His head didn't hurt anymore, but his fingers made small, soothing circles on his temple and the ghost of pain made him squint one eye closed as he read:
O you, who restores memory in the mouth of the dead through the words of power, which they possess, let my mouth be opened through the words of power, which I possess. (The Book of Coming Forth By Day or, The Egyptian Book of the Dead)
Tehuty, known to the Greeks as Thoth, gave voice to the world, language to speak knowledge, writing, medicine, architecture, magic ritual. In the Egyptian religion, there are two principles of creation: light and sound. Ra, the light, is the manifestation of God's creative impulse in the world. Sound, the word, is the means of that manifestation, God's need to be known bodied forth in the universe through the breath that gives us speech. The mouth is the symbol of reason, and of the power to make something from nothing.
The prayer of the dead is a yearning for the power of words, the power to make the self anew.
She was named Tehuty-et at birth because she opened her mouth at the same time as her eyes and howled so loudly that the midwife almost let her plump, slick body slip from her hands. Her mother laughed through the sweat and the tears and said, "That is the voice of creation."
The name, of course, was ludicrously grand for a potter's child, but she bore it well and even earned it, in her own mind, at least: at the age of five she would mold men from her father's clay and send them into battle to win the territory of the hearth, but not before making them bow low and repeat her laws: listen to the sand; don't look Ra in the face; eat all that you are given.
At seven, she found a stick and smooth sand and began to fashion there what she saw in the world around her: the crocodile, the ibis, the round circle of Ra in the sky, and most of all, the spiraling form of the serpent. Seeing this, Nemen-tet, the old woman, called her close to her corner where she sold charms and herbs and stories told in the stones she scattered with her withered hand. She told Tehuty-et that she was named for the great primordial who brought language to the world. The spiral serpent that was one of his signs was the spirit of creative sound uncoiling and flowing through the three worlds: Ta, the earth; Dwat, the netherworld of shadows; and Nut, the heavens of perfected souls. And so the serpent became Tehuty-et's favourite form and she worked it into the ground yefetteh flour in the pestle, the braid of her hair, anything that would keep the word, make it real. She grew superstitious about it, believed that she was making her self as Tehuty, her namesake, had made the world to know itself in the first days.
Until one day, her mother caught her scratching symbols into the dried mud at the shop door, and she beat her soundly for seeking the forbidden. Nemen-tet was beaten, too, for corrupting the children, and she was no longer to be found sitting in her corner at the market with her rows of charms and little pouches of magic herbs.
So, at the age of ten, Tehuty-et found other ways to speak words of making, looking up through her lashes, smiling coyly, molding men from the boys who loitered around the shop, and sending them into battle to win the trophy of her fleeting black gaze or her laugh of approval. But, at night, on her palette in her father's shop, she would lie on her side and slowly trace the coiled serpent into her palm, its tail spiraling out and out like waves on a still pool. The serpent of creation, of knowledge, of immortality.
When, at the age of fourteen, she finally came face to face with her namesake, flanked by his Ibis-headed Jaffa with their heavy, bronzed breastplates and their staff weapons, she was deeply disappointed. She let him turn her left and right so he could inspect her naked body, her thin arms and small, new breasts. She let him tip her head back so he could look at her teeth. She let him run his hands across her skin, through her black hair. She let him because the Jaffa watched silently, because she was his subject, because there was nowhere to run. When she looked up at him through her lashes, he let a sigh slip out between his thin, dry lips, and she knew that, though he was a god, he was also a man. And, she was sorry to admit, he was rather pompous and stupid.
But when she saw the serpent coiled in the elaborate flask, when it rose up and looked at her with its red eyes, she was earnestly impressed.
Jack ran a finger along the wall of the cell, across the raised hieroglyphs that surrounded the door. "Daniel," he said conversationally, "How come you never read the walls?"
Daniel raised his head and opened his eyes, squinting a little. "What?"
Jack kicked at the door experimentally, and finding it to be as solid as it was the last time he'd kicked it experimentally, he grunted resignedly and turned to look at Daniel who was sprawled on the sleeping shelf. The bruising over his eye and across his jaw was stark and black in the bright light and it made Jack want to kick the door again. "The walls. I've seen you cream your jeans over three squiggles on a broken pot, but goa'uld walls, they're covered with writing and you never read them."
