"Oh-oh," Aurel said, as the group set off up the path
to the 'Gate.
"Problem?" Theo asked.
"I'm afraid so. See those three guys up ahead, dressed in
black? They're vampirii. They work for Ghenadie."
"So you reckon they've heard about their boss and are
planning on attacking us at the 'Gate?" Theo asked.
"Is that really likely?" J sounded very skeptical.
"I mean, kidnaping's on the list of prohibitions outside the Opli-whatsit
and there are guards in hiding in the bushes."
"What they'll do is open a wormhole to their base as we
arrive, grab one of us each and dive through before the Astunomia have time to
"So we have to get to the 'Gate first," J decided.
"But they'll see us and recognize us, and accuse us of
theft," Aurel said, aghast.
"They won't recognize me," Maxine said.
"They will if they've been to the slave market and talked
to Ghenadie. Your red hair is easy to spot."
"Not now," she said, taking a black bandana out of
her pocket and covering her hair. "Now, if you all keep as close to the
vampirii as you can and I do what I did at the jewelry stall, I can open the
'Gate before they know what's happening. When you see me wave, make a run for
it, you youngsters first."
"Sounds like our best option," J decided but not
without some misgivings. "Give Maxine the address for Dignity."
Aurel did so a little reluctantly. They liked to keep it
secret, but he didn't think he had much choice, plus the three people with them
had made Marku's rescue possible and at some risk to themselves.
The group shadowed the vampirii until they were a short sprint
from the 'Gate. Maxine opened up a time loop, ran to the DHD, where thankfully,
no one else was wanting to dial out and no one was dialing in. She put in the
code, closed the time loop then hit the central red stone. The wormhole opened
as the time loop closed and she waved her friends through. So far, so good.
The team reached the 'Gate ahead of the vampirii, but not by
much. Marku was pushed through first followed by the other youths. Theo grabbed
Maxine's hand and yanked her through with him and alongside J. As she hit the
event horizon, Maxine felt someone grab her other wrist...
running... ...keep on hiding......
Inside Dignity, everyone managed to run down the ramp and on
across the control deck, instead of landing in an untidy heap as before. This
included the man holding Maxine's wrist, and the other two holding hands in a
chain behind him.
......But a shot in the
dark... ...one step away from you...
...just a shot in the dark... ...nothing that you can do......
"Duck!" Ruby screamed, and fired one of the
Contra-Bruxai's ray guns at the three interlopers. They all went down. So did
Maxine. She hadn't been able to break free from the guy's tight grip quickly
enough, and caught the end of the electric shock.
Ruby had been lurking behind an old storage cabinet pretty much
since the rescue party had left, in the expectation of something going awry.
Fortunately, Gav's uncle Eneas had made them a present of a few ray guns. This
was the first time she'd had to use one, though, and was horrified when Maxine
went down too.
She ran to Maxine's side and took her hand, getting a mild
residual shock herself.
"Oh, Doctor Pepperdew, I'm so sorry! Are you all
Maxine part groaned and part laughed. "Well, I thought I'd
heard every version of my name."
She sat up, winced and gave a slightly pained grin.
"That's a new one! Maybe you should just call me Maxine, and yes, I'm fine
- soon will be anyway. It's not the first time I've been hit by one of those
"What do we do about these other three guys?" Gav
asked, "Quickly, before they wake up too."
......a laa dee dee...
...a one two three... ...Eric, the half a bee......
"I know the very place," Maxine said,
"What's there?" Gav asked as he dialed out.
"According to my grandfather, 'big, honkin' bugs,'"
As soon as the wormhole stabilized, J and Theo took each
unconscious man by wrists and ankles and threw him through the 'Gate. Just as
the wormhole collapsed, and unnoticed by the rest, Luc ran in.
"Maxine, you have to see this!" He grabbed
her hand and dragged her off behind him. They stopped at a room about half-way
down the ship's main corridor.
