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James K Bowers

"Ma´at and the October War" by James K Bowers

SciFi/Fantasy text 15 out of 27 by James K Bowers.      ←Previous - Next→
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Written as my contribution to the second installment of 'The Project', this is a story of Ma'at (pronounced 'Mayet'), the Ancient Egyptian goddess of justice and truth.
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←- Like Rain on Spring Leaves | Möbius Web -→
Ma’at and the October War
by James K. Bowers

        It was called “The Battle of the Chinese Farm”.  Situated along the Suez Canal near the Great Bitter Lake was the Japanese experimental agricultural facility for which the battle was erroneously named.  It was here that the Israelis and Egyptians fought one of the most important battles of the October War of 1973.  It was here that Samut fought the most important battle of his brief and insignificant military career.

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        Samut was born in Cairo in 1949, son of a wealthy doctor, but was destined for a far different purpose than that of his father.  As much as his father wanted Samut to become a doctor, the boy would have nothing to do with such plans.  No, rather than pledge his abilities to the saving of lives, Samut intended to become a taker of lives. He would become a soldier.  Samut refused to respond to his father’s numerous attempts to prod him into the medical profession, instead becoming even more intent on his dreams of becoming a soldier.
        Stubbornness, it seems, is hereditary.  Samut insisted that his future was dependent upon his desire to become an officer in the Egyptian Army.  His father, on the other hand, refused to help Samut realize his dreams of command.  No money would be forthcoming from him for anything but a medical degree.  Furthermore, unless Samut acquiesced, he would no longer be welcome in his father’s house beyond his eighteenth birthday, mere weeks away.  It was perhaps an unfortunate battle of wills, for neither Samut nor his father could hope to win.  The gears of fate were set into motion, and there was nothing to do but watch as the future unfolded.
        It was, of course, Samut’s decision to make.  In the days before his eighteenth birthday, Samut spent more and more time with his Uncle Harkhuf, and it might be argued that his uncle’s eccentricities did nothing but “confuse the boy”.  Five days before Samut’s birthday, Uncle Harkhuf took great pains to present him with a small wooden case.  Within the ornate box were a number of small scrolls, each covered with ancient hieroglyphs.  “The old ways are all but forgotten, and it saddens me.  Samut, my sister’s only son, you must take this with you.  This is a copy of the Scrolls of Ani which I transcribed myself during the first year of your life.  You must keep it with you always, for there may come a time you will need the scrolls in this case.”  Uncle Harkhuf would speak no more of it, and on June 14, 1967, the day before his birthday, Samut joined the Egyptian Army, not as the officer he hoped to eventually become, but as a lowly dog-soldier.
        Life in the army was hard, much more demanding than Samut had ever imagined.  The days were long and those in command, though they bore the rank of officers, seemed more like slavedrivers than professional soldiers.  When his lot in life seemed to become unbearable, Samut would think of his father.  He would think of the ridicule that his father would heap on him if Samut failed to realize his ambitions.  “Here is my failure of a son, the one who would not accept my gift of years at university.  Here is the young fool who refused to become a great doctor in order that he could spend his time guarding sand dunes from the Jews.  Here is the dreamer of glorious dreams”  It was, as always, enough to strengthen Samut’s resolve.
        It took time, much more time than Samut would have preferred, but his dedication was rewarded.  He was given more responsibility, and with that responsibility came competence.  When Samut’s competence was noticed, he was promoted in rank.  With rank came more responsibility.  And the cycle began anew.
 By 1973, Samut had risen through the ranks. He had become an officer through dedication and sheer strength of will.  He was a newly appointed lieutenant in the Egyptian 21st Tank Division.  His father’s doubts regarding Samut’s capabilities would surely be erased if he only were told this tale of Samut’s success.  But, alas, Samut and his father had made no attempts to keep in contact over the span of the last six years.  Samut dearly missed his mother and his sister, and he often thought of Uncle Harkhuf, but could not bring himself to return to Cairo, his boyhood home.  He had no desire to again argue the issue of his career choice with his father.  Even if there was no exchange of words, Samut knew the ghosts of old disputes would hover over them, ruining any chance of repairing their relationship.  No, he mused, it was better that he never return.

