, this time with more force, she sounded a pitiful mrroww. She waited ten seconds, then twenty. How could he ignore such a mournful cry? With a sigh, she pushed her way through the cat flap.

Inside, all was quiet. Surprising, considering the nature of Lionel’s work. Metal and gears, levers and springs, and all sizes of engines powered by steam were the tools of his trade. A Master Tinker not beholden to any of the city’s Guilds, Lionel followed his own path. Cali spotted him seated at his desk, peering intently at a small bronze fitting in his hand. Whatever it was, Cali decided, it couldn’t be more important than her empty stomach.

Keeping her eyes focused on Lionel, Cali made her way across the room. The floor was littered with dust and a few metal shavings, but she expertly avoided them with help from her mechanical eye. The flecks of metal glinted in the light of her visual enhancement, her right eye shining purple in the dimly lit room. Her unaltered left eye glowed green, her pupil wide. The only light available came from Lionel’s desk lamp, the window shade having been drawn closed. The tinker’s work was top secret, and he intended to keep it away from all prying eyes. Except, of course, for Cali’s. Though he hadn’t explained his invention to her, she was not banned from his workspace. She was, after all, his closest friend.

Meowing softly, Cali hoped to win Lionel’s attention. Despite her repeated attempts, he remained oblivious to her presence. Trying harder, she wrapped her tail around his ankle and rubbed her face against his leg. Still nothing. Stretching herself tall on her hind legs, she placed a paw in his lap and tapped, but the tinker remained steadfast in his work.

Sitting back on her haunches, Cali tried to determine how far she should go. Yes, she was hungry, but she wasn’t yet starving. Resorting to stronger methods was not yet necessary. Instead she chose patience. Stretching herself into a sphinx position, she cocked her head to the side and watched as Lionel tended to his work. It was only a few minutes later that she began to yawn, and her eyelids grew heavy.

The chiming of a nearby clock brought Cali back to her feet. Giving the object a sideways glance, she studied the hands while counting the chimes. It was definitely eleven of the clock, and it was time for her lunch. Steeling herself for a loud caterwauling session, she held her head high. Before the first note of her song could escape her throat, she heard a noise behind her. Someone, or possibly something, was at the apartment’s rear door.

Always curious to see who was about, Cali dashed through the cat flap, leaving it swinging in her wake. The jingling of keys suggested a human at the door, and she knew immediately who it must be. Stopping only feet from the door, she sat back on her haunches and waited.

A head of curly, honey-colored hair poked itself inside the door. “Lionel?” His sister, Florence, stepped inside and knelt before Cali. Softly fluffing the calico’s cheeks, she said, “How are you today, Miss Cali?”

Cali purred and nuzzled her face into Florence’s hand. She was a frequent visitor and lifelong friend to the calico cat. Not only had Florence been present when Lionel rescued Cali from the streets, but it had been Florence who had first taken notice of the scrawny kitten in the alleyway. Without her keen eyes, Lionel might never have located Cali, nor would he have set the trap that eventually led her to a life of luxury.

Florence was also the owner of Lionel and Cali’s apartment. She managed the gas-lamp factory to which the unit was attached, and a cat flap on the rear door allowed Cali to come and go as she pleased among the factory workers. To her delight, they were a cat-loving lot. Many treats could be found among them, as well as warm laps.

“Let’s see what my brother’s up to,” Florence said as she stood. Ever conscious of fashion, the businesswoman wore a stylish brown-and-white pinstriped dress, complete with bustle and matching hat. Her hair was neatly piled on top of her head, and lace gloves decorated her fingers. The soft scent of lavender remained as she stepped away.

Cali followed close at her heels as she entered the kitchen. She wouldn’t find Lionel there. Instead, Cali meowed, imploring the woman to follow. Though Florence could not fully understand the speech of her animal companion, she knew exactly what the cat wanted her to do.

I’ve trained her well, Cali thought. Her chest puffed with pride as she listened to Florence’s footsteps falling in line with her own. Cali gave a soft meow when they approached the door to the workshop.

“Of course,” Florence said. “I should always check here first.” Shaking her head, she turned the knob and opened the workshop door. Her brother was meticulous when it came to his inventions, and she knew his latest project was delicate work. He’d neglected to visit and work on a machine for her at the factory, and now she knew why.

Seated at his desk was Lionel, just as Cali had found him an hour or so before. In one hand was a small, pointed tool, in the other a set of metal gears about the size of an orange. Florence suspected this was only a model of the actual device. Lionel often worked on a miniature before spending resources on the full-size version. It saved him many a headache when a flaw presented itself early on. He was smart, and his younger sister admired him.

“I hope you don’t mind my letting myself in,” she announced. “There was no answer at the door, and I knew you’d be home.” She waited for a response, but Lionel did not look away from his work. Trying again, she said, “I knew you’d be home because we have an appointment.”

Lionel’s eyes drifted from the items in his hands and looked over the rim of his spectacles. “Appointment?” he asked.

“At the museum,” she replied. “Don’t tell me you forgot?”

Lionel glanced over his shoulder at the clock. “That today?” He set down his tools and scratched the top of his head.

“Yes, and there’s still that little problem with the conveyor,” she reminded him. “It’s making that clicking sound.”

“Oh,” Lionel said, slapping his hand against his forehead. “I plum forgot. This project has me wound up tight. You want me to take a look at it now?”

Florence shook her head. “It can wait. I’m eager to see this new exhibit.”

Lionel waved a dismissive hand. “That stuff’s been around thousands of years. It isn’t going anywhere.”

Pursing her lips, his sister replied, “Even so, I want to get there before it’s overcrowded. A little excursion is just what you need to take your mind off your work.”

Lionel stood, pushing the chair away from his desk. Grabbing a nearby rag, he rubbed at the oil stains on his hands until the skin was mostly clean. Brushing at the metal shavings on his trousers, he attempted to make himself more presentable. Repositioning his suspenders, which had been lowered for comfort, he snapped them into place. “All set,” he announced.

