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Walking Barefoot To Palestine
pegasus b
by Raven

PG, Daniel/Rodney backstory. Postcards from Egypt.

“And concurrent with another academic’s theories some years ago, it is a clear and obvious conclusion that the Egyptians did not build the pyramids.”

No, Daniel thought, pushing his glasses back up his nose; what is a clear and obvious conclusion is that you are a fuckwit, Mr. Lee. Was that the student’s name? He wrote it down anyway. “What is a clear and obvious conclusion, Mr. Lee...”

He stared for a moment at his scrawling, red-pen professor’s handwriting. Then he wrote the sentence out again in French, with perfectly rendered accents and circumflexes. Then Spanish. He sighed, but his pen didn’t stop moving. With only the faintest of reservations, he wrote it out in Dutch, and then with a flick of the nib, in Italian. He paused then, before turning to the curving Cyrillic alphabet, angular Devanagari, and in a moment of memory, in Arabic.

“Fuckwit” didn’t translate in Japanese, nor Latin, and he was reaching the end of the page now anyway, the lower part of the paper a mess of garbled communication.

He stood up. Let the pen drop, the chair knock backwards, and walked slowly and carefully to the bathroom. “Dr. Jackson?” he said.

His reflection stared out of the mirror, long hair pushed back and straggly, eyes wide and startled. Yes?

“What is a clear and obvious conclusion,” Daniel continued, “is that you, my friend, are going insane.”

There was nothing his reflection had to add. The next day he bought a plane ticket.

“Rodney? Yeah, it’s me. Daniel. I’m, uh, I’ve just realised something. I’ve got to go. I mean you might not be hearing from me for a while. Um. Goodbye.”

Egypt didn’t change. Muezzins called, hawkers spat, small children ran barefoot through the streets, people yelled and shouted; but at the same time the noise the people made was undercut by the deep sonorous silence of the desert in the same way Daniel remembered. He had last been here shortly after the Lecture, the one that acquired the capital letter and dropped it again to match his mood, and the country, horizon-to-horizon sand, hadn’t altered in the slightest. Maybe it was Daniel who changed, a scholar but a mere human as well, who changed and grew old while Egypt never did. It was old already. Egypt had been old at the dawn of time.

Maybe not, Daniel thought. Once the pyramids had been new, with gleaming marble caps. Maybe. Maybe not. Like pulling petals off a daisy, his insanity was following him.

Still, it was better here. He’d left the papers to grade at home and he could breathe now.

It was the influence of the desert. He’d come here after the Lecture simply because it was thousands of miles away from California; Siberia would have done as well, as would Mali or Madagascar, but it was reflex to reach an airport and ask for a ticket to Cairo. He’d dreamed about doing it when he was younger. The desert had been the promised land, then; the place he’d played in when his parents were alive, and even before that day in New York, he’d never quite understood why the Israelites wanted to leave. That was a long time ago, and perhaps life had been easier as a child prodigy than an adult one.

The muezzin was calling, now, and his lips moved to follow the words. When the prayers were over, he bought postcards.

Dear Rodney,

Am in Egypt. Don’t know when this will reach you. Don’t worry. Just got a bit antsy.


He had a vocabulary of millions of words, but only “antsy” seemed to fit the bill. Good words (quinquereme. lissome. alkanet.) were wasted on Rodney (fuck. you. Daniel.) anyway. The Lecture had been another waste of words. Speaking of which, the pyramids were at the edge of his vision. Strange, when he’d been trying not to think about them for years. He reached down, picking up a pinch of sand in his fingers and letting it drop. He’d go out to visit them later. Today, even. They loomed over urban Cairo and he wouldn’t be able to help himself.

He stopped by a stall selling trinkets and picked up an ankh on a chain, light and delicate in his hands. It felt much like one he’d wear himself, if he weren’t trying to forget where he came from. The stall-holder looked up as he held it, eyebrows raised in enquiry, and after a pause, Daniel nodded.

Once the haggling was over, and a price arrived at that would preserve both the seller’s and his own honour, he pocketed it. Rodney thought jewellery on men made them look gay.


Dear Rodney,

This postcard has been well-soaked in the juice of three lemons. You’ll be dead in seconds.

Just kidding.


The tourists were being hounded by beggars and souvenir-hawkers, but they avoided Daniel somehow, and that suited him fine. Besides, he’d learnt how to deal with them when following his mother round these same bazaars.

Once upon a time, you’d been able to climb the sides of the pyramids. Not once upon a time as in when they were new, but as in about twenty years ago, before too many people started falling off. They’d finally stopped it when a five-year-old child fell thirty feet. Daniel still had the scar, but he didn’t remember falling. Only the afterwards-time, when people came running and there were stars coming out overhead and he was lifted, silent and broken, placed over a camel and rushed to a doctor.

