The joint party of five set off for Cabana Urlea the following day. The Lady
Mirela - Maxine - and her entourage were to seek out the Lord Emilian. The
story was that Mirela wanted to fulfil her dying mother's last wish - to see
her daughter safely married, and in prime style.
Her mother, the Lady Anica, was allegedly a second cousin of Lord Boian of
Biserica. Boian was an elderly hero of the Bruxan Empire who now lived as a
recluse. The Lady Anica was fictitious, the name neither common enough to be
plebeian, nor rare enough to be remarked upon. Anica was also, allegedly, the
widow of Lord Neculai, who had been killed in battle some fifteen years
earlier. Anica wished to 'borrow' Anton for her daughter's wedding feast and,
as her time was short, she wished to make arrangements as soon as possible.
Other members of the Lady Mirela's party were Luc as her brother, who was a
mute - and thus used sign language, J as her bodyguard, Ruby as her handmaiden,
and Ioana, a motherly woman of middle years and a member of the Albastru, or
'Blue' Team, as Mirela's old nursemaid. This increased the number of fluent
Theo stayed behind to demonstrate KIT and provide the Contra-Bruxai's
scientists with plans to construct their own machines.
The first hurdle was to pass through the Cabana Urlea 'Customs House.' They
had already had a run-through of the procedure before they left so as create
the right impression of familiarity with the system.
They certainly looked their parts. J, or Iosif as his papers decreed him to
be, was dressed like a security guard in a light brown uniform and peaked cap.
Luc - or Lukian - looked very natty in black satin and with his beard neatly
trimmed. He also had a diamanté medallion pinned to his chest.
The Lady Mirela was wearing a deep jade green dress with a long, full,
taffeta skirt over her jeans. She was dripping with jewels - fakes, but good
fakes - including a jeweled headdress over a wig of long, raven-black hair.
Ruby was similarly attired and with her red hair streaks covered, but in less
rich fabrics and without the jewels save for a diamanté choker - a gift
from her generous mistress. Ioana had the look of a much valued old retainer -
well-dressed but not gaudily so.
Iosif went through the 'Gate first, followed a little while later by the
Lady Mirela and her maid, and followed immediately after by Lukian and Ioana.
By then, Iosif was surrounded by several customs men and looking worried.
The Lady Mirela swept regally up to the little group, and looked around,
raising one enquiring eyebrow. The customs men all started talking at once.
The lady held up an imperative hand. "Silence!" she ordered in
Romanian, then turned to glare at Iosif. Still using Romanian, she said, as if
addressing a simpleton, "Show. The men. Our papers! You big dumb ox!"
She raised her hand as if to box his ears. Iosif cringed away from the
expected blow, pulling out the five sets of papers, and shoving them into the
hands of the nearest customs officer with a pleading look. Their papers were
given only a cursory scrutiny. No one wanted to tangle with Lady Crosspatch!
It wasn't difficult to find the Lord Emilian's town house, which was in the
better part of the city, and not too far from the 'Gate. Iosif rapped loudly on
the brass lion's-head knocker on the shiny green door. It was opened promptly
by a manservant in dark green livery.
"I'm sorry but Lord Emilian is out of town," he intoned as if
addressing importunate traders.
Ioana stepped forward as the Lady Mirela, arms akimbo, favored the man with
her best glare.
"My lady's business is with Anton. Is he also out of town?"
"No, my lady. If you would come into the gold drawing room, I will
fetch him for you."
Mirela, with her retinue, marched grandly into the house and into the
chamber indicated by the footman. There, they waited some twenty minutes before
Anton put in an appearance.
As soon as the group clapped eyes on him, they could see why Noucincu's
'king' had chosen Major King as his body-swap. The American was everything this
elderly, scrawny, weasel-faced little fellow wasn't. Major King was tall and
sinewy with an erect military bearing. Every inch a king in fact.
Anton apologized for the delay, citing a delicate lemon soufflé as
the reason. Despite his unprepossessing appearance, Anton managed a
professional attitude, neither obsequious nor supercilious. Maybe his natural
demeanor overrode the king's obnoxious personality? Maybe this wouldn't be so
difficult after all?