“The museum prefers for gentlemen to wear a tie,” she reminded him.

He responded by opening his desk drawer and fetching a slightly wrinkled black tie. Fitting it around his collar, he managed to tie it into a respectable bow. Taking notice of his bare elbows, he rolled down his sleeves and pinned the cuffs. “Better?” he asked.

Florence studied her brother with a sideways grin. Then she glanced at Cali.

The feline shifted her gaze to Lionel, who stood with his hands in his pockets. His brown hair showed flecks of gray, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief. The stubble on his chin was thicker than usual, evidence of his all-consuming work. He looked every bit a tinker, not the sort of man to attend a fancy gala. But the museum was not a formal affair, and she doubted Florence could convince Lionel to change into a suit, which would leave him feeling out of place and out of sorts. His shirt and trousers would do nicely. Florence had fashion enough for both of them.

With a wink to Cali, Florence removed the magnifying glass clipped to Lionel’s spectacles and placed it on the desk. “Don’t forget your hat,” she said.

“It’s by the door, as always,” he replied.

Before he could take a step, frantic buzzing sounded from the tinker’s desk, similar to a housefly stuck in a lampshade. Quick as a flash, Lionel swung around and silenced the object responsible for the noise. Florence gave him a questioning look.

“Once I’ve got this working…” He trailed off, nodding and smiling.

With expert precision, Cali weaved herself between Lionel’s ankles while he walked. Dashing to her right, she repeated the same movements among Florence’s ankles, taking care not to unbalance the bipeds. They could topple easily, but not on Cali’s watch.

“I need to feed Cali before we head out,” Lionel said.

Cali knew he wouldn’t forget. A purr rose in her throat, her eyes gleaming with anticipation. Her mouth watered as she waited for him to retrieve a tin from the pantry and carve it open with one of his gadgets. The smell of the chicken inside wafted on a gentle breeze, setting her stomach to rumbling. The sooner it was in her mouth, the better. Lifting a paw, she implored him to hurry.

She didn’t have long to wait. Lionel placed a small metal bowl at his feet and stroked the calico’s head as she dove into her meal. It tasted almost like fresh, and she savored every bite to the last.

“You know she needs to eat only twice a day,” Florence said.

Cali looked up from her meal and narrowed her green eye. Twice a day would never be enough. She was barely able to stand the waiting between four meals a day. Trusting that Lionel would never be so cruel, Cali turned back to her bowl and licked up the last of the flavor.

“She’s a healthy cat,” Lionel replied. “And she has to keep up her strength to carry around those enhancements. If she’s going to keep them all powered up, she has to have more calories than the average cat.” He stroked Cali’s back, continuing along her tail.

“If you say so,” Florence said. Pausing at the mirror near the door, she checked the positioning of her hat. Giving it a minor adjustment, she nodded her approval. “All set?” she asked.

Lionel grabbed his hat from the rack and removed a bronze key from the band. It was the handiest place to keep track of his apartment key, and he’d replace it immediately after securing the door. “After you, madam,” he said, giving a slight bow.

Florence laughed and grabbed onto her brother’s arm. Despite his less-than-dapper appearance, he was a brilliant man and a wonderful brother. She could think of no better escort to accompany her to the exhibit.

Following hot on their heels, Cali stepped outside the apartment and onto the sidewalk. There was no way she was going to miss seeing this special collection of antiquities. All the hype in the newspapers these past few days had piqued all of her feline curiosity. Now that the exhibit was finally ready for viewing, Cali wouldn’t be persuaded to stay home. Either she went with her friends now, or she would go alone later.

“Looks like someone wants to come along,” Lionel said, leaning down and lifting Cali off her feet.

Florence only smiled and nodded.

There was no point in arguing where Cali was concerned. She was a well-mannered cat and a fixture in Lionel’s life. Besides, ever since her brilliant performance at the exhibition, she was a sight many of Ticswyk’s citizens hoped to see again and again. She would likely be recognized and fawned over a time or two while they were out. Cali relished the attention, and she enjoyed hearing others compliment Lionel on his work. One day the world would see him as she did—as the cleverest tinker that ever lived.

Tucking Cali safely beneath his arm, Lionel secured the apartment door. After arming his unique security system, one that would deliver a nasty shock to anyone attempting to force the door, he tucked his key away and nodded to his sister.

Florence linked her arm inside his, and the trio headed toward the carriages parked nearby. Today was a special day in Ticswyk, and many others would soon be on their way to the museum. It wasn’t every day that a new exhibit opened, but the museum’s new security system had attracted exhibitors from around the world. Its completion meant the world’s treasures would be safer here than anywhere else. One day the city could be home to items of worth beyond measure.

Today it was the landing spot for Egypt’s finest antiquities, and every citizen was eager for a glimpse, none more so than Cali. The excitement of it all had her heart racing as she was placed inside the carriage. Lionel placed her in Florence’s lap before pulling himself into a seat and tossing a coin to the driver.

“Museum,” Lionel said.

The driver clicked his tongue and the horse began to trot, its metal shoes clicking against the cobblestone street. Cali gave the horse a thorough exam with her mechanical eye, but she did not recognize the animal. It was probably new to Ticswyk, since more carriages would be needed to service the crowds. Tourists would soon be arriving, if they weren’t here already. Cali enjoyed seeing new faces around town.

As they moved along the streets, Cali kept her eyes peeled for any familiar faces. She spotted one—a black-and-white horse by the name of Nellie. Cali meowed a greeting of hello as the two carriages passed, and Nellie gave a friendly snort and tossed her head.

Not understanding the greeting between friends, Lionel patted the top of Cali’s head. “It’s all right, Cali,” he reassured her. “It’s not much farther.”

