Episode 10 ~ Part 1
"They must be in big trouble," J commented,
"if the ascended ask for our help.
J, Luc, Theo and Maxine were discussing their forthcoming mission over lunch in the commissary. The following day, they were to revisit P7Y-329, the Wildcard World where they'd rescued Eneas and his friends.
"Finally!" Theo said, hacking his way through a leathery piece of beef. "We're down to team of four!"
Kern wouldn't be back to active duty until the following Monday and Bachmann's injury, courtesy of Toma, would keep him out of the field for a month. Predictably, Maxine was suspicious that Warren had okayed a mission with a team of four.
"I don't think Kern is Warren's man, but Bachmann definitely is, so why haven't we had another bandit imposed on us?"
"No one available at short notice?" Luc suggested.
"And Warren can't really curtail missions just because he doesn't have a spy in every unit," J pointed out. "There are always going to be a few casualties, so things just have to carry on as normal."
"Or what passes for it," Theo chuckled.
"Well, I think Warren is getting desperate," Maxine insisted. "You've already survived several attempts to remove you, one way or another, J."
"And the only one who's come anywhere close was Luc," J said, grinning at his second's discomfort.
"I'm serious, J," Maxine persisted. "Maybe Warren's found Bachmann's absence a heaven sent opportunity. Your would-be 2IC's managed to screw up every chance of putting you out of action so far. So maybe Warren's got something arranged with his Bruxan buddies on P7Y-329. Hence he's going ahead anyway while Bachmann can't screw it up again?"
"But my survival has a lot to do with your tight teamwork," J smiled.
"All I'm saying is that we shouldn't get over-confident."
"Okay. Point taken."
After lunch, Theo took himself down to the storage bay in the basement adjacent to the 'Gate Room. There, he set about further customizing their PATTs. He'd already fitted coded keypads to all six so they could now only be driven by the designated drivers. There was also an override code known only to the four of them.
Now, he was adding concealed and padded compartments to the trunks in which to hide their zats, the four 5-unit gold coins from the Agora and the invisibility material and such like. These would also be password protected.
He was hard at work when the lighting seemed to turn a pale, silvery-blue. By the time Theo reacted and looked round, the silvery light had faded away.
Jack O'Neill hadn't. He grinned at the look of surprise on Theo's face, then sighed. "You look so much like him," he muttered to himself.
"Just Jack will do," Jack smiled. "I'm kinda retired."
"Right. So is this a social call, or...?"
"Unfortunately, it's the 'or...'"
"Something wrong?" Theo asked.
"Oh yeah. Very wrong. Which is why I've come to ask for your help - you and the rest of your team. Well, not including Bachmann obviously."
"Bachmann's injured, and won't be back in the field for at least a month."
"Oh good," Jack said with a smile that had Schadenfreude written all over it. "That will make life so much easier."
"So what do you want SG-24 for?" Theo asked.
"A rescue mission tomorrow."
"Sorry, we have a mission tomorrow."
"To Grøntverden - er, P7Y-329. I know."
"You want us to rescue someone on P7-whatever you called it?" Theo said, puzzled.
"Not on Grøntverden, no."
"Oh. Well, it would be noticed if we used the 'Gate again straightaway. The light from the"
"Give me some credit," Jack growled. "That's already been taken care of. Just turn the AVCOP away, then drive to that first bend to the left, and stop half-way along the east-west section."
"Yes but, surely ascended beings have way more power to pull off a rescue than SG-24 has?"
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you'd be surprised. And it's not just in appearance that the similarity lies..." he concluded drily.
He handed over a list of things they would or might need. Then he turned into glowy squid form and drifted away, leaving Theo wondering if he'd dozed off and dreamt it. But no. There was the name - Grøntverden. He couldn't have dreamt that.
Theo packed up, paging the rest of his team to the commissary stat, as he did so. When he reached the commissary, Ash happened to be there, taking a break. J and Luc showed up several minutes later but Maxine was a no show. Ash thought she was over at WPX.