"Oh," Daniel sighed and lay back again with his arm over his eyes. "That's because they don't say anything."
"No, I'm not kidding." Daniel's words were still slurred, or maybe they were more slurred, which was not good at all. And his chest was rising and falling slowly as he slipped into sleep. Also not good.
"But these hieroglyphs, they're words, right?" Daniel didn't answer so Jack walked over and nudged him with his knee. "Right?"
"Sort of." His voice was a tired swath of breath, not even creased by the irritation he should have been feeling, what with Jack's knee bouncing with agitation next to his ribcage. Jack jabbed him again, prodding an explanation out of him. "Some of them are syllables. Some are more complex than that." He breathed deeply and was silent awhile before going on. "Arranged properly they express sophisticated ideas. But these don't."
"So, what you're saying is this stuff is--"
Grunting again, Jack went back to the door but refrained from kicking it. "I'd've gone for stripes or flowers, maybe."
A half-hearted chuckle drifted to him from Daniel's corner of the cell. "Well, flowers wouldn't quite say it."
"I thought you said this stuff was meaningless."
"Not meaningless. Symbolic."
"Of what?" No answer. Jack raised his voice, putting more edge on it than he meant to. "Daniel. Symbolic of what?"
I know in my heart that I have gained power over my emotions. I have gained power over my arms, I have gained power over my legs, and I have gained power to do what pleases my spirit. My soul, therefore, shall not be imprisoned in my body and I shall enter the netherworld in peace and come forth in peace. (The Book of Coming Forth By Day)
Whose words are these? These words are a mobius strip; turning back on itself, both of its surfaces are the same surface. Symbiote and host slip along the smoothness of these words and find themselves in the same place, the place of power and of despair. For one, these words are an assertion; for the other, a prayer.
"My emotions, my arms, my spirit, my soul."
Whose words are these? Who owns them? He put down his pen and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. The pronoun is a battlefield. The language thrashes. He closed the book, but he could still feel it through the skin and muscle and bone of his hand resting on the cover: the low, articulate vibration of war.
Tehuty-et watched Seshet inspect herself--that is, Tehuty-et's body--critically in the mirror, turning sideways to smooth the linen over her flat stomach. The heavy head-dress with its beads and sequins and gold braids brushed across her shoulder with a soft, tinkling sigh, pulling at a single black hair, making a small, keen pain. Seshet frowned, wrinkling Tehuty-et's smooth brow, and adjusted the head-dress carefully, breaking the strand of hair with a gold-capped finger.
The body was as it had been on the day that Seshet had pierced the girl's smooth skin with her tusks, had burrowed into her flesh and her mind, a sinuous presence winding and sliding between memories and desires, bones and muscle. Within moments, Seshet was everywhere and Tehuty-et existed only in the spaces between, in the tiny gaps in the goa'uld's awareness and intention.
After millennia, though, Tehuty-et, too, had come to understand something about insinuation. The entry scar no longer ached or itched, but Tehuty-et liked to remind Seshet of where she came from; the gesture, a hand cupping the back of the neck, massaging the raised line of flesh with agitated fingers, had become one of Seshet's trademark habits, one that her consort, Thoth, despised. As Seshet's fingers played briefly across the scar that didn't really ache, there was enough of Tehuty-et left in the spaces between to feel a pale sort of satisfaction.
"Where's Sam?" Daniel mumbled, his eyes half-open and unseeing. Jack winced a little and said nothing. Daniel had asked that before and Jack had explained it to him. He didn't want to explain it again. So he waited, hoping that Daniel would remember the story himself and save Jack the trouble. "Sam?"
"She's not here, Daniel." Let it go, he ordered him silently. Just let it go for now.
"I heard her."
"No. You didn't."
"Oh." Daniel closed his eyes the rest of the way and let out a thin breath. "Right."
Turning away, Jack pulled his knees up and draped his hands over them, flipping the cover of his watch up and then down, listening to Daniel breathing behind him on the sleeping shelf, Daniel's arm too warm against the back of Jack's neck. The watch was broken, the screen blank. He flipped the cover up and then down.
"Where's Sam?" Daniel asked.
Fuck. "She's gone."
"Gone where, exactly?" Daniel's tone was bitchy with exaggerated, condescending patience, deceptively lucid.