Cali found herself quite at home in a carriage, but her friend’s concern was appreciated. She settled in, taking in the sights of her hometown. The museum was a good distance from her apartment, and she hadn’t traveled this far in quite some time. They passed numerous parks and a butcher shop that caught her eye. The smell of a pastry shop garnered not only her attention, but her companions’ as well. The brother-sister duo shared a notorious sweet tooth, and Cali enjoyed her fair share of butter and creamed sugar.

Traffic thickened as they neared the museum. A crowd of citizens was quickly forming at the entrance, many of them waving blue tickets in their hands. Florence retrieved hers from her purse and handed one to Lionel.

“We can walk from here,” Lionel told the driver. He handed the man another coin and tipped his hat. As he stepped down onto the sidewalk, Cali could no longer contain her enthusiasm. She leapt over his head and landed softly behind him, eager to get inside. Lionel grinned and helped his sister from the carriage. The trio ascended the steps to the museum entrance and fell into line with other early arrivals.

“Looks like we have a wait ahead of us,” Lionel said with a sigh.

Florence shrugged and maintained her happy demeanor. Cali wiggled her nose and smiled. Nothing could dampen this moment for her. Waiting a bit longer only augmented her excitement.

The unique feline kept the crowd entertained, leaping and prancing about. She was overjoyed to have all eyes on her once again, and she allowed herself to be petted and inspected by all. Lionel beamed with pride as he explained her implants again and again with each new arrival who approached to ask questions.

It was nearly half an hour before they reached the booth where a tired-looking man was taking tickets. Cali was first to see what her companions had missed. Her heart sank as she read the words displayed on a small plaque: ABSOLUTELY NO PETS ALLOWED.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“I am terribly sorry, sir, but the museum has a strict policy against live animals.” The ticket man looked distressed to have to disappoint his guest, but he could not authorize such a change to the museum’s rules. There were too many irreplaceable items that could be damaged with animals running loose. That couldn’t happen on his watch. He’d lose his job, not to mention the guilt he’d feel.

The crowd nearby voiced their disapproval, booing the young man in the booth. He glanced away, his face reddening.

“This is no ordinary cat,” Lionel argued.

“Yes, sir,” the man replied. “But no pets are allowed.”

“Pet?” Lionel shook his head. “This isn’t a pet. Have you ever seen any pet cat with enhancements like these?”

“Well, no,” the man admitted.

“This here is a work of art!” Lionel lifted Cali off her feet, eliciting applause from those nearby. “So you see, the museum’s policy doesn’t apply to her.”

Cali gave the man a slow blink and began to purr, hoping in earnest that he would change his mind and let her in. Lionel’s argument was, after all, quite valid. She was indeed a modern work of art, a feline like no other. She belonged in a museum.

Feeling the need to impress, Cali leapt skyward, twisting herself in midair. Landing gracefully on one paw, she proceeded to hold herself in a handstand, her mechanical claws digging into the concrete steps. The crowd was impressed, as was the ticket taker.

“Now that deserves a ticket!” Lionel shouted to the crowd.

The man in the booth looked defeated. He could see that Cali was indeed a special cat, but he still couldn’t break the museum’s rules. “I’m dreadfully sorry, sir,” he squeaked out.

“You mean you still aren’t letting her in?” Lionel scooped Cali from the ground and held her close to the booth, her soulful green eye pleading with the man behind the glass.

The ticket man swallowed hard and glanced side to side. Every person in the crowd stared back at him expectantly. “I’d love to play the hero, but I can’t,” he said. “Please don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

Once again the crowd erupted into boos. Finally, a robust man dressed in a white linen suit appeared at the museum’s glass doors. Wrinkling his brow, he exited and took a good look at the crowd. “Whatever could be the matter?” he asked. To the ticket taker, he said, “This crowd should be full of enthusiasm, not disappointment. Why are they booing?” This was, after all, his own exhibit, and he wouldn’t have it marred by any happenings outside.

“Well, Mr. Porchester, sir,” the ticket man began.

“Let me explain,” Lionel said, clutching Cali to his side. “This man is refusing to allow Calico Cogg inside the museum. He seems to think that since she’s a cat, she’ll muck up things. I’ll have you know, she’s the finest enhanced feline this side of the globe.”

Porchester looked Cali over with a discerning eye. “I’d say she’s the finest, and probably only, enhanced feline on both sides of the globe.”

Lionel’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. A glance at Florence proved she was stunned as well by the man’s words. Her lips were pursed tight, her eyes wide.

“Carter Porchester, at your service, Ms. Cogg,” the man said, reaching out to shake Cali’s paw.

A polite feline, Cali reached her unenhanced paw toward the gentleman. She looked him over with a flash of her mechanical eye, making note of his waxed mustache, curled into perfect rings of dark hair on each side. Cali suspected it could support the weight of a gold coin on each side without taking any damage. There was a slight smell of aged paper to the man, and his hands were smooth and soft, as if they’d been sanded and polished.

“I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the ancient Egyptians worshipped felines,” Porchester said.

The assembled crowd listened with much interest.

Porchester flashed a smile, delighted to be the center of attention. “I say this feline can enter.”

A cheer rose from the crowd, along with applause and a few whistles. Cali shifted power to her hind quarters, activating her brass implants. Springing from Lionel’s arms, she somersaulted high in the air before landing on the tinker’s shoulder. Lifting herself on her back feet, she placed a paw at her midsection and bowed. The onlookers were doubly delighted, their cheers growing ever louder.

The ticket taker tried to shout over the noise. “Mr. Porchester, the museum rules say—”

“I’ll hear no more of it,” Porchester replied, holding up his hand. “This is my exhibit, and Calico Cogg is my special guest. She and her caretaker are most welcome inside.”

“There’s also my sister.” Lionel motioned for Florence to step forward. “I’m Lionel Cogg, and this is Florence.”

Enchanté!” Porchester said, kissing the back of Florence’s hand.