Theo quickly told the other three about Jack's visit and extraordinary request.
"They must be in big trouble," J commented, "if the ascended ask for our help. Which suggests that we're in big trouble too."
"Maybe not," Luc disagreed. "Could be they're just using us as a way of interfering without actually interfering themselves."
"I don't think so. Jack seemed really worried." Theo paused for a moment, thinking back. "I have a feeling that it's Grandfather Daniel who needs rescuing."
"Why?" J asked.
"Apparently I look a lot like Grandfather, and Jack looked really sad every time he looked at me. Also, from Grandfather's journals, he was often getting SG-1 into scrapes. And when I was - well, not being very co-operative - he said the similarity wasn't just in appearances. I think we have to go along with this."
"Okay," J nodded. Ash stood up, looking at his watch. "I'm due on WPX shortly, so I'll track down Maxine and pass on the message." He looked at J and Luc. "You two - take care of Theo for me."
The next morning, the gang of four arrived on P7Y-329. They hid the AVCOP facing away from the track, per Jack's instructions, headed north then turned into the east-west stretch. They hadn't gone far before they and their PATTs were beamed up on to the transport deck of Commander Thor's new ship.
"Welcome to Mjølnir, SG-24," Thor greeted them, "and not a moment too soon."
He indicated a monitor which showed a number of heat signatures moving south from the cultivated valley that they were supposed to be exploring. The group was moving rapidly towards the east-west stretch from which they'd just been picked up.
Maxine counted them. "Fourteen Bruxai on to the four of us," she observed, looking pointedly at J. "We would've been sitting ducks. Even," she continued as J opened his mouth to disagree, "if we'd gone through the wooded parts on foot. All they have to do is go to the 'Gate and cut off our return home."
J raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, you're right, Dr. Paranoia."
"Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you!" Maxine grinned.
Jack wandered through to greet his rescue party.
"Okay, kids," he began, "Thor's going to the nearest Asgard planet, since we need a safe base, and Grøntverden - er, P7Y-329 - seems to be anything but safe right now. This is okay though as we can have our briefing en route to Gladsheim."
The team followed Jack through into a relaxation area. This was supplied with beanbag seating as it was suitable for all sizes and shapes.
"I believe you've heard of the Dwimmerlings?" Jack began.
"Yes," Maxine replied. "According to Eneas of the Contra-Bruxai, they're dark Furlings who are partially ascended like Anubis was, and the Furlings and Dwimmerlings are to the Archaioi what the ascended beings are to the Ancients."
Jack nodded. "Well, not quite right - most of the Furlings aren't ascended as such. The Dwimmerlings had help from somewhere to ascend - though not fully. They're now trying to expand their power base and to remove the remaining Archaioi and Ancients plus any Ascended beings who get in their way. Their principal world is Negrulumea. The Archaioi made contact with the Dwimmerlings' leader, a Lord Vladivayne, and arranged a meeting with him at his headquarters in Castel Albastru. It seemed to go well, right up to the point where they weren't allowed to leave the castle."
"I don't understand," Theo said. "Surely Thor or someone could just beam them up out of the castle?"
"If only it were that simple," Jack said, shaking his head. "They were trapped by some things called 'strange attractors.' Sam tried to explain it to me but I... well I guess I wasn't paying that much attention. Anyway, the bottom line is that no Ancient, Archaion or Ascended being can 'Gate to Negrulumea without being caught by these strange attractor things. Thor could fly Mjølnir there, though it's several galaxies away and would take forever. They'd be safe as long as they were on board because the ship acts like a Faradiddle cage - no, don't ask! - but then, they couldn't beam down because they'd be trapped as soon as they landed."
"So you want us to 'Gate to this Negrulumea?" J asked.
"That's the general idea, yes," Jack replied.
"Sounds good in theory," J said, "but won't we be caught by these strange attractors when we're reduced to a matter stream as we go through the 'Gate - or when we exit it?"
