Crown Infernal


'Brane Child

Part VI

Chapter 16 - Preparations


Akilina Ramphos, seated behind the desk in the outer office, looked up as the door from the holding cells opened. A slave was pushing an empty food trolley followed by a helmeted guard. They were late, but the sharp-faced woman, who had just begun the night shift, was not unduly surprised. The guard who shared her shift, Isaura Ameleis, was quite the sloppiest member of the Asphaleia Peripolos. You just couldn't get the staff these days.

She scowled at the guard, thrust a pen at her and stabbed the roster sheet with one finger. Isaura scribbled her name along the line. Even her writing was getting worse, Akilina thought. As she peered at the scrawl, the butt end of Isaura's weapon made a sudden brief contact with the side of her head.

Easy. She hadn't even had to try out the few stock phrases that O'Neill had made her memorize. Major Carter and Boryenka hurriedly bundled the fallen martinet on to the trolley and high-tailed it back to the cells. Finding an empty cell, they unceremoniously dumped her and slammed the door, then returned to fetch the others. Phase One accomplished. Next, Phase Two...

Useful things, food trolleys, O'Neill thought, as he watched the rest of his team follow Boryenka through the outer office and through another door which led to the store rooms where the Amazons kept their plunder.

While they were doing a little plundering of their own, O'Neill set about making himself master of the Asphaleia computer. As it was already online, he didn't even need to hack into it. All the information was there for him - sixteen more prisoners still in the holding cells, four to a cell, ready to be shipped out to the slave market first thing tomorrow.

More interesting, there was a slaving party due to go off-world around the same time. That meant that the mysterious D.H.D. would be in use. Time it right and they wouldn't need to look for it.

O'Neill checked the results of the medical tests and the designated functions of the current batch of slaves-in-waiting. His current name - Neill, Jacko - was near the top. Damn! - still down for the breeding programme - still a 'prize bull'...

He studied the unknowns. The names looked Greekish. They were from two different worlds which had glyphs next to them that looked like the ones he'd seen around the Stargate. Thinking it might come in useful some time, he printed off a copy and slipped it into his pocket. He surmised that the worlds in question had been developed as sources of suitable slaves.

While he was waiting for the others to return, he checked the access codes for the other cells then, out of curiosity, did a search and found the previous entry for O'Neill, Jonathan. He deleted both his entries, then, as an afterthought, deleted all the current files and programmed in a cunning little virus, just to make sure. He grinned sardonically. Suck on that, you bitches!

When the rest of S.G. -1 reappeared, they were fully equipped with their own property, and had the trolley loaded with plenty more interesting equipment including his own gear. Phase Two successfully accomplished. Phase Three might cause some problems. Still, there was plenty of time before the morning deadline. Back to the cells again...

The other prisoners seemed bemused when their cells were opened by people other than Amazon guards. O'Neill left the explanations to Boryenka and set up an ad hoc dental surgery to neutralize the implants. As he was finishing, Boryenka craved a word with him.

"Jack, there are many other slaves here. Could I ask you, please, to free them also from the pain of their tags - if they wish it? And maybe let them come with you...?"

O'Neill considered the request. He was aiming for as much disruption as possible in the well-ordered Amazon system by setting uncontrolled armed men on the loose, just like the last time.

This time, though, he was finding that it wasn't so easy just to wind them up and let them go. This time, he found himself actually beginning to care what happened to them after his latest 'slave rebellion' - beginning to develop... a conscience?

Actually, looking back, that had begun earlier - when he'd killed this O'Neill, or rather, when he'd discovered later what a decent sort of guy he'd been - the decent sort of guy the other Jonathan O'Neills hadn't been. The decent sort of guy he himself wasn't. Ouch!

While it was possible to integrate Boryenka into American society, he didn't know what the authorities in this America would say to an influx of ex-slaves, nor how the ex-slaves would adapt - assuming he could get them all home safe. If he couldn't, his previous sufferings here would be as nothing compared to what theirs would be. He broached the subject to Major Carter.

"Well, sir, I'd say, with all the weapons available in the store rooms - we've only brought a fraction of what's available - I'd say we've got a very good chance of making it back to the Stargate - and Earth. Now you've got the co-ordinates for their worlds, we can send the new ones home, and I'm sure we could find a home on some world or other for Boryenka's friends, even if we can't locate their original planets."