Closing his eyes, Jack counted to ten and then to twenty, using the time to file the barbs off of his voice, even though he wanted to stab Daniel with the truth hard enough to make it stick, so they wouldn't have to keep having this conversation. "She's dead. Remember? You saw it."
"Oh." Pause. "Fuck." A wavering inhalation. "Fuck, Jack."
"Was she really dead? You're sure?"
Jack remembered the hiss of the staff blast as it passed by his face and the strangely soft concussion as the energy discharged in Carter's body. He remembered Daniel leaping onto the Jaffa and the Jaffa and then two more pounding Daniel with their fists, their boots, while Carter stared at Jack sightlessly, her face a few inches from his own, the weight of a boot heavy and unyielding on the back of Jack's neck. The sound of fists on Daniel's body went on for a long time.
"Yeah." He said it like he believed it.
Time passed, leaving no mark except the slowing breathing behind him as Daniel slipped away into the deeper recesses of unconsciousness. Jack tried not to follow, but when his head nodded forward, he stumbled from memory to darkness to dream, and he found himself beside the sarcophagus and she was looking up at him, and her smile was cruel.
The day is everlasting and the night is eternity, which exists in the head of every man. (The Book of Coming Forth by Day)
Do they dream? In the sarcophagus there is only silence, and, between one breath and the next, death becomes life, the broken becomes whole. Bones knit, cells swell and divide, and the soul dies. But the soul became meaningless to them when they decided to pry loose the grasping fingers of nature, to sneer at time, when they decided that they would escape judgment by living forever. They gave up the soul when they became their own gods.
Seshet wound a lock of blonde hair around her finger. She couldn't feel its texture through the ornamental caps on her fingers, but she admired the way that the hair caught the light. It was too short, though. That could be remedied.
"This one is too old," Thoth said from behind her, bending to sweep her hair and her head-dress back so he could brush his dry lips across the skin of her shoulder.
Leaning away from Thoth's caress to look more closely at the woman's watchful blue eyes, Seshet smiled. "She's taller than you. I would make you feel small, then, wouldn't I?" The eyes followed her as she walked the length of the table, and back up the other side. "Hmm. Like lapis lazuli, only darker. Pretty."
"I like you the way you are." There was a growl in there. Seshet pretended to ignore it, her hand coming up absently to her neck.
Inside, Tehuty-et threw her subtle weight into Seshet's admiration of the strong, newly repaired body lying naked on the table, pushed it further into the light of Seshet's consciousness, her desire. And, as Seshet stroked her yearning, golden fingers across the woman's stomach and full breasts, Tehuty-et let herself imagine, for the first time in a thousand years, how it might feel to finally turn to dust.
Jack groped his way out of a shallow grave of sleep, thinking he was hearing the ticking of a clock, but it was only Daniel breathing through his mouth, a sort of dry panting that hardly seemed enough to fill his blood. It was like he was trying to bail a sinking boat with a tiny cup. Turning around so he could see him, Jack laid his arm across Daniel's chest, thinking that the weight and warmth of it could slow him down somehow, make him draw more deeply.
"Easy," Jack said, and his voice was a brittle rasp.
Daniel kept panting. His lips were cracked, the faint smear of tears lining his grimy skin from the corner of his eye across his temple. Ripening to purple with green and yellow around the edges, the bruising on the other side of his face looked puffy and tender. Jack didn't probe his scalp again, knowing what he would find. Instead, he brushed back the hair from Daniel's clammy forehead and rested his palm there. It seemed to help a little; Daniel closed his mouth and drew a long breath in through his nose, letting it out slowly before licking his lips.
"I know. Room service here sucks."
Daniel's hand clenched into a fist, so Jack tightened his grip on him, holding the pieces together as a spasm shuddered through his body. "Easy." With his free hand, he kneaded Daniel's fingers until they relaxed enough that he could lace them with his own.
Licking his lips again, Daniel began, "Sha're asked me. . . ." His voice drained away like water from a broken jar.
Jack leaned closer, wanting to catch the voice before it evaporated completely. "What?"
In answer, Daniel let spill a stream of syllables that Jack figured was gibberish, until he recognized a few words.
"That's very interesting," Jack observed, grinning a little. "If you understand Abydonian."