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        October found Samut and the tanks of the 21st Division playing their role in the new offensive.  The plan to recapture the Suez Canal and neutralize the Israeli Bar-Lev Line was executed swiftly and skillfully.  The small column of tanks rumbled along, the “Chinese Farm” easily seen in the distance.  They had no advance warning, no idea that they were in any danger.  Samut and the crew of his tank saw the brilliant flash that erupted within the crew compartment.  Then nothing.
        It seemed as if hours had passed before Samut awoke.  It was silent and he was puzzled when he realized his crew was no longer in the tank.  He clambered out the open hatch, wondering at his inability to hear anything, then thought that he must surely be deafened from the blast. His crew waited for him outside the tank, miraculously none the worse for the wear.  Their uniforms were tattered and ripped; their skin had scrapes, cuts, and burns.  Otherwise, they seemed to be healthy enough.  They, as well as Samut, carried packs on their shoulders.  Oddly, Samut did not recall ordering the packs removed from the tank’s storage compartment.  His head ached and he felt dizzy, but he straightened himself and continued making his way over to his crew.  At first, Samut thought they had been watching his approach, but as he drew near it appeared they were looking at something behind him.  As it became obvious this was the case, Samut stopped and turned.
        The temple was not at all large if compared with the gargantuan stone monuments and structures left by Samut’s ancient forefathers, but it was much larger than anything that Samut remembered seeing in the rather barren terrain his tank column had been traversing.  It made no sense, but yet Samut knew this place.  With its elaborately decorated walls and ornately carved columns, the temple was, at once, both out of place and exactly where it should be.  Samut turned again to his crew, but they were gone.
        Returning his gaze to his battered tank and the temple behind it, Samut struggled to make sense of  his surroundings.  From within the temple appeared a young woman, dark-skinned and beautiful beyond words.  Her silky black hair cascaded softly over her shoulders and danced in the slight breeze.  Upon her head she wore an enameled gold circlet, and from it an ostrich feather fluttered above her left ear.  With a wave of her hand, the steel of Samut’s tank was transmuted to sand.  The wind rose to an incredible fury, reducing the sand that was once an engine of destruction to a slight mound, barely noticeable among others here in the desert.  Samut’s eyes met hers and though her lips never parted, he could swear she was calling to him.
        Samut walked over the sand that was once his tank ¾ to the woman ¾ to the temple.  She smiled and he followed her into the darkened interior.  After the heat and wind of the desert, the restful calm and coolness of the temple’s interior was a welcome relief.
        The woman said, “You have arrived far earlier than we had expected, Samut.  You have preceded even your Uncle Harkhuf.”  Samut thought it odd that she would know his name, much less the name of his favorite uncle, but still he said nothing.  “My name is Ma’at and I will be your guide for a few moments.  Before you leave the Judgment Hall of Osiris, I will pass judgment over your soul.  If you have lived a good and just life, you have nothing to fear.  If there is wickedness weighing on your heart, you should have nothing but fear.”  They walked silently through a torchlit hallway for what seemed to be miles.
        Samut remembered his uncle’s strange ways and beliefs.  He thought back to the last week he spent with Uncle Harkhuf and... and remembered the unusual gift his uncle had given him.  He had looked at the scrolls numerous times, always puzzled by the ancient hieroglyphs but never finding time to decipher their meanings.  As though Samut had been speaking aloud, Ma’at answered his unspoken questions.  “Yes, Samut.  They are in your pack.  You were wise to have kept your uncle’s gift.”
        They, at length, arrived in a large chamber with a pool dominating its center.  The water sparkled as if it contained the stars of the night skies, and sweet perfumes filled the air.  A long table with platters of meat and fruit stood along the wall to Samut’s right  Young servants busied themselves about the table and the pool.  “Samut,” said Ma’at, “you may rest here until I call you to the Great Chamber to be judged.  You may wish to bathe and have a meal before you are summoned.  If there is anything that you require, you have but to ask one of the servants.”  She then turned away and walked away in silence.
        Samut, at first, did nothing.  He had, while walking with Ma’at, come to the inescapable conclusion the he was, in fact, dead.  There was no other explanation for anything that had happened in the last few hours.  Days?  Weeks?  Samut had no idea what role time might have in this world of the dead, but decided that a bath and meal could certainly do him any harm.  Were the pool acid and the food poisoned, what harm if he was already dead?
        The water was relaxingly warm and after bathing at length, Samut reluctantly left the pool to sample the dishes laid in abundance on the table.  The food and drink Samut found to be of finest quality as he ate his fill.  His tattered fatigues had been replaced with a soft linen tunic, and as Samut rested on a padded reed mat, his thoughts turned again to Uncle Harkhuf’s gift.  He motioned to a young servant girl, then, as she waited expectantly for his instructions, he described to her the small wooden case that she was to retrieve from his pack.
        Samut accepted the case from the girl, thanking and dismissing her.  He ran his fingers across the lid of the wooden box, tracing the intricate carvings with his fingers.  It was all so familiar.  He opened the box, revealing the small scrolls contained therein.  Picking up the first of them, he unrolled it expecting to see again the cryptic ancient scribblings.  He did; but unlike before, Samut understood the hieroglyphs that danced upon the scroll.  He began reading.  He did not stop until he had read them all.  He was brought food and drink by the servants, but refused to cease in his study of the scrolls, choosing instead to take meals while he read.
        Many days passed.  Or a few seconds, for what is time in a timeless world?  Ma’at returned, as promised.  Samut was given over to Anubis to lead into the Great Chamber and Ma’at again said to Samut: “If you have lived a good and just life, you have nothing to fear.  If there is wickedness weighing on your heart, you should have nothing but fear.”  Thanks to Uncle Harkhuf’s gift, Samut was prepared for the rituals of the Judgment of Ma’at.  His ceremonial entrance into the Great Chamber went well and, in the presence of Osiris, Samut recited each and every line of the Negative Confession as if he had known it his entire life.  “...have not spoken lies.  Hail to thee, Set-qesu of Hensu, I have not stolen food.  Hail to thee, Utu-nesert of Her-ka-Ptah, I have not spoken curses.  Hail to thee...”
        Thoth dutifully recorded each word Samut spoke.  When the time came for the weighing of Samut’s heart, he looked to Ma’at and she nodded.  Waiting by the scales crouched Ammit, the Devourer of Souls, drooling, snarling, and eternally hungry.  The horrific creature, a patchwork of  crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus, stood ready should Samut fail.  Beyond Ma’at and Ammit was the doorway to the Kingdom of the Blest, through which Samut would walk if the weighing was in his favor.  Ma’at reached to her headdress, removed the ostrich feather, and placed it on one pan of the scale.  She smiled as Samut stepped closer and, without fear, placed his heart on the other pan.

