1964-03-02 - The Soul-Thief on the Scales of Ma'at
Summary: An ancient Egyptian statue of Anubis displayed at Cloisters attracts two like, and very unlike, minds.
Related: N/A
Theme Song: Animus Vox - The Glitch Mob
able rogue 

Few museums outside of Cairo can match the Met's collection of Egyptian art and artifacts. Today's unveiling is a small one; a culturally significant smattering of hieroglyphs on a broken piece of temple wall that had been buried beneath several meters of sand. A collection of burial jars and a sarcophagus that are almost completely intact. A few pieces of crude, battered golden jewelry. A weathered statue Anubis that stands about four feet tall. It doesn't look like much, but the trinkets represent one of the more significant archaeological finds from the region in the last decade.

Many of tonight's guests couldn't care less about history, culture, or even Egypt. The bulk of the crowd is composed of wealthy industrialists, tycoons, celebrities, and other members of the social elite. It's not a private event, but the smell of money (and charitable contributions) is thick in the air.

Able doesn't look out of place, but he's not reveling to the same degree as everyone else. There's an expression on his face that's two parts curiosity and one part nostalgia as he leans in a bit closer to the statue. He's dressed for the occasion, though he's opted for a slim-cut suit, black tie, and white shirt rather than the dinner jackets many other men are wearing.


Aside from that little bit about Egyptian raiding done by erstwhile French, American, German, and British academics, the Met truly personifies the excellence of modern archaeology. They don't steal things, they pay for them and worry about certificates of provenance. Say no more about the question of the Nasser government looking oddly at another looted crate described as 'stone' floating out of a northerly port and eventually finding itself in New York harbour. Those are concerns, surely, for the little people.

Columbia University invariably prefers its students show up for occasion events such as these, and the redheaded girl in a spectacularly rich blood-orange minidress counts as one. She has the bookbag and student debt to prove it, though neither are much evident. The powerful and influential ought not to be her set, on account of age and other qualities, yet she can meld among them despite being a fish out of water. For the unusual length of the dress — the style is still rare even in New York — as much as her reasoned questions about the name of the sarcophagus' occupant or the inscription on Anubis, she might attract the eye. Or ear. Those questions are more than a little sensibly worded, indicative of at least some wit beneath that shock of flaming hair. The docent might even appreciate someone caring, other than murmuring how cool that Anubis statue might look in their dog Patsy's kennel.


The Egyptian god has been depicted amidst the traditional weighing of the heart. Though the scales themselves are absent, he holds an ostrich feather in one hand and the other is held open expectantly.

There's a quiet 'clink' as Able sets an empty champagne saucer on a passing server's tray in favor of a full one. It's so practiced a motion that he doesn't take his eyes off of the Anubis. At first, anyway. It's the sound of someone making intelligent inquiries that catches his attention. He turns to face the new arrival and raises his glass in a minute greeting. Her appearance and her questions elicit a lifted eyebrow and a small smile. "It's from Dendera," he offers, a bit of information that isn't anywhere on the accompanying plaque. His voice is accented, but mildly enough to be mistaken for any number of European lilts. "The original curator once told me it dates back to 2500 B.C., give or take."


The young woman isn't fool enough to touch the statue, nor interpose herself from letting anyone else read the carved shapes and symbols upon it. A wonder of the ancient past come to the New World deserves attention, if only for the bump in interest it naturally creates.

"How many such artifacts do you believe will be disrupted by the Aswan high dam project?" Scarlett's lilting soprano easily rises above the general buzz of conversation, at least near at hand. She doesn't sound remotely New Yorker; maybe English, maybe rarefied Savannah. "Surely the projected inundation means remaining tombs and burial sites are irretrievably lost to us?" Such is the nature of light conversation, and she warrants a polite inclination of her head when Able joins them, answering one of the inquiries. "From the home of the Lady of the Pillar? Fascinating. The temple of Hathor is remarkable, all told."


Able actually does reach out toward the statue with his free hand. Though there's nothing but velvet ropes and disapproving glares to stop him, he halts just shy of actually touching it. A few heartbeats pass before he lets his hand drop and takes a sip of his champagne. "It is," he acknowledges, speaking of the Temple. "I had the good fortune to visit it quite a few years ago. This sat across the courtyard from the entrance."

His smile is still tugging at his lips, but barely. He reaches out again, but this time it's for a handshake. "As for the rest, I'm no Egyptologist. Just someone with a long memory and an appreciation of history. Able. Pleasure to meet you."