Surprising him with a brief, huffing laugh, Daniel opened his eyes. "Sorry." When he smiled, his lower lip split and a bead of blood formed there. Unwinding his fingers from Daniel's loose grasp, Jack started to wipe the blood off with his thumb, but changed his mind and kissed it away instead, sucking gently, moistening Daniel's lip with his tongue. As he pulled back, Daniel's tongue came out and retraced his path, tasting. "Thanks." Daniel's breath was sour with pain.
"What did Sha're ask you?"
Squinting one eye shut for a second as he moved, Daniel turned his head away and looked at the ceiling, his eyes washed out and red-rimmed in the glaring lights. "She asked me whether the goa'uld invented God, or if they just stole his names."
"Chicken and egg," Jack answered. He didn't want to talk about gods.
"No. It's not. Not if you believe in an afterlife." He closed his eyes, shifting slightly, and Jack lifted his arm while he got more comfortable, then wrapped it again across his chest. Frowning, Daniel looked at him and went on, his voice hard, "She asked who she would meet. Who would weigh her heart and record her deeds? Anubis? Thoth? This Thoth? Fuck." The curse was just a hiss of air, impotent. He was silent for a long while, his hot, bitter breath against Jack's face. Then he said, "She cried."
"He drowns in his own waters. He is trapped in form, inert. He is cut down like his own stalks of wheat. Ever after, his name shall be 'Still heart, ruler of the land of the Dead.'" (Set, over the cedarwood chest containing the trapped body of Osiris).
Do they have nightmares? Who is the hero of this story? Who is our hero in this story? For the Egyptians, Osiris is the principle of harmony, justice, and goodness--
His pen faltered. When he started writing again, the letters were lacerations on the page.
Osiris is a kidnapper, a rapist, a minion of Anubis, wearing Sarah's face, Sarah's smile, wielding Sarah's lithe body like a weapon, using it like a shield. He knew I couldn't kill her. Her body made me weak.
But the human body has its dangers for them, too. Set imprisoned his brother in a chest made in the exact form of Osiris's human body, his face depicted in ebony, his lips in carnelian, his eyes in lapis lazuli and ivory. He sealed Osiris in and threw him in the Nile. Set is our Satan, but is he not also the dark shadow of the symbiote's nightmare?
"He is trapped in form, inert."
The canopic jar with its inscription, "Banished to oblivion," is a prison in the form of a human body, fashioned in the shape of some deep, cold, barely acknowledged fear. The body that gives the goa'uld strength and voice and action is also a tomb, its mortality a trap from which they must escape again and again, cheating time and nature. And each time they escape, they lose something of themselves.
He raised a hand and spread his fingers, closed them into a fist. For a fleeting moment he remembered when there was no weight of bone, no sluicing pull of blood, no ache of muscle, no boundary, no limitation, no ending or fear of ending, only light, being without decay. Freedom from the agony of flesh. And he remembered that then, in that invulnerable state, he'd had only the power to do nothing. And now, his wife's people were lost forever from the delicate, painful, lush and transient world of flesh. Their weightlessness, the emptiness of their absence, was crushing.
Flesh is the pharmakon: the disease and the cure.
Power and despair.
If the body is our sword, we hold it by the blade.
Thoth forbade it. He held up a hand wearily, condescendingly, like he was hushing a whining child, and he told Seshet that the woman would be sent to Anubis. She was his prize, not theirs. Besides, he repeated, his hand slipping under her linen shift, his fingers pinching the nipple of her small, girl's breast, first gently and then spitefully, he liked her just the way she was.
Seshet wasn't accustomed to pleading, so she pulled away from him and smiled. The scar on her neck was a dull ache, but she didn't allow her hand to soothe it. "As you will," she said to Thoth. "As you will," Tehuty-et said to her.
And Tehuty-et honed Seshet's discontent until it was a keen pain, like the pulling of a single hair, until Seshet's sense of agitation and confinement became almost unbearable. She was tired of her child's body. She was tired of being so small.
Soon, there was no part of the prisoner's body that Seshet had not caressed and inspected, her fingers sparkling and tingling through the restraining field. The captive watched her, unable to move as Seshet cupped her womanly breast in her gold-sheathed hand and leaned close to gaze at, but not into, the blue, defiant eyes. "Hmm. So strong," she purred, her breath spiced and needing. "So pretty."
