As Maxine, J and Radu made their way back
to the Oplostasio, J contacted up the rest of the team and ordered them to meet
up there, or rather, at the 'Opli-what's-it.' Kern arrived a good twenty
minutes after everyone else, which was worrying. As someone famous had once
said - more or less - to lose one team member may be regarded as a misfortune,
to lose two looks like carelessness...
"What kept ya, Kern?" J asked when he finally
"I can't raise Captain Beck."
"No, you can't," J agreed. "There's a good rea--
well, not a good one, but there is a reason. Captain Beck now belongs to a
Spartan called... Dr. Pepperday?"
Maxine wasn't in the mood for levity this time and said.
"What?" Kern gasped.
"In spite of everything we said, Captain Beck helped
himself to something that didn't belong to him and neglected to pay for it, so
they sold him on the slave market."
"And you just-- you just let this happen?" Kern
"No. I didn't 'just let it happen.' I know I
said we'd disown him, but I didn't - and nearly ended up on the catwalk with
him as a result. There wasn't anything I could've done that I didn't
"Couldn't you have bought him? You had the money
from the sale of those other two-- those two thieves."
"It doesn't work like that," Maxine said.
"After the victim's been given compensation for loss or damage, the rest
goes towards paying the wages of the people who work here. Captain Beck sold
for 42 golds. We didn't have a tenth of that amount. Look."
Maxine pulled out the green velvet pouch and tipped the
remaining coins into her hand. "And this belongs to the SGC."
Kern's face fell. "So he's really gone then?" he said
"Well, we know where he's been taken - sort
of," J said. "If we could put together enough money, maybe we can buy
him back, but I can't in all honesty say that it's likely to happen anytime
soon. I'm sorry you lost your friend."
"Yeah," Kern sniffed.
The arrival of SG-24 minus one caused some consternation when
the team trooped back through the 'Gate.
J glowered around. "Captain Beck is not dead or injured,
just detained - voluntarily detained," he announced as he stalked
down the ramp towards General Bradfield carrying Beck's Calico. He handed the
weapons off to the nearest SFs.
"Sorry, sir," he sighed as he reached the general.
"He stole something, didn't he?" Bradfield said
J nodded. "I did everything I could, even though I'd
warned him not to expect any help if he did steal. It still goes against the
grain to have to leave him like that even so."
"I know, son. I think we'll defer the debriefing until
tomorrow. Let the dust settle a little."
"Thank you, sir. Could I have a word with you about
"Certainly. Come on up to my office."
"Now, what's the problem, Major?" Bradfield asked as
he closed the door.
"Not really a problem as such. While we were keeping tabs
on the man that - er - 'bought' Captain Beck, we got talking to a couple of old
guys. They heard us talking among ourselves and spoke to us in English - well,
American. We think they may belong to one of the SG teams that went
missing after the Great Disaster. They call themselves Noah and Jethro though
they don't know if those are their real names as they seem to have lost their
"And you'd like me to check the records to see if there's
a match?" Bradfield went over to his filing cabinet and pulled out a pile
of old files. He passed some to J and started going through the others. It
didn't take long.
There was a Lt. Noah Baxter, aged nineteen when he went missing
from SG-4, and a Lt. Jethro Hughes, a year older, who'd been a member of SG-9.
"It has to be them, doesn't it, sir?"
"Not necessarily, but it seems highly likely. Well done,
Major," Bradfield smiled.
J grimaced wryly. "Thank you, sir. At least we may have
gotten something positive out of the mission."
J went up to the infirmary for the usual post-mission medical.
He and the rest of the team were processed quickly. Dr. Flint was by far the
most adept member of the medical staff, and as she wasn't many people's first
choice, they were all cleared and out before Dr. Dawson had even started with
J hung around and waited for him. He was concerned about his
team member. The lanky lieutenant wasn't really much of a mixer unless he was
tagging along after Beck. J couldn't remember seeing him with anyone much. He'd
been fairly close to Beck, who'd kept a casual eye out for him, but that was
about it. The loss of Beck must've hit him fairly hard and J couldn't help
feeling sorry for him in consequence.