Florence blushed and turned her head to the side. It wasn’t often that she received such attention. Porchester offered his arm, and she took it without hesitation.

“I’ll show the three of you the highlights of the exhibit,” he said.

“We’re honored,” Florence said. “To have the archaeologist give us a personal tour is…” She shook her head, clearly out of words.

“Egyptologist would be more accurate, my dear,” Porchester said.

Lionel bent down to place Cali on the floor as they entered the museum. He figured if she was an honored guest, she should be allowed to walk through the exhibit on her own four paws. Cali had no objection. She was eager to take in the sights and smells of the museum.

“This way,” Porchester said, leading them toward a pair of sand-colored columns.

“Porchester,” Lionel said, thinking out loud.

“Yes?” the man replied.

“I know I’ve heard that name somewhere,” the tinker commented.

“Information about the exhibit has been in all the papers,” Porchester replied with a grin. “I’ve been interviewed more times than I can count.”

“Yes, I’ve seen an announcement or two,” Lionel said. “But I was thinking there was someone else not too long ago.”

Porchester frowned. “My brother was elected judge a few months ago,” he said. “My family was overjoyed with his new status.” With a laugh, he added, “They thought I was insane to go all the way to Egypt to dig in the sand.” He led the trio between the columns and into an expansive gallery. “But after I brought home all of this,” he made a wide gesture with his hands, “they’ve learned who the brilliant one in the family truly is.” There was no lack of pride in his tone.

Cali looked out upon the gallery filled with glass cases, shelves, and free-standing statues. There was more than her mechanical eye could take in at once. The exhibit stretched on for what seemed like a mile. It would take hours to visit every object on display. Refusing to be overwhelmed, she held her tail high and trotted along with her companions, prepared to listen closely to Porchester’s every word.

The Egyptologist led them first to a section of wall covered with rectangular stones of various sizes. All were carved, depicting scenes from the daily life of the ancients. Some were painted with bright colors, and others were so worn that it was difficult to tell what had once been chiseled into them.

“Direct your attention to these stelae.” Porchester released Florence’s arm and indicated the row of stone plaques.

The visitors pressed close to the nearest stela, all except Cali, who was too low to the ground. Instead, she zoomed in with her mechanical eye, giving herself a better view than any of the humans.

“These are carved in limestone,” Porchester explained. “This particular one is from the Middle Kingdom and is about four thousand years old.”

Florence gasped and pressed her hand to her heart. “I had no idea paint could last that long,” she said.

“The Egyptians were remarkable people, Ms. Cogg,” he replied. “They had all sorts of pigment, crafted from the variety of minerals available to them. Their own special mix of animal and plant matter, transformed into a glue, allowed these pigments to adhere, and they’ve lasted through the ages.”

“I didn’t expect so many colors,” Florence said.

“Oh, yes,” the Egyptologist went on. “Red and blue, green and gold, black and white. I’ve also seen some items painted pink.”

Cali scanned the stelae along the wall but didn’t find what she was searching for. Surely the Egyptians had been aware of calico. Her own pattern of black, white, and gold was definitely worth a painting or two. One that would last thousands of years would be most appropriate.

“Why didn’t they paint those lines of symbols?” Lionel asked. He pointed to the rows of small carvings present on the stela.

“Those are hieroglyphs, my good man,” Porchester said. “That is how the Egyptians wrote, not with letters as we know them.”

Lionel leaned in closer, his interest piqued. “What does it say?”

“This one tells the story of the great king who is depicted here.” He pointed to the male figure at the center of the stela. “King Wahankh Intef II reunified Lower Egypt.”

“Don’t you mean pharaoh?” Lionel asked.

“You’re a clever man, I can see,” Porchester said, grinning. “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a tinker,” Lionel said proudly. “I fix things, and invent other things.”

“Ah,” Porchester replied.

“I designed and crafted all of Cali’s enhancements,” Lionel went on.

“Fascinating!” Porchester exclaimed. “I might have a job for a man of your talents.” He paused. “Yes, I’m sure of it. We can discuss that later. And yes, many kings of Egypt were referred to as pharaoh, but the term wasn’t used until around 1350 BCE. This stela is from around 2000 BCE.”

“So the rows of little pictures tell the story,” Lionel said.

“Correct.”

“What are all those little objects surrounding the king?” the tinker wondered. “Bigger words?”

Amused, Porchester allowed himself a polite laugh. “These are offerings being presented to the king. He will take them all with him into the afterlife.”

“It’s going to be crowded,” Lionel commented, squinting at the stela.

“It will indeed,” Porchester agreed. He clapped Lionel on the back in a friendly gesture. “But a king must have his many worldly goods if he’s to be comfortable.” Taking Florence’s arm once again, he said, “Let’s have a look over here.” He led them toward a row of busts near the far wall.

Cali hesitated a moment in following. The eye of the king stared back at her, outlined in striking black. She could feel his presence, his immortal eye staring straight through her. It gave her a chill, and her fur bristled involuntarily. Shaking her head, she pushed the uneasiness away. Being in the presence of ancients was a new experience, and it would take some getting used to. Trotting along, she made her way to her companions as they admired a stone bust.

Porchester went on explaining, but Cali wasn’t interested this time. Instead, she scanned the unique face of each head, making note of their differences. Various materials had been used in their construction, resulting in slightly different colors. She recognized limestone, granite, and quartzite with no problem. Some of them had rounder cheeks, some gaunt; some had wide eyes, some small. The only thing they seemed to have in common was that none of them had a nose intact.

As if he’d read her mind, Lionel asked, “Why don’t any of them have noses?”

Cali meowed her approval of the question.

“Well, some of them may have succumbed to erosion by wind and sand, but others were destroyed by vandals. There’s also a theory that by removing the nose, the soul—or ka, as the Egyptians called it—wouldn’t be able to move into its statue, thus dooming it to wander.”