"We'll have to be quick. I left Kern
checking out a cabin back there. He'll be a while but not that long."
Inside the small cabin, there was a book on a small table. The
book measured around sixteen inches long by twelve inches wide. It had what
looked like tooled black leather over parts of the cover. The other parts
seemed to move and swirl like fog, and white and black sparks drifted across
......No colors anymore...
...I want them to turn black......
She ran her fingertips over the cover. The misty part seemed to
suck at her fingers the way the event horizon had, the first time she touched
it. The part that looked like leather felt icy cold and made her fingers
Then she sneezed.
......I look inside myself
and see my heart is black......
"Dark matter? This is the Diabolikon!" Maxine
exclaimed. "It has to be! Well, we can't leave it here with the young
people who live here. It's too dangerous. I'll hide it in my PATT while you go
round up Kern and come back to the 'Gate deck. I think we're about ready to
......I have to turn my
head until my darkness goes......
She tucked the book down the front of her jacket - it felt
really weird - and went back to join the others. They were all gathered round
the computer consol so she was able to hide the book in her PATT before they
noticed her presence.
.....I wanna see it
tainted, tainted black...
...Black as night, black as coal......
She also checked the spoils from Ghenadie's money pouch. The
coins were mostly high ranking - twenties, fifties and one hundred units. She
didn't have time to count them all so she picked out all the five and ten unit
gold, and all the copper and silver coins, then hid the rest in her PATT.
She went over to Aurel and told him to hold his hands out.
"Here you are," she said putting the coins into his
cupped hands. "There are a few higher value gold coins but I figured a
hundred unit gold coin might attract more interest than you'd want."
He thanked her and agreed that, for people their ages, large
amounts of gold would definitely be more of a liability than an asset.
Luc, followed by Kern, arrived back on the control deck. He
stopped and looked around in apparent surprise. He didn't want Kern to feel
that he was the only one who'd been kept in the dark about what had been going
Ruby was the first to notice the newcomers, and made a bee-line
"Wow! And where have you been hiding,
handsome?" she purred, sliding an arm through his and pulling him closer.
......Oh here she comes...
...she's a man-eater...
...oh here she comes... ...watch out boy... ...she'll chew you up......
Much to Maxine's amusement, Ruby continued to vamp Luc,
stroking his cheek and pulling on his arm. "Why don't we go back to my
so dizzy my head is spinning... ...like a whirlpool it never ends...
...and it's you girl makin' it spin... ...you're making me dizzy......
Maxine cracked out laughing at the stunned expression on his
He looked helplessly back at her. "Um, I don't come across
like this - Do I?"
Maxine, still laughing, nodded. "Oh yes - bambino
Luc winced and turned back to Ruby. "Look sweetheart,
you're about twelve years too late, and anyway, I was never into deflowering
virgins" He looked guiltily at Maxine and added,
The look on Theo's face was a picture as, following the
dialogue, he looked from Luc to his cousin, slack-jawed. The pair looked back
with feigned innocence.
Kern was oblivious. J's eyes narrowed.
"Put him down, Ruby," Aurel frowned. "You don't
know where he's been."
"But we have a pretty good idea!" J said with a
knowing look at his 2IC.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Ruby, full of contrition, said to
Maxine. "I didn't realize he was your man."
To gloss over the moment, J introduced the young people on the
ship to Kern.
"And for your own safety," J continued, "you
haven't met them. But, if push comes to shove, then you were told about
them, but didn't see them. I won't make this an order, Eli. I'm just asking you
to do what you think is best for the safety of his team and the young people.
Oh, and beware of anyone trying to trip you up and say something that might
compromise the team, okay?"
"Sir, yes sir. Protect the team!" Kern responded
with a broad smile. It was the first time his C.O. had used his first name.
"Well, time to go folks," J announced. "Aurel,
could you dial P2Y-709, please, and we'll get out of your hair." Then he
......I'm gonna hit the
highway like a battering ram... ...on a silver black phantom bike...