Dawson didn't take long once Kern reached him; his check-up was
perfunctory in the extreme, and J would've willing put good money on a bet that
Kern hadn't mentioned the loss of Beck - nor been asked if there was anything
Kern wandered towards the door, head down. He didn't respond as
J fell into step beside him; probably hadn't even noticed.
"Where're you headed now?" J asked quietly.
Kern's head shot up in surprise. "Dunno. Home, I
guess," he said dully.
J knew he lived with his mother in the Springs - was an only
child. That probably explained why he didn't mix much - wasn't socially
proficient. Probably also explained why he'd fallen under Beck's influence.
Maybe, with a little encouragement, he might - well, blossom didn't seem the
right word, but he couldn't off-hand think of anything else.
"Care to go for a drink first?"
"Oh? Oh, I don't know."
"Needn't be alcoholic. Coffee if you'd rather. We could
talk. Get to know each other better."
"Aw, I don't think it would be a good idea."
"You and the others all get on so well. I'd just be like a
spare leg, gettin' in the way."
This was true. Kern could never be part of their little gang.
That made J feel a little guilty and, surprisingly, sad for him too. But the
situation had changed now. Maybe they could include him a little more?
He put a comradely arm on Kern's shoulder. "Well, if you
change your mind, the offer still stands - for a drink or a chat. 'Kay?"
Kern sniffed. "Yeah... but I think I'd better be getting
home. No offence? And - thank you sir."
The meeting at Ash's pad that evening was subdued. They'd
needed to lose Beck, but now they had, there was no sense of triumph or
delight. Yes, it had been totally his own fault but still, the means of it was
certainly not what they would've chosen. On the plus side, he was still alive -
probably. For how long under the Spartans was a moot point.
The mood lightened when J asked Maxine about her shopping.
Under the pretext of making another pot of coffee, she went into the little
kitchen. While it was brewing, she pulled the two parcels out from inside her
T-shirt. A bulky jacket had concealed the slight lumpiness of her midriff. The
present for Ash, she left on the kitchen counter. She then shook out the fine
silky material, held it up in front of her, sidled into the living room and
stood at the back of the room. And waited...
Eventually, the rest realized that the coffee hadn't arrived
yet and Theo yelled out a query about whether she'd gone through the 'Gate for
When there was no response, he went into the kitchen. Empty
kitchen. Panic! He shot back into the living room exclaiming, "She's
"What?" Ash demanded. "How could she? She'd
have to come through here to get out."
"Unless she climbed through the window?" Luc
"From the third floor?" Ash said. "And why
would she do that anyway?"
Theo had another bad thought. "Could she have been - well,
"Why? Who? How?" Luc asked.
There was a long baffled silence, by which time, Maxine's arms
were getting tired of holding up the material. She let go, saying airily,
"Looking for me?" With four startled pairs of eyes on her, she double
"God! Scare us all to death, why don't you?" J
grumbled. "Hang on. How did you do that?"
"Oh, just crawled through and hid behind the couch, ya
J's scowl deepened.
"Oh, you're no fun any more!" Maxine grinned, and
bent down to pick up the material - by feel, since she couldn't see it. She
dropped it over J's head, and he, or at least the part covered by the material,
"Well, that's an improvement!" Luc chuckled.
J pulled it off his head. "Interesting. It's like looking
through gauze. So this was what you squandered our money on?"
"Part of it," Maxine said, returning to the kitchen
for her other purchase. "I thought it would be nice to bring a souvenir
back for Ash," she said, handing him the package.
"For me?" Ash squeaked. He squeaked even louder as
he opened it and saw the contents. "Wow! Looks like a lot of memory here.
Thank you so much," he said, getting up and giving her a hug."
"I've no idea what they are or what they do - or what
language they're in, though the guy I bought them from spoke some sort of
"Right. I'll be careful. I've an old computer here that I
try things out on, then I'm not going to wreck anything I shouldn't."
"Just try not to cause a city wide power-outage!" J
said grumpily. He took in Maxine's look of chagrin, and smiled. "It's ok.
You did good."
"I thought we could cut up the camouflage material and
make bags to hide the zats," she said.
"Sure we can't make better use of it?"
The debriefing at 0900 the following morning went pretty much
as expected, except that, as yet, no one had been imposed on SG-24 to fill the
boots of Captain Beck. They all hoped that this would not be happening any time
soon, but no one would be willing to risk any money on it.