Cali shuddered at the thought. Though she’d never encountered a restless spirit, and she wasn’t sure they even existed, the idea that someone could be that cruel was unnerving. If one truly believed the spirit needed a statue to go peacefully to the afterlife, then damaging that item intentionally would be worse than murder.

“I suppose we’re lucky they didn’t destroy them entirely,” Florence commented.

“Lucky indeed, Ms. Cogg,” Porchester said.

“If you ever want some mechanical noses,” Lionel said with a laugh, “I think I might be able to help.”

Porchester gave a good-natured laugh at the suggestion. “I think we’ll leave them as they are,” he replied. His eye fell on a shining blue-green object, and he couldn’t resist showing it to his guests. “Come and have a look here,” he said, skirting around the display of heads.

“It’s a hippo,” Florence said.

“It is,” Porchester replied. “They were quite common along the Nile in ancient times. The Egyptians feared them for their ferocious nature. You can see that this piece has three broken legs that have been repaired. That was done by the Egyptians themselves, to prevent the beast from harming anyone in the afterlife.”

“They thought it would come alive?” Florence asked.

“Oh, yes,” he replied. “Statues were representatives of the ka, and this hippo would be very real in the Egyptian afterlife.”

Cali studied the figure closely. It didn’t appear ferocious to her. With reeds carved into its sides, it appeared to be at home among the tall grasses of the ancient Nile. It looked content, almost as if it were smiling.

“Is it made of porcelain?” Florence asked.

“Similar,” Porchester replied. “It’s called faience, and that’s how it gets its glossy sheen and blue-green hue. The Egyptians took great pride in their art, even with these dangerous animals. It is meant to honor the creature. Though they feared it, they respected it as well.”

Taking Florence by the arm, the Egyptologist led his guests to a glass case filled with small trinkets. Tiny statues of Egyptian gods and goddesses, their animal heads glistening in the museum lights, stood all in a row.

“Jewelry,” Florence said, smiling.

“Indeed,” Porchester replied. “Faience was also used to make amulets to beautify the person.” He pointed to an elaborate necklace constructed of tiny blue-green beads.

“What’s that thing?” Lionel asked. He pointed to a small bulbous creature with pincers extended toward a sphere.

“A scarab,” Porchester replied. “Or dung beetle.”

“Why on earth would anyone want to wear a dung beetle?” Lionel wondered. “They roll balls of poop around all day long.”

Cali thought the beetle looked tasty. Many insects were juicy, though some could be bitter. She’d never eaten one that was so brightly colored, though. She wondered what they might look like in real life.

“To the Egyptians, this little creature represented the cycle of rebirth,” Porchester explained. “The sun god Ra moved the sun across the sky, whisking it away to the other world every night and returning it to the living world every morning. That cycle of regeneration was very important to these ancient people.”

Now Cali saw the beauty in it. It represented rebirth, just as she felt reborn by the implants Lionel had gifted her. She had ceased to exist as an ordinary feline and had become the great Calico Cogg. Thinking about it made her purr with delight.

“You like it, Ms. Cali?” Porchester asked, scratching her behind the ear.

She nuzzled her face into his hand and stepped forward, arching her back high and brushing her side against his legs.

“I have something that will delight you even more,” Porchester told her.

Lifting her over a glass case, he allowed her to see the small black-and-gold object inside. Her eyes grew wide with fascination as she looked it over. Crafted of bronze and adorned with a golden necklace and earrings was a cat!

“This is the goddess Bast, or Bastet, as she’s sometimes called,” Porchester said. “As I mentioned earlier, cats were sacred to the ancient Egyptians. They admired their feline poise and prowess, not to mention their beauty.” He stroked the fur on Cali’s back. “They would have greatly admired you, Cali.”

Cali beamed with pride, her green eye gleaming, her mechanical eye focused on the feline goddess. If they revered an average cat, what would the Egyptians have thought of an enhanced cat? She might have become ruler of all.

“Many cats were honored with mummification, preserving them for their journey to the afterlife.”

“Mummies,” Lionel said. “Let’s see one of those.”

Giving Cali one more pat on the head, Porchester placed her back on her feet. “Right this way,” he said.

The group passed numerous small statues, cases filled with jewelry, and pottery of every size and style. The mummies were displayed near the back of the exhibit, encouraging visitors to peruse the entire collection rather than rush toward the main event.

“Here they are,” Porchester said. “Residents of the ancient world, preserved for their journey to the afterlife.”

Cali’s eyes scanned the row of mummies on display. There were ten of them altogether, but the condition of each was drastically different. One lay in a painted wooden casket; another was in a coffin so thin, it looked like hardened paper. Two lay in what appeared to be bronze, the lids removed for easy viewing of the wrappings. She examined the exposed skin of the nearest mummy. It had blackened with the ages yet still appeared soft to the touch. Not that she had any desire to lay a paw on this person. This area of the museum had a faint—but noticeable to her feline nose—scent of must and incense. The humans didn’t seem to notice.

One mummy especially caught Cali’s eye, as it was entirely unwrapped, lying on an aged cloth blanket. Its teeth protruded, its finger bones visible. Time had not been kind to this one. Several gashes were present in its skin, damage taken long after this person’s burial. The calico wondered if this mummy had been stolen from its tomb with little care taken. The thief’s only concern would have been for the money he could make selling it to a museum. Cali swallowed the comment, glad that humans could not understand her speech. Otherwise, she might have a thing or two to say to the museum’s director.

“I’ve seen them in pictures,” Florence began, “but it didn’t do them justice. They’re remarkably preserved.”

“Yes,” Porchester agreed. “Preservation of the body was of utmost importance to the ancients.”

“How did they do it?” Lionel asked.

“It was a long, complicated process that took months to complete,” Porchester said. “The short version is they were dried, oiled, and wrapped. Their organs were removed and placed in jars.” He gestured to a row of alabaster jars.