Had there really been a camel? Or was that just his imagination working overtime, the rosy glow of childhood magnified ten or twelve times?

Didn’t matter. Of course, it didn’t matter now. He reached a point where the sun and the apex were straight overhead, and sat down with a thump in the sand. In 200 BC, Erastothenes had measured the circumference of the earth this way; the sun was directly overhead in Syrene because it reflected in the water at the base of a well, but not in Alexandria, where it cast a distinct shadow. A calculation later and he’d changed the world.

Later in life he went blind and starved himself to death.

Dear Rodney,

When I was five I fell off a pyramid and nearly died. Next time I’ll try harder.

Don’t worry.


There had been whispered words in the newspapers before he left, and a double-page spread in the National Enquirer. Strange happenings in the sky, strange blips on deep-space radar telemetry. Daniel wasn’t interested. There were strange things enough on earth without having to go and look for them elsewhere; and besides, he couldn’t quite bear the reminder just yet. Did aliens build the pyramids, Dr. Jackson?

Maybe, he answered himself. It was as good an explanation as any. Losing the sense of human achievement wasn’t such a hard price to pay when you considered the spared lives of thousands of slaves, labouring in the baking desert heat to raise solid stone blocks hundreds of feet in the air. For a pharaoh’s hubris. Think of the inhumanity.

But maybe the aliens had slaves, too.

Dear Rodney,

Enough about me, I’m self-obsessed. How’s deep-space telemetry treating you?


The pyramids swallowed time. Time was not an arrow; it was a landscape, a wilderness, a bleak expanse where he walked aimlessly, tracing circles in white sand with index finger. Days drifted by while he roamed the streets of the old city, the gardens where he grew up, drawn to the strange places where the sand mixed with mortar and the desert was slowly reclaiming its land.

Erastothenes had been right about one thing, Daniel decided. The sun was close here. That immeasurable brightness gave his childhood its golden-syrup glow, whereas now it merely worked its way into his heart and soul and made him wonder if he could ever stand darkness again.

The Hajj was coming; the pilgrims were moving. Briefly, he considered following them, covering his head and his eyes and defiling the holy city with his atheist touch. Then Jerusalem, maybe; add his tears to the Wailing Wall and fall down at its base before the weight of history. Cross into Europe at Constantinople, no, Istanbul, through into the northern lands with their Latinate roots, and if he went far enough he would come to the Atlantic shore, sea-smoothed and a different kind of sand.

Or he could stay here, and drift. There was that, as well.

Dear Rodney,

Thirty-three languages, and I can’t say I love you.


The postcard dropped into a puddle of slickly running water, blurring immediately. “Shit.”

“Oh my god.” The voice was female and American. “You speak English?”

Daniel turned. “Yes, sometimes,” he answered, and heard the faintest trace of an old accent in his voice.

The girl stared at him as though he were a scruffy, long-haired, blue-eyed angel. “Can you help me get out of here? I’m so lost, and I couldn’t ask anyone, and, and, maybe I’m not cut out for backpacking.”

He gave her directions solemnly, embarrassed by the gratitude in her eyes.
Before she left, she asked, “Are you from round here, then?”

Holding the postcard, he stood and looked, and thought suddenly of the Old Testament angels of brimstone and flame, who were the lights in the darkness and the messengers in the desert. He didn’t know what to say.

Dear Rodney,

Ignore the other cards, I was stoned. Wish you were here.


The first time he left Egypt, he’d never seen a Christmas tree nor ever eaten a peanut butter sandwich nor sung “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This time he could only wish back that innocence; home and hearth and heart were mute before customs officials.

It was dark and he didn’t have to look at the sun, only the dozens of flickering naked flames like a jewelled carpet beneath a soaring aircraft. The harsh cold air was painful to breathe, and the scratchy airline blanket the briefest of comforts below his head. But the reading light let him write, and the sound of his moving nib accompanied him across the thousands of miles of night.

It was getting light in California when he let himself softly into his apartment. His journals, filled with new scribblings, were placed reverently on his desk; everything else went on the floor. He pulled off his boots, noticing the sand rushing out, and pressed the button on the answering-machine. The red light continued flashing on and off.

“Daniel. Daniel, it’s me. Pick up. I got your message. Have you lost your fucking mind? If I moved to Russia you’d never even know about it and if you don’t pick up I’m coming over there. I mean it. Fuck it!”

Daniel walked to his front door and checked the locks. They were still there. He switched the answering-machine off.

The term paper was also still there, right where he’d left it, red ink fading from the sunlight that had fallen through the window. He ignored it. Sitting at his desk, he drew a new sheet of paper towards him, wrote Rodney McKay is a fuckwit fourteen times and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Next year he’d walk barefoot to Palestine. It was something to do, after all.

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