...when the metal is hot and the engine is hungry... ...and we're all about to
see the light......
SG-24 settled into their PATTs and as soon as the wormhole
stabilized, they drove away through 'Gate. The last thing they heard was Aurel
and co., joyously singing along with:
......2-4-6-8 ain't never
too late... ...me and my radio truckin' on thru the night...
...3-5-7-9 on a double white line... ...motorway sun coming up with the morning
It seemed to be early morning on P2Y-709 when the team arrived.
The activation of the 'Gate, which was on a low rock platform not far from the
sea, seemed to have attracted most of the island's males.
Their dark skins were painted with red, yellow and white body
paint and they wore furry loincloths and brightly colored headdresses of
shells, feathers and porcupine quills. They were partly threatening, but mostly
scared, dancing forward a few steps and then retreating.
J took out his 9mil and fired it into the air. The natives
legged it over the nearest dune.
"Now, was that just the loud noise," J mused,
"or have they had previous experience of weapons like ours?"
"My money would be on the former," Luc said.
"It must be fifty to a hundred years since any Tau'ri came here - and then
they probably just sent a MALP and a UAV or two."
"Yeah. Guess it's just Maxine's paranoia rubbing off on
The team drove on to the site of the seepages so Theo could
take samples. While J, Luc and Kern - or Eli, as J supposed he should call him
now - set up and maintained a perimeter, Theo did his thing.
He launched several a small UAVs with magnetometers and cameras
to spot signs of salt domes and other seeps. He set up a number of seismic
detectors, bored a hole and set off a dynamite charge to check underlying
The explosion coincided with the appearance of yet more natives
armed with spears and clubs. The boom sent them running for their lives, and
they didn't return during the rest of the mission. When Theo was happy with his
preliminary checks of the readings, they packed up and returned home.
The debriefing was very short, despite the length of time SG-24
was off-world. As Theo pointed out, it took quite a while to set up all his
diagnostic experiments and to record all the readings.
"I'll submit a full report by Monday next, but bottom
line, P2Y-709 is suitable for setting up a number of oil wells. There were
traces of other minerals, notably potash, but not in such quantities as would
justify mining them. However, once a base has been established on - what was
it? - Dar-gar-pa-hooee-hooee? - it may be possible to go prospecting on some of
the other islands."
"And what about the indigenous population?"
Bradfield asked. "Are they likely to be a problem?"
"I doubt it, sir," Luc replied. "Yes, they did
try to frighten us away by waving their clubs and spears at us, but they didn't
throw anything and they didn't physically attack us. They're also easily
spooked by loud noises."
"Excellent," Bradfield smiled. "I look forward
to reading your report, Dr. Hunter. All that remains is to give you this, Dr.
Pepperday." He passed her a note then brought the meeting to a close.
Luc saw that Maxine was not looking at all happy. "What's
the matter, babe? Um, I mean, Maxine?"
Maxine chuckled. "No need to change on my account,"
she smiled. "It was funny seeing you on the receiving end though
Luc gave a wry grin and rolled his eyes. "But seriously,
what's bothering you?"
"This," she said holding up the note. "It's
another summons to WPX. I foresee the need for a tedious amount of
bullshitting, but what's really worrying me is how quickly the summons arrived
- like he knew the instant we got back..."
Maxine was kept waiting in the oval room for over an hour
before the president deigned to put in an appearance. This was not good. Was he
leaving her to stew on her own? No one brought her any cakes either, which
seemed like a sign of disapproval.
Warren was not smiling when he finally entered. In fact, he
was looking distinctly grim as he asked her about the success of the mission.
She smiled broadly. "Dr. Hunter thinks P2Y-709 is
eminently suitable for mining with the possibility of prospecting on other
islands once a base has been set up. As the natives don't have a use for oil,
there's no need for trade - and we don't think it's a protected planet."