Taking a good look at the jars, Cali noted that each had a lid depicting the head of an animal. Among them were a monkey, a bird, and some sort of dog. Some had human heads, but they were less interesting to her. It was plain to see that the Egyptians revered animal life, much more than the people of Cali’s time. She wondered why the worship of animals had gone out of style. Then she realized that perhaps it had only changed, rather than disappeared altogether. After all, she was treated very well, and Lionel obviously cared a great deal for her. She might not be an exalted goddess, but she was happy with her life.

“Seems like they went to a lot of trouble to be buried in a certain way,” Lionel commented. “So why dig them up and move them? Shouldn’t you just leave them where you found them?”

Porchester’s face reddened. “Once we’ve learned all we can from them, that might be an option,” he said. He pursed his lips and said no more on the subject. Turning his attention to Cali, he said, “You’ll see there are many animal mummies as well.” He pointed to a case full of small bronze caskets shaped as various animals. Three cats, a monkey, a small crocodile, and a snake were among them. Cali mewed, happy to see her fellow felines and animal kin treated so well.

The group moved to the grandest mummy, a golden sarcophagus painted with shades of blue, red, and black. It had been polished to a high shine, giving it a luminous glow beneath the museum lights. It was a magnificent specimen indeed. Even Lionel seemed suitably impressed.

“This was a pharaoh,” Porchester said.

“Which one?” Lionel asked.

“Sadly, the outer paintings don’t name the man who rests inside,” the Egyptologist said. “The lid is secured in such a manner that it was impossible to remove without causing great damage. I refused to allow such mistreatment.” He lifted his head with pride. “These items are priceless, and harming them in any way is unacceptable.”

Cali respected the statement, but she hadn’t forgotten the damaged mummy she had seen. Someone had purchased it from a thief, she was certain of it. She didn’t know what role Porchester might have played in that, but he seemed genuine in his desire to protect the artifacts. Perhaps he had acquired the damaged mummy to protect it from further desecration.

“And now for the grand finale,” Porchester said, beaming. He led his guests between two grand statues, seated figures of a king and queen. They towered above the visitors, their painted eyes staring out toward oblivion.

Opening the door to the museum courtyard, Porchester led them outside. Centered in a circular bed of grass stood an obelisk, gleaming beneath the midday sun.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

The sight of the massive stone structure nearly took Cali’s breath away. She could tell by the gasps from her companions that they were impressed as well. Standing sixty feet high, the obelisk reached proudly toward the heavens. Its granite surface was smooth, save for a few nicks and scratches earned from a lifetime in the desert sand. It had weathered the millennia well. Symbols carved on its surface stretched nearly the entire length, images meant to convey a message to onlookers. Though Cali could not read those words, she sensed their meaning. This was a tribute to the divine, and it was magnificent in her eyes.

“It’s nearly four thousand years old,” Porchester said. “Dedicated to the sun god Ra, it formerly stood outside his temple. Unfortunately it had fallen and been nearly buried by the shifting sands. But we were able to retrieve it, and just look at it.” He let out a long sigh as he marveled at the obelisk’s beauty. It needed few words of introduction. Everyone in the courtyard was understandably awestruck, including the Egyptologist.

“Look, Ms. Cali,” Porchester said playfully, “there’s a tasty falcon carved at the top!”

Directing her gaze skyward, Cali laid eyes on the falcon chiseled into the obelisk. She recognized it from the other items in the exhibit. Like the cat statue, the falcon was the representative of a god. It stood proudly, leading the way for the figures beneath it to follow as they ascended toward the heavens. She wondered if it was possible to climb the structure for a closer look, but she thought better of it. Her mechanical claws would damage the impressive artifact.

Instead, she zoomed in with the help of her mechanical eye, and took a good look at each figure. Not far below the falcon was the same dung beetle they had seen inside. Swishing her tail, Cali trotted forward. With a single claw, she traced its outline in the dirt at her feet.

“Clever girl!” Porchester said. “You’ve recognized the scarab.”

Grumbling, Lionel turned to Florence. “This guy is really taken with those little poop bugs.”

“As were the Egyptians,” she pointed out.

Lionel had no choice but to agree. Extending a hand to the Egyptologist, he said, “Mr. Porchester, I thank you for giving us this fine tour of your treasures. It’s been an honor.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied, grasping the tinker’s hand. “I’m delighted to have made your acquaintance.”

“About that job you mentioned you might have…” Lionel said.

“Ah, yes!” Porchester said. “A tinker of your caliber is no doubt good with locks.”

“He’s the best,” Florence said. “He’s designed half the locks in Ticswyk, including some here at the museum.”

“I do dabble a bit in lock-making,” Lionel admitted. “I’ve come up with some complicated designs that have yet to be cracked. You should see the one they’ve put on the bank vault.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “I think that’s why I’ve lost so much of this.”

Porchester laughed heartily. “Any man who can craft a lock can surely figure out how to open one. You see, I found a small coffer that no one can seem to open. I’m quite eager to see what lies inside such a fancy little box. Do you think you can help?”

“I can certainly have a look at it,” Lionel replied.

“Fabulous,” Porchester said. Twirling a finger in his mustache, he asked, “Would you be available this evening?”

“Eager to get started, huh?” Lionel replied. He was impatient to get back to his own project, but it would require funds to move forward, so accepting work for hire was necessary. “My apartment is beside the gas-lamp factory,” he said. “Come by this evening around sunset, and I’ll have a look.”

“Marvelous,” Porchester said. “I’ll see you tonight.” With a bow, he excused himself and returned inside the museum.

“Wasn’t that fascinating?” Florence said. “I’ve never seen such a fantastic collection. I’ll have to do some more reading about the ancient Egyptians. Their civilization is so intriguing.”

Lionel scoffed. “Ours is better.”

“How can you say that?” she asked. “Technology doesn’t make a society better.”

