At midday on Thursday, Maxine was taking a lonely lunch break
in the commissary of the Arlington Building. For the past three weeks, she'd
had nothing to do but routine translations and decryptions. Warren hadn't
summoned her once, not even to enquire about their last mission to
Dai-Ni-Wakusei, though he had signed off on their mission reports.
As she sat gazing into space, a soft voice said, "Penny
for your thoughts."
She nearly jumped out of her skin.
"Give me a heart attack, why don't you, Timmy," she
said with a grin.
"Well, at least you'd have your doctor on hand to start
CPR," Timmy grinned back, putting her lunch dishes on the table, then
The two women chatted about this and that and nothing in
particular - you never knew who was listening - until they were down to their
coffee. Then Timmy gave her friend another surprise.
"What have you been doing to Colonel - I mean Captain -
"Nothing. Why? What's he up to?"
"Well, and I apologize in advance for this, in Dawson's
absence, I signed him off as fit for active duty at the beginning of this week.
I had to as there was no reason not to."
Maxine rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, it was bound to
"Ah, that's not the point. This morning, Dawson signed
him off sick again for another two weeks. A bottle of whisky changed hands... I
thought you should know."
"Too right! And thank you so much for the heads up."
Maxine returned to her office with her 'paranoia radar' pinging
ominously around inside her skull. Normally, Bachman was very keen to be with
SG-24, just to make a nuisance of himself and/or screw things up for them - and
especially for J after Bachman's court-martial and demotion.
Now he was trying to distance himself from them. What did he
know that they didn't? She felt as if she was just waiting for the hammer to
fall - which it did the following morning.
SG-24 was summoned to General Bradfield's office. So not a briefing then.
Only the four of the team were present. Eli's mother was ill again and he'd
taken some accrued leave time to look after her, Bradfield explained. Bachman
also wasn't there. Bradfield was unsure as to the reason for that...
Maxine refrained from cluing him in. She wasn't going to sink to Bachman's
level, even though it was tempting to drop him - and Dawson - in a goodly pile
of ordure. In any case, they'd no doubt work out who was responsible for the
'leak,' and no way was she going to do anything that would make Timmy's life
any more trying than it already was.
Bradfield continued in apologetic tones which suggested that Warren was
behind it. 'It' was a trip to the Agora. Reading between the lines of this
mission, it seemed that, while Warren was annoyed about being unable to get his
hands on Dignity, he'd bought Maxine's bullshit about being unable to return to
the ship. Presumably, during the previous three weeks, he'd tried to track down
the address and found it really had been an error - unless Grandfather Daniel
had been behind it, one way or another...
Now, Warren had come up with an alternative means of getting his hands on
the thieves, and thus on Dignity. The reasoning went that the Dignity gang
visited the Agora. SG-24 could identify them. Ergo, SG-24's mission was to go
to the Agora, find the gang and bring them back to the S.G.C. - in chains if
necessary. Unless and until they had the gang - and with them, the ship - they
were not to return to Earth.
They would be shipping out at 1030 hours on Monday morning. Bradfield then
handed out a money pouch to each team member. These contained Agora coins: five
each of ten, five, two and one denominations of gold pieces, plus a number of
silver and copper coins making 100Agps each in total. This was to cover
expenses. But... any of the money they spent would be deducted from
their salaries when they returned.
There was a lively meeting at Ash's pad that evening.
"We'd better make the most of this weekend, Ash," Theo began,
giving his lover a quick peck on the cheek before the rest arrived at the
apartment. "You might not see us again for a while."
"Oh? How come?"
"Warren wants us to arrest Aurel's group and recover Dignity. We've
been told not to return without them."
"And of course there's no way in hell you're going to complete that
mission," Ash stated with a wry smile.
"You got that right!"
"So you're cast adrift in the universe with nothing but the clothes on
"Actually not," Theo said, pulling out his money pouch as the
rest came in and took their seats. "We've all been given some travel money
- a hundred gold pieces in fact."
"Plus I've brought the gold that light-fingered Maxine liberated from
the Vampirii," J added.
Maxine laughed. "There was nothing light-fingered about it. I just
grabbed as much as I could, as quickly as I could, to make room to plant the
"I can't help wondering," Theo continued, rattling the pouch,
"where all this money came from, especially as the Agora was - apparently
- unknown until we discovered it from that party of traders. Which suggests
that Warren's a better bull-shitter than we are."
Ash gave a snort. "Well duh! He's a politician!"