Ioana took over and explained her mistress's mission. Anton listened
courteously and sympathized with Mirela about her mother's terminal illness. He
would be happy to be of service, but had several little jobs to do in his
kitchen first, in anticipation of the return of his lord and master on the
morrow. If that was alright with the Lady Mirela?
"My mistress would not have it any other way," Ioana said with
her gentle smile.
These little jobs took over an hour, but Anton sent through some of his
best delicacies to keep them happy.
At long last, they were all on their way back to the Customs House. 'Lady
Crosspatch' and her people were pretty much nodded through. Maxine used the
time loop brooch to cover the fact that they were going to Gradina, not
On the other side of the wormhole, Anton was aghast.
Maybe it was the shock of the forested world, or maybe it was a distant,
deeply buried, memory that had been tripped.
"This is not Biserica!" he cried out in English with an American
Luc stepped forward to the senior officer and saluted him.
"No. It isn't, Major King."
The action and words seemed to deprive him of breath for a moment, then the
mental conditioning of the slave kicked back in. He sank to his knees and
begged, in Romanian, to be returned to his master, the Lord Emilian, who was a
good man and treated him kindly. So far. His current dereliction of duty would
cause all that to change...
Ruby translated for J and Luc.
"Yes, your life is going to change," Luc said, sticking to
English in the hope of breaking through the conditioning, "but for the
"How, when you have kidnaped me?" Major King asked, rising to his
feet. "Because you have kidnaped me, haven't you?"
Maxine stepped forward. "You were kidnaped many years ago, Major,"
she said sadly. "A man, who looked as you do now, stole your body, your
memories hell, your whole life."
"But I have a good life now," 'Anton' protested, lapsing into
"Why don't we go somewhere more comfortable to discuss this?"
Ioana suggested, pulling something black from her belt pouch. "I'm afraid
I must insist that you wear this hood while you are our guest."
"I would rather not come with you. I just want to go home to my
master," 'Anton' said miserably, yet sticking to his native tongue.
"Well, there's the rub, you see, "J said. "The wishes of a
slave count for nothing. But if you were a free man - as you once were..."
"I have no choice then?"
"At this moment, no, so just put on Ioana's blindfold."
'Anton' capitulated and was led, very carefully, through the trees to the
castle, and down into the living quarters. When he was comfortably seated,
Ioana removed the hood.
Maxine was shocked by his face. He looked so old. Defeated. Sad. She
wondered if it was such a good idea after all. Then she remembered Rachel.
She sat down beside him and took one of his hands between her own.
"Truly we mean you no harm," she said, "and we appreciate that
this must be a hell of a shock for you to learn that you're not who you thought
Maxine went on to tell him his history so far as she knew it. He listened in
silence, mostly looking puzzled, but occasionally there seemed to be a flicker
of something else. Eneas and Skender came in as she hitched up her skirt and
pulled three photos from her jeans pocket.
"This is you before you joined the Air Force, and this is you in
"They don't look a bit like me! He's a handsome man. I'm not," he
"As we said, that's because a bad man swapped bodies with you, and we
want to put that right," Maxine said, giving his hand a slight squeeze.
"You also have a daughter"
"Rachel..." he murmured. A tear trickled down his wizened
Maxine's eyes widened. "You remember?"
"The memory is hazy, but yes. So how can I return to her as such an old
"Because she asked me to find you for her, and she gave me these
photos," she said handing over the last photo of father and daughter taken
when she was nine years old.
"And, while she is much older than your memory of her, you will look
much as you did when she last saw you."
She turned her head to J and added, "And I think we should try to find
"As if we can't guess," he replied, looking grim.
Maxine turned back to Major King. More tears had followed the first one,
but he was looking different. Hopeful.
"I will go along with your plans," he said with a faint smile.
The plotters hoped that the next part of the scheme would go as well as the
first. Maxine, naturally, thought that that had gone far too well and wondered
where the catch was. Maybe the next part would go catastrophically badly by way
of balancing out their luck?
Luc grabbed her arm and yanked her round to face him. "Bambina, will
you stop being so damn' negative! Or at least keep it to
yourself. It's very demoralizing and that in itself can contribute to the
catastrophes you fear so much."