“I think it does,” Lionel argued. “Look at all we’ve achieved.” He thought a moment before adding, “Though I suppose all we have, we owe to them.”

“How do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, they came up with some pretty complicated mathematics and architecture, not to mention their advances in medicine. They were actually pretty innovative when you think about it. Our only advantage is that we perform the same tasks more easily with our machines.”

“I wonder what those ancients would have thought of Cali,” Florence said, smiling. Reaching down, she scratched at Cali’s ear.

Cali purred her approval. There was no doubt in her mind that the Egyptians would have thought quite highly of her. But she suspected some of them might have also feared her. Either way, she was sure the Egyptians would have been interested in her technology. For the tools they had available to them, they had accomplished amazing feats. Worshipping cats was the mark of a magnificent society. She would have to be sure to be present while Florence was reading so that she might learn more as well. A lap was a good spot to read alongside a human, and Florence always welcomed her company.

As they moved away from the obelisk and out the museum gate, Cali couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched. Pausing for a look over her shoulder, she locked eyes with her observer. Low on the obelisk was a carved eye, identical to the eye she’d seen painted on the king. A sacred symbol to the Egyptians, it had been immortalized in stone for all time. The white eye, ringed in black, stared through the clockwork calico, seeing all the way to her inner workings. She felt exposed.

Gathering her wits, Cali forced herself to ignore the feeling. It was nothing more than a carving. She shouldn’t let it bother her. Without another glance, she trotted away from the obelisk at Lionel’s heels.

Lifting his arm and snapping his fingers, Lionel signaled for a carriage. Cali mrrowed at his feet, putting force behind her voice. When he looked down at her, she trotted along the sidewalk, her tail flipping back and forth. She hoped he would follow.

Lionel didn’t disappoint. “Where’s she going?” he wondered aloud.

Cali stopped beside a waiting carriage and greeted the black-and-white horse at the front. “Good day, Nellie,” she said.

“Hello again, Cali,” the horse replied, clicking her hoof against the cobblestones. “Did you see the exhibit?”

“Yes, it was wonderful,” the cat replied.

“I’ve heard all about it,” Nellie said. “And I can see the obelisk from the street.”

Cali wondered briefly if Porchester could be persuaded to let a horse inside but decided not to bother mentioning it. The aisles inside the museum were too narrow for a horse, and Nellie had no enhancements to boast of. Cali doubted any other animals would ever be allowed inside. She considered herself very lucky.

The trio climbed aboard the carriage and settled in for the ride back to the apartment. Florence chatted the whole way about the many items she’d seen on display. She couldn’t wait to return to the factory to let all the girls know how amazing the exhibit was. Lionel feigned interest as she carried on, but his mind was already back to gears and levers.

Cali curled her front paws under her body and watched the world go by. More and more carriages passed, heading in the direction of the museum. It was going to be quite crowded, and would probably remain that way for a long time. It was fine with her. She enjoyed seeing visitors in Ticswyk.

The carriage came to a halt outside the factory, and Cali hopped out first. “Thanks for the ride, Nellie,” she said “Have a fine evening.”

“You too, Cali,” the horse replied. “I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.”

Cali darted to the door and swished her tail as she waited for Lionel to open it. Bounding inside ahead of him, Cali sniffed at the air to make sure nothing had changed. It hadn’t. Content that all was right with her world, she sat back on her haunches and gazed up at her companions.

“I should be getting back to the factory,” Florence said. “Things tend to fall apart when I’m away too long.” Giving her brother a kiss on the cheek, she departed for the rear door. The sound of machinery echoed inside the apartment as she opened it, and disappeared when she closed it again.

“I’ll be in my workshop if you need anything, Cali,” Lionel said, mussing the fur on her head. “I’m sure you’ll let me know when it’s dinnertime.”

Cali watched him walk away, disappearing inside his sanctuary. She stayed only a moment, deciding what to do next. Sunlight on her windowsill tempted her back to her favorite spot. It was a good time for a nap.

A small figure moved slowly across the window, and she paused a moment to observe it. Realizing that it was on the inside rather than outside, she zoomed in and purred. A blue-gray mouse waved a tiny paw. Holding up a claw, she darted into the kitchen to retrieve a small bundle she had wedged behind the trash bin.

“Hello, Emmit,” Cali said. She dropped the bundle on the windowsill.

“Good afternoon, Cali,” he replied. Removing the paper wrapping from Cali’s gift, he laid eyes on the dark orange hunk of cheese inside. The aroma was pure heaven. “Thank you, Cali.” She brought him cheese on a regular basis, and he appreciated every bite. Though her portions were sometimes ridiculous, and a mouse would have trouble eating a hunk of cheese this size in less than a month, he would never complain about her gifts. “Where were the three of you?”

“We went to the museum to see the new exhibit.”

“The Egyptian stuff?” Emmit asked.

Cali nodded.

“I wondered when they’d finish putting it together,” he said. “They’ve been working on it for weeks. I didn’t want to go in until everything was in place.” He winked, adding, “It spoils the surprise.”

“I had no idea you were interested in antiquities,” Cali said. Though she considered him among her closest friends, she hadn’t known him long. There was much about his private life that she had yet to learn. “You’re turning out to be one interesting mouse.”

Their adventure together to protect a golden owl from Morcroft’s thieving automatons had sealed their friendship. Emmit was loyal and brave, not to mention clever. He made a perfect companion for an enhanced feline. She was proud to have him as a friend. In fact, he’d changed her entire perception of mice. Once a huntress and chief mouser of the gas-lamp factory, she now found herself bribing mice away from the factory with cheese. Her friendship with Emmit made it impossible for her to harm any mouse. Her solution allowed her to keep her title as mouser without actually chasing any mice.