He suddenly looked worried. Before they said anything further, he had them
all take out their money pouches then swept the whole lot, coins included, for
bugs. Thankfully they, and Ash's pad, all came up clean.
"Wow! That was careless," Maxine said, looking pale. "I just
admitted to..." She mimed stealing the Vampirii's gold. There was a
stunned silence. "We're going to have to be a whole lot more careful about
what we say in future."
"You can turn it to your own advantage," Ash pointed out. "I
know where most of the bugs are on base - there're aren't many and they're used
sparingly. I suggest you drop a little disinformation via the bug in Maxine's
"Good idea," J agreed.
"Actually, with hindsight," Maxine said, "the traders we met
on Ceresc-tsara - from 'Dakya, of the Bruxan Empire,' if memory serves - were
probably just common or garden slave traders."
"Because, if you recall, I was wearing the crown! Apart from
addressing me as 'majesty,' they showed no reaction to it. They didn't even
seem to register that it had previously been in the possession of the local
king. And Warren's never mentioned it."
A thoughtful silence wrapped itself around the group. Luc broke it.
"When you think about it," he said, grabbing a cookie,
"there's a whole lot about this mission that doesn't stack up right. First
off, what's with the 1030 hours start? Bit of an odd time to begin a mission,
don't you think?"
J nodded. "Yes, I thought so too. I anticipate that there will be a
horde of Bruxai waiting for us when we arrive - probably to escort us around
the Agora and make sure we do what they want. Therefore, I propose that we
leave at 0830 like normal. Not only that, but we arrive at the S.G.C. about
five minutes before that time and go through the place like a dose of salts so
we're off-world before anyone notices the schedule change. If anyone does say
anything, then we're keen to get started on our mission and aren't going to
hang around, pointlessly kicking our heels for a couple of hours."
"I'm not sure the early start will make that much difference,"
Luc said. "Our appearances make us fairly easily identifiable
"But we'll still have a couple of hours head start," J pointed
"You know, I've seen coming for a while now," Maxine said.
"Of course you have," J muttered.
Maxine gave him a mock scowl. "Well, this or something like it anyway.
So I've already made some preparations. Nothing for you, Luc. Your beard grows
quite quickly, so don't shave. I have some black hair dye for myself, so we
could pass as brother and sister. Theo, I have chestnut brown hair dye for you,
and for J, I have light blonde."
J rolled his eyes and grimaced. "In that case," he said,
"we'll be leaving at 0730 - before the shift changes! And I'll be wearing
Luc thought it might be a good idea for each of them to set off in different
versions of their B.D.U.s. "It would look less like a uniform."
"That's a good idea," Theo said.
Maxine also agreed and suggested taking a change of clothes - jeans and
"That would cut down what else we can carry," J quibbled, "as
there's no reason to take the PATTs."
"Well then," Maxine said, "we could wear a non-uniform
t-shirt under our B.D.U. jackets - different ones like Luc said - and just take
jeans to change into when we get there. Our B.D.U. pants aren't all that
"Okay, that would work," J agreed. "Utility vests under our
jackets too, I think, but keep 'em light. Bare essentials only."
Next came the vexed question of weaponry. If they took any weapons, they'd
have to leave them at the Oplostasio - and then queue to retrieve them,
possibly with Bruxans hunting for them.
"I don't think it'll be too much of a problem if we go in
weaponless," J said. "We're all up to speed on hand-to-hand, and
Maxine's hands should be registered as deadly weapons."
They all chuckled at that one.
"Besides," J continued, "when we leave the Agora, it'll most
likely be to go to Dignity or the Contra-Bruxai base - if we can find out where
it is - so maybe we can buy or borrow weapons there. We'll have two to three
hours to scout around, maybe do a little shopping, then leave before the Bruxan
welcoming party arrives, so Maxine, don't forget the time-loop brooch."
Maxine nodded. "You're assuming," came The Voice of Doom,
"that the Bruxai won't have the same idea and arrive early."
"Why would they do that?" Luc asked.
"Warren's getting to know what SG-24 is capable of, and if you
remember, he also got information about the mission that landed us on Dignity
"Good point," J said.
"Why are they so hellbent on getting Dignity back anyway?" Theo
asked. "Do you reckon they know about the Diabolikon?"
Maxine was horror-struck. "Oh. My. God. Why else? And the crown is
here somewhere too! On the same planet!!!"
"Do you think the gang know about the Diabolikon?" Luc asked.
"I seriously doubt it," J responded. "They didn't know about
the files so it doesn't sound like they'd bothered with much exploring. The
Diabolikon was nearer the stern if I remember correctly, so no, I don't think
they knew about it. Hm, I wonder. Maybe we could get them to relocate to
Eneas's base. Strip the ship of anything of value first, park the ship where
they found it then 'gate to the base from the ship."