Maxine looked as if she'd been slapped in the face.
"He's right," Theo agreed, and plowed on before she could say
anything. "Did you know that Ash and I nearly broke up after the
Dwimmerling rescue mission? Because, not only did I not trust him, I
showed that I didn't trust him."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Maxine murmured.
"All right, team, that'll do," J said in a way that barred any
further argument on the subject.
It was agreed that the mission to Noucincu would be another joint venture.
This time, Eneas and his nephew, Gavril, would take part. Theo was to remain at
Gradina. He'd found a kindred spirit in their engineer, Ruxandra - Ruxi to her
friends who now included Theo. This was turning out to be mutually beneficial.
As they had a good idea of the layout of the building, thanks to Radu, the
plan was to go over the wall to the rear of King Tobias's mansion after dark.
Eneas had a neat little folding trolley which they could use for transporting
the king back to the 'Gate if he happened to be unconscious - as seemed likely.
"What do we do about his sons?" Luc asked. "I seem to
remember him saying he had four sons and two daughters."
In the silence that followed, Maxine raised a finger. "Permission to
speak, sir?" she asked brightly.
Looking wary, J nodded.
"Well, on the positive side, isn't it possible that that was
just bullshit to try to scare us off?"
"That would be nice," J agreed with a small smile, "but I
don't think we should count on it."
KIT was sent through the wormhole first, revealing that all was quiet. When
the rest, all clad in black, arrived on Ceresc-tsara, it was found to be mid
afternoon, a little earlier than they would have liked.
Having hidden KIT in the long grass surrounding the 'Gate platform, the rest
waited for half an hour to see if anything interesting turned up. It didn't, so
before the full half hour had elapsed, boredom sent them on their way to
At the city gates, the guards were as 'helpful' as they had been on SG-24's
first visit - until J crossed their palms with silver. That was something that
was going to change, they all thought.
Eneas and Gav did a little spying as they waited for nightfall. This
ascertained that the king indeed had four sons, but they had all died in
infancy. Two daughters had been still-born. There was some talk of illegitimate
The group then headed for the king's mansion. From an alleyway, and before
the curfew kicked in, J used the bug glasses to spy around. There was some
collapsed masonry in the surrounding wall behind the mansion. It should be easy
to break through or climb over. From there, the cellar entrance was close by.
Breaking in was as easy as they'd hoped. They worked their way around
outside of the wall until they came to the fallen part where Eneas concealed
his trolley, and soon they were inside the grounds.
There was a new padlock on the cellar door which J picked like an expert
burglar. Once inside the mansion, the passageways of which were lit by flaming
torches along the walls, J used the bug glasses again to find the king's
All was quiet. J then managed to locate the king who was carousing in the
dining room where they'd first met Radu. The five quietly made their way to the
king's quarters. Both the doors to his sitting room and bedchamber stood wide
open. The rooms were only dimly lit with candles. There, the intruders found
somewhere to hide, and waited. And waited.
The king arrived in his sitting room, shit-faced, at around 0300, carrying a
wine flagon and accompanied by a young woman. He told her to wait; he'd be back
When he went through an interconnecting door into his bedroom, the girl made
her escape. Unaware of her defection, he put the flagon down on a table by the
bed and began to strip off.
J followed him using the invisibility material and dropped a knock-out pill
into the flagon. Maxine came through into the bed chamber and encouraged him to
hurry up. She didn't think he'd notice the switch in his present state, and he
"I want more wine!" he called.
"Will you still be able to perform?" Maxine asked doubtfully.
"Of course I will!" he yelled. He sounded most indignant and
knocked back the rest of the wine in the flagon to prove it. Then he collapsed.
J zip-cuffed the wrists and ankles of the half-naked king while Maxine
gaffer-taped his mouth. Then the whole group worked together to roll him up,
Cleopatra style, in a large rug and tied with curtain cords.
They had some difficulty in lugging the soon-to-be ex-king up the cellar
steps and over the wall, where they dumped him with some relief on to Eneas's
The next problem was how to get out of the town itself. The gates would
undoubtedly be locked overnight. Luc, their mediaeval weapons expert, suggested
that maybe there was a postern somewhere. Unfortunately, with no moon and no
night vision camera, it was too dark to use the bug glasses. So, with J camped
down in an alley with the gently snoring king, Eneas and Luc set off clockwise
and Gav and Maxine counterclockwise to search the wall, and hopefully not meet
180 degrees from J.
