The Architect stood on the dune, sand shifting beneath his sandals, and watched the Pharaoh’s palanquin approach. This was the first time in fifteen years that his leader had come to the building site, stating that he wanted to wait until the great work was complete before seeing it, and the Architect felt a stirring of unease pass through him. What if the Pharaoh hated it? Had he the last spent twenty years of his life working on a project that was just going to get him executed?
But all the Architect had to do was turn around and behold his creation and he knew everything was going to be fine.
“Here he comes,” rumbled Anokh. The palace guard loomed over the Architect, making him feel small and insignificant. He had awoken the Architect earlier in the day and informed him of the Pharaoh's imminent approach. They'd barely had time to hide the slaves away in the quarry.
“Yeah, there he is,” the Architect agreed. “Look, we both know that when he gets here I'm going to kneel. I love the Pharaoh and I have no problem kneeling. I would kneel all day if need be.”
“What's your point?”
“I'm just saying,” the Architect said slowly, “that you don't need to do that thing where you hit the back of my knees with your spear and knock me into a kneeling position. I am happy, honored even, to kneel.”
“I don't tell you how to do your job.”
The Architect sighed and began to make his way down the dune, Anokh right behind him. The first of the Pharaoh's train had begun to arrive and lay out carpets on the sand for his arrival. The soft, velvet coverings would stretch all the way around the dune and to the base of the great work.
Without the construct in sight, the Architect began to feel nervous again.
“My old friend!” the Pharaoh cried at the Architect as his palanquin arrived. He was excited, hopping up and down on his seat and causing the slaves that were carrying it to strain to keep it level. “Today is the day!”
“Yes it is, my dear lea...ACK!” the Architect fell to his knees as Anokh brought his spear down heavily across the back of his legs.
The Pharaoh allowed his hand to be kissed by the supplicating Architect and then gestured for him to rise. Shooting Anokh a withering gaze - the guard was barely containing a smirk - the Architect got up on shaking legs and rubbed at the bruise that was forming on the back of his thighs.
“I've waited so long to see what you have been building out here,” the Pharaoh said in his singsong voice. “I've been so very patient. Unusually, almost supernaturally, patient.”
The Architect felt his bladder go cold as the Pharaoh's gaze went from joyous to malevolent in an instant.
“It had better be good, dear friend.”
Just as suddenly, the Pharaoh's demeanor switched back and he embraced the Architect, almost smothering the man in his opulent robes. Gesturing to one of the diminutive slaves that had been carrying his palanquin, the Pharaoh had the man reach up and place his hands over the leader's eyes so that he couldn't see the great construction until he was standing in front of it. The Pharaoh began to make his way along the carpet, the slave struggling behind to keep his eyes covered, while the Architect and Anokh followed.
Within minutes, the small group stood under a tent a few hundred cubits away from the great work. Informing the Pharaoh that they had arrived, the Architect felt a single drop of sweat blaze a chilling trail down his spine as the slave removed his hands and scurried away.
The Pharaoh took in the work, his expression neutral.
“What do you call this?” he asked, his voice flat.
“I call it a pyramid, your Greatness,” the Architect answered. As the pharaoh remained silent and unmoving, the Architect could feel Anokh and his spear take a step closer to him. He began to stammer. “Each side is perfectly even, I took careful measurements. Inside are a few chambers, I figured we could use them for honored gatherings or, in case of attack, its nearly impenetrable. You know, its funny, but I never really thought about what we would use this this for until, like, last week when we were almost...”
“Quiet,” the Pharaoh whispered and waved his hand for silence. Anokh put his hand on the Architect's shoulder, his grip like iron. “You say that you built this?”
“I designed it. The actual work was done by....”
“But you are responsible for it?”
“Well, yes,” the Architect said, he could see Anokh's spear out of the corner of his eye. “It was I who drafted the design, oversaw construction, and...”
“It is the most magnificent thing I have ever seen.”
Relief, like a flood, washed over the Architect and almost knocked him to the ground. Luckily, Anokh's grip kept him upright. The Pharaoh seemed to be weeping as he gazed at the great pyramid that rose before him, his hands covering his mouth.
“Oh,” the Architect sighed, walking up to stand next to the Pharaoh on legs made of gelatin. “Oh, I'm so glad you like it, your Highness. You have no idea the work that went into constructing this for you. I spent years on the plans, had to make sure each of the stones were cut to my specifications...”
“You aren't fooling me,” the Pharaoh said, a mischievous gleam in his eye. He turned to the Architect and wagged a finger at him, as if he caught on to some kind of joke. “I know exactly what went into the construction of this monument.”
“Um...you mean your...divine providence...?” the Architect said uncertainly. “I was certainly inspired by...”
The Pharaoh reached out his arms as if he were embracing the great pyramid.
“I recognize the work of the ancient astronauts that once visited this land oh so long ago. Their hand in this is evident. You shouldn't take credit for the work of our space-born brothers, old friend.”
“Hold on. You think space people...?”
“I know space people.”
“But I think I would know if... if aliens...”
“Oh please,” the Pharaoh said, his voice lilting. “The ways of our friends from beyond the sun are mysterious and grand. Tell me, what human agency could possibly stack rocks like this?”
“Slaves,” the Architect almost shouted, forgetting about Anokh and his spear for a moment. “Thousands and thousands of slaves. Jews specifically.”
“This will make a grand resting place for my remains as I await their return.”
“You're going to be buried in it? I thought we could have a party....”
“Oh yes, this is definitely where I'm going to rest and await our star brother's return.” the Pharaoh said, his head nodding up and down. “For sure. I'm going to need you to build a couple more of these for my wives though. A man needs his space, amIright?”
The Architect ignored the Pharaoh’s elbow nudging him in the ribs. His great work was just going to be a tomb. And now he had to build two more?
“Maybe throw one up for yourself, too. I want you around in case you fucked something up when they gave you the directions for this.”
Clapping his hands and rocking back on his heels, the Pharaoh let out a long sigh and took in one final look at his magnificent tomb.
“Well, I'm going to let you get back to it. I figure the smaller ones should take you a quarter of the time, so I'll see you in fifteen. Laters.”
As the Pharaoh and Anokh departed, the Architect stood next to the tent that the slaves had already begun to dismantle. He didn't move. He simply stood there as the sun scorched its way across the sky and then settled behind the distant western hills.
“Fuckin' rock pile.”