SG-24 plus Ash drove out on to Negrulumea.
The Sapphire 'Gate was indeed impressive, looking as if it had
been carved out of an enormous gemstone. It stood at the bottom of an
apparently disused quarry and was probably invisible to anyone level with the
top of the quarry.
Beyond the 'Gate, a tunnel led into the side of the quarry. At
its end was a door, presumably at the end of the passage used by the ill-fated
Ileana. Knowing that history, the team didn't fancy using it, although it was
vaguely comforting to know that the option was there.
Ash was looking around. He seemed part hopeful, part expectant.
Theo grinned. "What're you hoping to see?"
Ash chuckled. "Would you believe - a blue police call box."
Theo gave him a mystified look. "What?"
"Well, while you lot were gallivanting around the universe a few weeks
ago, I went to a geeks' convention."
"And at the 'Fayre' there, I managed to lay my hands on a full set of
DVDs of this historic British T.V. series called 'Doctor Who?'" Ash said
with a slightly manic gleam in his eye.
"As good as MacGyver?"
"Different. The Doctor is a Time Lord and the police box is his time
machine. It's tiny on the outside, but huge inside. Every so often, the Doctor
regenerates so he can be played by a number of different actors. My favorites
are the tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant and the last Doctor, played by
"So what would a Time Lord be doing in a quarry?"
"Well, a lot of his adventures seem to start in this quarry in
"When you two lovebirds have finished with the sweet talking, perhaps
we could get on with our mission?" J said, driving his PATT on to the
gravelly road. He grinned at the indignant looks he got from the pair.
"Actually," Ash said loftily, "we were talking about The
"The Doctor?" J asked, puzzled. "Doctor who?"
"Yes, that would be the one," Theo said, then the pair cracked out
laughing, their earlier animosity forgotten.
J gave up trying to follow their cryptic ramblings and led the way along the
gravelly road that led up to the quarry's entrance. The team paused at the
entrance and checked around for signs of life, but there was nothing obviously
threatening. Except for the clouds.
It was still officially daylight, but very dark. Luc wanted to
know if Dwimmerlings were active during the day, or at night. Ash checked with
Sam's little computer.
"She says that when someone asks that question, to tell him it's
Dwimmerlings we're dealing with, not vampires!"
From their position at the quarry top, they could see Castel
Albastru in the distance.
It looked like it had been carved out of an even bigger sapphire than the
'Gate. "Hm, Albastru means 'blue' in Romanian," she mused, "and
I think Viorica means 'bluebell.'"
"And? So? Therefore?" Luc asked.
"I don't know. I just noticed a blue theme. It's probably nothing,
although there's a blue light shining from a window in that turret to the left.
Hope these technologically advanced Dwimmerlings aren't spying on us..."
"We'd better get a move on then, before someone does spot us then.
Assuming they haven't already," J said, setting off down the road towards
the castle. The rest followed in single file, keeping Ash in the middle of the
When they reached the position, shown by Sam's computer map as the
approximate site of the doorway, the team hid the PATTs under the abundant
shrubbery. It took a while before they spotted the door.
It clearly wasn't used overmuch, for the wood was rotten in places. On the
plus side, this would make gaining access easier. They soon discovered that it
had been used fairly recently though, as when J and Luc forced the door open,
there were newish scrapes on the stone threshold. They hadn't made them.
Maxine had a really bad feeling about how smoothly the mission had gone so
far, but kept it to herself. She thought that maybe the scrapes could have been
made by Ileana and her delegation, but didn't find this very reassuring.
With the doorway open, they returned to the PATTs to collect their essential
gear. "Do you reckon we're going to need all these little crossbows?"
"Too heavy for ya?" J asked, hoping the motorized transport hadn't
made them all soft regarding carrying their equipment.
"No, but they're bulky and so will reduce how much other stuff I can
"Well, if Thor gave them to you," J said, "I think they're
probably sine qua non for effecting the rescue. If there is a surplus, well -
better too much than too little, I think."
"Yeah, and Thor did say to guard them well," Luc recalled.
"Then it's a bit of a no-brainer, isn't it?" J said sharply.
"We take them all, no matter what else gets left behind."
Theo had brought TIGER. It wasn't on Jack's list, but then, Jack probably
didn't know about it. This seemed like the perfect occasion to try his little
intelligence-gathering gadget out in the field.
The team, with Theo leading, followed TIGER along a rough hewn stone
passage. It had a slight downward incline and seemed to be leading them almost
directly into the lower reaches of the castle.
There was no sign of life - no guards, no servants. Maxine's paranoia
ratchetted up another notch. No way should this mission be this easy.
After a while, TIGER came to a T-junction. To the right was a corridor with
walls of a deep metallic blue. To the left, the stone passage continued
downwards at a steeper angle. That was clearly the way to go.
The passage continued straight for a hundred yards or so, then began to
curve gently away to the right. Shallow steps suggested that this was the
beginning of an immense spiral staircase. Theo decided to carry TIGER. Not long
after, the wall to the right - the inside wall - sloped away to nothing.
The team realized then that the stairway was spiraling around the inside of
an immense cavern. Almost automatically, they kept close to the left-hand wall
lest they miss their footing and tumble to the bottom of the cavern.
The cavern itself was deeply gloomy, the darkness broken only by sparks of
pale blue light that fired randomly then died rapidly away. In the gloom, the
cavern seemed to go on for ever, both upward and downward.
"Looks like an entrance to hell," Luc said, crossing himself and
thinking that maybe he wasn't quite as lapsed as he'd thought.