Fortunately, all went well. The searchers managed to avoid guard patrols
looking for curfew breakers and twenty minutes in, Luc spotted a door at the
end of an alley where, by rights, there should only have been curtain wall.
Naturally, it was locked, but hopefully J could pick it.
Luc called up J and Maxine on their comms and gave them directions. The door
was a little east of south and hence not too far from the main gate. Maxine and
Gav came back via J's alley and helped him to drag the trolley to Eneas and
Luc's alley. Once they were altogether, J examined the lock on the iron-bound
"Damn! This is beyond my abilities to pick. And we've no C4."
"C4?" Eneas asked.
"It's plastic explosive. Would do this job perfectly, but we thought
they wouldn't like it at the Agora..."
"Probably right," Eneas nodded sagely, fishing in his backpack.
"However, I do have a little of our own explosive with me. You might like
to get out of the alley, especially with our 'cargo.'"
"We only need a small charge," J cautioned. "We don't want
to wake the whole town."
When the rest were safely out of range, Eneas laid the charge, then legged
it to join them. The boom of the explosion took
down a twelve foot stretch of wall.
"Uncle," Gav said as the dust settled, "You were only
supposed to blow the bloody door off!"
Fortunately, the battered door had survived well enough to provide a bridge
over the heap of masonry, so getting the trolley out wasn't quite as difficult
as it might have been.
Fortune favored them further as the explosion brought people out of their
houses to see what was going on, which thus hindered any pursuit. The result
was that the kidnapers were long gone before the guards managed to get
themselves organized. When they did, they focused their activities on those
inside Noucincu, and sent only a token force - three youths - in the direction
of the 'Gate.
They were easily avoided both on their way to the 'Gate and on their way
back, having found nothing.
At the 'Gate, J reached into the long grass for KIT, which they would send
through first. It seemed reasonable to check that all was clear on Gradina
first. Then the 'Gate started to spin and the chevrons light up.
J left KIT and clipped on the probe's earpiece as the group leapt into
hiding. After the wormhole had stabilized, half a dozen armed men came through.
In the light from the event horizon, J recognized them as SG-14, one of the
least principled teams on base. He wondered whom they'd gotten to replace the
injured Captain O'Malley at such short notice. He didn't have long to wait as a
familiar voice grated in his ear via KIT.
"I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity to put one over on
that wuss, Mitchell. Ten per cent? I think not. That King Tobias sounds like a
Bachman! Well this mission had just gotten personal... Of course it meant
that they'd have to wait a while for SG-14 to get well on their way to town
before they could return to Gradina without being interrupted.
On the plus side, they hadn't had the nous to leave someone on 'Gate duty.
Granted it was boring, but they'd just given vital information away to their
enemy and then left that enemy free to escape and use said information.
Back on Gradina, Eneas converted the trolley into a stretcher. They didn't
want to leave revealing wheel tracks back to the castle. The ex-king was still
out cold which made the journey a little easier.
In the castle, he was taken down to the original dungeons. These had been
refurbished and so, as cells go, they were reasonably comfortable. Next, they
looked in on Major King.
He was looking more sanguine, sitting more erect and still clutching
"Okay," J began, "we've got him - the man who stole your life
- and your kingdom awaits you, but... I think you're going to have to win
He went on to brief his fellow officer and bring him completely up to date.
"Of course, you'll have our help "
"And ours," Eneas added.
"And you have the advantage of already being the de facto ruler,"
Luc added. "Whatever we do - that's SG-24 - it will have to be covert as
the man, Bachman, is officially a member of our team. He is also an enemy,
especially to J - Major Mitchell - whom he blames for his demotion from Lt.Col.
to Captain at his court martial."
"I'll bear that in mind, Captain," Major King said with a smile.
He looked as if he were actually looking forward to this. Well, he had been an
officer and a man of action. Maybe some of his suppressed memories were
beginning to return of their own accord? Skender had said it was possible.