"Then we could trash the computer so the Bruxai can't get any info
from it," Luc suggested.
"A little C4 should do the trick," J said.
"Suppose we get caught with the C4...? Sniffer dogs maybe."
Maxine put in. "C4 probably counts as a weapon there."
"A sledgehammer," Ash said. "There's no way back from that!
As that's a tool, you could maybe buy one at the Agora."
J thought about it. "Maybe," he said, "then we'd have to
'Gate out of the Agora where we'd probably find our friendly neighborhood
"waiting by the 'Gate for us to arrive," Luc grinned.
J chuckled. "Then we tell them where they can find their ship, and leg
it using Maxine's time-loop brooch."
"Assuming they don't try to restrain us while one of them checks out
the ship," Theo said gloomily.
"I have an idea," Maxine said suddenly.
"There's a shocker," J grinned. "Okay, let's hear it."
"Well, we're down to four and we'll be off the radar. Why not make use
of the opportunity?"
"What had you in mind?" Theo asked.
"We could try out the time machine, or the Quantum Mirror... Or, better
yet, we could try to find Major Toby King and get Skender to swap him and King
Tobias. We might even find some trace of Aunt Claire's brother
"That's a great idea but..." J began.
"But. What?" Maxine scowled.
"How do we explain how we found him?"
"We were following a lead and he just happened to be there."
"How do we explain how he got body-swapped back with King
"We don't. Because we don't know anything about that sort of thing,
and Warren can't very well question me about that without admitting he's a
"Or telling us about the Bruxan Empire which we also don't officially
know anything about," Theo added.
J had a long think. "Actually, there're good strategic reasons for
rescuing Major Toby King and sorting out King Tobias once and for all," he
said, "so we'll do it."
"It'll keep us away from the Agora too," Theo said, "so
maybe, when we get back, they'll have given up and gone home."
J snorted. "I think that's indulging optimism a little too far,"
he grinned. "Oh, and if it's not to much to carry, bring TIGER along with
"Ahead of you there," Theo said. "I've developed a lighter
compact version - the Kick-ass Information Transmitter, or KIT for short."
"Good. Bring KIT then."
Finally, it was decided that Luc, as least changed, would go into the S.G.C.
the following morning, Saturday, and collect everyone's choice of head gear to
hide their changed hair color.
Maxine planned to spend the weekend visiting her family to create the idea
of a final farewell - which it could well be... She would then sleep over in
her office on Sunday night. On Monday morning, they would all meet at the Sunny
Side Up, which opened at 0600, for a substantial breakfast, after which, Maxine
would return to her office.
Theo, traveling with Ash on a 'duty call out,' was to collect her around
0700 when they'd give out disinformation. Then they'd both go back to the
S.C.G. and off to the Agora.
"Hello, Theo," Maxine said in world-weary voice, leaning close to
where she knew the bug to be. "Ya know, I still can't believe that helping
those kids could've gotten us into so-o-o much trouble!"
Theo snorted. "Proves the saying, no good deed goes unpunished."
"Tell me about it! I mean, how the fuck were we to know the bloody ship
belonged to U.S. allies? Are we supposed to be fucking psychic?!" Maxine
thumped her fist hard on her desk and hoped it would give the earwigger a
"You do realize, don't you," Theo said bitterly, "that we're
probably never going to see home again? I mean, what are the chances of being
in the same part of the Agora at the same time as the kids?"
"Slim to zero, I'd say. Actually, it's Luc I feel most sorry for. At
least we got to make a final visit to our families. He may never see his family
Theo gave a lugubrious sigh. "And the money isn't going to last
forever. Then what do we do? Tell me that!"
"Oh well, for now, we may as well go get a long, lazy breakfast as
we're a little early," Maxine said, "Then I'll come back here and see
if I can finish decrypting this document."
"They don't deserve your devotion to duty," Theo observed.
"Well, it's an interesting code, and I'm willing to bet that no one
else here but me can decrypt it. So good luck with that, whoever you
are...!" Maxine said drily as she switched off her computer - and 'forgot'
to save her latest work.
They all met in the gear-up room shortly after 0700. J went for desert
camo, Theo opted for woodland camo, Luc for plain Air Force blue and Maxine
chose black. Then they set off for the 'Gate room. The 'Gate technician lolling
against the back wall was unfamiliar. New?
"Dial up the Agora, Sergeant - P9Y-606," J ordered.
