Four of the members of SG-24 were already in the briefing room,
scanning through their latest mission booklet when Lt. Kern came in.
J stood up and went over to shake his hand. "Good to have
you back, Lieutenant," he smiled, looking as if he really meant it. Which
he did, more or less. Yes, it had been better with just the four of them - and
Ash - but the lanky marine was definitely turning out very much better than his
The rest echoed J's welcome which brought a smile to Kern's
"Well, thank you all kindly," he said. "It's
good to be back!" He definitely meant it - couldn't imagine being welcomed
like that by any other team.
Bradfield, following closely behind Kern, was also pleased to
see his reception. Major Mitchell had certainly justified the general's
confidence in choosing him to set up and run a new team, regardless of the
President's misgivings. SG-24 was shaping up to be a very successful team,
despite the major's reluctance to have any marines as part of it.
"All right, people, settle down. I'd just like to go over
the salient features of this mission for next Thursday," Bradfield began,
taking his seat. He gave the team an amused smile. "This a mission to
another one of those Wildcard Worlds you like so much - P2Y-709. Much of the
planet is covered by oceans and most of the land takes the form of clusters of
islands. The 'Gate is on the principal island which is called
Dar-gar-pa-hooee-hooee by the indigenous population. It's meaning is thought to
be 'big island between two big seas.'"
"That sounds Polynesian," Maxine observed. "I'm
not very familiar with those languages. Each island has its own version There
are a lot of them and they're all different."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that," Bradfield
continued. "The people are extremely primitive. Primarily they're
hunter-gatherers. They make a living from the sea for the most part, augmented
by a little agriculture. The principal reason for this mission is therefore not
to set up a trading treaty for food. The early MALP footage shows seepages
which suggests there may be oil deposits. So, Doctor Hunter, given that our oil
supplies are close to running out, I'd like you to check on the viability of
oil-mining there. If you find any other mineral deposits, that would be all to
the good. Any questions?"
There were none so the briefing was brought to a close.
Three days later, SG-24 drove through the 'Gate. What they
found on arrival was far from what they expected. No salt tang of the sea, no
palm trees, no golden beaches, no blue sky. Something else was missing too - a
At first, they thought the 'Gate was in something like an old
warehouse. On a primitive planet? The five drove their PATTs to the side of the
'Gate and parked up. A casual glance around revealed virtually nothing. The
lighting was minimal. Flashlights helped but not a lot. The warehouse, if that
was what it was, seemed an odd shape - not rectangular.
Theo bent down and laid the flat of his hand on the floor - a
metal floor. "I think we're on a ship," he said, sounding as if he
didn't believe what he was saying. "The floor's vibrating - not much, but
too much to be natural."
The others checked and found that the walls were vibrating
slightly also. There was otherwise no sign of life.
"So what? We're on a derelict ship?" Maxine turned
to J. "Accidentally on purpose?"
"Normally, I say not - someone just made a mistake. But,
with past experience, I'm not sure."
"What's a Stargate doing on a ship anyway?" Kern
wanted to know.
"Good question, my friend," J replied.
"Also, how do we get off the ship?" Kern
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Theo said
thoughtfully. "We can rig up one of the PATTs' naquadah generators to
power the 'Gate - or link a couple together if one isn't enough - then we can
dial out manually."
"Good thinking," J nodded.
"So we're not trapped here?" Kern sounded relieved.
"No, though I suggest we have a look around while we're
here. We might find something useful," J decided, not sounding
Theo, who'd been wandering around the 'Gate deck, gave a shout.
"There's a computer consol back here, facing the 'Gate. It seems to be
"Can you turn it on?" Luc asked.
"That would be a no."
"Pity we don't have Ash with us," Luc said,
"then he could fix the computer system."
"Ah, no. I know exactly what he would say if he
were here," Theo said and, mimicking his beloved geek, launched into an
Ash-style tirade. "Knowing one computer system does
not make you an expert on all computer systems. There are
lots of them, and you have to learn about them all. Individually.
And as for alien computer systems Just don't get me started! The idiots
who wrote Wormhole X-Treme had Dr. Levant hacking into an alien system
like all you had to do was plug it in, switch it on and type. It's just
not like that in the real world!"
Theo rested his hands on the consol. There was a crackling
sound followed by someone singing:
Welcome to the house of
......welcome to the lion's den......
"Well, the computer can't be totally dead," Luc
observed, "since you seem to have found their sound system."
"Great! Okay, you can turn it off now," J ordered.
Theo tried to put his hands in the same places on the dark
consol. Strident guitar chords twanged around the control room and someone
.....snake eyes watching
...double up or quit... ...double stakes or split...
...the ace of spades... ...the ace of spades......
"That's not actually an improvement, Theo," J said
drily. "I said, turn it off."
Theo had another try and got:
......People think I'm insane
because I am frowning all the time ......