As they all filed out, General Bradfield passed on to Maxine
another summons to WPX. This time, it was an afternoon meeting, scheduled for
1530 that day. Her heart sank, though looking on the marginally brighter side,
she didn't have to not-sleep on it. This was just as well, as she anticipated a
pretty rocky ride this time.
After a brief visit to the commissary for 'mock-a-coffee,' with
the team, she went straight over to her office in the Arlington Building. They
hadn't talked much as J had dragged Kern along for some reason, so she figured
the best thing to do would be to put the whole thing out of her mind by
concentrating on her work.
As she sat down at her desk, she noticed a new document sitting
on top of her in-tray. Not that this was unusual in itself, but it was on a
pale blue official report form. She took it out, looked at it and soon spotted
the key that had been used. She translated the first couple of lines, writing
them down on a yellow notepad, then stopped, wrinkling her nose in puzzlement.
The original text was in Romanian, which would have been enough
to make it unreadable to most people, yet it had been encrypted. Why? She read
those first two lines again:
"Use Dragomir. Tell him to eliminate the anticatod as
soon as possible."
Anticatod? Anti-cathode? That made no sense. Target? More
likely. She read on:
'Then destroy any remains. There must be no chance of him
There was something about this that gave her a bad feeling. It
seemed like a plan for an assassination - a foreign leader perhaps? That should
be very highly classified - way above her level, which was pretty high
these days, but still... Most of the assignments she had were for fairly small
stuff. Maybe it had come to her by accident? If so, it was fortunate that she
never put any pencil marks on the original. Original. Hm.
She went over to the crotchety copier and ran off a copy. This
she folded in half and slipped it in between pages 204 and 205 of her Latin
Dictionary. Few persons were likely to open that by chance if they were
looking for an interesting read to pass the time if she wasn't there. Then she
returned the sheet of blue paper to its former position in her in-tray and
shredded the page from her notepad. She pulled out the current document she was
working on and put everything else out of her mind.
At midday, she locked her office and went to the Arlington
commissary for lunch. The food was much better there. She hadn't really gotten
to know anyone there yet, apart from Sergeant Gayle so she just settled in a
paranoid corner and watched the world go by. There were one or two faces she
recognized but couldn't put names to. The rest were strangers.
When she returned to her office, the first thing she noticed
was that the blue page had gone. She checked her Latin dictionary and found the
copy still there. Curiosity piqued, she checked the next couple of lines:
'Instruct Dragomir to tell the rest that the address is wrong
and to bring them back. He is to go to GB who will give them the correct one.'
There wasn't time to translate the whole thing and she didn't
want to get caught with it, so she put it back in its hiding place and decided
to carry on with the regular stuff until Sergeant Gayle came for her. Except it
wasn't Sergeant Gayle this time. Presumably the shift had changed.
The new guy was about ten years older and a hundred times less
sociable. He didn't even give his name. The horse was fractious too. Hardly
surprising judging by the way the driver was hauling on the poor thing's reins.
It angered Maxine but she didn't think complaints from her about ill-treating
dumb animals would cut any ice with this guy - probably just make things worse.
So she buttoned her lip.
Unsurprisingly, he didn't assist her to alight from the trap.
Not that she needed it, but it would've been nice. Having delivered her to the
blue room, he left, closing the door with a sharp snap. There was no coffee or
The President kept her waiting for a good twenty minutes which
did nothing for her nerves. He strode into the room, gave her a stiff little
smile and didn't offer her his hand.
"Dr. Pepperday," he began with a curt nod. "I
believe that, last time we met, you assured me that Major Mitchell's stated aim
was to avoid losing men on missions."
"Not working too well, is it?"
"I presume you are referring to Captain Peter Beck,"
"I am indeed. Don't you think you should have brought back
Captain Beck somehow?"