It sounded quite promising.

"O.K., Boryenka, fetch your friends."

"You must come with me to the dormitory, Jack. There is a special transmitter across the doorway which triggers the tags so no one can get away at night. If I walk through the door unharmed, it will prove that escape is possible and they will believe that you've come to help us."

"How many are there?"

"Thirty-two - thirty-three with me."

O'Neill rolled his eyes. Time was passing, and he needed to organize the liberated prisoners.

"Major, you'll have to deactivate the dental tags. I've got to stay here and try to explain the plan to these men. At least their language is similar to Greek too. Boryenka will explain to his pals what you're going to do."

It was a long, difficult night, but as the sky showed the merest hint of lightening, O'Neill and his team had their motley troop armed, and drilled as well as the limited time allowed, about what was expected of them. With Boryenka as guide, 'escorted' by Major Carter, they marched out of the Asphaleia building into the silent street...

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Chapter 17 - Short March to Freedom...?

O'Neill's platoon marched smartly in pairs towards the Temple of Artemis, following Boryenka and Major Carter. The remaining three members of S.G. -1 brought up the rear. Boryenka was leading them along a warren of back streets. There were only a few people about at that time, most of whom paid the marching column scant heed.

As they neared the temple, a couple of patrolling guards approached. Boryenka had already warned that the Stratonas, or barracks, was on the main thoroughfare, almost opposite the temple.

"Company, halt!" shouted one of the guards. "Guard, where are you taking these men, and by what authority?"

O'Neill prayed that her challenge wouldn't spook his men. Scattering right now would really dump the fat in the fire. A calm response might just give the impression that they were supposed to be exactly where they were.

Major Carter must have acted promptly. From the back of the line, all O'Neill saw was a number of electrical blue flashes in close succession. There was a short kerfuffle at the front, then the troop started moving again.

O'Neill could see no obvious sign of the guards as he passed the site of the confrontation. He hoped they'd had no time to call for back-up...

No more than five minutes later, Boryenka stopped outside a stone-clad outbuilding to the rear of the temple. The rest of S.G. -1 moved up to the head of the line where Major Carter was examining the double doors. O'Neill looked at Tilk.

"Shall we?" he said meaningfully.

Together, they kicked at the doors which yielded at the second attempt. Quickly, they waved the men inside. It appeared to be the robing room for the priestesses. It was an ideal place to lie low - out of sight but close at hand. Things were looking good. Now all they needed to do was wait. Again...

He sighed, sat down on the slatted wooden bench that ran all around the room and leaned back complacently against the dark blue hooded robes hanging from the pegs above him.

Well...!! It seemed his team was wrong-footing him here! Apparently they were capable of thinking for themselves. That was a turn-up for the book. He took in the activity on the far side of the room with interest. Initiative? In the military? It was possibly the first time he'd ever encountered it before. He watched appreciatively.

After Carter had taken out the two guards, she must have had the men behind her carry them along between them. The guards were out cold - and about to get a fair bit colder; Carter was stripping their uniforms off them and Tilk was tying them up and gagging them with torn-up vestments. What next? O'Neill was hard put not to laugh.

Nyan - Nyan....! - was struggling into one of the cast-off uniforms and Carter was helping Boryenka into the other. Well, well, well! Let's hear it for the Away Team! Yeah! Three anonymous, faceless, Amazon guards free to check out the state of play in the temple and no questions asked - probably. Things were looking even better - and hey! There was more they could be doing.

O'Neill sauntered over to Boryenka.

"When do the priestesses go to the temple?"

Boryenka looked blank.

"I do not know, Jack. I am sorry. No men are allowed in the temple. Except—"

"Except when captured... That's O.K., don't sweat it. You given us far more help than we could have expected already. Thank you, Boryenka," O'Neill smiled.

~ Oh well, no right to expect jam on it, I suppose ~

It was, of course, possible that the theological and military wings did not work hand-in-glove at all times. It was worth a shot anyway. He removed one of the long blue robes from the nearest peg.

"O.K., listen up, men. I want you all in hooded robes, like these," he said, suiting the action to the words, "and hide your weapons underneath. When it's time to go, we'll lay on a special little 'religious ceremony' of our own."

He noticed Major Carter looking on in amusement.

"Well, didn't want the men to feel left out of the dressing up, Major," he grinned. "It'll be just like 'Trick or Treat'..."