It was the silence that woke him. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, but Daniel had pulled his head down onto his chest and stroked the hair at his temple and Jack had come unmoored. He'd drifted away, and in his dream they were lying tangled together on the bottom of a boat in the warm sun and the boat was rising and falling on the swells of Daniel's breathing.
So it was the silence that woke him.
Lifting his head, he looked at Daniel's fixed, dull blue eyes for a long time. And then he couldn't look anymore, couldn't look at anything anymore.
Now, I can cause my own transformations. I carry the light of my awareness upon my forehead. [Isis], who is concealed, supports my action and I can see through the divine light of immortality. Now, for those who rise up against me with evil, the power of darkness within them will destroy them. (The Papyrus of Hunefer)
Sitting back, he smoothed his hand over the page, feeling the slight texture of his handwriting, the impressions made by the weight of his thought. Then, bowing his head low, he wrote: I AM DANIEL JACKSON.
At the age of seven, Tehuty-et learned to write. At the age of ten, writing was forbidden her. At the age of fourteen she was taken. Soon after, she went insane.
"Hush, hush," Seshet murmured as she stroked the woman's soft, golden hair. "Pretty thing."
Thoth forbade it. Tehuty-et remembered that she had never been good at doing what she was told.
"Pretty thing," Seshet sighed. "My pretty, pretty thing."
Daniel tasted like he had always tasted.
Jack heard the cell door slide open, but he let his lips linger on Daniel's for just an instant longer before turning the face the three Jaffa. Dragging himself to his feet, he clenched his fists at his sides. "He's dead," he told them. The words were too heavy, their weight making his legs weak, but he saw the middle Jaffa, the one with the Ibis helmet, signal to the others, so he stiffened and met their eyes. "You can't have him."
It was ridiculous. They could do whatever they wanted.
"You can't have him," he said again levelly, and stood his ground in front of Daniel's body.
One of the Jaffa moved to step around him and Jack smashed his elbow into the side of his head. Staggering, the Jaffa recovered quickly, ramming his mailed fist into Jack's solar plexus, driving him to his knees. Before he could stand, another huge hand grabbed Jack by the throat and lifted him clear off of the floor, carrying him backward until he connected hard with the wall on the far end of the cell. The Ibis looked at him with its false red eyes while Jack's feet kicked impotently in the air.
Then, so softly that it might have been only a hum of static in the helmet's com system, the Ibis said, "Trust me, O'Neill."
Seshet began to withdraw. Tehuty-et could feel it, like a tide ebbing, and the remains of the child--a child of three-and-a-half thousand years--lay exposed, gleaming in the dull, dry light. She was disoriented. Her body was so vast and clumsy and unfamiliar.
Seshet had learned her lesson. There would be no scar this time to annoy her. Taking the prisoner's face between her hands, Seshet covered her mouth with her own, forcing her lips open with her tongue and teeth. The body in her grip stiffened, vibrating with an unvoiced scream.
The tearing in Tehuty-et's throat was the most welcome pain she had ever allowed herself to imagine. Abandoning her, Seshet made no effort to repair the torn flesh as she surged out of her old self and into the new, and her passing was flavoured by the thick, sweet taste of blood.
Seshet was enormous in Tehuty-et's throat, a muscled insinuation, choking her, her spiny fins lacerating the roof of her mouth, her tongue. As the serpent passed between her lips, Tehuty-et gathered all that was left of herself, a small, wavering glow of will, and snapped her teeth shut on Seshet's body. The gush of blood was hot like acid, burning. Tehuty-et ground her teeth down harder, feeling sinew thrashing, bone resisting. Letting go of the woman's face, she groped one fumbling hand across the control panel and deactivated the restraining field.
Then she fell, the squealing, broken body of a god tumbling from her lips.
Unable to move, she looked up at the ceiling, a bit of red curtain, a lamp sconce, the corner of the table. She heard the slap of bare feet hitting the floor, one sharp, inhuman shriek, and the repeated, echoing clank of metal pounding the stone. And then nothing but a shuddering sob and ragged breathing.
Tehuty-et closed her eyes.
Following the Jaffa down the corridor, Jack tried not to look at Daniel's lolling head. They weren't being too careful with their cargo, and it didn't matter that he was dead when Daniel's bruised temple connected with the edge of the door frame as the Jaffa carried him out of the cell. Jack's vision actually flared red, proving that clichés come from somewhere. Still feeling disconnected with shock, he wanted to stare at his feet, but he kept an alert eye on his surroundings instead. The complex seemed strangely deserted.