The approach upon the statue warrants a look through the corner of the young woman's vivid leaf-green eyes, the hue of fabled emeralds and polar lights. Only the slightest air clouds her response, shoulders tensing. Perhaps she anticipates the docent using a newspaper or riding crop to correct yet another guest, but no, there's only the polite refrain: "Please don't touch the stone. Oils in the skin can damage it, especially after first coming to the surface." Cue polite smile and very polite tone.

"A very long memory," says the young woman, and his hand extended to her brings only the very briefest of pauses. He might not even register Scarlett's hesitation, though she allows for it, the thin gloves buttoned over her wrists entirely charming in an old-world elegance way, a bit at odds with the hyper modernity she otherwise professes. "How remarkable. Well-travelled then, an advantage when it comes to knowing a jot about the pieces. Quite the choice, Anubis. A pleasure, Mr. Able." Another pause as her gaze lifts, meeting his, and she replies, "Scarlett. A student, rather than an expert."


"I do get around." The hand he offers is warm, his grip is firm, and his shake is coupled with a brief, old-fashioned bow of his head. He might be dressed more casually than the other partygoers, but his manners seem to fit the setting.

Able seems to notice her discomfort, but rather than shying away from it he faces it head on by retaining the offered hand and gaze. His eyes are a potent, piercing shade of blue that cuts a strong contrast to Scarlett's. "Quite a student, then," he observes as he lets go and turns back toward the statue.

Another finger-point, this time at the tip of an ear that's been broken off too recently for time to smooth the rough edges. "That hadn't happened when I saw it. Must've been a rough trip."


Make what one will through a thin barrier, but her long fingers have a sensitivity to them, and her grip is light, but not delicate. Never that, for all it maintains the slightest tremor up to her wrist. The curl of her fingers will maintain that residual shake no matter how long one looks, and it probably has something to do with the absence of a flute of alcohol being used to point authoritatively and punctuate certain statements.

"With all there is to learn in the world, we are always students." The merest trace of a smile impacts the corner of her cheek, and she withdraws her hands once more to cuff across one another. "Unfortunate damage, but sometimes a hazard. It might be better to have remained in situ."


"You're not wrong on either count." Able finishes his second champagne and changes it out for a fresh glass. "I enjoy the collection here, but some things are meant to be left where they were found."

His inspection of the Anubis continues, now lingering on its open hand. "I'd fail that test, I'm afraid," he says with the same air of wistful curiosity he was wearing when Scarlett arrived. "And you? Is your soul lighter than a feather, or would Ammat devour us both?"


The slip of motion behind them describes an ever widening gyre of conversation buzzing along, taking into account the horrors of aliens and untrustworthy politicians, usual complaints for the wealthy. Scarlett tucks one of her braids back behind her ear, the dash of neroli on the air mingling with the snowdrops woven among those braids for a natural coronet of sorts. "The joys of the exotic, brought to our doorstep. It can be hard to deny the wishes of a willing, paying audience, especially when it can be easily said these pieces fall into neglect for a lack of interest or care where they are."

Able's question silences her for a time, longer than normal. No glib response comes from Scarlett, nor does she wander off with a glaze of boredom in her features. Said the soul-thief to the scholar, "I leave it to poets and gods to judge. For who can truly approach the moment of death and believe the feather of Ma'at to be in balance with their deeds, ba and ka?"


Able salutes with his glass. "Well spoken, Lady," he says, nodding agreeably. "Perhaps I shouldn't give myself up for lost quite so easily."

He's clearly not convinced if his self-directly and slightly sardonic smile is to be trusted. It only lasts for a moment before it stretches back into its previous, curious configuration. "You're quite different from the rest of the crowd. Clearly." An approving wave of his hand indicates her dress and appearance. "But I thought I was the only one here who didn't come to get drunk and sign a large check. I'm glad I was wrong."


Slanting a measure of inspection over the Anubis statue, the absence of the scales rivets Scarlett. She seeks those hints of what once the jackal god carried, whether a banded groove in the stone or a slim scar where some chisel hungrily extracted a gold and brass weight in antiquity. It makes sense Dendera would be subject to such ignominy, a treatment other care. The slightest edge of a smile is visible profile on, for all that her tone remains somewhat neutral. "You always have opportunity to learn. In this city, the choices are too abundant. It would seem at every turn we have a class, a lecture or some sort made available. Spoiled for choice unlike any other time in history."