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19 May 2001:-) Michelle Krantz
ooooooooh! Very nice. I don't think I /NEED/ to know where he goes... however, should you meantion it, I would surely listen.
8 Aug 2001:-) P. marshall hassell (asura)
Reminds me of the lady & the tiger, except it has imagery.
10 Nov 2001:-) Nathaniel Stephen Gunter
MOOOOOOORRRREEEEEEE. You are so good at realism, I was wondering if this was a true story, and then it morphed into an extremely intriguing journey. Im jelouse of your writing skills. 2
7 Jun 200245 Elfwood artist: Harmony Steel
I love it! I have an idea for the possible continuation of this story... Sumat weighs his heart, but he is found wanting and is devoured. He wakes up in horror to find it had been a dream/hallucination and takes things from there... Either way, another well written piece.
19 Aug 2002:-) Georgette Tan (Tarlia)
Interesting look into that moment between death and the afterlife, although the whole ending strikes me as kinda odd, as in a "Samut has cheat notes" sense... but Ma'at seems to approve, so I guess it's ok. I have no doubt that he will enter the Afterlife; Samut seems like a worthy enough person in his own right, but since I'm not too well versed in Egyptian lore, perhaps there is a 'step' I'm missing in the whole after-death process. Still a good story nonetheless. He won't care what his father thinks from where he is, would he? 12
22 Feb 2003:-) Debra L Turpin
I think Samut chose well to take his own path. The one thing that I caught as a possible Catch 22 to Samut entering the afterlife, is the fact that you said he chose to "take lives" rather than "save lives." So, motivation may be something that he overlooked. Just because he knew the rituals and answered appropriately doesn't necessarily mean that his heart was truly pure. People tend to righteously justify anything they want for their own reasons. I cannot find flaw with your writing style. It's clear and concise, always well-written. Overall, I like the story very much. I am quite a fan of Ancient Egypt and always enjoy learning more.
1 Aug 2003:-) Toni J Kaukinen
My worth, a surprising conclusion to the story. I didn't have an inkling as to what was going to happen until there was talk of the lands of Osiris. Waa! And the open ending, nerve-wrecking!
18 Nov 200345 D Joelle Duran
I guess I wasn't too worried that a heart would not weigh more than an ostrich feather...am I missing something?

I like the tone you use throughout...gives the tale a sense of age and distance. Only saw one thing that might be a mistake:
"Samut had no idea what role time might have in this world of the dead, but decided that a bath and meal could certainly do him any harm. Were the pool acid and the food poisoned, what harm if he was already dead?"
"could certainly do him any harm"? Did you mean to say "certainly NOT"?

Once again, very nice work.
15 Mar 2004:-) Toni J Kaukinen
...well, that makes me feel a tad bit silly, having somehow formed the misconception that the Project was only poetry when it was mainly poetry. No wonder your and your son's stuff seemed so familiar. (Or that your photo and name rang a bell somehow.)
16 Jun 2004:-) Ruth Elizabeth Petroff
ah, i see that D Joelle Duran pointed out the only discrepancy that i saw in the story! foiled! i love how it doesn't wind up being preachy in any sense, you get to draw your own conclusions. is it considered evil that Samut did not do the will of his father, or is he rewarded for forging his own way in the world? the end is open, though i tend to agree with most people in that it seems like Samut has committed no great wrong in choosing his path. once again, i love your writing.
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'Ma'at and the October War':
 • Created by: :-) James K Bowers
 • Copyright: ©James K Bowers. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: B620, Egyptian, Mythology
 • Categories: African Traditions, Mythology, Afterlife
 • Views: 1123

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