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Chapter 18 - The Price of Freedom

As the sky grew lighter, Major Carter, Nyan and Boryenka went out 'on patrol'. O'Neill had commandeered an Amazon comm. from Nyan so they could maintain communications. The comm. crackled into life as Major Carter reported in.

^click^ "Proceeded along the north side of the Temple to 'Main Street', sir. Street's clear. Heading for the Temple entrance." ^click^

^click^ "See the barracks, Major?" ^click^

^click^ "Yes, sir. Door's open. No guards in sight. Posting Boryenka at the Temple entrance." ^click^

^click^ "Good. You and Nyan remember the new Amazon words we taught you?" ^click^

^click^ "Yes, sir. Inside the Temple now. No sign of the D.H.D." ^click^

^click^ "Tell Nyan to check out the circle design in the floor where the photos said it was." ^click^

^click^ "He's already doing that, Sir." ^click^

There was a long pause.

^click^ "I'm standing by the circle, sir. Inside the outer ring which has the 'key' decoration, there are twelve sectors in alternating pale grey and bluish marble - a bit like like the cross section of an orange. Nyan says there are gaps - very narrow gaps, but clearly visible close up - between the sectors, and between each sector and the outer circle. The rest of the floor is solid... No, wait a minute..." ^click^

There was a shorter pause.

^click^ "We've got the D.H.D., sir!" ^click^

^click^ "Roger that. On our way." ^click^

O'Neill stepped up on the bench and addressed his 'priestesses'.

"O.K., listen up. We'll use the same formation as we did coming here. Tilk, you lead the way. I'll be covering the rear. Any trouble, don't start anything. Just follow Tilk's lead. If anyone starts shooting - hopefully it'll not happen - duck and run if you can, hit the deck if you can't. Any questions?"

"If we see any guards, can we shoot them?" asked one small guy. O'Neill surmised that he'd probably been on the receiving end of a lot of ill-treatment and would just love a chance to even the score.

"Not unless they start something, and only then if you can get a clear shot. Don't want any of us getting hit by our own men. That clear?"

The response was a few unenthusiastic mutters of acknowledgement. Great. Now that the underdogs had the scent of freedom in their nostrils, they were getting psyched up to take out a little revenge along the way. O'Neill hoped he wouldn't have to deal with a mutiny here...

"I said, is that clear?! Our first priority is to get you out of here, not to start a war! Right?" O'Neill barked, glaring round.

The response was a little more positive. It would have to do. O'Neill glowered again to make sure.

"Anyone who screws up - if still alive - will be answering to me! Ok, move out."

The blue-robed figures marched out. O'Neill scowled, wishing he'd thought to tell them to walk a little more like women. On second thoughts, maybe it wouldn't have gone down too well...

All went according to plan until O'Neill rounded the corner at the front of the Temple, and the majority of the men were already inside. On the other side of the broad street, guards were filing out of the barracks. Great timing! Must be the slaving party.

"Keep walking!" O'Neill ordered, hoping his voice wouldn't carry too far.

The leading guard was staring across at the 'priestesses' and looking puzzled - no, make that suspicious. She turned round to address another guard. A burst of shots rang out. Some numbskull just couldn't follow orders! Sonovobitch!


At least that order was carried out! The guards, too, were galvanized into action. Some were dragging fallen comrades back into the barracks. The rest were crouching low, zig-zagging across the road, firing.

Up ahead, two men fell. A couple more - too close to dodge - went sprawling over them.

From the Temple entrance, electrical blue fire crackled across the street. Others were returning automatic fire. Three of the nearest guards went down. Several more hit the deck, still firing but wildly. The rest dived for the safety of the barracks.

O'Neill ducked low, firing as he ran. All but the last few of his men had made it into the temple. The two who tripped were up and running. He checked pace at the fallen. One of them was dead - bullet through the skull... Brains— Eww... No way back from that. The other was groaning - indicates aliveness... Struggling, he tried to drag the casualty.

"A little... help... here?" he yelled, breath coming in harsh rasps.

One of O'Neill's 'guards' - no idea who - snaked down the steps. S/he took the man's other arm. Together they scrambled towards safety - five yards - four - three - nearly there... Rattle of gunfire - pain! - legs not working properly - pain! - thump in right shoulder - pain...!

Darkness... Silence...


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Crown Infernal