"No, because you're not reduced to small enough particles, or so Sam said. Hence you can go where Ancients and the Ascended fear to tread."
"How do we know they're being held captive then, and not - not dead?" Luc asked. "You said this Lord wanted to remove them."
"While they're alive, they're potentially useful as bargaining chips. Dead, they ain't."
"How do you know about all this anyway?" Luc persisted. "If they're captives..."
Jack rolled his eyes. "One of the Archaioi delegation - Ileana - left early. She set off back to the 'Gate via a tunnel that connects the castle and the 'Gate. At that point, I guess the delegation didn't know they were in danger, and the Dwimmerlings hadn't missed her. Anyway, when Vladivayne was rounding up her colleagues, Ileana received a message from one of the other Archaioi."
"How?" Maxine wanted to know.
"The Archaioi are telepaths. Thankfully, the Dwimmerlings aren't. Not so far as we know at least. Anyway, Ileana continued back to the 'Gate. Her companions gave her intell on what was happening in the castle as she went. When she reached the 'Gate, she managed to send a message home via their equivalent of an AVCOP before she too fell victim to these strange attractors. I don't think we got full intell, but there's enough to work with."
"Oh great," J muttered. Thor entered the relaxation room then, bearing snacks.
"We will reach orbit in twelve minutes, O'Neill," he said.
"That's good," Jack smiled. "So, cracking on, I'll tell you what we do know. The Sapphire 'Gate - it's dark blue, or so I'm told - is a coupla miles from Castel Albastru. The castle is built on a high outcrop of rock. There are four ways into the castle. Firstly, there's the underground route that Ileana used, but it's narrow and winding and not really suitable for the PATTs. There's the main entrance which is not advisable as you need to keep this op. very much covert, and then there's a tradesman's entrance to the rear. This is also inadvisable as it's a long way round to get to it, and thus there're better chances of being spotted. Finally, there's an escape route excavated, so we're told, by Vladivayne's great-grandfather and possibly - hopefully - long forgotten."
"You really think an escape route would be forgotten?" Luc asked in scathing tones.
"Probably not, but it's your best shot," Jack snapped. "It goes from the base of the cliff directly into the castle. Again, it's narrow and winds quite a bit, so you'd do best to leave the PATTs outside. Carry as much as you can and hope you won't need what you can't."
"Wonderful," Theo grumbled.
"Look, you don't want your transport stuck facing the wrong way and blocking a narrow passage if you need to leave in a hurry..." Jack pointed out with some asperity. "That route has the further advantage that it'll take you into the lower levels of the castle, and you need to go down to the 'basement' - dungeon - whatever, as that's where the captives are being held."
J nodded. "Go on, Jack."
"There are a number of things to beware of. Firstly there's Lord Vladivayne and his beloved - make that incestuously beloved - sister, the Lady Viorica. Secondly, and fairly obviously, there's some seriously advanced technology. Part of the castle is the original stone building. The rest - isn't. In particular, the metallic walls move, which can change the layout of castle, turning it into something of a labyrinth."
"And that's it?" J asked.
"Almost," Jack replied as Thor joined them, "but we're a man short."
"I came to say that we are already in orbit, O'Neill."
Theo, glancing outside, fixed Jack with a very suspicious look. "I thought we were going to Gladsheim?"
"Well I have to say that Gladsheim looks a helluva lot like Earth!"
"That's because that is Earth," Jack replied, sounding cranky. "We have to make a collection en route to Gladsheim."
"I am afraid the Tau'ri operative has been unable to isolate him for transportation as yet, O'Neill."
"Okay, little buddy," Jack smiled. "We'll just go down to the transport deck and wait there."
"Tau'ri operative?" Maxine asked suspiciously, walking alongside Jack.
"What?" Maxine squawked. "Does that mean my Dad's involved too?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Why not?" Maxine sounded even more suspicious.