"Sorry, but I think we're stuck with it."
"Maybe the place is deserted because the 'music' drove
them insane?" Kern suggested with a slight grin.
J suddenly realized that Kern had just cracked a joke and bit
back a sarcastic retort. Instead, he laughed and said, "You could well be
right there, Lieutenant!"
"Any one else notice that all the lyrics are in
English?" Maxine asked.
"Good point," J said. "Any thoughts about
"Maybe the original owners bought the sound system at the
Agora?" Theo suggested.
"Or maybe the whole ship was bought from the Agora?"
"If they had the money to buy this ship at the Agora -
which probably wouldn't come cheap, why would they just abandon it?" J
No one had an answer for that so J decided to explore the ship
from stem to stern. The 'Gate seemed to be at the forward end, and it occurred
to J that the ship might not actually be abandoned. Her owners might return at
any minute, in which case, it would probably be a good idea to keep Kern away
from anything he might inadvertently talk about later.
"Lucarelli, take Kern with you and begin exploring from
the ship's stern. The rest of us will start hunting from here and hopefully,
we'll meet somewhere in the middle."
In the second cabin along, J and co. hit pay dirt. The small
chamber contained shelves full of boxes and box files - an archive room
"I think you'd better check these out, Maxine," Theo
said, flicking through the pages of a thick file. "I don't know what
language it is, but it sure ain't English."
Maxine looked over his shoulder. "Wow! It's
Romanian!" She elbowed him out of the way, and turned over several pages,
gasping now and again.
"What is it?" both J and Theo asked.
"I think it's a log book of body swaps. Some are marked
with a capital A and some with a capital V. Now, I think the A stands for
anticatod or target. When Dragomir tried to replace you, J, you weren't named
but were referred to as 'the anticatod.' I've no idea what the V stands for
As the other two went back to investigating the files and
boxes, she continued to run her finger down the columns of names. "Ah,
that looks useful; King, Tobias (A) - P9Z-596."
"What? You've found him?" J asked as Maxine wrote
the details in her notebook. "Um, why not just take the file back with
"Oh, just thinking ahead," she said. "Supposing
the owners return while we're still here - and later on, they find a file
"So what if they do?"
"Well, Warren seems amazingly well informed about our
"Oh. So he might realize we make unscheduled and
unreported trips on the side?"
Maxine nodded, grinning. "Give the man a cig
"What?!" the other two exclaimed together.
Maxine pointed at an entry near the bottom of the page she was
scanning: Warren, Elijah (A) - P5Q-050. She was just adding that address to her
notebook when they heard sounds of the 'Gate activating.
J called Luc on his comm. "We seem to have incoming. Hold
your positions and carry on investigating until you hear otherwise from
"Copy that. Luc out."
J, 5mil in hand and followed by Theo and Maxine, made haste
back to the control deck and hid behind the computer consol as several people
arrived in an untidy heap on the ramp.
......They'll ask me how I
got her ... ...I'll say I saved my money...
...they'll say isn't she pretty - that ship called Dignity......
They looked to be in their teens
and one was a girl with bright red streaks in her black hair. They didn't look
too dangerous, so the team holstered their weapons. Maxine stepped forward,
hand raised in peaceful greeting.
"I am Doctor Pepperday. My friends and I are peaceful
explorers and we arrived here by accident. Do you live on this ship?"
The in-comers untangled themselves, and one, a tall, well-built
lad with a shock of sandy hair, strode towards her. He didn't look too
threatening, but J and Theo were taking no chances; they appeared from behind
The youth slowed and stopped, looking very wary. "We live
here on Dignity, yes. What business is it of yours?"
"Well, we're not supposed to be here," Maxine
explained, "so we were wondering where exactly we are and how to
get to where we're supposed to be."
"Did you come through the Fagaras 'Gate?" the youth
"No, but I've heard of it. Some friends of ours
threatened to send a bad man through the Fagaras 'Gate and he looked pretty
scared by the threat."
"So you're not... you're not Bruxai?"
"No, we certainly are not," J said emphatically.
The five teenagers looked mortally offended, exclaiming as one,
"Well, that's good," Theo said, "because the
Bruxai tried to kill Major Mitchell here."
"Then you must be good people," the youth said,
relaxing a little.
Another youth came forward. "Major Mitchell huh? Do you
know my uncle Eneas?"
"Leader of the Prasinos Team of the Contra-Bruxai?"
The second youth nodded vigorously, beaming. "It's okay,
we're safe with them. My name is Gavril, by the way, though I'm usually just
"And you live here with your parents?" Maxine asked.
"No, there's just us here," the girl said.
The rest introduced themselves then. The first youth, who
seemed to be their leader was Aurel. Stelian had thick black hair and a pale
face which set off his intense blue eyes.