They continued the downward spiral, and noticed that the cavern was becoming
gradually lighter. When they reached the opposite side of the cavern from where
they'd entered it, they found they were standing on a viewing platform which
had a guard railing around it to protect the viewers.
The 'view' was astounding. The cavern contained what looked like a
mini-universe held inside an almost cavern-sized bubble. Floating in the
mini-universe were small stars and several smaller bubbles containing pretty
"Fractals," Ash commented, fascinated.
Maxine grabbed Theo's arm and pointed at a pretty greenish-blue pattern.
"Look! It has eyes! And look at the eyes... Grandfather Daniel's
His eyes seemed to have a pleading look.
As they looked more closely, they realized that all the pretty fractal
patterns had eyes too.
"Now I understand what we have to do," Ash said, beaming.
"This is where your crossbows come in, Luc."
He waited until Luc removed one of the crossbows from his backpack.
"Now, show me."
"What are you going to do?" Luc asked, handing Ash one of the
crossbows. "Go fishing?"
"Er no. They were given to you because you're likely to be a much
better shot than me. So you'll be doing the firing. But first..." Ash
pulled the end of the 'fishing line' out of the rear end of the crossbow. It
had a minute jackplug on the end. Luc looked baffled.
"This isn't fishing line," Ash told him, plugging the TRS
connector into the side of the computer. "It's a very fine electric cable,
and there's another jackplug at the business end of each crossbow bolt. What
you have to do is fire the bolt into the heart of the bubble containing
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Theo asked, concerned
at the thought of Luc's 'shooting Grandfather Daniel.'
"For fuck's sake, Theo! Have a little faith in The Geek for once! I
don't have time to give you a lecture on chaos theory right now. The short,
very simple, explanation is that the strange attractors have rearranged the
plasma forms into these fractals. The fractals - Mandelbrot sets - are simply
mathematical equations. Ergo, once the connection is made, all I have to do is
download them into this computer. When we've got them all safely stored in
here, we leggit and I release them once we're safely back in Gladsheim. Ready,
The bolt hit the bubble dead center, and as soon as the contact was made,
Ash loaded the Daniel Equation into the little computer's immense memory. The
bubble was now empty save for the wire.
"Happier now, Theo?" Ash asked, removing the jackplug from the
computer, dropping the used crossbow over the railing, and plugging in another
"Yeah, I guess."
"Good," Ash smiled, "but bear in mind, we're not home safe
Luc and Ash worked their way though the remaining bubbles. Luc only missed
one with his first shot and still had a spare crossbow left over.
As Ash unplugged the last TRS connector he'd used, he got a faint electric
shock, as though from static. He had a feeling the computer wanted to be
connected again, though there were no more fractals left. A sentient computer?
Surely not. Sam would've said if it were. He decided to roll with it
"Could I have the last crossbow please, Luc?"
"I... I don't know, but indulge me, would you?"
"Okay." Luc handed it over. "Now I suggest we get out of here
before anyone realizes what we've done. Come on, Ash."
"Right behind you," Ash mumbled, plugging in the rear TRS
connector. The rest were following Luc, keeping close to the wall that circled
the cavern, while Ash fiddled with a plastic tie to confine the carefully
folded wire so it wouldn't unravel. Then he dropped the crossbow into the
Unlike its fellows, still attached to their wires in the bubbles, this one
clattered its way to the bottom of the cavern.
Oops, Ash thought. Hope I haven't just done a Peregrin Took!
But there was no response of distant drums. He tucked the computer into his
back pocket and set off after his companions.
When Ash emerged from the darkest part of the route back, the rest were
nowhere in sight. Had he really spent so long tinkering with that crossbow? Or
were they just that much fitter and therefore faster than he was? He didn't
think there was that much difference in their levels of fitness.
As he made haste to catch up, a horrible thought crossed his mind; had the
noise from the crossbow he'd dropped alerted the Bad Guys who were now holding
them prisoner? Holding Theo prisoner. He would never forgive himself if... But
no. They wouldn't give up without a fight and he would've heard that.
As he was mulling over all these possibilities and more, he failed to notice
that his surroundings had changed. Only when a grating sound broke through his
absorption did he realize that the walls were metal not stone.
Unfortunately, Ash had arrived too late to hear Jack's warnings about the
sliding walls and no one had thought to clue him in. However, he was pretty
sure they hadn't come this way en route to the cavern.
He turned to retrace his steps, but was pulled up short when
he found there was no way back; a blue wall panel had appeared across the
passage behind him...
There was no means of getting the wall to retract so far as he could see.
Running his fingers over the smooth surfaces of walls and floor was equally
He'd just decided that he'd have to wait until the team realized he was
missing when, behind him, someone coughed.
Ash spun round and saw a tall gaunt man dressed in black. He had long
blue-black hair - more blue than black - and pale blue skin. He also seemed to
have a 'dark glow' around him which was unsettling.
Tentatively, Ash raised his hand and said "Hi," with what he hoped
was a winning smile.
Halfway back along the passage to the outside, Theo called a question to
Ash. When there was no response, Luc looked around.
"Dammit, he was right behind me!" he exclaimed.
It was a heart-stopping moment for them all.
"Doesn't mean he's in trouble," J said, trying to sound
encouraging and failing. "Maybe he's just a bit slower than the rest of
But they all knew it wasn't true, Theo especially.
Faux de mieux, they retraced their steps, following TIGER again in the hope
of its giving them a little warning if they were walking into a trap. In any
event, Theo wanted to go first.
The next gut-wrenching discovery came when TIGER reached the T-junction.
Now, there was just a bend to the left and a blue wall to the right...