"Is it a safe world?"
"Pretty much. The natives made threatening gestures but
they're unlikely to be a problem. Loud noises, even just a single gun shot,
make them run away. Pretty timid really."
"Good," Warren said, then added, "I understand
SG-24 visited the Agora again..."
That was the last thing she wanted to hear from Warren!
"You're very well informed, sir,"she said with a
surprised smile that wasn't entirely feigned.
"You don't deny it then?"
Maxine put on a puzzled frown. "Why would I?"
Maxine leaned forward, becoming more serious. "These
Wildcard Worlds are getting wilder with every one we visit. You'll never
guess where we ended up this time!"
"On board a derelict spaceship!"
"Yes, sir. This was initially very worrying as there was
no DHD and what looked like a computer consol seemed to be dead. Well, except
for the sound system, which we couldn't switch off. That was very
"There was no one on board the ship?"
Warren seemed so very well informed - and so soon - that she
decided to roll with it rather than be caught out in an outright lie.
"There was no one there when we first arrived. Major
Mitchell decided we should look around while we were there to see if there was
anything useful, so it wouldn't be a complete waste of our time. Then Dr.
Hunter planned to link up one of the PATT's naquadah generators to the 'Gate
and dial out manually. But then the 'Gate began operating and a group of young
people came through. They're orphans who found the ship abandoned a couple of
years ago and have made a home for themselves on it."
"Is that what they told you?"
"And you believed them?" Warren looked suspicious.
"We had no reason not to, sir," Maxine responded,
wrinkling her nose.
"And the Agora?"
"The youngest child of the group had gotten lost - it's a
big place - so they asked for our help to find him."
"So you bought another slave?" Warren said, almost
"What? No. We had no money anyway. It's true that someone
had - mistakenly - accused him of theft, but fortunately, being just a skinny
young boy with no particular talents, his friends were easily able to buy him
back. We returned to the ship and the group's leader opened a wormhole to
P2Y-709. We then successfully completed our mission."
"You had no problems at the Agora?"
"Not particularly, sir. Oh, although, as we were entering
the wormhole, some big men came running up. No idea why."
"Perhaps because your young boys had stolen their ship -
a Tau'ri ship!"
"The Habakkuk? Surely not! The ship didn't seem all that
"No, Dr. Pepperday. It belongs to some of our European
"Really?!" Maxine squeaked. "Then I'm very
sorry, but we had no idea."
Remembering what Lord Frantisek had told her in the prison at
Persulis, she added, "So we still have control of the Habakkuk then?"
"Well of course," Warren said, looking - the word
'shifty' came, no, leapt into her mind.
"That's good." Maxine hoped to keep him on the back
foot, but Warren wasn't stalled for long.
"Yes, well for SG-24's next mission, you'd better go and
recover the ship and bring the youths back to Earth for the Europeans to deal
"Again, I'm sorry, sir, but I don't see how we can."
"What?!" Warren was now looking angry, but Maxine was
never intimidated when people intended her to be. She often did it to herself,
but now was not the time. She had the rest of her team to protect.
"Well, we arrived there purely by chance. Either some one
made a mistake in writing down the 'Gate address to give to the 'Gate
technician, or the 'Gate technician hit the wrong glyph - or, if we're really
unlucky - both."
"Didn't you get the 'Gate address from these
"Sorry, sir. It never crossed my mind as our presence
there was obviously a cock-up, so we couldn't see any reason to go back
"Might Lt. Kern have noticed anything useful?"
"I doubt it, sir. He and Captain Lucarelli were engaged
in an exploration of the opposite end of the ship, and reported nothing of any
use or interest. Beyond what Major Mitchell told them, I doubt either of them
would have anything fresh to contribute. We seem to have blotted our copybook,
for which I am truly sorry," Maxine said penitently.
Warren sighed. "Very well, you may go."