"I'm sorry, sir," the sergeant responded, "but I have no
teams due to leave until SG-24 at 1030 hours."
"Are you disobeying a direct order, Sergeant?"
"Sir, no sir. I have my orders from Colonel Pattinson."
"And I have mine from the President. We have a mission involving
National Security, and we are not hanging around for three hours to suit
your convenience, so dial up, Sergeant!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but without a written order, I can't do that.
J appreciated the irony of being played by his own tactic. He looked around
and beckoned to one of the S.F.s standing guard by the blast door.
"Airman, escort the sergeant to a place of safety."
"Sir?" The airman looked puzzled.
"I'm sorry, Airman. A place of safety means anywhere on base where I
can neither see nor hear this man."
"Sir, yes sir!" The airman saluted smartly.
J turned back to the sergeant. "Go," he ordered, his voice deep
with menace. "Now."
The sergeant suddenly noticed that the captain was already over half-way
through the dialing sequence. He decided to quit while he was ahead and
followed the airman. At least he had a witness now.
Luc completed the dialing process, then SG-24 marched smartly up the ramp
and through the wormhole. There was no welcoming party. All seemed quiet, sunny
"They really didn't want us to ship out early, did they?" Theo
observed as they set off along the path to the Agora.
"So it's a good thing we did, I'm thinking," J said, "even
if I do get carpeted for it later."
Their first target, once they reached the Agora proper, was the bathroom to
change their pants and stow their hats. Maxine was last out.
Luc, taking in her skin-tight black jeans, gave a feral growl. "Bambina
mia! Way to look inconspicuous - not!"
She grinned back. He was wearing dark blue jeans. J and Theo had both gone
for lightweight brown pants. Next stop was a small café where they
bought coffee and shared out the 'takings' from the vampirii. They were higher
than Maxine's initial estimate, and added three 100Agps and four 50Agps each,
making 600Agps each in total with Warren's 'largesse.'
J decided to allow two hours for shopping and they would all stick together
as they only had Maxine to translate for them. Plus someone had to keep an eye
on Maxine, the shoppaholic. They tried, without success, to find more
invisibility material, but then Maxine spotted a 'must buy.' These were 'Bug
They looked, and acted, like sunglasses, but were actually
control units for nano-tech spy bugs.
The bugs, realistic-looking flying bugs like damsel flies, were about an
inch and a half long with a tiny naquadah power source. When not in use, a
bug's wings pivoted and lay flat along its back. It could then be slipped into
a slim rectangular black tube that clipped into the back of the glasses case.
With the bug in this inactive state, the glasses functioned as normal
When the bug was activated, the glasses acted as a view screen for the bug's
stereoscopic cameras. The side bars that hooked over the user's ears provided
sound picked up by the bug's microphone. The glasses also acted as a control
unit. Looking left and right steered the bug, and looking sharply upwards
caused it to return to its owner.
Naturally, the Bug Glasses weren't cheap with an asking price of 50Agps.
After a demonstration and a trial 'play' with the bugs, which were easy to use,
Maxine managed to haggle the stall holder down to 120Agps for four of them.
Then she was inspired to buy a fifth bug for Eneas at the same price per
item as the other four, totaling 150Agps. He would probably find it useful and,
even though they were already on good terms with the Contra-Bruxai, it might
come in handy as a sweetener to get Eneas to go along with their plans.
J then got with Maxine's shopping program and made another potentially
useful purchase. This was a gold signet ring, engraved appropriately with the
letter J. This was fortunate as his was the only finger big enough to wear it
without it slipping off.
The engraved square panel on top was hinged and opened to reveal a small
compartment below it. This could be used to conceal a drug or poison. J was
averse to using poison, but managed to buy a bottle of non-toxic
quick-dissolving knock-out pills.
He then insisted they head for the Agora 'Gate while they still had some
gold left! They had seen no sign of any of the Dignity crew. Better yet, the
Vampirii and Bruxai, had been conspicuous by their absence, but Maxine used the
time-loop brooch to dial up the Dignity 'Gate nevertheless.
There was no one on the ship, and all was mercifully quiet. And quite dark.
"And this time, Theo," J jokingly ordered, "don't
"Oh shit!" Theo exclaimed. "I've just had a nasty thought -
one we should've had a whole lot sooner."
"Maybe Aurel and friends have already relocated to Eneas's base? In
which case, we really are stuck on Dignity this time, because we don't
have the PATTs' naquadah cells to power the 'Gate to get back to the Agora. Or
to anywhere else...!"