“I never knew a thing about Egypt until the papers started talking about the upcoming exhibit,” Emmit explained. “Everywhere I went there were scraps of news, telling of the wonders of the ancient land. As the items were uncovered and packed onto a ship, I became only more intrigued.” He tapped his chin. “I suppose ‘addicted’ is a better word for it. Those writers really know how to sell papers.” The expression was figurative, of course. Emmit never paid for the news. He found discarded newspapers in the alleyways as he was foraging for scraps.

“I hadn’t noticed,” Cali replied. She only occasionally read the news over Lionel’s shoulder and listened as he and Florence discussed the hottest topics. Egypt had never been mentioned by either of them until the exhibit tickets went on sale a few days ago. Then Florence had gabbed about it nonstop, anticipating her first glimpse of the collection. Her excitement had rubbed off on Cali, who couldn’t wait to get a look at the ancient wonders.

“What was it like in there?” Emmit asked.

“It was marvelous,” Cali said. “You can smell the age of everything, and it’s beyond old.” She couldn’t find the words to describe it exactly, but it was like smelling the oldest thing she’d ever smelled, an antique volume of mechanical inventions by some Italian tinker, and then making it even older.

“Were there mummies?” Emmit asked, pressing his paws together.

“Yes,” Cali replied. “There were several.”

“Were there any mice?”

“What?” She wrinkled her nose and thought back. “No, I don’t recall any mouse mummies.”

“Oh,” he replied, disappointed. “I’d heard the Egyptians mummified animals.”

“They did,” Cali said. “There were cats, monkeys, and reptiles. There could have been more, but we didn’t see every single item.” To do so would have required several hours, and no cat could be expected to pay attention for that long. “A man named Porchester gave us a tour of the highlights.”

Emmit nodded enthusiastically. “Then maybe you didn’t see the mice. They’d be small, so they might not stand out like a human mummy. I’ll take a close look when I go. What else did you see?”

“There were giant statues of kings and queens, stone carvings lining an entire wall, cases full of jewelry and tiny statues—”

“I bet that’s where the mice are!” Emmit cut in.

“Maybe,” Cali said with a shrug. “The smallest thing I saw was a dung beetle.”

“What was the largest?” the mouse asked.

“Definitely the obelisk,” Cali replied. “It’s about sixty feet high and standing outside in the courtyard. You can’t miss it.”

“I’ve seen the top of it,” Emmit admitted. “I’ve tried to stay away from the area, but that thing is hard to miss. They used all these ropes and pulleys to put it in place, and I happened to be close enough to see the top of it.” Grinning, he added, “But I was a good mouse and didn’t go any closer, though I was dying to.”

Cali laughed. “Well, it’s all in place and waiting for you.”

Squeaking with delight, Emmit said, “I’ll have to sneak in there tonight. I can’t bear waiting any longer.” He trembled slightly, anxious to get running to the museum. There had to be a mouse in that collection somewhere, even if it wasn’t a mummy. A painting or statue would do.

“I’d recommend at least waiting until they close and all the people have gone,” Cali cautioned. Humans weren’t fond of mice in any setting. Every time Emmit paused to take a closer look at something, he’d be putting himself in grave danger.

“Wait,” Emmit said, scratching his head. “You said Porchester gave you a tour?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Porchester, the guy who brought all that stuff from Egypt?”

Cali nodded, wondering where this was going.

“You didn’t sneak inside with Lionel and Florence? The Egyptologist himself let you in?” It was almost too much to comprehend. Emmit visited the area of the museum at least once a week and was familiar with their “no animals” policy. He’d seen a lady walk her dog too close once, and she was scolded as if she’d tried to set the place on fire.

After casually licking at her paw, Cali said, “Given the admiration the Egyptians had for cats, and the fact that I’m an extraordinary specimen, Porchester decided to bend those rules.”

Emmit shook his head in disbelief. “You’re one lucky cat, Cali.” He was only slightly jealous. After all, he wasn’t an enhanced mouse, and few people held high opinions of his species. Sneaking in was his only hope of seeing the exhibit. No one would hold the door open for a mouse.

“I am lucky,” Cali agreed. From a street kitten to a warm home, she had hit the jackpot when Lionel took her in. Not to mention a full belly and scritchins whenever she liked. The mechanical enhancements only added to her good fortune. She considered herself the luckiest cat in the world.

Emmit turned his attention to his cheese and nibbled as he daydreamed about the exhibit. Cali settled in on her perch and looked out the window, her head growing heavier with each passing minute. She allowed her eyes to close for only a moment, and when she opened them again, the sun had set and Emmit was curled up next to her, nestled in her fur. Apparently she had drifted off despite her efforts to stay awake.

Judging by the colorful sunset, she knew it was time for her dinner. Taking extra care with her movements, she slid gracefully away from the blue-gray mouse, who showed no signs of stirring. Hopping down from the window, she padded toward the workshop to fetch Lionel. If only he would leave the tins outside the cupboard, she could open them herself with her mechanical claws. Alas, he insisted on monitoring her diet.

Taking in a deep breath, Cali sounded a desperate wail. Lionel looked up immediately, his eye enlarged through the magnifying lens clipped to his glasses.

“Dinnertime, eh?” he asked, laughing. “All right.” Long hours slumped over his work caught up to him when he tried to stand. “Oof,” he said, stretching and rubbing his lower back. “I’m tied in knots.”

Cali gave a sympathetic meow and followed him toward the kitchen. Lionel moved a little slowly retrieving her food, so she stretched herself tall to pat his leg with her paw.

“Here you go,” he said, setting the dish on the floor.

She didn’t waste a second diving into her meal. Halfway through, an irritating bell interrupted her feast. Someone was at the door.

“Who in the world?” Lionel wondered. “Oh, it must be Porchester.”

Emmit seemed to appear out of nowhere, his eyes gleaming. Cali laughed through a mouthful of shredded meat.

“The Egyptologist is here?” he squeaked.

Swallowing, she replied, “Yes, he has work for Lionel.” She licked her bowl clean before trotting into the parlor with Emmit hot on her heels.

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