Trying not to let her irritation show, Maxine continued,
"Had it been possible, yes. It was not - no more possible than a man out
at sea trying to stop a man from jumping off a high cliff. At the outset, it
was made transparently plain to Captain Beck what the five simple rules of the
Agora are, and also what the penalty is for breaking any of them, yet he still
went ahead and broke one. Deliberately. Just to show he was smarter than the
rest of us and the Agora's police. Proved to all concerned, including himself
that he wasn't as smart as he thought he was. When someone deliberately flouts
a law like that, knowing full well the consequences of so doing, it leaves his
friends very little scope to extricate him from the mess he's made for himself
without putting more people in danger. Indeed, Major Mitchell came very close
to joining Captain Beck as a result of his attempts to get the authorities to
overturn their verdict."
"Could Major Mitchell not have bought Captain Beck at the
"No sir, although, on the plus side, we know where he is
and may at some time be able to buy him back."
"Yet Major Mitchell couldn't buy him at the time?"
"Why was that?"
"We didn't have enough money."
"I understood that you were given the proceeds of the sale
of the thieves who tried to steal our property."
"I'm afraid you were misinformed about that, sir,"
Maxine said, wondering just who had informed him. She explained the
system and told him that she'd taken the small change to chemistry lab for
analysis - if he would like to check the amount. She naturally didn't mention
the four gold pieces that J had taken charge of. None of them wanted to explain
Warren chuckled. "I'm not questioning your honesty, Dr.
Maxine winced inwardly. So much for her rep. of having
negotiable morals. "That's good. I don't cheat my employer. It's not in my
interest to do so," she responded. The twitch at the corner of Warren's
mouth suggested she might have covered the gaff. She had to choke back her
anger at his next question though, in much the same way the driver had hauled
in the reins of the horse.
"You had one of your slaves with you. Could you not have
Was he toying with her? Back to the bullshit then.
"I did indeed consider that option. However, although he
has abilities that are of value to me and to the SGC, it was unlikely that
potential buyers would value them equally highly. The average sale price for a
teenage slave was around fifteen gold pieces, give or take, so a skinny boy
with a talent not required by a buyer would certainly not fetch enough to buy
Captain Beck, a powerfully built and trained soldier who was knocked down at 42
"That much?" Warren sounded impressed.
"Yes sir, so you see, our hands were tied. There was no
way we could get him back with jeopardizing more team members. But - as I
suggested earlier, if we could acquire some gold coins, or an equal weight of
gold, it would be possible to mount a mission to the world he was taken to and
buy him back later on," Maxine finished bracingly.
"Ye-es, well, let's not throw our money away, hm?"
Warren commented then turned on his heel and walked out.
Just what happened there? Maxine wondered, floored by
Warren's parting remark. She'd found the whole interview both unnerving and
demoralizing, but didn't think she could've done any better under the
circumstances. Now, she just wanted to get back to her office and a hot shower.
By the time she'd been kept waiting for half an hour, she
figured she could probably get back to the Arlington Building quicker if she
walked. She knew the way perfectly well by now. It wasn't as if there were any
junctions that required choices to be made anyway.
She stepped outside the new White House and found the groom
still holding the horse's reins. She gave him a smile and asked where the
"I do not know, ma'am," was the response. He
scowled. "He is probably making free with the women in the staff
She raised an eyebrow at that. Didn't fancy the idea of the big
oaf making 'romantic overtures' to her... "Really? And when is he likely
to return from these amatory adventures?"
"I do not know, ma'am."
Maxine gave an exasperated growl. "Then perhaps you could
go and fetch him. Now would do..."
"I am afraid I cannot do that, ma'am. I have to hold the
"Then I'll walk," she said, turning away towards the
"They won't let you pass without a-- pass."
"Fine! Then I'll hold the horse while you
fetch the driver."
"I cannot do that, ma'am--"
"Aagghh! Give me strength! Right, then tell me where the
staff room is and I'll fetch him myself."
The groom looked at her in slack-jawed horror.
"And don't give me any more excuses."
He swallowed, wearing the look of a man who knows his nuts are
between a rock and a hard place and are going to get crunched one way or
another. The question was, by whom?
Sergeant Quinney was a vicious bastard, but wasn't here. The
scary redhead, on the hand, was here and was building up a head of
steam. But Ellika had said she was kind...
He made up his mind and gave Maxine directions, ending with,
"Please - do not tell Sergeant Quinney that it was me who told you."
Maxine smiled. "Of course not. I've already got his
number. And thank you."