The following morning, SG-24, Major King, the ex-King Tobias (blindfolded),
Eneas and some of his men went back to the Gradina 'Gate where Eneas dialed the
'Gate where Skender's main lab was.
J had a painful sense of déjà-vu as they walked into the lab.
The ex-king, seeing what was coming, was inclined to struggle until Toma
pointed out that they could do the job with him conscious... or unconscious.
With that, all the fight went out of him. The swap was soon completed.
"Ow, my head!" the real Major King groaned.
"Oh sorry, Major. We should've warned you about the hangover." J
said with a rueful grin. "When we grabbed him, he was pretty much smashed
out of his skull."
"What are we going to do with this one?" Theo asked, indicating
'Anton' with his thumb.
"Well, he still has Anton's papers on him," Eneas said, "so I
guess we return him to Cabana Urlea." He thought for a moment. "He
could tell them he went to discuss the Lady Mirela's wedding plans and
sustained a knock on the head on the way back, leaving him with amnesia. I
think he's popular enough for them to retire him unharmed."
Anton latched on to the last part. "I'm popular?" he asked looking
"Well, you are now," Eneas said, "so if you stick to the
script, you should be okay."
They rehearsed 'Anton' with the tale until he'd got it right, then a couple
of Eneas' men took him back to the 'Gate and sent him back home. Some months
later, the Contra-Bruxai learned that the plan had worked and 'Anton' was
living in a retirement home at the expense of Lord Emilian.
Back at the castle, all those involved had an informal debriefing session
and Major King was inviting them all to call him Toby.
"I think you need to get used to being called King Tobias," Maxine
"Hm. From what Anton said, I take it I'm not an overly popular
"I wouldn't worry too much. You're not him, and you'll do a much
better job. Your subjects will appreciate that."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," he smiled. "I must say,
this hangover, which is fading fast by the way, is an improvement on the
arthritis. I feel so much younger! I mean, I must be in my seventies, but I
don't feel much more than half that."
"Yeah, about that," Maxine said. "We suspect that it's not
"What to you mean?" Toby looked puzzled. "I'm sorry, I have
so many visions from the past - both pasts - flashing through my mind right now
that it's difficult to focus."
"No, we're the ones who should apologize after we just turned your
entire life upside-down."
Toby suddenly sucked in his breath and looked pained. "Argh, I see what
you mean. He had access to a sarcophagus! But no, I can't remember where. Yet.
When I find out, I'll let you know."
"Actually, that might not be a good idea," Luc said. "A
lot's changed back on Earth since the Great Disaster, and most of it isn't
good. In fact, a lot of it's bad, very bad. We're trying to exert an
ameliorating influence but it's very much an uphill struggle."
"I see. Well count me in. I'll do what I can."
"I think our best move next will be to reclaim your kingdom," J
said, "because right now, it's a fair bet that Bachman and co. are tearing
Noucincu apart brick by brick looking for you."
"And heaven help anyone who gets in their way!" Luc added.
"So we need to take them all out somehow," Eneas commented.
"Yes, but with as little bloodshed as possible," J warned,
"or the reprisals will be very bloody indeed."
"Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind?" Eneas asked, though this
was clearly more of a statement than a question.
"Very much so," J nodded. "So first we need to get back into
your mansion, preferably unseen."
"Ah, I think I might be able to help there," Toby said, shaking
his head slightly. "Ya know, that guy was positively paranoid, especially
after your first visit, J. There were quite a few hidden rooms and passageways
built in the reigns of earlier monarchs, and our friend added another tunnel
from the cellars to beyond the garden wall."
"Ye-es," Luc said. "That's how we got in the other night -
over the wall that is - so I suspect the tunnel may have collapsed. And Eneas
blew the postern door off when we got you out."
"So I don't exactly have a defensible site then?"
Toby thought a while then said, "but if we can get into the cellars,
there are a lot of zats and other weapons"
"Um, no, there aren't," Theo said. "We took some and
destroyed the rest."
"Destroyed...?" Toby looked shocked.
"Our first thought was to keep them all, but then we thought of them
getting in to the wrong hands..."
"Ah, I see your point," Toby said, wearing a slap-forehead look.
Finally, they came up with A Plan.