Nandru looked tense and scared. "And then there's
Marku," he said. "He's my little brother. He's - He's not here right
"And what about you?" Maxine asked the girl.
......She would never say
where she came from...
...yesterday don't matter if it's gone...
....while the sun is bright... ...or in the darkest night...
...no one knows... ...she comes and goes......
"I'm Ruby Tuesday."
"That doesn't sound very Romanian," Theo commented.
"No, it isn't. It's the title of one of my favorite songs.
My real name is Reveka. We all like twentieth century music and we collect CDs
when we go to the Agora."
"Really?" Theo sounded interested. "My - er, my
friend back home collects DVDs of films and television shows of about the same
"So how come you're all alone on this ship?" J
wanted to know.
"Well, a couple of years ago at the Space Port outside the
Agora, we kind of liberated it from the Bruxai," Gav said.
"You mean you stole it?" J said, sounding stern.
"Hey, we needed it more than they did. In fact, we needed
it because of them."
Aurel then took over. "We only stole one ship and we took
this so we could escape. The Bruxai steal lives! Lots of
"What do you mean?" Maxine asked gently.
Aurel's face took on a stony look like a graven image.
"My older brother,
Virgiliu, was taken by them. When he came back two days later, he was an old
man. Three months later, he died. He was nineteen..."
"That's terrible!" Maxine was truly shocked.
"Yes, it is," Aurel scowled. "Any old man with enough money
can 'buy' a young man and have his body swapped. The teenagers they take
usually don't live more than a few weeks - months at best. So, as we knew about
the Fagaras 'Gate and lived close to it, we hid out nearby then legged it
through on the heels of the next party using the 'Gate. We found ourselves at
"That was kind of scary," Stelian said. "It's
such a big place and we had no money and not much food. Then we saw the list of
rules about not stealing and so on. We had no idea how we were going to
survive, plus, if the vampirii saw us"
"Vampirii?" Maxine asked.
"Yes, that's what the men who 'collect' young people are
Aurel took up the tale again. "Eventually, we found
ourselves at the Space Port outside the Agora. The Dignity was just sitting
there with her hatch open and all systems set - ready for a quick getaway, we
thought. So we made a quick get away instead and ever since, we've been
pursuing a gypsy life and opposing the Bruxan Empire wherever we could."
Maxine looked at J. "I think vampirii, or something along
those lines, could be what the V stands for in those log books."
"Log books?" Gav asked sharply.
"Yes," Maxine said. "There's a room full of
boxes and files back there. Actually, I think the person best able to use those
files is probably your uncle Eneas. He said it was difficult to track down
people whom the body-swappers had sold as slaves. Those files might help."
"Thanks, we'll check them out," Gav replied.
"By the way," Theo put in, "how come you all
speak such good English?"
"It's mandatory in Romanian schools," Stelian said.
"We were told the order comes from the man in the rabbit burrow across the
Maxine gasped. "Warren!!! This is way worse than we
thought. Sounds like he's controlling most of the world - the developed world
"Which begs the question," Theo said, "who does
he answers to...?"
"Well, much as it would be nice getting to know you folks
better," Aurel said, "right now, we have to get back to the Agora and
rescue Marku - somehow."
on my side... ...yes it is......
"Rescue him?" J asked.
"Yes," Aurel said, sending a compassionate look at
Nandru, "we were spotted by a couple of vampirii. They've been after us
for a while now. Anyway, they pointed to Marku - he hurt his leg a few days
back and can't run as well as the rest of us at the moment. The vampirii cried
'Thief,' and the Astunomia arrested him."
on my side... ...yes it is......
"And you just left him?" J demanded angrily.
"No! We didn't! You don't know how this works. We're going
back for him, but we need money to try and buy him."
"Oh, we know about the slave market," Maxine said.
"If he's not fully fit, he shouldn't cost too much."
on my side... ...yes it is......
"No, no, no, it doesn't work like that," Aurel
stressed, "not with the vampirii. Marku is just the bait. They know we
won't leave him - that we'll go back for him. Then, if they spot us, they'll do
the same thing again."
"And what's that?" Theo asked. "Point us out as
thieves. Then, when the Astunomia arrive, they'll reach inside our clothes and
produce a gold coin that they already had hidden in their hands. It doesn't
matter how high the auction goes, they'll pay it, because the resale price to
some sick old man will multiply the outlay ten, twenty, a hundred times
on my side... ...yes it is......
"Well that's just evil!" Maxine exclaimed.
on my side... ...yes it is......
"Yeah, so now, if you don't mind, we'll go change our
clothes - and our appearances - and find something to sell to get some money.
on my side... ...yes it is......
Maxine drew a sharp breath. "Wait a moment! I have an
idea, but I just need to test it." She reached inside her jacket, and
almost immediately after, commented, "Well that worked. Just need a longer
She headed off the control deck, counting, "one and two
and three and..."