Pausing outside a doorway, the Ibis punched a code on the key panel and stepped aside, motioning his subordinates in ahead of him. Then he waved Jack in, too. Inside, the sarcophagus stood gleaming and monolithic in the middle of the room. After who knew how many days in the glare of the cell, Jack had to squint hard to focus in the soft, indirect light. The room was empty.
"So, where's the gang?" he asked.
The Jaffa ignored him, concentrating on laying Daniel in the sarcophagus and starting its cycle.
"I thought I'd rate at least a squad. I don't mind telling you, I'm a little insulted."
As the two Jaffa stepped away from the sarcophagus, the Ibis shot them each twice with his zat. Once they fell, he shot them again and then there was nothing left of them but a faint tingle of static and the smell of ozone.
"Seshet ordered everyone out of this wing of the complex," Teal'c said, his voice becoming progressively less mechanical as the Ibis helmet collapsed and folded away section by section, revealing his face. "I do not know for what purpose."
Jack only barely resisted the urge to plant a sloppy kiss in the middle of his tattoo. "Well, I say let's not look a gift horse in the mouth." As Teal'c cocked his head quizzically, Jack started to explain and then waved the question away. "It doesn't matter." Pointing at the sarcophagus, he asked, "How long's this gonna take, anyway?"
"It depends on the extent of the damage that requires repair. I believe it will be only a few minutes."
"Good." Turning away, Jack tried to forget that the mere sight of the machine made him want to either puke or scream. He imagined Daniel's body being put right again, and shreds of his soul being torn away. "Fuck," he sighed, rubbing his eyes. He couldn't remember feeling this tired in a long, long time.
"O'Neill," Teal'c warned softly.
Dropping his hands, Jack followed Teal'c's gaze. One of the curtains that swathed the walls of the chamber was billowing out slightly. Then they heard a voice, a soft crooning. Moving stealthily, they crept to the curtain and Teal'c slowly drew it back enough to peer through the doorway it concealed. Then he went through, Jack close behind.
"Major Carter." Teal'c stepped around the heavy candelabra and the smeared remains of a smashed symbiote on the floor to kneel beside her.
She was naked, sitting on the cold stone, a small, shivering body huddled in her arms. Pulling a curtain down from its rail, rings snapping with a musical tinkling and falling around them, Jack wrapped the heavy cloth around her shoulders.
"Carter? You okay?"
She looked at him for a moment like she'd never seen him before, then squeezed her eyes shut, nodding. "Yes sir. I'll live."
"Good." He pulled the curtain more tightly around her then turned his attention to the child in her arms. She was small, just on the cusp of adolescence, maybe a bit younger than Cassie. Her large eyes were open, and Jack figured they had once been very dark, but now they were filmed by a white sheen of cataracts. Her face and neck and the front of her dress were sticky with blood, red and faintly phosphorescent blue. "Who's the kid?"
Biting her lip to keep it from trembling, Carter took a couple of deep breaths before answering. "I don't know her name, but she's not a kid." When she met his eyes, hers were shining with tears.
Before she could explain, Teal'c stood and returned to the other room, following the grating sound of the opening sarcophagus. Jack made himself stay with Carter, who rocked the girl and murmured softly to her, but he knew when Daniel was standing behind him; he could feel him, warm, breathing.
Turning her blind eyes toward him, the girl groped in the air until Daniel crouched beside Jack and took her hand. "Who will I meet?" she asked.
"Tehuty will guide you," Daniel said gently. "The real one."
Carter stroked the girl's hair as her eyes closed.
"We gotta go," Jack said after her breath had sifted away and her body had gone still.
Lifting her up off of Carter's lap so that she could get to her feet, Jack then laid the girl on the stones. As they watched, her body turned to dust.
You are cleansed from all sins and oppositions and the stone of truth has become your sound body. (The Papyrus of Gerusher, The Book of Breathings)
Notes: Thanks as always to Aces for her acute observations and excellent advice. You rock. Also, thanks to Otter, who, like a good First Prime, caught my mistakes before they could make me look bad to the masses. And, of course, to Martha because she makes me feel smarter than I am. Anything awful that remains after their careful ministrations is entirely my responsibility.