The groom breathed again, nuts intact so far.
Maxine went round to the back of the House, in through the
third door along, first right, across the kitchen and into the staff room where
an unlovely sight met her eyes - Sergeant Quinney's hairy butt.
The man had his pants round his knees and was leaning over
someone huddled in the corner. He didn't notice Maxine's arrival.
"Come on, what's your problem, kid? I bet you suck Gayle's
dick every time he comes to call, so you can damn' well suck mine."
This was answered by a terrified whimper. The voice sounded
Maxine lost what had become a very fragile grip on her temper.
She looked around for a weapon. There were the remains of lunch on the central
table. She picked up a fork walked quietly up behind him, and rammed it into
Quinney's bare buttock. Very hard!
Pain and surprise jerked him upright. With an enraged roar, he
spun round on his attacker, yanking the fork out of her hand. It flew across
the room taking some of his flesh with it. Maxine backed off, grabbing a steak
knife off a plate.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" he raged,
advancing with menace.
"I could ask you the same thing, 'cept I could see
precisely what you were - up to." She waved the knife in the
direction of his now flaccid dick. "Give me one good reason why I
shouldn't slice off your little Wiener. I mean, it's so small, you'd hardly
Quinney gave another roar. Lunged at her. Found himself bent
over the table, wrist in a tight lock, arm twisted in a way it wasn't designed
to go, face on a plate with the remains of someone's dinner.
"You could have someone's eye out like that," came a
suave voice from behind her.
Maxine closed her eyes and grimaced. She released Quinney and
turned to face President Warren. He'd been nearby and come to investigate the
"Just came to find my driver, sir," she said through
gritted teeth. "He was very late. I remonstrated with him and he attacked
Warren grinned. "Obviously not a very effective attack,
"No sir," the sergeant muttered, wiping the tomato
sauce off his face and trying to pull up his pants.
"Neat take-down, Dr. Pepperday. I'll send you a fresh
driver. This one seems a little... rancid." He craned his neck to look
around the burly sergeant at the shivering heap of misery in the corner.
"And you can take that with you to add to your collection. She's been
nothing but trouble from the get-go."
With that, he was gone. Nobody moved for several seconds.
Quinney was looking at Maxine with malevolent hatred.
"I wouldn't try it," Maxine said coldly, sticking
her little finger up and wiggling it, "or everyone's going to
"I'll find out where you live," he threatened.
"Good luck with that!" she grinned back, then turned
to the young maid. "Haide!" She said, holding out her hand.
The girl stood up cautiously and edged around Quinney to her
savior. Neither of them took their eyes off Quinney, and kept looking behind as
they walked round to where the groom was still waiting. He looked surprised to
see the maid.
"What are you doing here, Ellika?" he asked the maid
"I belong to her now," she beamed, looking up at
"Please - take care of the little one," he implored
her, reverting to English.
Maxine looked from one to the other and drew a sharp breath.
"You're her father aren't you?"
He bit his lip and nodded. "Don't worry, she'll be
ok," she smiled as a young man came out of the east door.
"Corporal Ingram, at your service, ma'am," he said
saluting. His mouth was curved in a definite smirk, suggesting that, as bad
news was wont to do, it had traveled fairly rapidly.
He assisted Maxine into the trap with Ellika beside her. There
wasn't really room for all three of them on the bench seat, so the corporal
rode the horse rather than using the reins to guide it. The horse obviously
appreciated the change as the ride back was much smoother.
As they traveled back to the Arlington Building, Maxine
conversed in a low voice with Ellika. She used Romanian, hoping that Ingram
wasn't some sort of spy.
"Has that nasty man bothered you before?" she asked.
Ellika shook her head. "I never saw him before."
Actually, she thought, Ellika could be a spy too. Was this a
put-up job to insinuate her into Maxine's circle of friends? It bore thinking
about. Or maybe someone wanted to get her into the SGC for some other reason?
"I heard the man mention another one and suggested that
he... abused you in the same way. Did that happen?"
Ellika shook her head again. "No, no one ever mistreated
It occurred to her that maybe Ellika was afraid that her new
owner would reveal what she said. "I'm on your side," she said
gently. I'm not trying to get you into trouble."