Sardonic wit finds no particular purchase with her, especially as she lofts her brow in a modest inquiry. "I shan't care to sign the large check, though I would hardly complain if they thought to sign one for me. Further study rarely comes free. What lured you here? Surely no statue you already knew."


"Actually, that's exactly why I came. It's been long enough that it feels like a different lifetime." Empty again, Able's saucer is set aside, but he refrains from taking another. "I wondered if seeing it would dredge up any other old memories of Africa."

From the twist of his lips, it's another self-directed joke. He shrugs. "You're right about higher learning. Not for those with faint hearts or thin wallets. My laboratory is modest, but keeping the lights on is no easy task. And you? You seem to have come with fairly straightforward motives, but I've been wrong before."

It's not easy to see, but tipping one's head at a certain angle reveals a slanted pit in the stone near the statue's feet. It's likely that the presumed scales were removed long before Able got a chance to see them, as the hole is smoothed over from decades of exposure to the elements.


He's speaking of age to a young woman barely twenty, though it may be even harder to measure her age given the trickery so often employed by gamine individuals of particular elegance and talents applying cosmetics. "How long were you in Africa?" A gentle inquiry, that, couched in the mindful boundaries of small talk in some fashion. Inquiries between strangers cannot be as pointed as associates or boon companions. "Laboratory? A doctor or scientist then? Intriguing. It's not often one finds such a rare specimen in the wild. I'm a scholar of antiquities and modern cares, such as a modern mind can be. Far too much information I can ever hope to manage as one."


"Almost three years," Able answers. "Egypt. Libya. Morocco. Algeria. I managed to get around quite a bit." Able pauses to clear his throat before he responds to the second question, the one that has a simpler answer.

Now his smile seems more genuine; it's crooked, boyish, and makes him look a decade younger. "I'm both, actually, though the doctor bit is mostly to pay the bills so I can play scientist in the evenings. As for you, it's good to know your limits. Or so I'm told."


"Limits? I have, I fear, no expertise with those. People do occasionally bring them up as a quaint, lovely thing." Deprecating smile and dip of the head follow Scarlett's words, polished by unabashed eloquence after another passing doyenne of society swans by. All pearls and fur and Chanel Number Five, how ghastly. The young woman crosses a little nearer to the statue, observing its like for anything unusual, fine delineations of the unfamiliar or graceful marks hidden away. It's not a new concept that Egyptologists might have found something fascinating, like Napoleonic graffiti, they failed to share with the public.

"The Maghreb, fascinating. Such sandy and sunset laced corners of the Earth. To happy travels, then, and adventure. Exploration in pursuit of knowledge. No doubt I've made the acquaintance of some hidden luminary in the field and someone will ask why I did not ask about the Nobel committee's interest."


"Luminary? I hope you're not talking about me. Like I said, I'm just a man with a long memory who appreciates a bit of history." Able leans forward over the rope to examine the hole in the statue's base. "If you want to accuse me of something, accuse me of having good genes and being an excellent surgeon."

He pauses to glance back up at Scarlett. "Unless you have your sights set elsewhere, in which case I wish you luck with your inquiries. Do you see this, here?" A long, spidery finger points to the hole. "It was rougher the last time I saw it. Newer. Obviously, heh. Think that's where the scales were attached?"


"A doctor and a scientist. I imagine there are many who practice? Unless they are the same, and a doctorate in a scientific field that is not medicine applies." Scarlett raises her hand, shaking her head. Never mind those fingers. "I have a good idea only that this city gathers the most interesting individuals and too often they have lyrical stories shrouded beneath the banal niceties of conversation we hold to maintain a convention, rather than allowing their stories to come forth. But then, I'm a collector of sorts. I would know what motivates and interests you. Those things that are profound and that which you find dreary as day. Not to say Anubis is not fascinating, as a general statement."

He draws what conclusions he will, and the bohemian storyteller responds in gracious kind. "I make no accusations at all. Surgery is something of a fascinating field, isn't ti? The very bulk of so much life, a complex wonder, confined to so fragile and remarkable a carapace as the body? How a few neat incisions can stop two million years of viral development in its tracks."


"I consider myself a man of many talents. That includes being a competent sawbones." Able's eyes flicker back up to Scarlett's face. "Let's hope you don't need those services anytime soon. Here's my card. Drop by sometime. I'll show you the lab. We'll explore your theories and questions."

Once he's handed it over, he raises two fingers to touch his forelock. It's a common gesture for him. While it'd be an affectation for most people, it's in keeping with his old-fashioned reserve. "Good evening to you."

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