"Because it's classified," Jack said, chuckling as Maxine's jaw dropped.
"Clearly I don't know him nearly as well as I thought I did..." she said.
Jack laughed out loud at that and tousled her hair as he'd tousled Daniel's. Then he stopped laughing and looked grim.
Maxine took in the rapid change in his expression and asked softly, "Grandfather Daniel is one of the captives, isn't he?"
Jack's breath hitched and he looked away. His voice cracked as he said, "Yes. Yes he is."
Maxine put her arm round his waist, trying to console him. "We won't let you down, Jack," she whispered.
As Jack and SG-24 arrived on the transport deck of Mjølnir, Kern's PATT materialized there, rapidly followed by Ash.
"What the fuck?!" Theo strode over to Jack and grabbed his jacket in both hands. "What's he doing here?" he yelled, practically nose to nose with Jack. "Ash doesn't go off-world. Ever! Well, except to WPX. He's.Way.Too.Valuable!"
"That's why he's here, and like you, he's here voluntarily."
"Are we here voluntarily?" Theo demanded, "or have we been conned into this mission because you want to interfere, but you're just too chicken-hearted to do your own dirty work?"
Jack pulled away. "God save us, this is like working with Daniel all over again! In fact, I think you're even worse..."
Ash, a stormy look on his face, stalked over to the squabbling pair - shoved his arms between them - pushed them apart.
"Enough already!" he growled. Scowling at Theo he snapped, "I am not entirely helpless and I will not blow away in the slightest puff of wind!"
(J had been giving him jiu jitsu training on the quiet, but they both refrained from mentioning it.)
"No," Theo conceded, "But you're not military."
"No I'm not, but I have you to watch my back. Don't I?" Ash said with a tight smile.
"Though, technically speaking, you're not military either, Theo," Maxine pointed out.
"Butt out, Max!" Theo snapped.
"Ya know, Theo," Jack grinned, taking in Maxine's look of fury, "you need to learn not to come between husband and wife..."
The quip cut through the bubble of tension that had held them, and set them all giggling.
"Seriously, Theo," Ash said, stroking his lover's cheek, "I want to help because Daniel is one of the prisoners, and I owe him for what he did for me and the others when we were tied to stakes up on the mountain."
"And Ash is here for his technical know-how, not to fight. In fact, if this works out, there shouldn't be any fighting," Jack said, reaching inside his jacket. He pulled out a small parcel, palm-sized, and handed it to Ash.
"This is from Sam. She says it's an attocomputer " "Wow!" Ash breathed, reaching out for the parcel with a 'gimme' look on his face, then ripping off the wrappings like a kid at Christmas.
"Sam says it'll give you all the info you need."
"Let's have a look," Theo said, suddenly interested.
"No. I still haven't forgiven you for your lack of trust in The Geek."
"Hey, I'm a geek too!"
"Yes, you are, Theo, but you're not an über-geek!"
As Mjølnir approached Gladsheim, Jack suggested they change into their black BDUs and black bandannas, items on the list he'd given Theo.
It was at this point that Theo suddenly noticed what Ash was wearing. Josiah Fischer had gotten him togged up in black jeans with a black silk shirt over a black T. He looked breathtaking!
"Focus!" Jack hissed in his ear.
Theo snapped out of his pornographic trance and blushed.
"Yes, he is hot, Theo, but save it till you get home safe," Jack grinned.
Thor supplied Luc with a number of mini- make that micro- crossbows. The tiny bolts were loaded with strange looking hooks attached to what looked like fishing lines. "What are these for?" Luc asked.
"You will know when the time comes to use them, Captain Lucarelli," Thor assured him. "They are of the utmost importance so guard them well."
Thor gave them the co-ordinates for Negrulumea and also for Gladsheim for when they were ready to return. That done, they were beamed down to the plaza where stood the Gladsheim 'Gate. J hit the co-ordinates for Negrulumea, then waited for the wormhole to stabilize before leading his team through.