Ellika focused her eyes on the back of Corporal Ingram. Did
that mean she was afraid he'd overhear or that he'd abused her too? Clearly
there was no point in questioning her further now, and not in her office either
with its nasty little bug eavesdropping on their every word.
Putting the talk and the shower on hold for the time being
when they reached the Arlington Building, she took Ellika straight on to the
SGC and up to Linguistics. She introduced her to the team and to Radu and
Stefan, and asked them all to take care of her.
As it was nearly time to pack up by now - if they wanted to
catch the 1800 shift bus back to the Springs anyway - she went down to the gym
where she knew J would be finishing his martial arts training duties. Luc and
Theo were taking part. It was always a good idea to keep in practice at
hand-to-hand combat. She'd already had her practice for today she thought,
grinning to herself at the memory of Quinney's face when Warren arrived.
As the rest of the combatants made a dash to be first for the
showers - and hopefully the slightly warmer water, SG-24 wandered over to join
"How'd it go?" Luc asked.
Maxine rolled her eyes. "I'm really not sure. Somewhere
between brilliant and disastrous, and probably closer to the latter. Oh, and
I've got another slave."
"What?" J exclaimed rather predictably, provoking
the equally predictable fiery response.
"Oh, don't look like that, J! She was a 'gift' from
Warren. I could hardly say no, and as she was about to get her faced fucked by
this lout of a sergeant, I'm thinking she's probably safer here."
"Um, sorry," J muttered, backing away from Maxine in
termagant mode. He looked around at the stragglers leaving the gym. "You,
er, might like to keep your voice down."
Maxine bit her lip. "Sorry."
"Pavlovian response, much," Luc grinned, then ran
off yelling, "last one in the shower's an icicle!"
"Oh, and we have a mission briefing at 0800
tomorrow," J yelled to Maxine as he hared off after the other two.
"Firstly," Bradfield began, "we have the
analysis results of the coins you brought back with you from the Agora. The
gold coin was 24 carat gold, the silver were eighty per cent silver and twenty
per cent gold and the others were ninety-five per cent copper and five per cent
"Any chance of replicating the coins, sir?" J asked.
Kern perked up at that.
"It's possible, Major. We would have to get the
percentages exactly right or err on the side of gold if we can't. Whether
President Warren would agree is another matter."
Kern's shoulders sagged. Beck didn't deserve this dedicated
allegiance, J thought.
"Secondly," Bradfield continued, appearing not to
notice Kern's distress, the President has asked that SG-24 undertake a mission
to P4D-131. Apparently it looks like it's heading the way of Tyogya. President
Warren seems to think that SG-24 is the best team to deal with such a situation
and he has every confidence in Major Mitchell's ability to prevent a repetition
of such a rebellion. Information on P4D-131 is in your folders."
"Sir, I don't have one," Kern said. His look spoke
of curiosity with a little relief on the side.
"You'll be sitting this mission out, Lieutenant. I've had
a word with Dr. Dawson and he's put you on compassionate leave for ten days. If
you would like a therapy session - more if need be - he will arrange it for
you," Bradfield said with a smile of understanding. "The rest of you
will ship out at 0900 tomorrow."
SG-24 , temporarily down to the desired foursome, was waiting
in the 'Gate Room in good time. General Bradfield was watching from the
observation room as the chevrons on the 'Gate lit up and locked and the event
horizon surged outwards before settling into its usual placid surface.
"Very well, SG-24, you are a go, and good luck!"
Luc and Theo, taking point, were already at the top of the
ramp when a clerical officer ran into the 'Gate Room, calling for Major
Mitchell. She was out of breath so it seemed like she had an urgent message for
There was no cause for alarm on P4D-131 at the present time,
so J stopped and waved the rest of his team through. "You three go on
ahead. I'll join you in a few minutes."
On the other side of the wormhole, all was tranquil, though not
entirely as expected. The 'Gate was in a clearing among tall coniferous trees,
more reminiscent of British Columbia than the prairie states. The air was damp
and slightly misty - not particularly suitable for agriculture.
While they were awaiting J's arrival, they queried whether the
'Gate tech had keyed in the wrong co-ordinates. Maxine was just saying, "I
have a bad feeling about this," when the wormhole collapsed.
There was no sign of J.