In the blink of an eye, she was walking into the control
deck, still counting, "Eight. One and two and..."
"What the hell are you up to?" J demanded.
Maxine grinned and asked, "Where's your major's
J felt his shoulder and found only velcro. Puzzled, he told her
to quit stalling.
By way of reply, she took his hand and put his gold leaf on his
palm. Then she said, "You'll need to give Luc his tramlines back
too," and added his captain's insignia to J's. J still looked baffled as
Theo cracked a grin of recognition.
"So you've got"
"Yes, but best not broadcast the fact, huh?"
The three went into a quick huddle and Maxine outlined her
"Maxine, that's crazy!" J exclaimed. "You do
realize, don't you, that if this doesn't work, you're going to be at the slave
auction yourself - as one of the lots?!"
"Look, I've tested it. Twice. I know it works and I know
how much time I have. So long as you follow up when I call for help, we'll be
fine." She beckoned Aurel. "I have a plan which should teach these
vampirii a lesson by turning the tables on them. It's a little risky, but the
risks will mostly be ours. We'll need you to come along, Aurel, likewise Gav
and Stelian, to identify both Marku and the bad guys."
"There were just two," Aurel said. "Ghenadie is
the leader. He has the money - a large pouch of gold pieces at his belt. Dorin
is his sidekick."
"Good. I'm sorry but we'll be leaving you behind,
Nandru," Maxine went on. "You have too much emotional investment in
this. Ruby too, because you're too easily identified."
"That's okay," Ruby smiled. "Ill look after
Nandie. Just get Marku back. Please."
J, Theo and Maxine naturally left their weapons behind. They
knew the drill and didn't want to be stuck in a queue at the Oplostasio to
recover their weapons if things went pear-shaped - as they very well
might, J thought. Nor did they want to explain how they'd lost them if -
when - got back to the S.G.C.
The three lads had made a good job of changing their
appearances. They were all wearing different clothing. Aurel had a baggy cap
over his distinctive hair, as had Stelian who'd also darkened his pale skin.
While no one was looking, J had put the four 5-unit gold pieces
into an inside pocket, just in case he had to buy Maxine back...
At the Agora, the teens were kept roughly in the middle of the
group so they would be less conspicuous. They also stayed in their little
family group. Without comm. units, J didn't want to be searching the Agora for
them if they split up. So it was a long and tedious search for the two
It was worth the hassle when Aurel did spot them. They had
their heads together, Ghenadie beside a high value goods stall selling jewelry
and Dorin beside an adjacent fruit and vegetable stall. J and Theo positioned
themselves some five feet behind the pair to give Maxine room to work. The
three boys stood behind them.
Maxine reached inside her jacket and began counting as she
operated Grandfather Daniel's time loop brooch; she'd kept it pinned inside her
jacket for safe-keeping ever since he'd given it to her. Around her, all
First she plundered Ghenadie's money bag, putting several
handfuls of gold coins into her inside pockets. Then she replaced the gold
pieces with several glittery necklaces.
Moving on, she put a couple of chunky gold rings into Dorin's
money bag. Then she had an idea - there was still time... She took a
juicy-looking apple and put it in Dorin's mouth - it was open as he'd been
talking - and pressed his teeth into it.
Finally, she put the apple in his hand and closed the time
loop, yelling, "Help! Astunomia! - Klephtes! Klephtes! Klephtes!"
Right on cue - a split second later it seemed to J and Theo -
they launched themselves at the two startled vampirii. They wrestled them to
the ground as several members of the Astunomia showed up.
Maxine denounced Ghenadie and Dorin as thieves. "I just
saw them take some necklaces and rings from the jeweler."
The vampirii hotly denied any wrong-doing as the guys from the
Astunomia jerked them, none too carefully, to their feet.
"And the little guy stole an apple too." Dorin
suddenly noticed the apple in his hand. Flummoxed as to how it had gotten
there, he hastily dropped it, trying not to look guilty, and failing.
"Why don't you search them," Theo suggested.
Quick on the uptake, J pointed out the apple that Dorin had
dropped. "See, it has the guy's teeth marks in the skin, and, oh look! He
has crooked teeth that match the marks..."
Meanwhile, the Astunomia guys, assisted by a very helpful
Maxine - who'd seen it all! - found the jewelry she'd planted on them. The two
vampirii were promptly arrested and taken off to the slave market.
The six rescuers also headed for the slave market. They only
had to wait half an hour before Marku was paraded. Bidding for the skinny
teenager was slow, and he was knocked down for fifteen silver units, a little
less than Aurel had with him.
The group went to exchange the money for Marku. Maxine asked
Noah and Jethro how they were doing, but there was no time for conversation
before they returned to the 'Gate. SG-24 still had their mission to complete.
"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."