Fighting the urge to leg it, Maxine walked sedately back to
the entrance where Costin was still patiently holding the pony's reins. Her
driver, the unco-operative Corporal Zeller, had apparently found something more
interesting to do.
She passed on a message from Costin's daughter, Ellika, and
took a message in return, then she decided to drive herself back. Warren had
given her a lot to think about.
That evening, they had their now traditional personal
debriefing at Ash's pad. Maxine was very subdued as the rest told Ash about
their latest adventure.
"I take it Warren was more of a trial than usual?"
"He knows," she said softly.
"Knows what?" J asked sounding concerned. This was
clearly more than her usual paranoia.
"Pretty much everything we've done today - and so soon,
"How could he do that?" Theo asked.
"From the Bruxai, I guess. I couldn't very well ask
"Does he know about the book?" Luc wanted to know.
"Book? What book?" J eyed the pair curiously.
She lowered her voice to a whisper. "The Diabolikon, and
no, that didn't come up, thank heavens!"
"You have the"
"Yes, and I think it's best if we don't talk about it in
case you-know-who has this place bugged."
"Right. So what else did he know?" J asked.
"That we'd been to the Agora and also pretty much what
we'd done there."
"You're sure you're not adding two and two and getting a
whole lot more than four."
"Yes. I'm sure," Maxine snapped, "and
fortunately, I chose not to deny it because next, he asked me if I'd bought
"Ouch!" Luc said with a sympathetic look.
"Yeah! I pointed out that we had no money," she
"Speaking of which," J said, "how much did you,
er, 'confiscate' from Ghenadie?"
"Well, I haven't had time to count it, but I don't think
it'll be much over a thousand units of gold."
"How much?!" the rest exclaimed.
"About a thousand units, give or take. Well, Aurel did
say it didn't matter how high the auction went, they'd pay. Anyway, then Warren
asked if we'd had any problems..."
"And you said?"
"That we'd been chased by some big men as we left, but we
had no idea why. So then he said, 'Perhaps because your young boys had stolen
their ship - a Tau'ri ship!'"
"Again, ouch!" Luc put his arm round her shoulder
and gave a hug.
"Wait a minute," Ash said, getting up and heading
for the kitchen. "I'll just fetch the coffee and snacks."
When everyone had their coffee, Maxine continued. "So then
I fell back on playing dumb as though I thought he meant the Habakkuk, to which
he replied that it belonged to our European allies... He didn't look too
comfortable when I asked if we still had the Habakkuk. He kind of glossed over
that one by saying our next mission should be to go back to the ship, round up
the gang and bring them back for the Europeans to deal with."
"Ow, tricky!" Theo responded.
"Actually, that wasn't so bad. I said we didn't know the
address, and never thought to ask as it was clearly an error. Either the 'Gate
tech. had been given the wrong address or accidently hit the wrong glyph or
J looked thoughtful - and worried. "Guess that means we
were deliberately sent to Destiny - and that little group could be in big
trouble very soon."
"Maybe not," Theo said. "If Warren and/or the
Bruxai know that 'Gate address, they would have gone there long ago"
......don't try to kid us
that if you're discreet...
...you're perfectly safe as you walk down the street...
...you don't have to mince or make bitchy remarks...
...to get beaten unconscious and left in the dark...
...I had a friend who was gentle and short...
...he was lonely one evening and went for a walk...
...queerbashers caught him and kicked in his teeth...
...he was only hospitalised for a week......
......sing if you're glad
to be gay......
......sing if you're happy that way......
"What the fuck?! Ash?"
"Well, while you were away having fun, I met up with one
of my old nerd friends"
"Oh yes?" Theo scowled.
"Yes. And she brought round an old CD
player and some CDs. She's short of money so I bought them off her. Okay?"
.....every breath you
...every move you make...
...every step you take...
...I'll be watching you......
Maxine just smiled knowingly to herself. "I think Aurel
and friends will be all right," she said.